Comcast program offers broadband access near 5 low-income schools [Chicago Tribune]
(Chicago Tribune (IL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 16--Comcast Corp. is launching a pilot program in Chicago that beefs up broadband Internet access and digital literacy resources in areas around five Chicago Public Schools "welcoming" schools in Bronzeville, Englewood, West Englewood and North Lawndale.
Comcast partnered with United Way to set up the five local "learning zones," which will feature technology training programs and events, as well as enhanced Internet access in the schools and public Wi-Fi service at neighboring community organizations. The learning zones pilot is part of Comcast's Internet Essentials, a nationwide program that provides discounted residential broadband Internet access to low-income households. Chicago is the only city in the U.S. testing out the learning zones, which are expected to be announced by Comcast and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a Monday event.
"It's a pilot that's being implemented in Chicago," said Bret Perkins, Comcast's vice president of external and government affairs. "We're watching it closely and if it works, we'll look at whether there are other places we can implement it."
Internet Essentials is in its third year and has more than 220,000 families signed up nationwide. More than 14,000 Chicago households are participating, up from 7,000 at this time last year. The 14,000 represent roughly 15 percent of eligible households, said Matt Summy, Comcast's regional vice president of external and government affairs. Families qualify for Internet Essentials if their children are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches at CPS. The service provides high-speed residential broadband Internet for $9.95 a month, locked in for as long as the child remains in school and eligible. Comcast waives its activation and equipment rental fees and offers the option to purchase a computer for $150.
The learning zones in Chicago are centered on schools where 70 percent or more of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch: Ida B. Wells Preparatory Elementary Academy in Bronzeville; Bass Elementary and Nicholson Elementary in Englewood and West Englewood; and Hughes Elementary and Johnson Elementary in North Lawndale.
Another new aspect of the nationwide Internet Essentials program is the availability of what Comcast calls "Opportunity Cards," vouchers covering a full year of service for a qualifying household. In Chicago, the Smart Chicago Collaborative and Chicago Community Trust have bought 25 of these cards to distribute to families at their discretion.
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