FRESNO -- Isabel Rojas and José Luis Camorlinga have a computer at home, but the parents of four children can't afford to have an Internet connection.
"We don't have enough to pay for the Internet," said Camorlinga, who would like to have that connection so his children, ages 10, 9, 5 and 1, can make use of it for school.
The digital divide that keeps low-income families like Rojas and Camorlinga could shrink, thanks to an initiative launched last Saturday at Mario G. Olmos Elementary School in southeast Fresno.
Families who qualify for free school lunches are eligible to take advantage of the Internet Essentials program offered by Comcast.
Under the program, which is offered throughout Comcast service areas nationally, parents can:
Sign up for residential Internet service for $9.95 a month. There will be no activation fees or costs for equipment rentals.
Receive a voucher to purchase a low-cost computer for $149.99, plus tax.
Get access to free digital training in print, online and in-person.
"Having access to the Internet is a necessity," said Assemblymember Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, during an introduction of the initiative. "Kids who don't have access to the Internet are at a great disadvantage when it comes to doing school work, applying to college and even looking for a job."
Data shows that Latinos trail many Americans when it comes to Internet connection. A 2010 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce said 50.69 percent of Latinos do not have Internet access, compared to 25.68 percent for non-Latino whites. Almost three out of every four students at Olmos Elementary is Latino.
Luis Santana, executive director of Reading & Beyond, applauds the initiative. His non-profit organization helps educate parents on how to better prepare themselves to help their children in school.
"The training component is very important because many parents don't have the skills and confidence to use the Internet," said Santana, whose organization received a $15,000 grant from Comcast to provide Internet training for parents.
Santana said parents are very interested in getting on the Internet and seeing how they can get information like ATLAS, a Fresno Unified School District program that allows parents to access their children's grades and progress.
Santana wants to train parents before they get Internet access and computers. Reading & Beyond has already purchased some computer for parents to use at home.
"Many of them work and don't have the time to go to a center to use the Internet," said Santana. "Using the Internet should be a daily activity that they can do at home." Reading & Beyond will create a micro-lending program for families to purchase computers.
"Over the past 12 years, I have not met a parent who didn't care about the success of their child," said Santana. "Once parents have the tools and knowledge, I believe they will do what it takes to help their child succeed.
The initiative is available to families who have not subscribed to Comcast Internet services within the last 90 days, and do not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment.
"This is a social equality issue," said Johnny Giles, Comcast vice president of external affairs. "There is so much that the Internet provides."
Giles and others said parents can communicate with their schools online, as well as apply for jobs or send a question to their political representatives.
Perea said the Comcast initiative will help close the gap between the "haves and the have nots in the digital world."
Fresno City Councilmember Sal Quintero, speaking in Spanish to about 200 families, said the Internet can help connect families with each other.
"This is something that is going to greatly help our communities," said Quintero.
Fresno Unified School District superintendent Michael Hanson was so thrilled about the initiative, he offered to pay for five computers to five families whose children were in attendance Saturday and who had perfect attendance through Oct. 5. A raffle of those students who qualify will be held to determine the winners.
"I can't stress enough the importance of being connected to the Internet in your home," said Hanson.
Angélica Vargas and Rafael Abundiz, who have three children, said they would take advantage of the initiative.
"I don't know how to use a computer," said Abundiz, who was a recent graduate of the Parent Institute for Quality Education, a program that teaches parents about how the school system works and how they can better help their children.
Abundiz, whose youngest child is a student at Roosevelt High School, said the school district's ATLAS program was not functioning when he took the PIQE class.
Comcast will enroll eligible families in the program for at least three years.
Details: (855) 846-8375 in English or (855) 765-6995 in Spanish.
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