Sponsored: Comcast’s fiber network expansion bridges Tooele’s digital divide

In 2024, Comcast’s fiber network expansion will include communities in the counties of Box Elder, Davis, Salt Lake, Summit, Tooele, Utah, Wasatch, Weber and Utah County, parts of which already have access to Xfinity and Comcast Business services.

Photo by Amber Manning

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The bustling streets of downtown Salt Lake City seem a world away from the tranquil shores of the Great Salt Lake in Tooele, Utah. Though just 34 miles apart, the journey between these two contrasting realms — a stretch of road that weaves through desolate landscapes — bridges the gap between urban vibrancy and sparse suburban desert.

Tooele still feels like the old farming towns of yesteryear when so many small, rural communities dotted the map. Even though it’s in the fastest-growing county in Utah, it hasn’t quite caught up with cities like Lehi and Provo, which have both seen explosive growth over the years — not only in population but in the needed infrastructure to support their residents.

“Tooele is what we refer to as a digital desert,” says Amanda Hughes, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake. “There’s not a lot of interconnectivity or technology, and we know that when people are not connected to communities and the world around them, their voices are excluded from those conversations that are happening online — our kids get left behind.”

All of this began to change, however, when Comcast offered help through its “Project UP” program. “We told them we need computers. We need funds to support the people who run the programs with our kids. We need the internet in our buildings, and we need the best technology for our kids.” Comcast told her, “We’ve got you.”

Photo by Amber Manning

On May 22, 2024, the Boys and Girls Club of Tooele became the most popular place in town. Comcast trucks dotted the filled-to-capacity parking lot. Purple and white balloon arches greeted visitors as the building filled with children and their families, all there to celebrate the announcement from Comcast, the Governor’s Office, Telemundo NBC and Hughes herself.

Hughes addressed the standing-room-only audience from a podium. “Today, we’re announcing a special project coming to Tooele, thanks to Comcast,” she says.

Comcast is significantly expanding its next-generation Xfinity network across several Utah counties over the next three years and will invest $138 million to install hundreds of miles of new fiber highways capable of delivering multi-gigabit speed. The planned expansions add to Comcast’s ongoing $500 million investment in Utah over the last three years.

In 2024, Comcast’s fiber network expansion will include communities in the counties of Box Elder, Davis, Salt Lake, Summit, Tooele, Utah, Wasatch, Weber and Utah County, parts of which already have access to Xfinity and Comcast Business services. These locations will have the foundational next-generation network in place to begin deploying DOCSIS 4.0, setting the stage for the introduction of new symmetrical multi-gigabit Internet options. 

“Comcast’s major fiber network expansion in Tooele heralds a new era of connectivity for Tooele County,” says Andy Welch, Tooele County Manager. “With this expansion, we’re not just bridging the digital divide; we’re laying the foundation for our community’s future. As the fastest-growing county in Utah, Tooele is poised for unprecedented population growth and business development. This investment ensures we have the infrastructure in place to support and empower every resident and entrepreneur as we pay the way for a vibrant, connected future.”

Comcast’s commitment to new communities goes beyond the build expansion. They are also addressing digital opportunities in communities through Project UP, the company’s $1 billion commitment to help tens of millions of people connect to the internet and build futures of unlimited possibilities. Last year, Comcast Utah invested more than $4.6 million to help local community organizations provide hands-on digital skills training, offer workforce development/readiness workshops and facilitate other tech education for students, adults and people with disabilities. The funding also supports ongoing efforts to build awareness about affordable connectivity services like Internet Essentials, which offers eligible households high-speed Internet for $9.95/month or Internet Essentials Plus for $29.95/month. Affordable computers are also available through Internet Essentials.

“Reliable high-speed Internet is essential in today’s digital economy, which is why Comcast continues its commitment to connect more Utahns to the moments that matter most,” says J.D. Keller, SVP of Comcast’s Mountain West Region. “By establishing the best broadband infrastructure today, we are securing the economic prosperity of these communities for tomorrow.”

Photo by Amber Manning

This expansion directly impacts the Boys and Girls Club in Tooele. Through Project UP, Comcast is partnering with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake to help youth develop the technology skills necessary for sustainable employment in today’s competitive workforce. Over the last two years, Comcast provided $140,000 in cash and in-kind donations to Utah Boys and Girls Clubs. This support has funded technology training and six community WiFi-connected Lift Zones so families can get online when they need it most. One of those Lift Zones is the Tooele Boys and Girls Club, where Comcast is supporting their STEM learning — specifically in esports.

“Kids enjoy playing video games and competing against each other all over the world. Without high-speed internet, it’s not possible to provide these fun and engaging opportunities to kids,” says Eric Pullman of NPCE, who leads the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake E-Sports tournaments.

“One STEM activity we do is makey makey, where youth use circuitry components to build a game controller they plug into the computer to play online games,” says Haylee Mathews, STEM Program Director for Boys and Girls Clubs of America. “We had a teen actually figure out how to play Pac-Man with it, which was really awesome!”

Perhaps the most important aspect of the fiber network expansion is its potential to overcome the digital divide. “Partnerships—like this one with Comcast—empower our young minds with vital tech skills and ensure access to the tools they need to thrive in today’s digital landscape,” says Hughes.

Following Hughes’ remarks, Tatiana Argüello, president and GM of Telemundo Utah, addressed the audience. “We recognize the critical role the Boys and Girls Clubs across the nation plays in increasing access to digital skills training for our next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, storytellers, and creators,” she says. “Telemundo has partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Tooele and Comcast so all of you will have the tools to be successful.” 

The audience erupted with excitement as Argüello’s team passed out 280 new laptop computers wrapped in purple paper to the children in attendance.

Kids from the Tooele Boys & Girls Club react to being given laptops during a Lift Zone
Technology Center ribbon-cutting ceremony. | Photo by Kim Raff, Comcast

Jim Grover, Managing Director of Economic Growth for the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, concluded the program. “Comcast’s $138 million multi-gig speed fiber network expansion in Utah is a visionary investment in our state’s future,” Grover says. “By bolstering our fiber infrastructure, we’re not just enhancing connectivity; we’re future-proofing Utah’s economy and ensuring more Utahns have access to the digital opportunities of tomorrow.”

After the ribbon cutting for the new LiftZones, several teens from the Boys and Girls Club proudly led tours of the facility, showing computer rooms, a gaming room, study areas for after-school homework help and a community kitchen where kids can learn to cook and receive after-school snacks. “My favorite part is just being here and being involved,” our guide told us. “I’m learning so much.”

As our tour came to a close, Hughes emphasized the importance of these community programs. “Kids come to this building and have the ability to connect in a safe environment with other kids from the community,” Hughes says. “Some of them have difficult situations at home, and having this safe space completely changes their lives. Partnerships like this one with Comcast ensure kids get the best experience possible.”

Mickey is a freelance writer for Utah Business based in Lehi, Utah. She has worked in the high-tech space for the past 30 years in various sales, marketing, and operations roles, all focused on building a better customer experience. She was also a curator and speaking coach at TEDx Salt Lake City for four seasons and now does private speaker and presentation coaching for various companies in the area, always encouraging speakers to “find their story and tell it.”