Minimizing the Digital Divide: Comcast’s ‘Internet Essentials Program

As educators and policy makers have attempted to eliminate the achievement gap over the years, one of the well-documented pernicious gaps continues to be the “digital divide”.  In fact, a google search on “digital divide” yields over 4 million hits as of October 12, 2011. While there are several definitions of the term, Wikipedia captures the essence in the following description:

More recently, some have used the term to refer to gaps in broadband network access. The term can mean not only unequal access to computer hardware, but also inequalities between groups of people in the ability to use information technology fully.

Last month, we as a country made a major step in addressing this problem with the joint announcement by the Comcast Corporation, FCC, and District of Columbia Public Schools. This major step is the national roll-out of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which will provide affordable internet access to low income families. At an Internet Essentials launch event, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski assessed the digital divide and the need for affordable broadband. With broadband being essential to the academic success of America’s youth, Chairman Genachowski reflected that “the digital divide is seriously troubling; more troubling now than in the past, because the costs of digital exclusion are rising”. Genachowski continued this sentiment noting, “Students increasingly need to go online to complete their homework assignments.” Chairman Genachowski further remarked on the stark statistics and detrimental nature of the digital divide. He referenced research that shows one-third of all students and most of all low-income students do not have internet access at home.

This lack of resources available due to the digital divide results in a lose-lose situation in education. When faced with this problem, teachers will either assign Internet-based homework or not. Either the students without Internet access at home are hurt, or the students do not learn how to utilize the Internet and do not attain necessary Internet skills. However with Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, teachers can escape this lose-lose situation. (more…)

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