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Affordable internet comes to Richmond

on October 18, 2011

State Senator Loni Hancock stood in front of a crowd of more than 100 middle school students in Dejean Middle School Monday morning.

She had a question.

“How many of you have a computer in the house?” she asked. About half of the kids raised their hands.

“How many of you have Internet access?” the Senator asked.

This time, the number of hands raised dwindled to less than half.

Research conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that higher broadband use is reported by residents in the San Francisco Bay Area (78%, up 13 points since 2008) than by residents in the Central Valley (70%, up 17), Los Angeles (68%, up 20), and the Inland Empire (66%, up 10).

That digital divide led school district officials, elected officials and community leaders to meet at Dejean to announce Comcast’s national initiative to increase broadband Internet access to communities throughout Contra Costa County. As one of the conditions to the Comcast-NBC merger approved in January, the internet service provider agreed to increase broadband access in low income households.

The initiative, called ‘Internet Essentials’, will link eligible families with high speed Internet for at least the next three years in an effort expand broadband affordability and accessibility.  In order to qualify, a household must have at least one child receiving free school lunches through the National School Lunch Program. The service provided through Internet Essentials features download speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps and costs $9.95 per month.

“With this initiative, you guys will have another way to do well in school,” Hancock told the crowd, which gathered in a school multipurpose room Monday morning.

According to research conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, studies show that 87% of parents of online teens believe that the Internet helps students with their schoolwork and 93% believe the Internet helps students learn new things. The study also found that 94% of youth between ages 12-17 who have Internet access say they use the Internet for school research and 78% say they believe the Internet helps them with schoolwork.

Congressman George Miller also addressed the students about the impact of having internet access. “You’re no longer limited to what’s available to you here. It’s really about opening up a big part of the world and expanding your educational opportunities.”

To participate, parents must call Comcast to request an application and mail it back along with lunch program documents from their children’s school. Parents must also not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment and not have subscribed to Comcast Internet service anytime within the past 90 days.

“Our main goal is to end the digital divide in low-income communities nationwide,” said Ken Maxey, director of government affairs at Comcast. “The digital divide means that kids don’t have access to look up directions, research their homework, and stay updated to world news.”


  1. Jeff S on October 18, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Is this in any part funded with public money?

    • Spencer Whitney on October 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm

      Thank you for the question. The Internet Essentials program is not funded with public money, but instead a by-product of the Comcast-NBC merger, which the company agreed to “increase broadband deployment in low income households” as one of a number of conditions to the acquisition.

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