Essential Pittsburgh
2:10 pm
Mon October 21, 2013

Internet Essentials Hopes to Help Close 'Digital Divide'

Students rely on internet access inside and outside of school for homework, research, and communication
Students rely on internet access inside and outside of school for homework, research, and communication
Credit Flickr

Lack of Internet access can puts some kids at an academic disadvantage, says Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane.

Comcast and Pittsburgh Public Schools are teaming together to offer another year of “Internet Essentials,” an initiative that provides low-cost Internet service to low-income families.

“Parents may have iPads, they may have smartphones that have connectivity, they may have desktop computers that are hooked to the Internet, or laptops,” Lane said. “But then we also have children who may have little of that or none at all, so that their access to the Internet is only at school.”

Lane and Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen spoke about the project on 90.5 WESA's Essential Pittsburgh Monday.

Cohen said any family that has a child eligible for free or reduced lunch under the National School Lunch Program can get Internet Essentials.

He said the program offers families low-cost Internet at $9.95 a month, the option to buy a computer (laptop, desktop, or notebook) for less than $150, and access to a “suite” of digital literacy training.

Cohen said, nationally, about 22,000 families have joined the initiative, with 2,000 of them in Pittsburgh.

He said providing Internet access helps to close the achievement gap.

“When people learn about this program and when they understand the importance of the Internet to their kids in an educational setting, and when they further understand the importance of the Internet to adults, whether it’s access to healthcare or access to vocational opportunities … we can break down some of the resistance,” Cohen said.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in Pennsylvania, the achievement gap for math between low-income and non-low-income students is 32 percentage points. For reading, it’s 30 percentage points.   

Lane said there are ways for some kids to get reliable Internet access, like the library. But libraries can’t stay open 24/7.

“It would be nice if they could, but they’re not,” Lane said. “And the fact of the matter is that often, having been a high school student myself I can honestly say, some of the times I was actually working on those papers or doing that research, it was ‘off hours.'”

Cohen said that while there aren’t completely reliable statistics on the program yet, they have been issuing surveys and found that 98 percent of their customers say their Internet is used for homework and 94 percent say their children are doing better in school.