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Needy families offered low-cost internet service, computers

Miami-Dade County launches a new program to close the digital divide—part of a nationwide effort by cable provider Comcast

Comcast will guarantee a reduced price for high-speed internet access—$9.95 a month—as long as a family has a child who receives a free lunch and lives within the company's service area.

Nearly everything Miami-Dade students—and their parents—need for school can be done online: Check homework assignments. Work on extra tutoring. View digital textbooks. Check children’s grades. Or eMail their teachers.

But 72 percent of families in this Florida county’s neediest neighborhoods didn’t have internet service at home in 2008, when Miami-Dade County Public Schools last did a survey.

A program launching this week in partnership with the cable provider Comcast seeks to change that. Families with children who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches can sign up for low-cost, high-speed internet access, buy a computer at a discount, and take free digital literacy training.

“Access to the internet is akin to a civil rights issue for the 21st century,” said David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president. “It’s that access that enables people in poorer areas to equalize access to a quality education, quality health care and vocational opportunities.”

As part of its merger with NBC Universal earlier this year, Comcast is required to provide 2.5 million low-income households with high-speed internet access for less than $10 a month; computers for less than $150 a month; and digital literacy training, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho—a 2011 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winner from eSchool News—and others will launch the Internet Essentials program Aug. 3 at Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Miami.

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