Tony Dungy is a man with a mission: He wants to close the digital divide in America by helping millions of low-income families and African-American students access the Internet in their homes.
“It’s critical that low-income families take advantage of opportunities like the Internet Essentials program,” said Dungy, who became the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl when the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears in 2007.
“The Internet provides access to a world of knowledge and resources that kids and families today simply cannot live without,” said Dungy, an analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America and a #1 New York Times bestselling author of two books, "Quiet Strength" and "Uncommon."
“The world is moving too fast and families who are not online at home are being left behind,” Dungy said. “It’s our responsibility to help level the playing field and get more families connected.”
Dungy is also a national spokesman for Internet Essentials, a comprehensive broadband program designed to help close the digital divide among low-income Americans. Internet Essentials, now in its second year, is also a partner with Comcast.
“Tony Dungy is an incredible role model for athletes and young people,” Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen said in a statement. “Through his charitable foundation, he knows firsthand what challenges young people face today and how important it is to get a good education.”
Comcast will sign up eligible families in the program for at least three years, through the end of the 2013-2014 school year. Any household that qualifies during this three-year period will remain eligible for Internet Essentials if at least one child eligible for a free or reduced lunch remains living in the household.
Internet Essentials addresses three primary barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified – a lack of understanding of how the Internet is relevant and useful, the cost of a home computer and the cost of the Internet service. Program participants receive:
• Residential Internet service for $9.95 a month plus applicable taxes;
• No price increases, no activation fees, or equipment rental fees;
• A voucher to purchase a low-cost computer for $149.99 plus tax; and
• Access to free digital literacy training in print, online and in-person.
A household is eligible to participate if it meets all of the following criteria:
• Is located where Comcast offers Internet service;
• Has at least one child who is eligible to receive a free or reduced school lunch under the NSLP;
• Has not subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days;
• Does not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment.
There is some evidence that the digital divide is gradually closing.
USA Today reported that 51 percent of Hispanics and 46 percent of blacks use their phones to access the Internet, compared with 33 percent of whites, according to a 2010 Pew poll. Forty-seven percent of Latinos and 41 percent of blacks use their phones for e-mail, compared with 30 percent of whites. The figures for using social media like Facebook via phone were 36 percent for Latinos, 33 percent for blacks and 19 percent for whites.
More whites than blacks and Latinos still have broadband access at home, according to USA Today, but laptop ownership is now about even for all these groups, after black laptop ownership jumped from 34 percent in 2009 to 51 percent in 2010.
But in the meantime, Dungy is using his high-profile influence to make sure low-income families have access to essential information through the Internet.
“We’re honored that Tony has agreed to be a national spokesman for Internet Essentials,” Cohen said, “and we’re confident that his involvement will help us make even more progress to close the digital divide.”