Comcast, throughout the coronavirus pandemic, has been making efforts to make Internet service more available to low-income Americans, including through its expanded Comcast Internet Essentials program. The company, at the same time, has been criticized by some activists for not doing more.
This week, Comcast announced another such initiative—the coming arrival of what the cable giant calls “Lift Zones.” The zones will be based in community centers and, per Comcast, is “seeking to provide safe spaces for low-income students to participate in distance learning, remote working, and after-school care.”
More than 1,000 of the zones will be rolled out nationwide, with the centers arriving this year in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Trenton, and Washington, D.C.
The new initiative will both provide free Internet connectivity and offer “hundreds of hours of educational and digital skills content to help families and site coordinators navigate online learning,” the company said in its announcement.
“For nearly a decade, Internet Essentials has helped to change the lives of millions of people by providing low-income families with Internet access at home,” Dave Watson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Comcast Cable, said in the announcement.
“These Lift Zones, which will be installed in community centers in local neighborhoods that our partners have identified and will run, will be places where students and families can get online and access the resources they need, especially while so many schools and workplaces have gone virtual.”
Comcast launched Internet Essentials back in 2011, to provide lower-cost Internet technology to lower-income families. In March, after the pandemic began, Comcast began offering two months of free Internet to its Internet Essentials customers, while also making Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots available free of charge, even to non-Comcast customers. Those offers have since been extended.
However, a protest was held in early August, outside of Comcast’s headquarters in Philadelphia, among activists asking for Comcast to have that hotspot initiative include residential Wi-Fi hotspots, which were not included in the earlier offer. Three U.S. senators had written a letter to that effect back in May.
Comcast has specified the first Lift Zones to be activated, including one each in Chicago, Philadelphia, Trenton, and St. Paul—here.
“What we’ve learned throughout this pandemic is that although at-home Internet connectivity is the number one barrier to remote or hybrid learning, connectivity is only one barrier that prevents our nation’s kids from logging in and participating,” said Evan Marwell, CEO and Founder of Education SuperHighway. “No one single answer alone will solve this problem. These Lift Zones can offer families much needed support when at-home connectivity is either not available or the student is unable to participate in their home environment.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver. Image: Reuters