The local effort to backfill the digital divide between those with internet access and those without received another boost from Comcast, which involves donations of $400,000 to local nonprofits. The donation is intended to form a digital equity network in partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound, Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region, TeamWrk and Thrive Tacoma Business Fund to increase internet access and digital equity for all ages.

Mayor Victoria Woodards, left, with Brodrick Johnson, Comcast, center, and Carrie Holden, with Boys and Girls Club, together before the ribbon cutting on Thursday, July 20, 2023, in Tacoma. Photo credit: John Froschauer/Comcast

Boys & Girls Club of South Puget Sound Educates Youth on the Internet

Most notable is the Boys & Girls Club, which unveiled a state-of-the-art digital center for children and teens to learn and explore technology by playing educational games, making computer boards and designing three-dimensional printing projects.

“Our generation gets on the internet,” said Boys & Girls Club of South Puget Sound President and CEO Carrie Holden. “For the kids in our community now, it’s not a destination. It’s part of their everyday lives. The ubiquitous nature of modern internet needs and wants means children not only require internet access but also skills to use and learn from it.”

Holden explained it is a lot like building a closet. The program and technological tools now available at the Club’s Schatz Branch provide the closet’s framework that then adds hangers of skills about coding, digital safety, and digital production for children of all ages.

“Our goal is to slip that education under the radar,” she said of the projects and tools at the club that look like just gaming and fun, but every session has a curriculum and purpose behind it. Each one dovetails into the others to create a lattice of familiarity and develop skills about the digital world through internet access and tools.

Broderick Johnson of Comcast watches children work with equipment on Thursday, July 20, 2023, in Tacoma. Photo credit: John Froschauer/Comcast

Comcast’s Efforts to Address the Digital Divide

Comcast’s Digital Equity Network is an interconnected group of organizations in the Pacific Northwest that have a connection with each other and work collectively toward a common purpose to increase access and adoption of the internet, help people get online, build digital skills, and open doors to economic mobility.

“There’s no question the world is becoming more and more digital every day, but some people need our help learning the skills they need to get online,” said Comcast Executive Vice President of Digital Equity Broderick Johnson.

Broderick recalled a time in 1998 when he worked in the White House. Then-president Bill Clinton outlined what was seen as a bold plan of having a computer in every classroom. Now, all students, particularly in Tacoma, have laptops and use technology in their everyday lives without much thought, just a generation later. He noted that closing the digital divide through improved access, however, is still critical through increased accessibility to technology, computer-skills programs and affordable internet connection in all homes.

“We are well beyond that (Clinton-era pledge),” he said. “But barriers still exist. This is so necessary to fill that digital divide. It is going to change lives.”

Children and teens, for example, can help others learn and inter-generationally teach the older members of their families about the possibilities of technology, from the ease of video calls to virtual resources to avoiding misinformation and scams found online.

“Technology is a way of life,” Johnson said, adding that some people are being left behind. It’s through public-private partnerships like Comcast’s contributions that provide tools and training so residents of all ages can jump the digital divide and excel in an increasingly technological world.

Digital equity is a fundamental right, and local communities with equitable access to the internet are simply better positioned to fully engage in today’s world,” said Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, who is also the President of the National League of Cities who were holding a conference in Tacoma during the announcement. “It is essential for education and employment, business development, healthcare, government services, and community involvement. I am grateful to our private sector partners at Comcast for their ongoing commitment to this critical work.”

Children in the new Lift Zone room at the South Puget Sound Boys and Girls Club on Thursday, July 20, 2023, in Tacoma. Photo credit: John Froschauer/Comcast

Comcast’s Project UP Helps Many in the South Sound

Comcast’s recent contributions are part of Project UP, a $1 billion commitment to help advance digital equity to underserved populations during the next decade and come just months after the technology giant awarded $300,000 to the same four local organizations.

More specifically, the recent donation includes the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound receiving $130,000 in cash and in-kind services for a few dozen laptops and high-end desktops for its newly unveiled center designed to help children with tutoring, homework support, and the exploration of technological tools.

Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region received $85,000 to boost attendance at the organization’s Work Opportunity Centers, providing community members access to digital skills training, devices, and subsidized internet access from the Affordable Connectivity Program. Comcast’s grant will also increase access to digital technology through Goodwill’s free job-training program.

Comcast’s $20,000 cash contribution and $21,000 in donated laptops to TeamWrk will enable live streaming from the nonprofit’s center and expand its reach to children who are learning how to use programs like Teams, Zoom, and PowerPoint, as well as how to create and edit podcasts, graphics, and video content.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber’s Thrive Tacoma Business Fund received $150,000 to help minority-owned, small businesses with micro-grants for digital access and technology solutions as they struggle with inflation and other issues.

Comcast selected these organizations based on their shared commitment to digital equity and their programs specifically designed to provide residents in the South Puget Sound region with internet access and skill-building services.

Aside from these efforts, the global tech company also participates in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides eligible families with monthly vouchers for internet service that combines with the company’s existing Internet Essentials service tiers to make home broadband effectively free for many people.