Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee Visits Hartford to Announce Comcast Program
For Juan Adorno, being connected to the internet means communicating with his daughter in North Carolina. For Damon Santiago, it translates to practicing cooking with recipes he found online and maybe going to culinary school.
“I’m old school. I just learned the cell phone,” said Santiago, a four-year resident of Betty Knox Apartments, a senior public housing facility.
Now, as part of an expansion of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, residents at Betty Knox and visitors to the Urban League of Greater Hartford across the street are “officially connected to the internet” and on the way to bridging the digital divide, David Cohen, Comcast’s senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer, said at an event there Tuesday morning.
Cohen and others were joined by Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee at the Hartford announcement. Joyner-Kersee, the winner of six Olympic medals in track and field, is serving as a national spokesperson for Comcast.
The announcement should “inspire the whole Comcast team and family to continue to pursue the objective of getting every family, every individual in this country connected to the internet regardless of their income level or the zip code where they live,” Cohen added.
Comcast offers the program to families with school-age children eligible for free and reduced cost lunches, residents of public housing developments, and some low-income senior citizens and community college students as an attempt to bring affordable Internet access to their lives. Participants can pay $9.95 per month for basic internet and can purchase a laptop subsidized by Comcast for $149.99, neither price including tax. The announcement on Tuesday morning broadens the eligibility requirements for low-income senior citizens and marks the first time Hartford senior citizens have been able to participate. Previously only seniors in five cities across the country were offered Internet Essentials, but Hartford is part of an expansion of the program to 12 cities.
“You might not be able to go to the casino next week but this is an investment in your ability to interact with me,” state Sen. Doug McCrory, whose district includes the apartments, joked. “Once you get your internet services I don’t want you emailing me all night. I don’t want a hundred emails coming from you if you’re upset…. It’s not hard to learn and once you get on, it’s going to be hard for a lot of you to get off.”
Officials tried to assuage residents’ concerns about internet safety and user-friendliness. “My mom is 85 and she has the internet. It opened her world,” Marilyn Rossetti, the chair of Hartford’s housing authority, said. “Let me tell you, when your mother gets on Facebook your life has changed. Your life will change but don’t be afraid of it.”
Cohen also highlighted the donation of 30 laptops for residents to borrow and the installation of a Wi-Fi hotspot at the apartment building. Additionally, residents can receive training from the Urban League under a grant from Comcast providing 20 classes in digital literacy and safety.
Comcast has been looking for ways to plug the hole created by consumers opting for internet-only access rather than bundles of cable and phone services that was the company’s flagship product. In September, Comcast acknowledged that it is bracing for a loss of 150,000 video subscribers in the third quarter of 2017, causing its stock to dive to its lowest point since August 2011. By focusing its energy on providing Internet access to a greater amount of Americans, Comcast is not only helping low-income households cross the digital divide but also simultaneously creating more internet media consumers.
“We have connected four million low-income Americans, in one million households, to high-speed internet service at home, most of them for the first time in their lives,” Cohen wrote in August, announcing the expansion of the Internet Essentials program to more cities. “We continue to see strength in the program’s momentum, with the first six months of 2017 seeing more new connections than any other six-month period in our history.”