June 1, 2011 By Sarah Rich
Low-income families in Chicago who have children enrolled in the National School Lunch Program will now be eligible for subsidized Internet as part of a new public-private partnership between the city and Comcast.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast, announced the partnership on Tuesday, May 31.
The first-in-the-nation program, called Internet Essentials, will provide families of the 330,000 students who receive free lunches in public schools throughout Chicago with vouchers for subsidized computers for $149.99 plus tax, high-speed Internet access for $9.95 per month plus tax, and Internet training, according to the city.
“Having access to high-speed Internet service allows children to do school work, adults to find jobs and grow the city’s economy, and families to learn and explore together,” Emanuel said in a statement.
The initiative is scheduled to begin this fall during Chicago’s 2011-2012 school year, and Comcast plans to make the program available nationwide within its Internet service area — which encompasses communities in 39 states and Washington, D.C, according to Charlie Douglas, a Comcast spokesman.
In Chicago, families will initially have a three-year open registration period to sign up. Families that maintain eligibility can participate in the program until the student graduates from high school, said Tom Alexander, the mayor’s assistant press secretary. Families can stay on the program for up to 13 years depending on when a student is enrolled.
“If you have a kindergartener and you stay on the free lunch program, and you continue to pay your bills and meet your obligations to Comcast, you’ll stay in that program through your child’s education,” Alexander said.
The partnership is part of Chicago’s comprehensive broadband plan comprised of three major components: access to broadband — whether from home, through the Internet Essentials program or in public libraries; awareness about broadband’s importance; and training, he said.
Broadband adoption was lower than 45 percent in some Chicago neighborhoods as of 2008, when the city did a census-like study of broadband uptake.
Comcast’s Cohen said broadband adoption is linked to jobs. “Based on some national research, every one percentage point increase in broadband adoption in the city of Chicago should translate into 1,000 to 3,000 new jobs,” Cohen said in a statement.
The Comcast corporate blog said broadband adoption is not only important for Chicago, but also for the rest of the country. The blog sited a study conducted by nonprofit Connected Nation that said, “Across the U.S., a 7 percent increase in broadband adoption would create 2.4 million jobs and save $662 million in health-care costs and $6.4 billion in vehicle mileage, among other savings.”
Comcast is currently in the process of connecting with as many school districts as possible to ensure that they have the resources they need to inform parents about the program.
“We’re creating a dedicated Web portal that is designed for different stakeholders so they can download enrollment forms, or they can learn about different aspects of the program and how they can help,” Douglas said.
You may use or reference this story with attribution and a link to