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Rahmcast: Chicago Mayor Partners with Media Giant to Bridge the Digital Divide

Rahm Emanuel and Comcast have teamed up to provide discounted computers and internet access for the city's low-income students.

Is Chicago eliminating the digital divide? On Tuesday Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a new partnership between the city and the media conglomerate Comcast to provide computers and web access to the city's 330,000 low-income public school kids and their families. "Internet Essentials" will provide each family with a $150 voucher from Comcast that can be put toward the cost of a refurbished computer valued at up to $500. The company will also provide heavily discounted internet service for $9.95 a month and train families on digital literacy.


Although San Diego has a similar program that provides refurbished computers and internet service to a few hundred low-income students and their families, the Chicago and Comcast partnership is undeniably the biggest example in modern history of a business and city working together to provide internet access to disadvantaged communities—and they're in it for the long haul. "If a parent signs up a child at kindergarten or first-grade," Emanuel told reporters, "Comcast will stay with that child all the way through to high school and that access. It’s a tremendous investment that no other city is gonna experience." Comcast will extend the deal to eligible students who sign up over the next three years.

Critics point out that the move helps Comcast keep the promises it made to the FCC in order to buy a 51 percent stake in NBC/Universal. Indeed, to seal the deal Comcast agreed to provide low-income families with internet access service "for less than $10 per month," provide "personal computers, netbooks, or other computer equipment at a purchase price below $150" and give recipients "digital-literacy education opportunities"—which is exactly what they're doing in Chicago.

Sure, Comcast benefits from this deal. They got to buy NBC/Universal in exchange for this partnership. But, before you start to feel totally cynical, this partnership will have a real impact on the educational future of the city. Almost 40 percent of Chicago residents live with limited or zero access to the internet, simply because they can't afford the computer hardware or the normal $48.95 that Comcast charges for broadband.

Poor students that only had access to the internet at school are going to be able to come home, do research online, and type up homework assignments. If they're behind in basic math and reading skills, they'll be able to access free sites that couch learning in a fun, video game format. And, at a time when experts say ending poverty is the real way to reform education, their parents will be able to get online and do all the things we each take for granted, like hunting for a job or making a résumé. When you look at this partnership through that lens, it's pretty clear that Comcast, while not entirely altruistic, is legitimately helping people. We should encourage more companies to follow that example.

In the meantime, Emanuel says he'll be partnering with nonprofits, schools, and various city agencies to ensure that word about the program gets out to the families that need it most. Parents will be able to sign their children up this fall when school starts.

photo (cc) via Flickr user juggernautco

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.





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The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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