By Adrienne Leon, Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –
ATLANTA – More than 300,000 low-income students will be able to access broadband in their homes through a new program designed to bridge the digital divide between people with access to technology and people without it, officials announced.
Gov. Nathan Deal, Mayor Kasim Reed and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) applauded the launch of Internet Essentials, part of a 28-county partnership between Comcast and area school districts that aim to provide low-cost internet service, affordable computers and online literacy training.
The program, which has several qualification guidelines, is considered a key step in providing information technology to low-income minority communities and other critically underserved populations.
"The internet is no longer a dispensable item. It's essential in almost every aspect of our lives from our education to our careers," Deal told a throng of reporters at Charles R. Drew Charter School in Atlanta's East Lake neighborhood, one of the targeted communities.
Atlanta Public Schools Chair Brenda Muhammad agreed, adding: "We're excited that children who need it most will get this opportunity." Under the program, Internet Essentials participants will receive:
• Home internet service for $9.95 a month, plus tax
• No price increases, no activation fees, or equipment rental fees
• A voucher to buy a low-cost computer for $149.99 plus tax
• Access to free digital literacy training in print, online and in-person
Eligible households must have a child who receives lunch under the National School Lunch Program, officials said, among other guidelines.
Comcast executive David Cohen said the Internet Essentials program has the potential to be a "great equalizer and a life-changing technology."
"Internet Essentials will help level the playing field for low-income families by connecting students online with their teachers and their school's educational resources," Cohen said. The program also will empower parents to receive digital literacy training so they can apply for jobs online or use the internet to research items of interest, he added.
Empowering people to access information online also can yield a positive economic impact for state and local governments, added House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams.
"When you give communities accessibility," she said, "you decrease their dependency on the government."
For years, the so-called "digital divide" between advantaged and disadvantaged communities has been a key issue for civil rights activists concerned that limited access to the internet meant limited access to information and power.
That's why closing that gap is so important, Reed said.
"While America has increasingly become a digital nation, many metro Atlanta families are at a disadvantage because they can't afford internet service at home," Reed said. "Comcast is leading the charge in making broadband adoption a reality for more families."
While the city is proud to pledge its support, Reed said, "we can't do this alone. We need parents, educators, community leaders and other government officials to join in this effort, spread the word and help increase broadband adoption in our community."