Scott & Haynes: Internet is critical lifeline for vulnerable populations
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, it would have been hard to imagine life without the internet. But almost overnight, schools went remote, turning the kitchen table into a classroom and parents into teachers. Many workplaces went remote as well, but not everyone was fortunate enough to be able to work from home. And many households lacked a home internet connection altogether.
For many low-income families, finding affordable, reliable access to the internet can be challenging. Not having that access deprives students of valuable online learning opportunities and cuts off one of the most important channels when searching for employment. During these troubling times, it can be difficult for families to keep in touch and make sure that their loved ones are safe and well without internet access.
This crisis has shined a spotlight on just how vital the internet is to our everyday lives, and the challenges this digital divide can present to the most vulnerable among us.
In May, the Hillsboro School District formed a business partnership with Comcast to provide up to 650 families with free internet for six months through the Internet Essentials program. Comcast is providing two of the six months free to qualifying families who apply before the end of the year. Interested families should talk to their school counselor.
Comcast launched the Internet Essentials program almost a decade ago to help low-income households across the country access the internet reliably and affordably for less than $10 per month. In response to the needs due to COVID-19, the company has made several changes to the Internet Essentials program including boosting speeds, adjusting eligibility criteria, and offering the first 60 days of service free for the rest of 2020 to all new Internet Essentials customers, including right here in Hillsboro, to help more households get connected during the pandemic.
In addition to the partnership with the school district in Hillsboro, Comcast is also partnering with the Salem-Kaiser School District, The Fund for Portland Public Schools, Beaverton School District, Portland Community College and the nonprofit Worksystems Inc.
By helping families gain access to the internet, we are hoping to enable more people stay connected, informed, employed and, yes, even healthy. School may be winding down for the year, but online learning opportunities don't end. With unemployment running high because of the economic fallout of COVID-19, job seekers can tap into vast resources online to find new work, file unemployment claims and polish up their online résumés. Also, families who have had to remain physically distant can keep close virtually through the internet with video conferencing and other tools.
The future is uncertain, and no one really knows just how much our world will be transformed at the other end of the pandemic. But one thing we know for sure is that the internet is going to play a pivotal role in helping people find their way through - and stay connected. We are proud to be able to help bring this critical tool to those who need it most.
Mike Scott is superintendent of the Hillsboro School District. Marion Haynes is regional vice president of external communications
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