Comcast gives $100,000 and 1,000 laptops to organizations in Salt Lake County to support internet accessibility

Private and federal programs are available to affordably connect people to high-speed internet in Salt Lake County.

FILE - This June 19, 2017 file photo shows a person working on a laptop in North Andover, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

The nation’s largest internet service provider, Comcast, will give more than $100,000 and hundreds of laptops to organizations based in Salt Lake County in an effort to expand internet accessibility, the company announced Tuesday.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of internet access at home as students and others have socially distanced to avoid contracting and spreading the disease. Those without internet access had fewer opportunities to work or learn remotely.

“We know many people with lower incomes who live in our footprint remain unconnected to the internet at home,” said J.D. Keller, vice president of Comcast’s Mountain West region.

The announcement coincided with the 10th anniversary of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which provides internet for $10 per month to households in its service area that qualify for government aid such as reduced price school lunches, food stamps, Medicaid and others.

To apply for Comcast’s program, visit internetessentials.com.

During the pandemic, federal money has also been allocated to cover costs of home internet through the Emergency Broadband Benefit. Eligible households can receive up to $50 per month toward broadband service and up to $100 for a one-time purchase of a computer or tablet.

To apply for the federal program, contact a service provider in your area or visit getemergencybroadband.org.

The divide between people who have high-speed internet at home and those without is “bigger than you might think,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said. About 12% of city residents do not have internet at home, and many more than that do not have a computer, relying on cellphones or tablets to work and learn.

To help more people gain internet access in Salt Lake County, Comcast awarded:

“Being able to bring them a laptop, the kids’ faces and the excitement that they’re going to take that into their home,” Neighborhood House executive director Jennifer Nuttall said, “it lifts the whole family and makes them feel hopeful about the future.”

Along with helping people connect to the internet at home, Comcast has launched WiFi hotspots the company calls “Lift Zones.” These free hotspots are placed in community centers, such as Boys & Girls Club. By the end of this year, Comcast plans to set up free WiFi at more than 35 locations in the state.

Salt Lake County’s libraries also provide internet access and offer take-home internet. Residents can check out one of 300 WiFi hotspot devices, and 150 Chromebook laptops are also available for checkout, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said.

“We want to ensure that all areas and people benefit from our region’s economic success,” Wilson said, “and internet connectivity that closes the digital divide is vital to that goal.”