Students are Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy celebrate after Comcast gave 25 students free computers. The CGLA students are among 50 recipients today of laptops Comcast donated in Chattanooga to low-income persons needing a computer for internet access.
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Comcast on Thursday touted its discounted internet plan that has already connected nearly 12,000 more Chattanoogans to the information super highway since its start six years ago, helping to bridge a key difference among Chattanoogans in their ability to compete in today's digital economy.

To help connect still more Chattanoogans, Comcast gave away another 50 laptop computers to students at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and others Thursday and pledged $10,000 to Chattanooga's Tech Town for programs to provide digital literacy to help more persons understand how to connect and use the internet.

"Comcast has played a defining role in shaping the future of media and technology, and we maintain an unwavering commitment to address the barriers to broadband adoption across the communities we serve," Comcast Senior Vice President Tina Simmons told community leaders gathered at Tech Town to discuss ways to address the so-called digital divide between those with internet connections and those who don't have such computer links.

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Broadening broadband

Program: Comcast Internet Essentials

Service: Low-cost monthly internet service

Price: $9.95 a month for internet, laptop computers for $150

Eligibility: Comcast subsidizes the service and offers Internet Essentials to any student at a Title 1 school, anyone who lives in public housing or any student receiving free or reduced school lunches.

Reach: Since its start in 2011, Comcast’s Internet Essentials has helped 3 million low-income Americans gain internet access.

Contact for service: Visit or call 1-855-846-8376. Spanish-only speakers should call 1-855-765-6995.

Simmons said Comcast's Internet Essentials is the nation's largest and most comprehensive high-speed internet adoption program for low-income households. It provides low-cost internet service for $9.95 a month; the option to purchase an internet-ready laptop computer for less than $150; and access to free digital literacy training in print, online, and in person.

In six years, Internet Essentials has connected more than 3 million low-income Americans to the internet, including 3,000 more connections in Hamilton County. Comcast estimates the program has helped reach 12,000 more individuals with home internet links.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Comcast's laptop donation and grant to Tech Town "has not just given these children a new piece of technology, they have been given a piece of hope, a boost in confidence and a new opportunity to succeed."

Despite such efforts, Simmons said about one if four households in America still lack any internet access, either because it is not available, is not affordable or is not understand or appreciated.

Without internet links in the home, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy Principal Elaine Swafford said students often can't do their homework. Launch Tennessee President Charlie Brock said internet service is needed for persons to find out about and apply for jobs and for consumers and workers to learn, shop and participate in the e-commerce era.

"Our ability to grow as a community is directly dependent upon how we address this digital divide," Brock said.

Simmons likened those without internet service to households in the past that lacked running water or electricity.

Many are not connected because they don't understand or are confused by the technology and need help, such as what Chattanooga provides with programs such as Tech Goes Home and Tech Town.

"Today, Chattanooga was united with nonprofit partners, elected officials, educators, and advocates who all believe that the Internet is essential for everyone," said Chris Ramsey, CEO of TechTown Chattanooga, which plans more than 20 programs in 2018 to reach out to those without internet connections or experience.

Tennessee's unemployment rate is at an all-time low and the Volunteer State is leading the country is small business growth this year. But community leaders said those without internet service are being left behind in the digital economy of the 21st century.

"There is a vibe in this community and rightfully so," Simmons said, pointing to the nearly $8 billion of new investment in the region over the past eight years that has helped make Chattanooga Tennessee's second fastest growing major city behind only Nashville. "Chattanooga also is permeated with concern that the community's ascendancy has to be inclusive and a key part of that is bridging the digital divide."

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340.