Bridging the Digital Divide
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Affordable high-speed internet connections are vitally important for the education of Baltimore’s children, for access to employment opportunities and for tele-health and health care providers. On May 22, 2020, a group of young people from Baltimore City College High School representing Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society (SOMOS), submitted a letter to Comcast. They commended Comcast for creating Internet Essentials, a low-cost alternative to regular internet subscriptions, and for their various adjustments to increase digital access since the rise of COVID-19 across the US.
We, the signatories of this letter, would like to emphasize that Comcast can immediately solve a major problem facing children: Give no-cost, high-speed internet access to students and educators. They have the technology and capacity to help, and the size and scale to act now. Comcast’s high-speed Internet access is inequitably distributed across lines of race and class. An appalling 40.7% of Baltimore households still lack reliable wireline internet access, most of which are black and brown families. The data unequivocally demonstrates that Comcast must act immediately to end the digital divide.
The demands are as follows:
1) to permanently increase Internet Essentials’ upload speeds from 3 Mbps to 25 Mbps and download speeds from 25 Mbps to 100 Mbps.
2) to make Internet Essentials free from the time of enrollment until 60 days after full restoration of school.
3) to make all Xfinity hotspots, including those from leased Comcast modems, be free to the public starting now until 60 days after the full restoration of school.
Following weeks of mounting pressure, Comcast announced it would allow 60 days of free internet service for new Internet Essentials customers through 2020 and that it would leave Xfinity WiFi hotspots open to the public through the end of the calendar year. This fails to address the given demands, and here’s why.
Our demands specifically asked for Comcast to keep the free Internet Essentials program until 60 days after full restoration of school. Students who applied in March, April, and May will lose internet access by this July, if they have not already. This means that hundreds of families would be disconnected from summer school, online reading assignments, paid summer jobs, and the upcoming school year.
The hotspots that come from leased Comcast modems are still closed, which has proven to be vital in helping families and students. --- Comcast only opened hotspots in public places, e.g parks, restaurants, unsafe environments putting the health and safety of the students at risk. Opening up ALL Xfinity hotspots including residential modems would let students access the internet from the comfort and safety of their home.
We, the undersigned, hope that Comcast considers these requests in earnest and responds to our demands point by point. In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council declared access to broadband internet as a universal human right. Having access to high quality internet is essential because daily teacher and student work, especially now through this pandemic and even in the summer, is assigned online. Further, people are being held accountable for work online, so it’s just right to make sure that families are provided with affordable high-speed internet to meet their responsibilities. That’s our vision, to see families and students, not just in our city, but across the world, succeeding in unimaginable ways. The world is watching the digital divide and we would like Comcast to set profound precedents in digital equity.
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