This article originally appeared on GeekWire and is a part of an Uncommon Thinkers Welcome sponsored thought leadership program.


Most Puget Sound residents know Comcast NBCUniversal–six of ten internet users in our state have used its Xfinity internet and, or cable TV service. What is less well-known is how Washington State benefits from the telecom and entertainment giant’s 10-year, $1 billion national effort to bring internet access to those lacking it.

And the needs are substantial. Roughly a quarter of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year, about four in ten adults with lower incomes, do not have home broadband services (43%) or a desktop or laptop computer (41%). And a majority of Americans with lower incomes are not tablet owners. By comparison, a Pew Research study found that each of these technologies is nearly ubiquitous among adults in households earning $100,000 or more a year. That means many people who need it most can’t complete tasks that might lift them out of poverty, such as participating in online education or applying for jobs.

With a disproportionate percentage of people of color living in poverty, this lack of internet adoption also exacerbates racial inequality. Comcast’s efforts to bridge this digital divide are organized under its Project UP umbrella. Last year in Washington, the multi-faceted program contributed over $9.5 million to in-state initiatives that include:

  • Bringing the Internet to unserved communities
  • Grants to tech-training organizations that serve nontraditional and minority students
  • Free and discounted access offers
  • Grants and marketing support for small-business owners
  • Free wi-fi ‘LIFT Zones’ that bring affordable internet offers, free laptops, digital skills support, and in-language information to underserved communities.

“Our giving in Washington State is focused on digital equity, and we keep growing it in response to changing needs,” said Andy Colley, the company’s senior director of external communications.

Connecting rural counties and native tribes

Xfinity is widely available in Western Washington along the I-5 corridor and Spokane, but rural areas and tribal lands in Washington may lack internet service. With a significant presence here that includes 2,200 employees and a robust tech ecosystem to draw from, Comcast is making strides in expanding internet availability.

Last year, the company invested $280 million to make multi-gigabit Internet speeds available to more than four million locations, expand broadband and video services to more than 60,000 additional homes and businesses, and provide donations and in-kind services to communities throughout Oregon and Washington.

Recent network expansions include a $5 million partnership announced in early 2023 between Comcast and Pierce County, bringing high-speed Internet to over 500 unconnected homes and businesses on the Key Peninsula. An earlier Comcast initiative invested $3 million to connect 600 homes and businesses on Muckleshoot Indian tribal lands.

Empowering business owners

Income-constrained families and households are just some of the ones that need digital skills and internet access. Small businesses play a critical role in our local economies and are also at risk of being left behind in the digital divide. Small business owners face various barriers in today’s digital environment, from access to hardware and software to the digital skills they need to integrate these technologies effectively.

Seeing how BIPOC and women-owned small business owners particularly struggled in the pandemic, Comcast committed $2 million for Project RISE three years ago. With 13,500 recipients nationally so far, RISE has seen 765 Washington businesses participate. Selected businesses received a combination of cash grants, tech makeovers, business consulting, and promotional help, including video production and ad placement.

Lifting out of the pandemic

Since 2011, Comcast has connected 188,000 income-constrained households in Washington to the Internet through its Internet Essentials program, many for the first time. Internet Essentials offers qualified families $9.95-a-month internet service. However, the pandemic created new challenges that caused Comcast to add more services to supplement the discounted internet service program.

“When the pandemic hit, we realized that offering low-cost internet service wasn’t enough,” Colley said. “Schools had problems with kids not having internet at home to do remote learning.”

Out of this need grew Comcast’s LIFT Zones, community-based centers where people and businesses that lack digital skills can access and learn how to navigate the Internet. During the pandemic, Comcast partnered with 100 school districts to ensure students could participate in online classes, many of which benefited from Lift Zones in their community. Lift Zones have also given out hundreds of free laptops.

Nearly 100 LIFT Zones have been established in Washington State in partnership with community organizations, including Boys and Girls Clubs, YWCAs, homeless shelter Mary’s Place, and Latinx community resource El Centro de la Raza. Colley says these partners are essential for connecting with populations left out of the digital revolution.

The Lift Zones are staffed by Digital Navigators, local community members trained to assist digital newbies and share affordable internet options for service.

“If you’re nervous about signing up for service, or it seems complicated, or there’s a language barrier–Navigators bridge that gap,” Colley said. “And if we’re providing 150 laptops to the Muckleshoot Tribe, Navigators are there to make sure they know how to use them.”

The Digital Navigators’ impact is substantial: A Boston Consulting Group study of the Lift Zones program found that more than one in three people who worked with a Digital Navigator either found a new job or increased their income.

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