Comcast is launching a program to provide free Wi-Fi in community centers as part of an effort to improve internet access for students in low-income areas, the company said Thursday. The so-called “lift zones” will provide free internet connectivity as well as “access to hundreds of hours of educational and digital skills content to help families and site coordinators navigate online learning.”
The first 200 lift zones have been selected and will include BUILD in Chicago, the Harvey Johnson Community Center at Union Baptist Church in Baltimore, the Olney Recreation Center in Philadelphia, the Catholic Youth Organization of Mercer County in Trenton, and the Sanneh Foundation Distance Learning Hub in St. Paul. Other community centers in Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC will also be included.
“The COVID-19 crisis has put many low-income students at risk of being left behind and has accelerated the need for comprehensive digital equity and Internet adoption programs to support them,” Comcast said in a statement announcing the plan. “Lift Zones are intended to help those students who, for a variety of reasons, may be unable to connect to distance learning at home, or who just want another place in which to study.”
Comcast said in June it would continue to offer free access to its 1.5 million public Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots through the end of 2020, and it plans to extend free internet service to new customers on its Internet Essentials tier, which is designed for low-income customers, also through the end of the year.
Comcast was one of several broadband internet providers to commit to the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep Americans Connected pledge in March, when the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns kept people working and schooling from home. The providers promised not to terminate services for residences or small businesses that were unable to pay their bills because of the pandemic and to waive late fees. The pledge also included a provision to open Wi-Fi hotspots to “any American who needs them.”