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Shutting down the digital divide

Closing the digital divide will not happen by simply making broadband Internet more accessible to low-income families. In order to get comfortable with the technology and improve their digital literacy, they also need to learn basic computer skills such as sending email and searching the web.

That’s where students such as Dan McKenna come in. The third-year environmental studies major is part of the first group of Northeastern students to teach a community computer skills class through a partnership with Comcast.

On Tuesday morning in Blackman Auditorium, Northeastern University and Comcast celebrated that partnership at a kickoff event for the third year of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption initiative for low-income families.

McKenna is working on co-op with Northeastern’s Center for Community Service, where he and more than two dozen other students were trained to assist residents in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood with learning to set up email accounts, build their resumes, and report problems through the city’s website.

More than 200 Boston Public School students and teachers attended the kickoff event, as well as Comcast representatives, members of the Northeastern community, and former New England Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown.

Northeastern University has a long-standing commitment to civic and community engagement, which is supported by the Center for Community. “Myself and all the other students involved were excited to be a part of the program,” McKenna told the crowd.

In welcome remarks, John Tobin, Northeastern’s vice president of city and community affairs, expressed the university’s excitement to be working with Comcast. The partnership will include a public service announcement campaign to raise awareness about the digital divide. One of the PSAs, developed at Northeastern, premiered at the event.

“Access to the Internet is very simply access to the future—to your future,” Tobin said. He added that a person’s income shouldn’t be “a road block to the information superhighway.”

Since Internet Essentials launched in 2011, about 250,000 families across the country have purchased a broadband connection at home, including more than 6,000 families in Massachusetts. The program offers low-cost broadband service and gives families the option of buying Internet-ready computers at a reduced rate.

Brown, a three-time Super Bowl champion over his Patriots career from 1993 to 2007, served as the event’s special guest speaker. He urged the students from Timilty Middle School in Roxbury and the Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain to take advantage of this opportunity to get more access to information.

“I’m so thankful for Comcast, Northeastern, and all their partners for giving each and every one of you the opportunity to get something that seems so simple, and that’s information,” Brown said.. “You can never have too much information.”