Utah partnerships bring free wifi to kids, adults
Imagine how a world with no Internet access would change your daily activities, shopping, entertainment, and learning. Such is the case for tens of thousands of Utahns who cannot afford wifi services. Adding the effects of a COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to see how many low-income students are quickly being left behind peers in learning, achieving, and progressing forward in an ever-competitive online world.
That’s one reason Comcast is teaming with partners, such as Salt Lake City and Ogden City, to open 35 free WiFi-connected community spaces – “Lift Zones” – by the end of 2021.
Simply stated, Lift Zones provide safe spaces for students and adults to access free Wi-Fi for online participation in distance learning and workforce development trainings, and to access critical resources. Lift Zones help those students who, for a variety of reasons, may be unable to connect to distance learning at home or who need an alternate study place.
The Comcast team has installed Lift Zones this year at Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salt Lake, Youth Impact Center of Ogden, Suazo Business Center, YWCA Utah, and Tracy Aviary Jordan River Nature Center.
While Comcast is welcoming the public’s input on ideal Lift Zones locations, more sites are being installed across the state to fulfill the goal of 35 Lift Zones this year throughout Utah.
“Comcast is investing in this project because as digital inequities are worsened by the global pandemic, we see low-income students suffering the most,” says Deneiva Knight, director of external affairs at Comcast. “Those very students are less likely to have access to the Internet at home or on a device, nor do they have digital skills to navigate requirements of distance learning. That has accelerated the need for comprehensive digital equity and Internet access programs, such as Lift Zones.”
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel coined the term “homework gap” to refer to the effects of digital inequities on low-income students. Those without a home Internet connection may be forced to complete their homework on a smartphone, or they may have to stay in less-than-ideal locations that offer free Wi-Fi, such as fast-food restaurants or on the steps of community centers.
“The urgency of this service has never been greater,” says Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. “Kids can now have dependable Internet resources in a good learning environment. That reliable internet is a key component of our YouthCity programming service, the Comcast partnership will help keep our students connected.”
Today, the homework gap has widened into the education gap. Faced with the challenges of distance learning, the average student could fall behind academically as much as seven months.
“Comcast’s Lift Zones are a big deal for Ogden residents, and we’re really excited about it,” says Ogden City Mayor Caldwell. “We want to celebrate Comcast for putting this together. That’s what a community partnership is––it’s coming together to solve problems and find ways that we can use each other’s tools to better support each other.”
The partnership will expand Utah’s network of public wifi hotspots with Comcast providing robust wifi service at safe spaces, such as parks and recreation centers, and other non-profit and community centers – in low-income neighborhoods – where the broadband adoption rate is significantly lower than the average.
“We expect to help tens of thousands of low-income students get online, participate in distance learning, and do their homework when sites reopen and it’s safe to gather in a socially distanced manner,” Knight says.
Specifically, learning losses are even greater at 10 months for Black children and nine months for Latino children. To drive digital equity in education, Comcast leaders believe a comprehensive effort by nonprofit organizations, faith leaders, government, and private sectors can bring solutions.
“Our goal is to provide free Internet connectivity and access to hundreds of hours of educational and digital skills content to help families and site coordinators navigate online learning,” Knight says. “Lift Zones complement Comcast’s successful Internet Essentials program, which, since 2011, has helped connect millions of low-income people to the Internet at home.” Visit https://utah.comcast.com/lift-zones/ for more information and the latest updates.