PUNXSUTAWNEY — A cable and Internet provider hopes to bridge the digital divide for students in the Punxsutawney Area School District by offering low-cost Internet access to parents.
Comcast, the nation’s largest Internet service provider, launched the newly redesigned online “Learning Center” on its Internet Essentials website, www.InternetEssentials.com/Learning , said Robert Grove, Comcast public relations director for the Keystone region.
"It was a priority for the company to bridge the digital divide in our country," he said. "What this does is bring the Internet connections to families who have students in the free or reduced lunch programs at their schools."
Grove said to qualify for the program, one must have at least one child in the free or reduced lunch program; cannot already be an Internet customer of Comcast; and must live in an area that is serviced by Comcast.
"You also can't have unreturned (Comcast) equipment or an unpaid bill," Grove said.
He said once a person qualifies, he or she will receive the Internet for $9.95 per month, and there is no activation fee.
"That price will not change as long as you continue to have a child in the free or reduced lunch program," Grove said, adding that “hypothetically, if your child got into the program in first grade and remained in the free or reduced lunch program until they graduated from high school, you would pay over those 12 years $9.95 per month for Internet access."
Grove said Comcast is partnering with the schools since it doesn't determine who receives free or reduced lunches.
"You also have the option to purchase a notebook computer, either an Acer or a Dell, through Comcast for $149.99," he said.
Grove said as part of the program, the customer will have access to free digital literacy training online or in print.
He said the reason why the digital literacy education is a big part of the Internet Essentials program is because the FCC recently conducted a survey and looked at broadband adoption and what's holding it up.
Grove said there are three things that are a deterrent to some people getting an Internet connection:
• The first deterrent is that people who do not have an Internet connection at home can have a lack of understanding as to how the Internet can help them.
• The second deterrent is the cost of a home computer.
• The third deterrent is the cost of the service.
He said Comcast's Internet Essentials program addresses all three of these deterrents.
Grove said Comcast has recently upgraded the Internet Essentials website.
The enhanced online Learning Center now includes a social media section, a refreshed design that features a guided tour for easier navigation and new digital literacy education videos, he said.
Grove said the new Learning Center and videos support Comcast’s digital literacy education and awareness efforts by providing consumers with basic resources and tools on how to explore and use the Internet, such as how to look for a job and how to find healthcare providers who are located in their area.
"Kids can use it to do some homework, he said. "Kids who don't have access to the Internet at home are at a disadvantage."
Grove said there are some changes that have been made to Internet Essentials since it was launched one year ago, when a student had to be in the free lunch program to participate.
"We expanded the eligibility to include the reduced lunch program as well," Grove said, adding that Comcast also doubled the Internet speed.
The speed was 1.5 megabytes last year; it was doubled this year to 3.0 megabytes, he said.
Grove said Comcast has also streamlined and enhanced the application process.
"We've also updated the Internet safety software," he said, adding that once a person becomes a customer, he or she will receive the Constant Guard security suite from Xfinity, which includes Norton Security Suite, which is a free anti-virus program.
"(For) someone who is learning to use the Internet for the first time, Internet security is a topic they'll want to know about," he said.
"We're going to give them the tools to help them out there, as well as providing the information on the website," Grove said.
He said for more information about Internet Essentials, visit www.InternetEssentials.com .
Parents looking to enroll in the program can call 1-855-8-INTERNET (1-855-846-8376).