david-l-cohen_web.jpgOVERTOWN — A national initiative to help bridge the digital divide that separates minorities from the plugged-in world has come to Miami’s Overtown neighborhood.

Comcast Corporation unveiled its Internet Essentials program designed to help low-income families gain access to the Internet in their homes during a ceremony on Aug. 4 at Phillis Wheatley Elementary School, 1801 NW 1st Place.

The major digital provider has partnered with Miami-Dade Public Schools to provide low-income students with such access in their homes and help them purchase computers at discounted prices.

A Miami-Dade Schools survey in 2008 found that 72 percent of families in poor districts of the county were without Internet service in their homes.

Phillis Wheatley is the second school in the U.S. that Comcast has visited to introduce Internet Essentials, the first being a Chicago school. The program is being offered in 39 states in areas where Comcast service is available, according to a Comcast spokesperson.

Phillis Wheatley was chosen because it represents exactly what Comcast was looking for, said Gemma Castillo, Miami-Dade County Public Schools educational specialist. “Here we have a school at which 99 percent of its 200 students receive free lunches. And, this year, the school went from an ‘F’ to an ‘A.’  That proves that, with a little push and the right tools, kids can actually succeed. The Internet can only make things better.”

David L. Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president, said access to broadband in students’ homes will help them connect with their teachers and their schools’ educational resources. It will also enable parents to use the Internet for a variety of purposes, such as applying for jobs online and learning more about healthcare and government services available where they live.

Joseph Washington, 69, of Overtown, has two granddaughters enrolled in Phillis Wheatley. “I’m grateful that my grandbabies can now have a computer I can afford and that they can learn to use it well,” he said. “I want them to have better opportunities, to be more productive. It’s never too early for a head start on education.”

Parents will receive a letter telling them what they need to do to sign up, Castillo said. Internet access is $9.99 per month and vouchers to purchase a computer for $150 are available.

Comcast will sign up eligible families in the program through at least the end of the 2013-2014 school year.  Any household that qualifies during this three-year period will remain eligible for Internet Essentials, provided the child who is eligible for a free lunch remains living in the household.

For more information on the Internet Essentials program, its service details and eligibility rules, visit internetessentials.com.

Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net.

Photo: David L. Cohen