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Program aims at closing the low-income ‘digital divide’

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Sep. 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
September 21, 2011 1:55 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

It’s a long-held belief in America that education is “the great equalizer.”

But not all educations are created equal. In years past, a child with access to up-to-date textbooks and libraries had an advantage over a child who did not. Today, access to technology – computers and the Internet, in particular – is critical to an education that will prepare a child for living and working in the 21st century.

Yet an estimated one-third of U.S. households lacks a computer. That’s often a factor of age, but it’s also one of income. Only 45 percent of households earning less than $30,000 have broadband Internet access at home.

That’s why the new Internet Essentials program sponsored by Comcast and launched statewide last week in Tacoma is so promising. The cable giant is providing $10 per month Internet access and $150 computer vouchers to families that have at least one child eligible for free school lunches and meet a few other requirements.

Families can sign up through the end of the 2013-14 school year and can continue receiving low-cost Internet for as long as the eligible child is at home.

In Pierce County alone, thousands of families would be eligible. And ignorance about computers and the Internet shouldn’t be a barrier to taking advantage of the program. Comcast is partnering with the Tacoma Urban League, whose volunteers will provide free Internet training for parents and children through the organization’s Digital Connectors program.

Having home Internet access will be a boon to students, allowing them to do research and write papers. But it will help families, too. Adults will be able to do job searches, communicate with their children’s teachers, keep in touch with friends and family through email, even take online courses.

There’s been criticism that kids will use the online access to socialize or play games. That’s undoubtedly true, but those activities also help them become more tech-savvy and linked in. In today’s computercentric world, that’s important.

The Internet Essentials program – which is available in 39 states – grew out of a promise Comcast made to the Federal Communications Commission to expand Internet access as part of its acquisition of NBC Universal Inc.

Whatever the motivation, it promises to do much to close the “digital divide” that keeps many disadvantaged Americans from realizing their potential.

Learn more
Call 1-855-846-8376 or go online to www.internetessentials.com. For Spanish, call 1-855-765-6995.

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