For many people, the internet is the answer to just about everything these days. Looking for a job? Going online is really the only way to search and apply anymore. Need to access school resources, take a class online or submit your homework? Students need the equipment and the know-how to do it and succeed. Want to look for an apartment or house? The internet is the answer.
“An Internet connection is now more critical than ever,” said Juan Muro, executive director of Free Geek, a Portland nonprofit that seeks to bridge the digital divide by connecting more people to the Internet and getting devices into the hands of people who need them. “It’s essential for folks to be able to find jobs, study, advance any career or educational goals, stay connected with the family and just participate in everyday activities.”
And yet, as ubiquitous as the internet has become, not everyone is able to utilize it and capitalize on its benefits. This reality is embodied in the concept of digital equity, which is the idea that everyone should have equal access to digital technology and online resources. The unfortunate reality is, not everyone does.
According to a 2018 survey, 32,000 households in Multnomah County did not subscribe to internet service and had incomes of less than $75,000 per year. In addition, more than 16,200 households in the county did not have computing devices of any kind.
On top of that, a 2020 feasibility study in Multnomah County looking into the prospect of county-wide broadband internet service found that many community members lacked hardware, software and knowledge about key digital tools. Low-income residents are even less connected digitally and more impacted by the lack of digital equity. What’s more, nearly 2,800 homes and businesses were entirely underserved in pockets of northwest and east Multnomah County.
In most cases, it’s not about broadband access or affordability; it’s a plain lack of awareness about what resources might be available to people who are not connected digitally. For example, Muro said there are about 30,000 individuals in Multnomah County who qualify for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides discounts for monthly internet service, but who have not signed up for it.
“As technology advances, as we become so much more dependent on digital tools, we forget that a group of people don’t have even the basic necessities or understand how to use technology, how to actually adopt it to be able to prosper,” Muro said.
Organizations like Free Geek have been trying to close that digital equity gap. The nonprofit, founded in 2000 as more of a technology recycling and reuse outfit, has since broadened its focus to include digital inclusion programming to support education, free technology access, digital literacy and workforce development. Muro said Free Geek, in partnership with various partner companies, serves between 1,500 and 2,000 people each year with everything from free internet service and laptops to digital navigators, who teach people how to use the internet and other digital tools.
In September, Free Geek partnered with the city of Portland and other groups to donate 500 laptops and 12 months of free internet to immigrants and refugees who are clients of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, which supports immigrants, refugees and diverse community members in Oregon and Southwest Washington. And in July, Comcast donated $60,000 and launched a new Lift Zone, with free high-speed Wi-Fi service, at Free Geek’s Center for Technology Education & Digital Equity in East Portland. The telecommunications company also invested $240,000 in a digital navigation campaign aimed at helping increase internet adoption through resource awareness, digital skills programs and device assistance.
Such efforts, Muro said, are a step toward closing the digital divide. Yet there is still more that needs to be done.
“Most people cannot imagine not having easy access to the internet, to the world via their laptop or phone,” he said. “Only by helping families adopt the tools and learn how to use them will we truly be able to advance digital equity in Multnomah County.”
In early December Free Geek will announce an exciting effort to help advance digital equity and economic opportunity throughout Multnomah County. The announcement will be made at 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, during a live streaming event at www.facebook.com/freegeekmothership.
As the world becomes more digital, it’s Comcast’s goal to ensure that everyone can participate and excel in today’s society. We have been committed to creating and supporting digital equity within the communities we serve for more than 10 years. Comcast will invest more than $9.5 million in 2023 to advance digital equity and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Pacific Northwest.
Digital Navigators help income-constrained individuals and households sign up for low-cost, high-speed broadband through Internet Essentials and participate in the Federal Government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides qualifying households with a $30 monthly credit toward internet and mobile services. Digital Navigators also help people in need get a device and connect to skills training and other resources.
Of people who’ve received help from Digital Navigators, 1 in 3 found a new job or increased their income, and 40% received support with basic needs like food, rent, and housing. That is why Comcast invests directly in community-based initiatives and programs to support Digital Navigator and broadband adoption efforts in the Pacific Northwest as part of Project UP, the company’s comprehensive initiative to advance digital equity.
