The City of Seattle is partnering with Microsoft and Comcast to bring affordable high-speed Internet to low-income students and their families. Under the current plan, Comcast would charge $9.95 per month for the service, which it says is a 75 reduction from the average cost.
Council Member Bruce Harrell, who is spearheading the resolution, met with representatives from Microsoft and Comcast today during the Energy, Technology, and Civil Rights Committee meeting to discuss the plan that could be launched as early as the new school year.
Although Harrell stressed that it was imperative to get things in motion as soon as possible, Seattle School Board President Steve Sundquist cautioned that the proposed timeline could pose a problem for school district staff, some of whom will not be available to work during summer.
When we have private corporations willing to invest, "we work on weekends to get it done," was Harrell's advice to Sundquist.
Sundquist also said that since the service involved students who benefited from the free lunch program (roughly 35 percent of 47,000 Seattle Public Schools students), it would be important to respect their privacy when any data was handed over to the two corporations. Comcast said that nobody would know the names of the eligible students.
Under the plan, Comcast would also sell computers to eligible students for $150 with a little help from Microsoft.
According to a 2009 City of Seattle survey, 84 percent of Seattle households with incomes above $50,000 receive high-speed Internet, but only 46 percent of households with incomes under $30,000 receive high-speed Internet.
"We want to turn Seattle into a national model for digital initiatives," Harrell said. Dan MacFetridge from Microsoft said that although Microsoft had launched similar initiatives worldwide, they had yet to start one in any U.S. city. Comcast plans to launch their discounted service through the Comcast Broadband Opportunity Program, which is corporate speak for: if you receive free lunch and live in Comcast's service area you are eligible, unless you signed up for a Comcast service within the last 90 days or your account has gone to collections.
"It's because if you do have an account with us we don't want you to cancel," said Kathy Putt from Comcast. "This is for new Internet customers only." See, when you are dealing with corporations, no matter how much they want to be good citizens, there's always a catch.