Why is the digital divide so wide in the city of Houston?

That was a question raised by many during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when students struggled to keep up with virtual learning.

When it came down to it, the lack of access to broadband internet became a major problem. School districts scrambled to help their students with getting kids connected by providing computers and Wi-Fi hotspots to families.

This is just one out of many challenges Comcast is planning on tackling by giving more than $1 million to local organizations that help students, adults, and people with disabilities to ‘level up’ their computer, career development, tech education skills.

“We’ve been committed to bridging the digital divide for over a decade,” said Misha McClure, director of External Affairs for Comcast’s Houston Region. We know there is a greater digital divide in our community and we found there are three main reasons or barriers to people getting connected at home.”

McClure said those barriers include:

COST

Comcast’s low-cost or no-cost connectivity programs such as the Internet Essentials program provides fast reliable internet service when customers enroll in the federal governments Affordable Connectivity Program (APC). She says many families have had to choose between putting food on the table or paying for internet. The program is a cost-effective way to help families who can’t afford it.

LACK OF COMPUTERS AT HOME

She says some families not only can’t afford them, but don’t know how to use them, so accessing the digital world is out of reach for those who don’t have computers at home. The pandemic further exacerbated the problem pushing many without access behind.

LACK OF DIGITAL SKILLS

Technology is at the center of our lives. Applying digital skills in the workplace is key whether you are a restaurant worker or a custodian. The workforce must keep up with the evolving skill demand to remain competitive.

“Nationally over the next 10 years, Comcast as a company has committed $1billion to further close the digital divide including Houston, she said. “This investment is a way for low-income area residents to have the tools and resources they need to succeed.”

So far Comcast has given grants to eight Houston area organizations, with more names to be announced this year. One of them is The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston to help high school students gain technical and leadership skills through the Workforce Readiness Program. McClure says the organization were chosen because they directly work with clients who would benefit from digital skills and workforce development trainings.

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston is designated a Comcast “Lift Zone”, which is part of the company’s efforts to provide robust, free WiFi connections inside partner community centers to help thousands of low-income students and families participate in distance learning, employment searches, and other essential services.

“Many of the youth who we support are disproportionately impacted by the digital divide and we’ve developed a long and generous partnership with Comcast to closing this digital divide,” said Mari Bosker, director of Board Governance and Communications for Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Houston. “With their partnership especially during the height of the pandemic we opened what we call ‘Blue Labs’ so kids could come have a safe place to access the internet and homework assistance, while their parents were working.”

Under the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation grant, 100 students will be provided technical and leadership skills training over 10 weeks. Students will have the opportunity to job shadow, participate in tours, career panels, internships, and career engagement.

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...