Connecting with Community
If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans
By Jacquelyn Puente
It’s almost impolite to ask, “How is your year going?” on June 1, 2020.
In January, there was energy and – dare I say it – a sense of being prepared for the year ahead. In my role at Comcast NBCUniversal Telemundo, we were organized to execute corporate initiatives with organizations to continue our steady progress to close the digital divide, promote the 2020 Census, and encourage people to register to vote and engage in community leadership.
As someone said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Shortly thereafter, we have seen our country and our world turned upside down by the novel coronavirus. Nearly every aspect of our lives is impacted. We have lost several hundred thousand lives to this virus. Beyond the public health crisis, this pandemic has jolted our economic, political, and social systems as scientists encourage social and physical distancing protocols to “slow the spread.” Frontline workers, low-income people, Hispanics and Latinos with limited ability to distance, have disproportionately experienced illness, economic hardship, and tragically, death.
In the scramble to prepare at the onset of this, many were seeking more than toilet paper and hand sanitizer. For many individuals, companies, and nonprofit leaders, the questions shifted to how to prepare for a long-term disruption? and thankfully, how to give back and solve for the new challenges that will emerge in this pandemic?
As school districts, colleges, and universities closed, disruption in our education exposed the limits of distance learning and very real perils of the digital divide. Education, the great equalizer, was unattainable for students, especially those without devices or at-home internet. The homework gap became top of mind for school administrators, teachers, parents, as many of these students were simply unreachable.
Comcast’s leadership was fast to announce a comprehensive response to COVID-19 that addressed customers, employees and communities: work-from-home arrangements, a commitment to not disconnect customers unable to pay, free Wi-Fi hotspots across our markets, education resources across Xfinity products, and philanthropy for those most in need.
I am so proud of the leaders inside our company who worked tirelessly to expand Comcast Internet Essentials program to make 60 days free for new customers. With more people at home, we increased speeds from 15/2 mbps to 25/3 mbps to support more applications and devices. We have been intentional to communicate this in language and to those that need it the most, including undocumented people afraid to seek assistance at this time. To clarify, Internet Essentials is available for undocumented and mixed-status families. We accept more than 30 forms of identification, and you do not need a social security number to apply.
Our commitment to enhance Internet Essentials with contact-free delivery resulted from years of operations, honest conversations, and confidence that we could help. Since 2011, Comcast has connected more than 10 million Americans and invested more than $650 million in Internet Essentials and digital literacy training. Still, we know the private sector alone cannot address the digital divide. Neither can government. When the private sector comes to the table with governments, local leaders, and community partners, challenges remain but can be overcome.
Last month, in May 2020, we went a step further, and the City of Sacramento and Comcast announced an innovative partnership to connect Sacramento City Unified School District families with free internet for six months after more than 6,600 students expressed a need for connectivity. The initiative, called Sac City Kids Connect, provides Internet Essentials to qualifying families, provided they live in a Comcast service area. The first of its kind partnership is a model of how cities and local governments can partner with the private sector to address a critical need and get to work to connect the most vulnerable families in their communities.
Sharing this project with community leaders has been an incredible professional and personal experience. During some of the hardest days of this pandemic, I have been heartened by the generosity and commitment of colleagues and advocates of this program. As a single parent who is working full-time with a son trying to be in second grade for a few more days, this is both surreal and personal.
When we all come through this, I imagine the stress and anguish, that many have felt for children and students, will leave a lasting impression like generations before us that came through difficult circumstances. I hope the ability to connect to community, school, work, healthcare, information, entertainment, and each other alleviates some of that hardship.