One of the biggest challenges in diversifying the US workforce in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is providing equal access to technology. In order for the STEM workforce to represent a varied cross-section of American society, people from all walks of life need access to high-quality resources and education.
Both the government and private sector are making strides in addressing this issue. In private industry, two technology giants, Verizon and Intel, are leading the way by investing in programs that make STEM education more accessible to the underserved.
Meanwhile, two of the largest cable internet companies in the United States, Xfinity and Charter Spectrum, are investing in providing digital access to the underserved. Read on to learn more about their initiatives.
Xfinity is the cable internet division owned by Comcast, which also owns NBCUniversal (home of American media and entertainment giants NBC and Universal) and Sky (a leading European media and entertainment company). In 2018 Comcast announced that it provided gigabit broadband internet access to 58 million customers around the United States, making it America’s largest provider of gigabit internet. According to the internet advocacy group BroadbandNow, the Xfinity cable internet service area covers more than 111 million people in 39 states.
Through its charitable arm, the Comcast Foundation, Comcast makes technology accessible to the underserved by funding a range of initiatives, from military engagement to digital literacy. As an example, one nonprofit beneficiary, Code Fever, developed a Grinch-themed online game that was released simultaneously with the Universal movie The Grinch. In December, the coding game was distributed to dozens of nonprofits, including Boys & Girls Clubs, which serves an estimated 4 million youth.
Another way Comcast brings the internet to the underserved is through its Internet Essentials program. At the end of 2018, Comcast announced that it had provided internet access to more than 6 million low-income homes through this program, which offers low-cost 15 Mbps internet access and in-home Wi-Fi with no installation fee, no credit check, and no long-term contract.
Applicants who qualify include low-income verified veterans, low-income senior citizens, and community college students in Colorado or Illinois. Additionally, those who receive HUD housing assistance or whose children are part of the National School Lunch Program can qualify for the program.
The Internet Essentials program provides several online learning tutorials on everything from how to avoid internet scams, to online safety, to how to search for jobs online.
Charter Spectrum claims to be the fastest growing TV, internet, and voice company in the United States. According to the broadband internet advocacy group BroadbandNow, the Charter Spectrum service area covers 102 million people in 46 states.
Through its Spectrum Digital Education initiative, Charter Spectrum is dedicated to improving digital education. With this initiative, the company awards grants, provides public service announcements, and offers webinars and workshops to local nonprofits.
The grant program, Spectrum Digital Education Grants, is open to all nonprofits within the Charter Spectrum service area that play a role in educating the public about broadband internet access and its positive impacts. In 2017, the first round of grants went to 17 organizations, while in 2018 23 organizations received grants. The most recent grant winners include Friends of the Saratoga Springs Public Library, Computer Mentors Group, Asian Americans for Equality, and Literacy Volunteers of Rochester Inc.
Highlights of the grant program include an award made to DANEnet, a nonprofit in Madison, Wisconsin, that provides in-home high-speed internet, an internet-enabled device, and digital literacy lessons to underserved households in the Madison area. It also provides free tech device repair services. In Syracuse, New York, the Westcott Community Center used its nearly $8,2450 grant to provide tablets and technology training to senior citizens learning to use the internet to connect with loved ones. In the greater Kansas City area, the Urban League of Greater Kansas City is using its $34,000 grant to develop lessons on online job searching, resume building, and interviewing. The Urban League will also provide instruction to senior citizens on internet-based communication and offer classes for the general public on financial management and budgeting. Finally, in Austin, Texas, Austin Free-Net is using its grant to teach low-income senior citizens about navigating the internet safely, as well as how to use apps for such purposes as storing photos.