Comcast will invest $1B over the next decade in attempt to close digital divide

The Comcast tower in Philadelphia reflects clouds and blue sky.

The Comcast Tower in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philly-based cable giant Comcast said it plans to invest $1 billion dollars over the next decade to help bridge the digital divide in the U.S.

In addition to laptop and computer donations, the funds will help pay for Wi-Fi-connected spaces in community centers by 2021.

The money will also pay for continued investment in the company’s Internet Essentials program, which brings high-speed broadband to low-income residents for less than $10 a month.

Dalila Wilson-Scott, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast, said the company is committed to digital equity.

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“Making sure that people not only have access to connectivity, discounted or free device, digital literacy skills but also making sure they’re getting the types of skills that allow them to have some economic mobility, to be self-sufficient from a financial perspective,” she said.

More than 840,000 people in the Philadelphia region have used the program since its inception a decade ago, according to the company. Philadelphia accounts for more than half a million users during that time.

Still, Comcast’s philanthropic efforts have been criticized in the past for falling short of needs.

As the pandemic took hold and children began full-time virtual learning, Comcast made Internet Essentials free for the first 60 days for people who signed up before June 30. But students detailed inadequate speeds that would slow down when Zoom and programs like Google Classroom ran at the same time.

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Last summer, Philadelphia students and activists demanded the company increase Internet Essentials’ speed, which operated at the federally mandated 25 megabits per second to be considered broadband. They also called for making the program free to families during virtual schooling.

A spokesperson for the company maintained those speeds were sufficient for what they intended to provide, which might be limited with several household members trying to log on at the same time with high bandwidth applications, such as those used for entertainment.

Starting this March, however, the company has doubled internet download speeds for the program.

Another component of the company’s 10-year plan to help close the digital divide includes expanding its “Lift Zone” initiative, which connects community centers with Wi-Fi. Comcast wants to open more than 1,000 of these centers by 2021. Philadelphia already has 40 of them.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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