The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Private Sector Solution to Digital Literacy

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


As students return to school this fall, they are finding that their teachers are using technology tools, such as online curriculums and textbooks, and assigning online homework more frequently.  Today, virtually all schools and libraries are connected to the Internet.  However, once the school day has ended, students may find a different picture when they return home.

Many low-income families across the country cannot afford to purchase computers or subscribe to Internet access.  This is where the private sector has jumped in to help.  In 2011, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) began a program called Connect2Compete to bring low-cost Internet service to the needy.  On March 21, 2013, it launched the EveryoneOn campaign to promote digital learning and broadband use by providing Internet service and low-cost computers to families with children eligible to receive free or reduced lunches through the federal school lunch program.

Comcast initiated its own program on September 20, 2011, called Internet Essentials.  The program provides broadband services, and options to purchase Internet-ready computers for low monthly fees to families with children eligible for the national school lunch program.  On August 13, 2013, Comcast announced that that nearly 900,000 low-income Americans and more than 220,000 families were connected to the Internet at home through this program.  The company is re-launching the program with increased speeds, streamlined enrollment, expanded eligibility, an online application tool, and Internet Essentials opportunity cards that would be distributed by local community partners to help pay for the Internet Essentials service.

In a study conducted by the company, Comcast reported that 85 percent of its Internet Essentials customers indicated they used the Internet at home every day, with their most popular use being homework (98 percent), followed by general Internet searches (94 percent).  In addition, 58 percent of Internet Essentials customers reported using the Internet as part of their job search.

These two programs indicate the importance that the technology and telecommunications industries place on providing digital education to the nation’s children.  As opposed to using taxpayer-funded programs such as the Universal Service Fund, or building expensive and often redundant municipal broadband networks, these private sector initiatives have and continue to provide low-income families with the tools they need to prepare their students to compete in the global economy.

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