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Comcast launches Internet Essentials Learning Zone in Baltimore

Andrea Blackstone | 11/6/2015, 6 a.m.
In today’s digital age, students often need the Internet to complete homework assignments. What if low-income families cannot afford in-home ...
Maryland’s first Internet Essentials Learning Zone was launched in Baltimore at the Towanda Community Center to create a continuum of connectivity of students. (Photo: Andrea Blackstone)

In today’s digital age, students often need the Internet to complete homework assignments. What if low-income families cannot afford in-home Internet service? On Wednesday, October 28, 2015, Maryland’s first Internet Essentials Learning Zone was launched in Baltimore at the Towanda Community Center to help close the digital divide.

Dr. Gregory Thornton, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools (left) and David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation (right) observes a student using the Internet at Towanda Community Center.

(Photo: Andrea Blackstone)

Dr. Gregory Thornton, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools (left) and David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation (right) observes a student using the Internet at Towanda Community Center.

Comcast, the city of Baltimore and a network of partners will work together to create a continuum of Internet connectivity that begins online in the classroom, community centers, computer labs and after-school programs and ends at homes. Comcast now provides free Wi-Fi to 16 community centers. Additionally, the company announced the award of $75,000 in digital literacy grants to Family League of Baltimore and 12 participating community organizations in 16 community center locations, such as Towanda Community Center.

“At Park Heights Renaissance (PHR), we know with our partnership with the Boys & Girls Club, the young folks really like to use computers. They really like to work on the Internet to improve their learning. And every community and every family doesn’t always have the means to be able to afford wi-fi or for a computer, so this is an opportunity to enhance education through what Comcast has provided,” said Cheo Hurley, executive director of the nonprofit, PHR.

Through PHR, Hurley helps to oversee the Towanda Community Center. Hurley said that approximately 100 youth comprised of Creative City Charter School students, Boys & Girls Club members and Park Heights Safe Streets Program participants are served in after school programs that are held at Towanda Recreation Center. Hurley remarked that free access to wi-fi will help students to learn better and provide a means for older program participants to use the Internet for job training skills.

In addition to Towanda Community Center, other Baltimore-based community centers where free Wi-Fi is available include: Brooklyn O’Malley and O’Donnell Heights Boys & Girls Clubs; CASA de Maryland Baltimore Welcome Center; Community Action Partnership Centers; Delta Lambda Foundation Outreach Center; Education Based Latino Outreach; Liberty Recreation and Technology Center; My Brother's Keeper; St. Francis Neighborhood Center; The 29th Street Community Center; Union Baptist Head Start Center; and Village Learning Place.

Comcast reported that in August of 2015, the company expanded the continuum of connectivity by adjusting the requirements of Internet Essentials, which is the $9.95 a month Internet service, compared to the standalone price of the company’s $39.95 Economy Plus Internet tier. Internet Essentials was launched in 2011 for families with a child who is eligible for the National School Lunch Program. The comprehensive high-speed Internet adoption program is available in 39 states and the District of Columbia, where Comcast Internet service is available. Under the program, refurbished desktop and laptop computers can be purchased for under $150. Access to free digital literacy training in print, online and in-person is available for subscribers.

Beginning in August of 2015, if a child attends a Baltimore City public school where at least 50 percent of the students are eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program, all student families in that school are automatically eligible for Internet Essentials. Student families in other parts of Maryland that meet the 50 percent benchmark are also eligible.

At home, family members who use Internet Essentials now connect to the Internet simultaneously. Additionally, participants who reboot their cable modems should notice that Comcast also boosted the speed of their service.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stated that every Baltimore city student’s ability to qualify for Internet Essentials makes a big difference in closing the digital divide.

“I appreciate Comcast for providing opportunities like this for Baltimore’s families. Collaborations like this one between corporate citizens and community and the city are crucial to closing the digital divide, and securing success for our city’s digital future,” Rawlings-Blake said.