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By Sarah Toce

Since 2011, more than 8 million people nationwide (and nearly 340,000 in Washington state) have discovered the key to unlocking the doors that may have been previously closed in their lives – through the power of free and accessible technology. In an announcement with Goodwill on Friday, Comcast revealed they are upping their game. Like a lot.

Spokane Mayor David Condon and Spokane Goodwill joined Comcast NBCUniversal’s Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, David L. Cohen, on a call with media to discuss the company’s Internet Essentials program and the affect it’s having on local communities. During the call, the group unveiled a new state-of-the-art interactive digital classroom.

“We are thankful for the investment Comcast is making to bring to life Goodwill’s vision for a digital classroom that provides training in an inclusive and accessible environment to our community,” said Clark Brekke, President and CEO of Goodwill in Spokane. “As technology continues to advance and become a daily part of so many industries, more people need the skills to thrive in this employment environment. It is through partners like Comcast that our communities will be able to bridge the digital gap.”

This special computer lab will facilitate digital literacy training for low-income people with disabilities, helping to ameliorate the major barrier to broadband adoption – a lack of digital skills. The vast majority of Goodwill’s program participants have some level of disability, are low-income, and many served in the military. The new digital classroom is furnished with assistive technology to help different disabled individuals’ needs. For example, it features adjustable tables on hydraulics and interactive learning and digital tools.

It’s “a new significant partnership that we’re hoping will serve as a national model,” Cohen said on the call.

The Internet Essentials program is being dubbed the nation’s largest, most comprehensive, and most successful low-income broadband adoption initiative. The program will now be available to double the number of eligible low-income households, including those with people with disabilities and seniors.

According to Comcast NBCUniversal, 90 percent of previously “unconnected” individuals were not able to access the internet at home until they signed up for their Internet Essentials program. One person this directly could have adversely affected was U.S. Paralympic Gold Medalist and Purple Heart Recipient Rico Roman.

Roman is one example. As a veteran who views the Internet Essentials program as a positive means for integrating back into society post-service, he has seen how the benefits can be be life-altering. He has seen how the Internet Essentials program can be a big asset for Veterans and can help them when applying “for jobs [and] getting resources– like VA benefits.” Roman also notes the service can help Veterans stay “in contact with the guys who are still serving or have gotten out,” he said.

Rico Roman passes outs laptops to Goodwill’s job training program participants in Spokane.

“This expansion is the culmination of an audacious goal we set eight years ago, which was to meaningfully and significantly close the digital divide for low-income Americans,” said Cohen. “The Internet is arguably the most important technological innovation in history, and it is unacceptable that we live in a country where millions of families and individuals are missing out on this life-changing resource. Whether the Internet is used for students to do their homework, adults to look for and apply for new jobs, seniors to keep in touch with friends and family, or veterans to access their well-deserved benefits or medical assistance, it is absolutely essential to be connected in our modern, digital age.”

In addition to increased digital literacy, Cohen said his goal was to help facilitate job opportunities in low-income communities.

Impact on Seattle Community
The Internet Essentials program has connected more than 50,000 households and 216,000 individuals in the greater Seattle and Puget Sound Community to low-cost internet.

“We’ve also been working with Seattle Goodwill for the better part of two years on a job training program,” he offered.

Partnering with Local Governments and Communities
Another exploratory avenue involved working closely with mayors in different cities throughout the nation. In fact, Cohen had a surprise for Mayor Condon during the call – the announcement of 50 new laptops and what the company calls “opportunity cards” to make the digital age more accessible to local residents in low-income situations.

“We’ve got a longstanding relationship and partnership with the Spokane mayor,” Cohen said. “We have a big commitment to locals – local school districts, local mayors, local city councils, all across the country.”

In the afternoon, Cohen recognized Mayor Condon’s multi-year commitment as an Internet Essentials Champion, as he closes his final term. In addition, Cohen announced a donation of 50 laptop computers and complimentary Internet Essentials service for Family Promise, one of the local nonprofits the Mayor championed. The donation came with six months complimentary Internet Essentials service.

David Cohen, Spokane Mayor, U.S. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and a representative from Family Promise in Spokane.

“Comcast has been a tremendous partner to the city, and we applaud its work to make the Internet more affordable and accessible throughout Spokane,” said Mayor Condon. “Programs like Internet Essentials can have a tremendous impact on our community and are critical for helping connect our most vulnerable citizens to the Internet and other technology resources, allowing them to succeed in school, their careers, and in life.”

Internet Essentials has an integrated, wrap-around design that addresses each of the three major barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified. These include: a lack of digital literacy skills, lack of awareness of the relevance of the Internet to everyday life needs, and fear of the Internet; the lack of a computer; and cost of internet service. The program is structured as a partnership between Comcast and tens of thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners.

For more information, or to apply for the program in seven different languages, please visit https://www.internetessentials.com/, or call 1-855-846-8376. Spanish-only speakers can also call 1-855-765-6995.

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