Comcast, Open Wi-Fi Networks to Get 20,000 Philadelphia Students Online

If there were villains in Philadelphia’s COVID-19 nightmare, Comcast would be right up there with Joel Freedman, owner of the shuttered and unused Hahnemann Hospital.

20,000 Philadelphia students without internet connections have been unable to attend school for months, and yet, when asked directly by Dr. Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, to open their residential Wi-Fi networks so students could actually use the more than 80,000 laptops distributed by an already fiscally under-water school district, Comcast refused.

Comcast received a $12.7 Billion tax gain due to the Trump tax bill back in January.

Comcast receives $18 Million in tax allowances from Pennsylvania. 

Comcast received a 20% property tax cut from Philadelphia, the poorest big city in America.

Comcast recorded a net profit of nearly $85 billion in 2017 and $94.5 billion in 2018.

Comcast CEO, Brian Roberts, who attempted to buy off the people’s goodwill with a $5 million donation, earns nearly $30 million every year and is personally worth nearly $2 billion.

Comcast claims their networks were not engineered for public use, but according to a letter written by prominent members of the U.S Senate, “millions of Comcast’s customers pay the company $14 a month to rent a Wi-Fi router which includes, by default, a Comcast-controlled public Wi-Fi network to which Comcast sells access.” Not only does Comcast have the capability to use their networks for public use, but the infrastructure is also literally already in people’s homes.

Comcast is proud of its Internet Essentials package, but the $10 a month fee pays for internet speeds that are “slower than 89 percent of cable connections in the U.S.” Furthermore, for eligible families who were already living in poverty and are now—with 38 million Americans unemployed—likely on the brink of economic catastrophe, $10 is hardly a small amount of money. Nevertheless, desperate families are willing to pay what they must for internet access in times of crisis. For this reason, skeptics across the country decry Comcast’s supposedly philanthropic program as merely a “customer acquisition program in disguise.”

Comcast further seems to believe that their outdoor and small business hotspots are satisfactory options for families without home internet access. The tone-deafness of this belief is staggering, particularly since the children of Comcast executives do their schoolwork from their homes using their own home Wi-Fi, while less privileged families have to make do with the nearest parking lot. It sounds Dickensian, but this is not hyperbole. So many students have been forced to complete their studies in parking lots that local activist groups have created the #ParkingLotWiFi campaign to shine a light on these gross inequities. 

The bottom line is the Comcast, which calls Philadelphia home and has made literally billions of dollars with support from Philadelphia taxpayers, is turning its back on the city and its children.

Here is what Comcast needs to do:

  1. Make all Xfinity hotspots, including residential hotspots, free to the public starting now until 60 days after virtual schooling has ceased.
  2. Make the Internet Essentials program free from the time of enrollment until 60 days after virtual schooling has ceased.
  3. Permanently increase the Internet Essentials upload speed from 3 Mbps to 25 Mbps and download speed from 25 Mbps to 100 Mbps.

Until then, Comcast is nothing more than another greedy corporate conglomerate, valuing the almighty dollar more than the education of Philadelphia’s children.

Zachary’s original post was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Zachary Wright
Zachary Wright
Zachary Wright is an assistant professor of practice at Relay Graduate School of Education, Curriculum Contributor to the Center for Black Educator Development, and general agitator. His writing has been published by The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Citizen, Chalkbeat, Educational Leadership, and numerous education blogs. His latest book, Dismantling a Broken System; Actions to Bridge the Equity, Justice, and Opportunity Gap in American Education is available now.


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