Politicians and civic leaders of all stripes converged on the shiny new YMCA in Hartford’s North End for the announcement of a new private enterprise to bring cheap, high speed internet to residents of the Capital city.
The idea is this: if you have a child who qualifies for federally subsidized free school lunches under the federal program, you get broadband internet from Comcast for $10 a month, and a brand new computer for a discounted $150.
The goal of the program, according to Comcast’s Western New England Vice President Mary McLaughlin, is to “collapse the digital divide.”
Another Comcast Vice President, Bret Perkins, said that in some cases technology can increase opportunities, and in other cases it can cause division.
“Unfortunately the technology that should be the great equalizer so often becomes something that increases the divide for families that don’t have access,” he said.
U. S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal was on hand and “very excited to be out of Washington” to praise the effort.
“For a young person who is receiving a free school lunch, this program means that hungry minds, as well as hungry stomachs will be fed,” he said.
“It’s a jobs program.”
Blumenthal was also quick to note that the program is entirely privately funded.
“By my training in my previous job, I looked at the fine print,” he said, examining a Comcast flier and drawing laughter.
“No school funds were used in this program,” he said, quoting the flier.
As part of the program, called “Internet Essentials,” Comcast is going to be offering internet literacy classes. In Hartford, the classes will take place at the Hartford Boys and Girls Club, starting sometime in the next few weeks, according to Kristen Roberts, a Comcast spokesperson.
The program is schedule to run for three years, after which Comcast will stop enrolling people in the program. If a family still has a child enrolled in the program after three years, they may extend their enrollment in the program.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra addressed the crowd in both English and Spanish, saying that the program would also help Hartford’s immigrant community stay connected.
To apply for the program, a person is required to call a toll free number from Comcast, and provides their free lunch program information to a Comcast employee.
From there, Comcast gives the information to a third party private company contracted to verify the customer’s enrollment in the National Free Lunch program. Comcast declined to say who the third party company is, saying that the information is “confidential.”
To apply for the program, call 1-855-846-8376.