I am a Vietnam Era veteran. In 1966-1968 I was a teenaged sailor stationed on a U.S. Navy destroyer.

I have huge respect for brothers and sisters who served our country with special gratitude and reverence for those who gave life and limb in the line of duty.

So I felt a special honor visiting with Rico Roman, an Army veteran and hero who lost a leg from an IED explosion during his third deployment to Iraq in 2007.

Roman, whose radiant smile warms hearts and whose spirit of resilience, confidence and mastery inspires reflection and commitment, addressed my webcast and broadcast audiences during a “Conversations with Al McFarlane” program last week at Comcast’s St. Paul headquarters.

The program looked at Comcast initiatives to close the digital divide, particularly through targeting services to communities of color and underserved populations, including veterans.

David L. Cohen, Comcast senior vice president, explained, “We’re currently on a national tour where we are sharing an annual update about the Internet Essentials program, which is the centerpiece of our company’s commitment to bridging the digital divide for low-income families. For the past seven years, we have been taking ambitious steps to try and close the digital divide. There is a slew of research on why the digital divide persists.  The number one barrier to broadband adoption, by a mile, is a complex mix of digital literacy skills and a lack of perceived need or interest in having the Internet at home.  The second barrier is the lack of an Internet-capable computer, and third is the cost of a monthly Internet subscription.”

Cohen said Comcast’s commitment to veterans began with company founder, World War II U.S. Navy veteran, Ralph Roberts, and has continued through today.

He introduced Roman, a two-time U.S. Paralympic gold medalist in sled hockey and a World Championship gold medalist and two-time World Championship silver medalist as one of Comcast’s Internet Essentials ambassadors.

Roman is a Purple Heart recipient and retired Army staff sergeant. His left leg was amputated when he was wounded by the IED in Iraq.

Data shows that about a third of low-income veterans do not have Internet at home, Cohen said. “We are expanding eligibility for Internet Essentials to all low-income veterans living in our service area. Doing so will enable as many as one million low-income veterans in the areas we serve – and 20,000 veterans here in Minnesota – to connect to online resources at home that can help them better navigate the complexities of daily life as civilians.”

Roman said it is important that Comcast is extending the benefits of Internet Essentials to low-income veterans.

“I remember during my first tour in Iraq in 2003, we stayed connected with family back home very traditionally. I wrote letters and waited for letters to arrive,” said Roman. “On my next tour to Iraq, however, they had these Internet tents. There were five or six computers that you could use to email home and catch up quickly without having to wait forever for letters to go back and forth. I was able to see my kids grow up. Each time I saw them on the computer, they were a little bigger. For me, that closed the distance more than anything else. Can you imagine a member of the military being deprived of that opportunity because his or her family didn’t have the Internet at home?”

Roman lauded the Internet Essentials mission to enable as many as one million low-income veterans get online at home. 

“That’s incredible,” he said. “That means more veterans can stay connected to their families and keep in touch with their fellow servicemen where ever they may be in the world.”

Joining Roman and Cohen for “Conversations with Al McFarlane” were fellow Olympians Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando.    

The Lamoureux Twins, as they are called, were instrumental in helping Team USA hockey defeat Canada for the gold medal in the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea – the U.S.’s first gold in 20 years – and they are six-time world champions who also have won a silver medal in the World Championship.  

They also won silver medals at the 2014 and 2010 Olympics. 

The elite athletes are fierce advocates for equality, female empowerment and inclusion, and giving back to communities. 

“Just like Minneapolis and St. Paul, North Dakota also faces a digital divide. Where we’re from, almost a third of low-income households don’t have Internet service. We don’t think that is fair to those families and kids,” Jocelyn Lamoureux said.

“That same digital divide in North Dakota is present everywhere in our country - and it’s even worse in most big cities in America,” Monique Lamoureux said. “That means a lot of young students and families are missing out.  Students need the Internet to do homework.  Parents need the Internet at home to more easily find and apply for jobs. They also need it to get healthcare information.”

Cohen said Comcast designed Internet Essentials to attack barriers head on with comprehensive, holistic, research-based program. 

“It requires sustained investment, digital literacy training, and a continued focus on building a safe online experience for our customers,” said Cohen. “We’ve connected about 10 times the number of households of all other wireline broadband adoption programs in the country.”

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