This week in Philadelphia, Comcast marked the 10th anniversary of its signature digital equity program, Internet Essentials – the nation’s largest, most successful, and most comprehensive broadband adoption program for low-income households – by presenting 1,000 free laptops to Beyond Literacy, The Welcoming Center and SEAMAAC. The surprise giveaway also included a donation of $30,000 to be split among the three community-based organizations to support their digital equity, inclusion and literacy efforts.
“Comcast continues to double down on its commitment to digital equity because it is the key to success in education and economic mobility, now and into the future,” said Bret Perkins, Senior Vice President, External and Government Affairs at Comcast. “We’ve been at this work for more than a decade, and thanks to our wide network of community partners, including those here today, we’ve been able to make significant strides in building a more connected city and creating opportunities for Philadelphians. We’re looking forward to see how much we can accomplish together in the next ten years.”
Also helping to unveil Beyond Literacy’s new campus at 100 W. Oxford Street in Kensington, the celebration and surprise donations served to mark Internet Essentials’ evolution over the past decade. Created in 2011 to bring affordable high-speed internet to low-income young learners, the program now reaches seniors, veterans, college students receiving Pell Grants, immigrants, adult learners and families.
In 10 years, the program has connected a cumulative total of more than 10 million Americans, including more than 840,000 people locally, to the Internet. In addition to providing an affordable internet connection, Internet Essentials has worked with hundreds of partners across the region and thousands across the country to reach vulnerable populations and provide digital skills training so people can benefit from all the information and opportunities that come from being online.
“We’re at a critical moment in our city as we work to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and determine how our city’s workforce will evolve and ultimately thrive,” said Kimmell Proctor, CEO, Beyond Literacy. “Key to that is ensuring all of our citizens have not only basic literacy skills, but also digital access and literacy, one of our core initiatives now. Our organization and our city is fortunate to have a corporate citizen like Comcast that works as our partner as we all work together to design comprehensive solutions that support all our citizens.”
During the event, Beyond Literacy, which is the recent product of a merger between two longstanding Philadelphia organizations – the Community Learning Center and the Center for Literacy – acknowledged its collaborative partnerships with The Welcoming Center and SEAMAAC. In a city where one in three adults lacks basic reading and numeracy skills, breaking out of silos and working in tandem with organizations reaching different vulnerable niche populations is critical to drive impact.
“A computer can connect me to everything and everyone. Learning how to use a computer to join class and zoom and search for what I need has opened up a whole new world for me,” said Beyond Literacy learner, Nancy Gordon-Turner. “Without Internet Essentials, too many of my friends and neighbors would be disconnected from the information and resources they need.”
Each of the organizations has been working with Comcast over recent years to expand digital learning options for nontraditional adult learners, providing critical training to thousands of people across the city. The organizations will use the laptops in various ways, including as part of in-person and remote adult learning classes, as donations for residents helped by the city’s Digital Navigator program, and in immigrant and refugee workforce development and ESL programs.
Partnerships with organizations like Beyond Literacy, The Welcoming Center and SEAMAAC have also helped Comcast inform updates and expansions to Internet Essentials. For example, feedback from partners has led Comcast to increase the number of languages for the Internet Essentials call center to 240, and streamline the sign-up process.
This milestone event and surprise donation is part of Project UP, Comcast’s $1 billion commitment to reach 50 million people with the tools, resources, and skills needed to succeed in a digital world. Locally, that includes partnerships with community-based organizations, support of PHLConnectED, the launch and installation of over 100 regional Lift Zones, and support of more than 400 diverse small business owners through Comcast RISE.