Photo: Jesus Aranguren / AP Images for Comcast

The internet is something that is crucial to our everyday lives; be it for business, studying or pleasure, it’s something that we need, and we tend to take it for granted. We often overlook the fact that millions of Americans still don’t have home access to it. Thanks to Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, 3 million low-income Americans now have internet access in their homes, resulting in opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Last Fall, Internet Essentials kicked off its back-to-school season with the release of a five-year progress report on how far the program has come since Comcast’s initial journey to help close the digital divide by empowering low-income families and ensuring residents will have state-of-the-art resources available to explore, learn, play and work.

The event, put on by Comcast and held at Major Adams Community Center, was headed by a team of Internet Essentials’ proud leaders including David Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast Corporation, as well as the initiative’s new national spokesperson: Olympic Champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

In partnership with The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), it is the mission of both organizations to do what they can to break the digital divide. A great step forward, all CHA residents served by Comcast will now have access to low-cost Internet service. Between September 6 and December 31, CHA will give away 100 laptops to residents in public housing. In addition to low-income students and families, now even more individuals are eligible to apply to the program, including seniors, veterans and adults without children.

This opens up a world of opportunity for people who cannot afford the internet. This is completely life-changing for people who are used to taking two or three buses to get to the local library, or those who spend hours traveling to a family member’s house just to get online. It isn’t just the opportunities gained, but the resulting pride and sense of achievement.

Launched by Comcast in 2011, Internet Essentials is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive high-speed internet adoption program, providing low-cost, high-speed internet service to eligible, low-income American families.

Largely backed by city of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Chicago has been the number one performing city for Internet Essentials for five consecutive years. Over the past five years, the program has signed up 750,000 families across the nation; more than 3 million low-income Americans. That is larger than the combined populations of 21 states.

David Cohen & Mayor Rahm Emanuel

David Cohen & Mayor Rahm Emanuel

While this is a remarkable milestone, the program didn’t mark its success alone. It took nonprofits, elected officials, a collection of school district officials and businesses to unite o solve this problem.

“As much progress as we have made, we do not yet have every family in Chicago and every family in the country connected to the Internet,” David Cohen said. “Make no mistake, that’s your goal. It may be aspirational, but when we started this program, nobody thought in five years we would connect 3 million people to the internet.”

Receiving a well-deserved standing ovation, winner of six Olympic gold medals Jackie Joyner-Kersee explained her efforts of providing academic support and after school programs for those who wouldn’t otherwise have a future, leading to why she was proud to be the national spokesperson.

“The digital divide can cost, as well as lose a generation of people,” Joyner-Kersee said. “We have the ability to change that. As an athlete, all I ever wanted was a level playing field and given an opportunity to showcase that potential that others saw in me. The challenge for each of us becomes: what can we do? How can we make internet accessible to all low-income families?” 

To continue the effort of closing the digital divide in Chicago, the Internet Essentials learning zone is building a great network of nonprofits trying to create community-based centers to pursue digital literacy and digital relevance training throughout the city.

Jackie and David are venturing on a multi-city tour over the next six weeks to speak about the importance of the program, stopping in Houston, San Francisco, Denver and Philadelphia.

The support shown for this platform was truly inspiring. This panel of passionate and committed leaders makes a difference in an entire generation of people, providing twenty-first century tools to compete in the contemporary local economy.

Technology has created a whole new way of living. It has increased our pace of life. And we are on our way to providing a generation of people the chance to reach the American dream.