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Murray Journal

Local industry, school district collaborate to bring internet access to low-income families

May 11, 2021 11:35AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Murray School District partnered with Comcast to help provide internet access to low-income families. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

When the pandemic hit and Murray schools abruptly shifted online in March 2020, the need for digital resources was dire. Low-income families were impacted especially hard, many of whom did not have access to Wi-Fi for technology the schools sent home for the children.

Murray School District partnered with Comcast to help provide internet access through its Internet Essentials program.

Murray School District Technology Department Coordinator Jason Eyre said, “Last year when schools closed during the pandemic, we needed an internet solution for students to quickly get online to learn. Comcast had the only program that we could find in our area that was designed to be affordable and help low-income families. Comcast also expanded the capabilities of this program during the pandemic to better assist our parents with Zoom meetings and tools that use a lot of internet bandwidth.”

Internet Essentials is Comcast’s digital equity initiative and a comprehensive broadband adoption program. Internet Essentials has a wide design that addresses significant barriers to broadband adoption. This includes multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online and in-person; the option to purchase a heavily subsidized, low-cost internet-ready computer; and low-cost, high-speed internet service.

“We had a situation where Comcast had disconnected a parent who did not know about the program for not paying their full-price internet bill because they could not afford the cost of an unsubsidized internet connection,” Eyre said. “During the pandemic, Comcast let us refer parents in difficult circumstances to them like the aforementioned situation and took away the barriers to get the parents and students online. The delinquent parent who normally would not have been granted access to the program was instead quickly connected and given an internet connection they could afford.”

The program is structured as a partnership between Comcast and tens of thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials and nonprofit community partners. Comcast has never raised the price of the program.

“The International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City has been partnering with Comcast for a few years now, and it’s been an incredible partnership. We’ve been using Internet Essentials for our clients for many years,” IRC education program supervisor Krysti Nellermore said. “Comcast expanded (the program) in the last year, which has been a great opportunity for more of our clients to use the program.”

During the pandemic, Comcast provided the school district with flyers and pens to promote the program. When parents called Eyre’s team needing help getting connected, they referred them to the Comcast Internet Essentials Program.  

“It was nice to have single-use pens during the pandemic, meaning we just sent the pen the parent used home with them to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Eyre said.

Comcast announced it would invest $1 billion over the next 10 years to give more low-income Americans the needed tools and resources to succeed in an increasingly digital world. These investments include additional support for the Lift Zone initiative, which establishes Wi-Fi-connected safe spaces in 35 community centers in Utah and over 1,000 community centers nationwide for students and adults by the end of 2021; new laptop and computer donations; grants for nonprofit community organizations to create opportunities for low-income Utahns, particularly in media, technology and entrepreneurship; and continued investment in the company’s landmark Internet Essentials program.

“The benefit of this program is that it is completely outsourced. That being said, during the pandemic, many people who had not been online needed to get connected quickly. A difficulty we saw was that it took a couple of extra weeks to get online due to the high demand for the program, and parents needed an internet connection for their children to learn when schools closed much quicker than any of us had anticipated,” Eyre said.