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Seattle and tech companies want internet for all

SPONSORED — Most of Seattle’s residents enjoy internet connectivity at home, but a small yet important population does not have regular online access.

A recent study shows that low-income and insecurely housed groups are most affected by the “digital divide,” so the city and local tech companies are working together to bridge that gap.

What’s the problem?

While 95 percent of Seattle households report having internet in their homes, many factors hinder access for the small population that does not, according to the city’s Technology Access and Adoption study. Those factors include a lack of tech skills and an inability to pay for connection.

“People living in these communities are five to seven times more likely to lack adequate access to the internet than the average Seattle resident,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in the study report. “Overall, whether it is cost, access or skills, most residents report some level of stress or limitations in using digital technology.”

The study points to a few underlying causes for the digital divide. First, many low-income and homeless residents may lack the digital literacy skills needed to access internet at home. Second, many in this group simply do not have an internet-capable computer in their homes. And lastly, the cost of a monthly internet subscription proves prohibitive to many of Seattle’s low-income residents.

What’s the solution?

Seattle has laid out a list of solutions to help bridge the digital gap for its low-income residents. For example, as part of the city’s digital inclusion plan, Durkan said Seattle will provide free Wi-Fi hotspots around town. The city is also committed to helping low-income people get the internet access they need.

“Affordable internet service programs have a tremendous impact for our residents,” said Jim Loter, Seattle’s director of digital engagement. “By assisting people in accessing affordable options, we can bridge the digital divide in Seattle and ensure everyone has a chance at the same education, career opportunities, and overall quality of life.”

One such program is Comcast’s Internet Essentials, which helps people struggling with digital connectivity. The program allows qualifying customers to buy discounted computers, get access to low-cost internet and use a series of online training resources. The Internet Essentials program was initially created for families with school-aged children at home but has been expanded to take in veterans and some of Seattle’s homeless population.

“Across our footprint, including right here in Seattle, we offer Internet Essentials a comprehensive, holistic and research-based program designed to address each of the barriers to internet adoption head on,” said Comcast Washington Senior Vice President, Amy Lynch. “Internet Essentials provides low-cost internet access, the option to purchase a heavily discounted computer, and access to a full suite of print, online and in-person digital literacy resources and training.

Since 2011, Comcast has connected more than six million low-income Americans to the internet at home – most of them for the first time in their lives – including more than 260,000 across Washington and 100,000 in King County. “We’ve been growing this program here in the City, and have already served more than 30,000 residents,” added Lynch.

Long-term goals

With the findings from the recent technology access study, Durkan said she hopes the city will continue to work with tech companies to help bring the internet to all of Seattle’s residents.

“I am committed to making sure that Seattle continues to lead the way on digital inclusion,” Durkan said. “We need the support of the entire community, and I invite both the private and public sectors to join us in this important work. Being the city that invents the future means leaving nobody behind and helping those most impacted by digital inequity catch up and keep up.”

Learn more about Comcast’s Internet Essentials program at internetessentials.com.

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