DENVER (AP) – Low-income children in Colorado who qualify for free school lunches can get laptops and an Internet connection at reduced prices, Comcast said Wednesday, announcing a program that the governor and Denver mayor said is crucial to educational success.

Children who qualify will get Internet for $10 per month and can purchase laptops for $150. It’s a program that Comcast, the nation’s largest cable TV provider, now has in 39 states. A monthly Comcast Internet bill is normally about $49.

“What you’re doing today will have more impact in the lives of these young people than anything else I can ever do out of City Hall,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told Comcast executives at a city high school where the company made the announcement.

A couple of dozen students were standing nearby and Hancock joked that they would be a generation that would never know the dial-up tone of connecting to the Internet and triggered laughter when he mimicked the sound.

“That dial-up tone was the first sound I heard about 20 years ago when I first dialed on to the Internet. It scared the crap out me, I thought: `I’d just blown my house up or something,”‘ Hancock said.

Hancock said about 48,000 Denver children qualify for free or reduced school lunches.

Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen said not having Internet access exacerbates differences in educational opportunities between wealthy and low-income communities.

“We are extremely hopeful that this will really help to move the needle on what used to be called, and may still be called the digital divide,” Cohen said.

The program, called Internet Essentials, will also provide free courses on how to operate a computer and protect children when they’re online.

While some of Colorado’s urban schools have easier access to high-speed Internet, there are rural school districts that don’t. Gov. John Hickenlooper said that “creates a real tilt in the playing field.”

“If you don’t have access to the Internet, if you don’t have access to a decent computer, it’s almost — not completely — but almost inconceivable that you’ll be ready for the next set of jobs, the next generation of jobs that come out,” he said.

– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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