Corporate life in the era of COVID-19 has presented new challenges, requiring pivots and transitions in response to the myriad disruptions and needs presented by the pandemic.

Recently, the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce recognized several individuals and by extension their businesses, who have stepped up to fill the needs of the community, nominating them as Corporate Citizens of the Year.

We were fortunate to catch up with nominee Terry Davis, Senior Director, External-Government Affairs at Comcast Washington, who shared with us a few of the community support initiatives for which they were recognized, as well as some other relief efforts Comcast will continue in 2021.You may be surprised to discover that some of these valuable programs may be available to you, dear reader, so read on to learn more.

We were impressed with the comprehensive quality of the community support Comcast is providing which includes:

    • Support for the most vulnerable in South King County through their Internet Essentials program.
    • Collaboration with local school districts, the city and non-profits to support distance learning for families in need by providing low cost or free internet access.
    • Targeted COVID-19 relief for homes and families including Free Xfinity Wi-Fi for everyone through hotspots, paused data plans, suspended disconnects and late fees for customers impacted financially by the pandemic, support for college students in need of internet, and additional support for local teachers and administrators, as well as university faculty and staff in need of internet connections.

With so many components to the Comcast COVID-19 response we wondered how it all came together so quickly?

“We recognized more than a decade ago that there was a ‘digital divide’ created by income disparities in the community and we shouldn’t wait for government to demand that we work to provide balance, instead we should step forward to address this with solutions we are best equipped to provide,” Davis said.

It seems that this decision was prescient and positioned Comcast to accelerate programs at a critical time when Covid-19 struck.

“When the pandemic hit, as you know, we were ground zero, with the first cases right here in Western Washington,” Davis added. He described a head office response that moved quickly, building on programs already in existence.

A key component is their Internet Essentials program that provides a true high-speed broadband connection for less than ten dollars per month to low-income families. To help those experiencing financial hardships during COVID, Comcast is offering free service for 60 days for new Internet Essential customers who qualify for this program, and that offer is available through June 30, 2021. You can learn more about Internet Essentials here: https://www.internetessentials.com/

Previously designed for families with students who qualified for free or reduced lunch, in 2019, Internet Essentials was expanded to serve any household eligible for federal assistance programs, allowing Comcast to greatly expand its reach and impact, and help serve all those that truly need assistance. This means that they are able to support as many as possible in the community, such as seniors or veterans living on limited incomes, with the connectivity which can be a critical lifeline.

In speaking with Terry, an Eastern Washington University alumnus who has been with Comcast since before they introduced broadband to Western Washington, (imagine that!) we sensed a genuine enthusiasm for the work taking place right here in the Highline School district, which he described as an “early adopter” of the “Internet Essentials Partnership Program” which was designed to help accelerate internet adoption at this critical time. It gave cities like Burien, White Center and Kent, local school districts and nonprofits the power to help pay for services to connect large numbers of low-income K-12 students to the internet at home. Announced just before the 2020 school year, this program accelerated the efforts of the local government, schools, philanthropies, nonprofits, and private citizens that wanted to help get internet access for more families in need.

Comcast has also partnered with the Highline Schools Foundation, the 501C3 charitable organization that supports the Highline School District. Terry fondly recalled a visit to Beverly Park Elementary, where he, personally, participated in a laptop distribution event providing this essential learning tool for student success in the modern age.

We asked him what’s the most satisfying thing about the work they’re doing and unhesitatingly, he commented that”

“Making a difference in my community, in the places where the need is highest, so energizes me. I saw this spring when COVID-19 forced distance learning, my daughter who was a high school Senior working hard to adjust and get everything done online. We are blessed with a high-speed connection at home, but I knew there are so many students out there, especially in South King county that don’t have that. Knowing we are making a difference by helping provide that connection really feels good!”

The program is currently being used by the Highline School District, and will be used to help even more low-income families and students to remain connected at home for the new school year.

“We are excited to be boosting these partnerships with the creation of Lift Zones right here in South Seattle.” Davis added.

These new connectivity zones, called “Lift Zones” will help students taking part in remote learning get access to a free and reliable internet connection from Comcast. This effort supports Comcast’s ongoing commitment through Internet Essentials to get students with economic barriers resources they need, as many schools across the area rely on some sort of virtual academic model. Through community partnerships, the Lift Zone concept provides a “third place” – not home, not school, where students can access the internet reliably.

Located in established community centers, they will feature free WiFi provided by Comcast, which allows students to work on laptops simultaneously so they can successfully participate in online learning. Currently, a Lift Zone is targeted for a location in White Center with an announcement expected very soon…stay tuned. Comcast expects to have 30 Lift Zones across the state by the first quarter of 2021, with 20 of these in the Puget Sound area stretching as far south as Tacoma.

With so many programs serving the community, it is easy to see why Comcast and Mr. Davis were recognized by the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce as a Corporate Citizen of the Year nominee.

This is work that can energize all of us.

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