SALT LAKE CITY — For Machelle Lake, giving her four children the best opportunity for academic success has always been a high priority.
But as a single mother, that's often proved challenging, especially with few financial resources to help pay for a "luxury" like home internet service.
A program aimed at helping low-income families and individuals in Utah connect to the online world has provided a means for Lake's family and others take advantage of opportunities made available through ready online access.
Lake is one of more than 64,000 Utahns who have enrolled in Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which offers income-qualified households basic high-speed online service for $10 per month.
Lake, 50, said she was unemployed when she signed up for the service at her Midvale home, knowing she needed to get connected if she's going to improve her life and those of her children.
"My two youngest kids were on free or reduced lunch, so we were able to get (internet service) and purchase a laptop as well," she said.
In addition to the basic internet service (15 megabits per second), Comcast offers customers refurbished laptop computers for $150, something that has made a big difference in Lake's household, she said.
"I had a child in high school, junior high and two in elementary school," Lake said. "In high school, so much of the student's and teacher's curriculum is online. Without the computer at home, my kids would have to go to the library to do their homework or at the Boys and Girls Club."
Having internet access at home has allowed Lake's kids to study whenever needed, and it gave her the ability to search for — and eventually find — a job. After using the $10 monthly program for two years, the family was able to transition to regular broadband service, she said.
"Had we not had that, my kids educational (achievement) would have been lower," Lake said. "If we couldn't have accessed (homework) assignments at night, then they would have missed out on those assignments. They were able to stay on track with their classmates."
Lake's high school-age son, Jimmy, said having internet access at home has made it much easier to complete school-related tasks.
"Teachers have (us) go on the internet to check grades or turn in assignments," said Jimmy Lake, 18, a senior at Hillcrest High.
"At our school, we have to do a lot of things on the internet," chimed in Ashley Lake, 11, a sixth-grader at McMillan Elementary in Murray.
Ashley said she's used online resources such as a thesaurus to help with spelling and vocabulary assignments.
"We used the internet for writing," said Jordan Lake, 10, a fifth-grader at McMillan.
The siblings also watch educational videos, Jordan said.
Machelle Lake said having the $10 internet service improved her family's life significantly by giving them access to various resources and streamlining her household duties.
"It made my life simpler," she said.
While considered basic broadband service, 15 Mbps can handle high-capacity usage, explained Dee Knight, Comcast external affairs manager.
"It can accommodate your regular internet use, checking emails and searching websites for resources," she said. "It does accommodate the standard household using multiple devices."
Noting the growing necessity for broadband access in daily life, Knight said data suggest that 27 percent of Utahns don't have ready access to computers and the internet.
Sixty-seven percent of Utah households making $35,000 or less in annual income have broadband internet at home, she said, while 94 percent of households making more than $75,000 per year have internet at home.
To broaden its reach, Comcast is offering low-income individuals without children the service as a way to bring internet to more homes statewide, Knight said.1 comment on this story
The company has teamed with Utah Nonprofit Housing Corp. to expand the Internet Essentials program by providing high-speed online service, low-cost computers and a $10,000 computer lab at the Sharon Garden Apartments, a low-income rental complex at 3354 S. Sue St.
Additionally, Comcast is partnering with the Utah Housing Authority and Utah Nonprofit Housing Authority to offer digital literacy training classes to residents living in low-income housing.
Customers will also have access to free digital literacy training in print, online and in person, Knight said.