By JESSE RIFKIN | Courant Staff Writer
Mayor Pedro E. Segarra spoke Wednesday about Hartford’s “digital divide” and Comcast’s efforts to help.
“We are facing a large digital divide and a large achievement gap in Hartford,” noted Segarra at a press conference Friday, tying those two issues together as closely correlated.
“Our efforts to close the digital cap in the past has proven costly to the city, a cost we could not bare, which is why we particularly value this partnership with Comcast.”
The company last year launched a program called Internet Essentials to help close the digital divide around the nation. Helping spearhead the efforts in Connecticut is Mary McLaughin, Senior Vice President of Comcast’s Western New England Region.
“We provide lost cost Internet access for $9.95 a month and low-cost computers for $150,” explained McLaughlin. “We also expanded our eligibility criteria by allowing families with children on reduced-price lunches, not just free lunches. That alone brings in 300,000 more people nationally.”
The application process was also recently streamlined, giving instant approval for all students attending schools with the highest percentage of National School Lunch Program participation, including many in Hartford.
U.S. Congressman John Larson spoke in broad, even grandiose, terms about closing Greater Hartford’s digital divide.
“The great fortress of knowledge in all our communities is in public libraries. That is where truth resides,” proclaimed Larson, the co-creator and Chair of the Digital Divide Caucus.
“Technology is vital to information and education,” Larson said. “It seems insane to me that the United State Congress is not focused on infrastructure – which means not just roads and bridges, but also broadband.”
Poland highlighted the library’s efforts to close the digital divide.
“We are the only public library in the country with a grant from [the United States Citizenship and] Immigration Services,” Poland said. “We can help immigrants with government forms completed online. Some of these people have never even seen a computer, depending on where they are coming from.”
Larson ended on a hopeful note about the role of technology in improving people’s lives, from across the world to right here in his district.
“Technology helped cause the Arab Spring,” Larson said. “I will settle for a Hartford Fall.”
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