Cook County Helps Close Digital Divide for Low-Income Families


comcast essentials
(Some of the recipients of the $10,000 donation from Comcast. Photo by Andrea V. Watson)

Closing the digital divide means giving more people access to the internet and Comcast has already done that through a 2011 program, but the company wanted to do more. On Thursday, July 17, Comcast announced the expansion of a new program, “Internet Essentials Learning Lab,” with the help of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli and other county leaders.
Preckwinkle said that Black people are the main ones who suffer from the lack of internet access.
“It disproportionately impacts people from families who don’t have a lot of resources and since African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately among those who struggle economically, it disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities,” she said.
“Internet Essentials Learning Zone,” is really aiming to reach youth who still need internet access when they’re not at home. This includes after-school programs and right now, summer enrichment programs.
In 2013, Comcast created the first “Internet Essentials Learning Lab” in the nation in the Bronzeville, Englewood/West Englewood and North Lawndale neighborhoods. Chicago’s Edgewater, East/West Rogers Park and Uptown neighborhoods also received it earlier this year.
Comcast’s first program, “Internet Essentials,” works with more than 1,900 community organizations throughout Chicago to close that gap and has helped 100,000 people in Cook County, Matt Summy, Vice President of External and Regulatory Affairs at Comcast said. It provides eligible low-income families with internet service for about $10 a month. They can also purchase a computer for $150 a month, and that includes free digital literacy training in person, online or in print.  Families are eligible if they have at least one child eligible to participate in the National School Lunch program and is within the Comcast service territories. They  aren’t eligible if the have subscribed to the provider within the last 90 days or have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment.
“Way too many families, not just in these communities, but across our Metro area and across our country, don’t have access to the internet at home and often at school,” Summy said. “We need that as a society, we need that to be healthy communities so today what we want to talk about is how we can connect the dots even more effectively to accelerate the work across community organizations.”
Comcast donated $10,000 that will go towards updating a computer lab at Faith United Methodist Church, a south suburban Dolton church. Half of the donation will go towards creating a new computer lab at the Riverdale Community Resource Center. Families in Thornton Township will also get WiFi service at Thornton Township Youth Committee, Inc. in Riverdale. United Methodist will also get the enhanced service.
(Comcast Essentials donated $5,000 to update the computer lab at Faith United Methodist Church, which is open to the community. Photo by Andrea V. Watson)

Jordan Bivins,13, is a participant with the summer enrichment program and he said he has a computer at home, but he knows peers who don’t.
“If they need help with homework, they can’t look it up on the internet,” he said.
The computer labs will help them during the school year, Bivins said.
Rev. Charles Straight, senior pastor at Faith United Methodist Church, said that the church is open to the community. If someone would like to use one of the 16 computers or access the wifi, they should call the church ahead of time at (708) 841-3939. Summer hours are usually from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and fall hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. he said.
Comcast did research and found that 98 percent of their Internet Essentials families are using the internet for schoolwork. About 65% use it for healthcare and government services. And 58 percent access the internet for job searching. Comcast has invested more than $165 million since 2011 to help close the digital divide. The program has reached 1.6 million people already.
If a family is interested in learning more:
Call Internet Essentials at (855) 846-8376 or visit
If they live in Thornton Township, they can call Faith United Methodist Church at (708) 841-3939.

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