Comcast’s recently launched Internet Essentials program offers a reduced monthly internet rate to low-income families. The company hopes that less affluent families will be able to afford the $9.95 price tag (reduced from nearly $50) and that improved access to the internet will help children from low-income households do better in school.
This program is more than an advertising gimmick designed to lure customers with the promise of an initial low price. To be eligible for the reduced monthly rate, “families must have a least one child who qualifies for the free lunch program — that means an income of less than $25,000 a year for a family of three.” Comcast Vice President David Cohen stated that the severely reduced price is “a permanent price, not a promotional price.”
But mere access to the internet is not enough; after all, public and school libraries usually offer free internet access to students. Comcast will also provide coupons that will allow families to buy a PC for $150, as well as digital literacy kits to provide support for establishing e-mail accounts and preventing kids from accessing obscene material online.
The question is, will improved internet access really help low-income kids do better in school? While it is important to ensure that every child has the same opportunities and access to information as his or her peers, technology is clearly not a substitute for good teachers and adequate time spent on homework and reading assignments.
A government article on the effect of technology in the classroom suggests that the use of technology allows students to be “in an active role rather than the passive role of recipient of information transmitted by a teacher, textbook, or broadcast. The student is actively making choices about how to generate, obtain, manipulate, or display information.” The article suggests that this control over the learning process leads to “increased motivation and self-esteem.” Internet access also makes it easier to research colleges and financial aid programs, a key factor in getting students to enroll in higher education.
On the other hand, technology in general, and specifically the internet, can lead to distractions and decreased efficiency. Who hasn’t tried to write four e-mails at once while instant messaging a friend, uploading pictures to Facebook, and doing homework at the same time? Today, that list of multi-tasking activities practically defines the high school and college experience.
The Internet Essentials program will provide many low-income families with a great service that many people in America take for granted — reliable high-speed internet access. Whether or not this move represents a bridge in the achievement gap remains to be seen.
Photo credit: stuartpilbrow