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By Rodrigo Lopez, Comcast

The COVID-19 crisis put many of our low-income students in Washington state at risk of being left behind and has accelerated the need for Internet adoption and technology access programs to support distanced learning. Hearing the stories of our kids being cut off from educational programming because of a lack of an Internet connection has been painful, and as the state’s leading internet provider, we recognize that our company plays an important role in helping connect those that need it to the Internet.

That is why we plan to equip more than 30 different community centers in the state with WiFi-connected “Lift Zones” over the next few months to help students get online, participate in distance learning, and do their homework. This initiative will provide free connectivity inside at least three partner community centers in South King County for the next three years.

Several more Lift Zones sites are currently under consideration, with the goal to have all locations installed by early 2021. These Lift Zones will feature free WiFi provided by Comcast, which allows students to work on laptops simultaneously so they can successfully participate in online learning.

Working with our network of nonprofit partners, we plan to provide access to hundreds of hours of educational and digital skills content to help families and site coordinators navigate online learning. Each facility will be run by a nonprofit, city, or business and follow Washington state and local rules with respect to indoor gatherings and safety protocols around COVID-19.

The Lift Zones complement our Internet Essentials program and build upon our commitment to bridge the Digital Divide, which adversely impacts individuals, families, and diverse communities across our state. Internet Essentials is the nation’s largest, most comprehensive, and most successful broadband adoption program for low-income Americans in the country. The program has helped connect more than 340,000 low-income individuals in Washington to affordable, high-speed internet over the past nine years.

But Internet Essentials is only a part of our commitment. We are investing in and leveraging our technology and reach to advance tech equity across the spectrum, from access to building digital skills to translating those skills into economic opportunity and mobility. Our work brings connectivity, technology and digital skills to those that do not have it, and levels the playing field so all can participate in and benefit from Washington’s technology ecosystem.

Through funding from the Internet Essentials program and other Comcast resources, we have built digital classrooms and labs provisioned with technology that helps to bridge the digital divide across our state. These labs give more people access to the resources they need to compete in today’s digital-first society and provide a range of support functions for school-aged children and adults without consistent access to internet and technology resources.

For school-aged children, we’ve partnered with Technology Access Foundation (TAF) in Burien to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education in low income communities and underrepresented communities. For the past three years, Comcast has funded the Innovation Challenge, a four-month-long hackathon developed in partnership between TAF and Comcast where students propose solutions to social issues utilizing technology.

For adults, we’ve invested in labs with organizations like Mary’s PlaceGoodwill and Compass Housing that help vulnerable people understand how to use technology to better their lives. Some have never used a computer or connected to the internet before, and this programming helps them embrace it to find jobs and housing, and a stable footing in life. Through these efforts, we trained 1,620 individuals in digital inclusion programs last year alone, and participants increased their digital literacy by 83% on average.

I am extremely proud of the growth of Internet Essentials and our commitment to digital equity in Washington over the past 10 years. And I’m particularly proud of the Lift Zones that we will reach even more school-aged Washingtonians in need of the life changing power of an Internet connection.

Rodrigo Lopez is the Region Senior Vice President at Comcast Washington

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