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Comcast expands low-cost Internet to all Miami-Dade public housing

HUD Secretary Julian Castro (right) and Comcast senior executive David Cohen give a free laptop and six months of free Internet service to Rochenel Jean Baptiste at a press conference at Rainbow Village Public Housing Development. The press conference introduced a Comcast pilot program that will expand its highly successful low-cost Internet Essentials program to all public housing residents of Miami-Dade.
HUD Secretary Julian Castro (right) and Comcast senior executive David Cohen give a free laptop and six months of free Internet service to Rochenel Jean Baptiste at a press conference at Rainbow Village Public Housing Development. The press conference introduced a Comcast pilot program that will expand its highly successful low-cost Internet Essentials program to all public housing residents of Miami-Dade. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

Karisha Bailey is a self-employed chef who uses her smartphone constantly in her work. She’s also the single mom of four young children who need that same smartphone for their homework.

Sharing the phone and keeping data charges manageable is a constant challenge. This week, Bailey became one of the first residents of the Rainbow Village public housing development to receive a free laptop and six months of complimentary high-speed Internet access. After that, her family will be able to continue on the program for $9.95 a month.

Together with U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and about a dozen federal, state and local officials at a press conference at Miami’s Rainbow Village, Comcast Corporation announced a pilot program with HUD’s ConnectHome initiative to help bridge the digital divide for public housing residents in Miami-Dade County. Eligibility for Comcast’s existing Internet Essentials program offering low-cost broadband access to low-income people will be immediately extended to any public housing resident in Miami-Dade County, as well as in Nashville, Philadelphia and Seattle.

All public housing residents can receive the $9.95 monthly service and can purchase a new computer for $150. “This program literally starts now,” said David Cohen, senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer for Comcast. “Our technicians are outside, ready to hook homes up today.” He said Comcast plans to roll the program out to other public housing developments in Comcast service areas in South Florida and around the country once the pilot program is running successfully.

In addition to Cohen and Castro, other officials speaking at or attending the public announcement included Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, state Sen. Dwight Bullard and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, as well as HUD and Miami-Dade County Housing Authority staff members, Comcast executives and Rainbow Village residents.

“The Census Bureau estimates that up to 40 percent of households in the Miami-Dade area don’t have an Internet connection at home. There is a real need,” said Castro, before the announcement. “What we are talking about is more than a broadband connection. It’s about the opportunity for our young people to do better on those third grade reading and math tests, to be more likely to graduate from high school, to go on to college, to achieve their dreams. . . . An Internet connection is no longer a luxury in this 21st century global economy, it really is a necessity.”

An Internet connection is no longer a luxury in this 21st century global economy, it really is a necessity.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro

President Barack Obama and Castro launched ConnectHome in July 2015 in 28 communities to help bridge the digital divide for families with school-age children who live in HUD-assisted housing. Comcast is the first new Internet service provider to join the ConnectHome initiative, and additional communities like Miami-Dade are part of ConnectHome’s larger vision to close the digital divide and bring broadband access to every public housing resident in the nation.

In Florida, Internet Essentials has connected nearly 320,000 low-income individuals to online access at home, including nearly 140,000 living in Miami-Dade. Nationally, Internet Essentials has connected more than 600,000 low-income families to the Internet at home, benefiting more than 2.4 million Americans, and making it the largest program of its kind, Cohen said.

Thursday’s announcement marks the eighth time in five years Comcast has expanded eligibility for the program, each time widening the eligibility criteria to include more students in schools, Cohen said. Miami-Dade is the second largest county and school system using the Internet Essentials program. Last year, as part of a pilot program, Comcast also extended the program to low-income seniors and low-income community college students.

Internet Essentials includes download Internet speeds up to 10 Mbps, a free Wi-Fi router, access to free digital literacy training, and the option to purchase a computer for $150. Public housing residents in the four pilot markets (Miami, Nashville, Philadelphia, Seattle) are eligible to apply, regardless of whether they have a child in the National School Lunch Program or not. To apply, visit www.InternetEssentials.com or call 1-855-846-8376. Spanish speakers can call 1-855-765-6995.

Since 2011, Comcast has invested more than $280 million in cash and in-kind support to help fund digital literacy training and education initiatives. At the event, Comcast technicians were on hand to install Internet service on the spot. The company also donated 15 new computers to the Rainbow Village computer lab where digital literacy training sessions take place after school and where students can do homework and adults can get online.

“The digital divide is real; we see it every single day,” Rep. Wilson said. “There is a difference between children who have Internet service at home and those that do not. . . . Today we will take a pledge in this room to bridge the digital divide.”

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