By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes
Many Keizer families with children in school are eligible for a bargain on Internet service through Comcast.
The program allows households with at least one child eligible for free lunches through the National School Lunch Program to sign up for Internet service for $9.99 per month, and purchase a subsidized computer for $150. The firm’s services are sometimes branded under the name Xfinity.
Statistics from the 2010-11 school year show nearly 46 percent of students in Keizer schools are eligible for a free lunch through the USDA-sponsored program. A family of four can make no more than $29,996 annually to qualify.
“This is our part in trying to bridge the digital divide,” said Tim Goodman, government affairs manager for Comcast in Oregon and southwest Washington.
The offer came as a condition of the media mega-firm’s merger with NBC Universal, The Federal Communications Commission required that Comcast – the nation’s largest Internet and cable television service provider – to offer virtually exactly what’s in the Internet Essentials deal: High-speed Internet for less than $10 per month and subsidized computers below $150 to 2.5 million households. The FCC also mandated the firm expand its networks to about 400,000 more homes.
Studies have made clear a trend increasingly known as the “digital divide.” A Pew Research study from 2010 showed 87 percent of households with income higher than $75,000 per year have broadband internet access at home, compared with just 40 percent for homes making less than $30,000.
The gap is also apparent when it comes to technology ownership: Nearly 80 percent of households making more than $75,000 have desktop computers, and a similar percentage have laptop computers. Of those less well-off, only 55 percent have desktop computers and 47 percent own laptops.
Students routinely make use of technology within Salem-Keizer Schools, but learning can’t stop there, said Salaam Noor, assistant superintendent. He said the sharply disproportionate access to learning resources online challenges the notion that each student should have equal opportunities to learn.
“As a district we really have a high percentage of poverty, so we think about it from an equity point of view as well, to have a level playing field for all students,” Noor said.
Noor said students at all levels can access online resources to help with routine schoolwork, and having internet access at home helps facilitate learning beyond school walls. He added that access becomes even more important as reports and other projects demand more time from students outside of school hours.
“When they do more extensive reports and gather a lot of information, do analysis and interpretation and writing, if the student doesn’t have access to technology at home it really limits their ability, in my opinion, to continue that learning,” Noor said.