Comcast’s Digital Navigator partners in Oregon and Washington include Free Geek, United Congolese Community Organization of Oregon, Community Services Network, Native American Youth and Family Center, and more. Our work with these partners helps launch and scale up their efforts to help expand access to digital skills programs and get people in the Pacific Northwest connected to the internet.
Connecting people to the internet and the online resources it provides are critical priorities for Comcast. The gap between people who benefit from using online resources and those who are not is called the digital divide, and it exists in underserved communities throughout Washington state. For over a decade, we’ve worked hard to address this challenge and have connected more than 103,000 households in Oregon to high-speed Internet at home, many for the first time, through our Internet Essentials program.
Internet Essentials addresses the barriers to internet adoption through free digital literacy training resources, the option to purchase a discounted computer, and low-cost, high-speed Internet for under ten dollars a month, plus tax. Through this program, we’ve been able to connect students, families, and communities needing affordable internet resources. But more needs to be done.
Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)
Comcast plays a vital role in helping connect people online, and that includes offering solutions both in and outside of the home. Now, through our participation in the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), we have an unprecedented opportunity to help half a million people in Oregon and SW Washington connect to the Internet both at home and on the go.
More than 300,000 Oregon residents may benefit from access to the Internet through programs like ACP, which offer a $30/month discount on Internet service ($75/month on Tribal lands). Any Xfinity Internet or Internet Essentials customer who qualifies can use it to save money on their Internet bill and take advantage of these offers.
Comcast has introduced two new ways for people to connect through ACP, and the $30/month ACP benefit can be applied to any tier of Xfinity Internet service. Eligible customers in Comcast’s service areas can sign up for Internet Essentials Plus, which includes 100 Mbps download speeds, a cable modem/WiFi router device, and is free after the government’s ACP credit is applied.
Additionally, Xfinity Internet customers participating in ACP can add mobile service through Xfinity Mobile, which includes 5G and automatically connects to millions of Xfinity WiFi hotspots across the country to reduce customers’ dependence on cellular and save money.
Signing up for ACP
New and existing Xfinity Internet or Internet Essentials customers can visit www.xfinity.com/acp or call 844-389-4681 for more information to determine eligibility and sign up. Customers can also call to speak to a dedicated ACP Enrollment and Support Center from 8 AM to 12 AM daily, with multi-lingual capabilities to assist anyone interested in the program.
Internet connectivity is more important now than ever before and we work with dozens of partners across Oregon, including nonprofits and city leaders, to provide digital skills training so everyone can benefit from the opportunities that come from being online. In the last three years, Comcast has contributed $5.8 million to nonprofits in Oregon. Working side by side with local partners like Boys & Girls Clubs, Free Geek, Hacienda CDC, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Native American Youth & Family Center, The Arc of Lane County, Self Enhancement Inc., Girls Inc., and many more, we are seeking to advance digital equity throughout the state.
The Communities We Serve
Comcast seeks to develop deep community partnerships that help promote goodwill and create a lasting impact on our state. We serve and partner with groups including, but limited to, Women, LGBTQ, Hispanic/Latinx, Indigenous/Urban India, Black Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, Veterans and Military Families, Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) and low-income/vulnerable families.
We know that thousands of Oregonians also depend on community centers for access to the Internet, and our Lift Zone initiative aims to address that need. Through our Lift Zone initiative, we have equipped nearly Lift Zones with free internet service throughout the state.
Lift Zones provide hundreds of Oregon residents with locations to access online education, healthcare, and employment resources. Some of Lift Zones have also receive state-of-the-art technology makeovers from Comcast, including new laptops and technology that will help our community partners offer job skills training, education, computer classes, internships, and more. Lift Zones in Oregon may be found at: https://www.internetessentials.com/learningSearchPage.
This initiative will provide free hotspot connectivity. Providing access to hundreds of hours of educational and digital skills content to help families and site coordinators navigate online learning. Lift Zones complement Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which, since 2011, has helped connect more than 400,000 low-income people in Oregon to the Internet at home.
The Lift Zones initiative comes on the heels of Comcast’s recent launch of its new “Internet Essentials Partnership Program,” which focuses on enabling cities, school districts, and community-based organizations to connect large numbers of low-income students to the Internet at home to support distance learning.
“For nearly a decade, Internet Essentials has helped to change the lives of millions of people by providing low-income families with Internet access at home.”