As of April 2012, 66 percent of U.S. adults had Internet access from home via a high-speed broadband connection, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Compared with only 11 percent ten years earlier, it’s a huge leap forward.
The statistical flipside, though, is that roughly one-third of U.S. families still lack this important tool of modern life. Affordability, challenges around “digital literacy” and a perceived lack of relevance are the three main reasons Pew cites to explain why millions of Americans have not yet subscribed.
Time Warner Cable (TWC) is determined to change that, and this fall began implementing an ambitious program that addresses each of the three obstacles cited in Pew’s research, partly by appealing to a key constituency: young people.
“When we think about how to narrow this gap, what better way to start than with kids?” says Howie Hodges, TWC’s Vice President of External Affairs. “Kids can serve as ambassadors to their families at home.”
TWC’s 2012 broadband adoption pilot aligns with the three pillars of the Connect2Compete initiative: low-cost computing equipment, skills training, and steeply discounted broadband access for families with students eligible for free school lunches. Families signing up for “Starter Internet” pilot from TWC will pay just $9.95 monthly for broadband service – regardless of whether students are eligible for free school lunches.
A total of 485 schools within communities served by TWC from New York to Hawaii were involved in the effort at its inception. All families with students in these schools may participate in the Starter Internet pilot.
Hodges says alliances with school districts are the key component to success. Although TWC is spreading the word through its website and other media resources, Hodges says some of the most compelling communications will come from teachers and administrators who champion the program and its potential for helping students learn. Those awareness-building efforts can range from hosted seminars to notices on school websites and flyers to one-on-one conversations with students.
“We feel teachers, school administrators and principals and other community leaders will be the best advocates to help families understand the importance of joining this program,” says Hodges.
While the Starter Internet pilot is an important new effort to narrow the digital divide, it is only the latest in a growing list of initiatives TWC has undertaken to engage more Americans, and particularly lower-income citizens, seniors, and others, in the broadband experience. Some other examples include:
- NYC Learning Labs. Working with non-profit community organizations including the Police Athletic League, TWC has funded and sponsored Learning Labs in New York City that are outfitted with computers and high-speed connections and are available for use by community members at no cost.
- LULAC Technology Partnership. In association with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), T WC awarded a three-year, $200,000 grant to support technology centers that provide training, technology and support services in Latino communities served by the company. The intended market: Low-income and/or first-generation American Hispanic youth and adults, the majority of whom have never used a personal computer and do not have one at home. Technology centers are up and running in communities including San Antonio, Tex.; Kansas City, Mo.; Waukesha, Wis., Charlotte, N.C., and Cincinnati.
- Original Research. Through a one-of-a-kind research and publishing program, TWC supports original research on issues surrounding broadband adoption, digital literacy and related topics. Among the papers recently published by The Time Warner Cable Research Program on Digital Communications have been examinations of the link between jobs and broadband adoption among African Americans, the connection between Internet technologies and workforce participation, and broadband adoption by Latinos.
- Awareness Advertising. TWC is devoting more than $1 million of television commercial time over two years to carry public service announcements (PSAs) for the Broadband Opportunity Coalition’s National Broadband Awareness Campaign, a partnership of the country’s major civil rights organizations. This is in addition to free placement of PSAs promoting safe and responsible Internet use created by the non-profit group Common Sense Media.