Comcast exec tells how company taking on digital divide

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On June 7, Comcast and technology non-profit One Economy announced that the first year of the cable giant’s learning and service after school program that taught students about broadband technology completed its first year.

On June 7, Comcast and technology non-profit One Economy announced that the first year of the cable giant’s learning and service after school program that taught students about broadband technology completed its first year.

Comcast Digital Connectors, as the program was called, was held on the South Side at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church and on the North Side at Alternatives Inc. The program reached out to over 26 middle and high schoolers, as well as college-age youth, and exposed them to the world of digital technology.

Days before that announcement, Comcast representatives stood with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at Woodson Regional Library to announce that the cable and Internet provider would be providing low-cost Internet access and affordable computers to some low-income families. The program, called Internet Essentials, is set to begin at the start of the next school year – which begins in August and September – and run for three years.

It was part of the commitment made to the Federal Communications Commission as part of the Comcast NBCUniversal deal that was approved by the government agency last year.

Comcast became the majority owner and manager of NBCUniversal, creating one of the largest multi-media entities in the U.S.

In a one-on-one interview with the Defender, Comcast Corporation Executive Vice President David Cohen talked about why the company is putting forth efforts to “bridge the digital divide” and fortify its work and partnerships with highly recognized non-profit community organizations. Cohen revealed that Comcast reaches out to urban communities it serves with its cable, telephone and Internet service to offer scholarships, and work with the likes of Boys & Girls Clubs, United Way, Urban League, One Economy and City Year.

Chicago Defender: Why the interest in youth and broadband, especially with minority communities?

David Cohen: As people – as human beings – we are struck by the inequality that results when large swaths of our population don’t have access to the Internet and don’t have an opportunity to take advantage of the leveling impact that broadband can have on education opportunities, accessing health care, accessing jobs and accessing entertainment. … As a company, we’re committed to trying to improve the lives of all the communities where our employees live and work. … It’s only natural that one of our focus areas, given our business, would be in digital literacy and in a variety of programs designed to close the digital divide.

CD: How much money has Comcast invested in bridging the digital divide?

DC: It’s hard to (give an accurate dollar amount). In cash and in-kind services, we’re at the $7 to $10 million so far, cumulative over the last few years. It’s very hard to put a dollar value on this. The cost of the Internet Essentials program will depend on how many people sign up for the service and subscribe to the service. I think you can safely say that we’re investing millions of dollars annually in a variety of programs designed to close the digital divide and to make sure that we bring broadband and make it available on an affordable basis to every area of the communities that we serve.

CD: What roles do community orgs play, with help from Comcast, in bridging this divide?

DC: We think it is essential to connect the company to the community that we serve. … I’m not really interested in reinventing the wheel, as a company. I think that one of the best ways that we can do business in our community investment strategy – that’s what we call it, we don’t think this is charity we think it’s investments in our communities. And I’d rather not go reinvent the wheel community-by-community. I’d rather find really strong non-profit partners and then use our resources, our financial resources, our in-kind resources, our people resources to help those non-profit organizations level successful and proven models. … These non-profits are extremely important for our being able to execute our community investment initiative in an efficient and effective manner.

CD: What type of outreach are you doing for more rural areas?

DC: Well, Comcast is a very heavily clustered urban cable company so we don’t have a lot of rural service areas within the Comcast footprint. But when we do, we try and find strong non-profits in rural communities and partner with them in the same way.

CD: How has taking over NBCUniversal broadened the scope of what you (Comcast) are able to do and what you want to do?

DC: I think that we are at the very beginning of that process, but it’s obviously given us even more of a national footprint than we had previously. We think the combined platform that Comcast and NBC Universal provides to us will give us an opportunity to make even a larger commitment to our communities.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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