READING., Pa. – Reading City Council heard public comment Monday night urging the city to ask Comcast to provide free internet to residents because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Resident Christopher Ellis said that he started a petition to ask Comcast for free internet service to all city residents.
“With the Reading School District’s important decision to go to virtual instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, free access to the internet is more vital than ever,” Ellis said. “Children deserve to be able to learn regardless of their circumstances.”
Ellis said that Reading is one of the least-connected cities in the country, and estimated that 49% of the population has no access to cable, DSL or broadband.
“Comcast is a multibillion dollar, multinational corporation that has received a multitude of tax breaks from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Ellis said. “We need to come together as a city and district to advocate for this for the children of the city.”
Becky Ellis, a Reading School Board member and the spouse of Christopher Ellis, said that she fully supports the petition and asked Mayor Eddie Moran and city council to support it.
“Let’s focus on narrowing the digital divide for students so they can effectively learn while staying safe,” she said.
Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz said that because there are children in her community who had no internet, she allowed them to come into her living room to do their schoolwork.
“We do have an agreement with Comcast and we need to revisit that because this is a crisis situation,” Goodman-Hinnershitz said. “We need to find out if there is a way we can amend the agreement to be able to access people to internet services.”
Councilwoman Lucine Sihelnik said that the city should have a lot of momentum and strength to ask Comcast for Wi-Fi hotspots throughout Reading.
Moran thanked Christopher Ellis for writing the petition and bringing it to the attention of the city.
“I will place a call to the district superintendent, as well as Comcast, to make sure that everything that can be done is being done,” Moran said.
At the time of the council meeting, 814 residents had signed the petition.
In another matter, during the committee-of-the-whole meeting, council discussed the ordinance that addresses the storage of waste receptacles.
Kevin Lugo, solid waste and sustainability manager for Reading, said that the ordinance requires trash receptacles to be located in the rear of properties, outside of the public right of way.
Councilwoman Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz said that she is aware of a whole block that was recently issued warnings.
“Maybe we need a task force to get community input,” Cepeda-Freytiz said.
Lugo said that the matter is about educating residents, but he also added that council may want to revisit the ordinance because some backyards are visible from the right of way.
Community Development Director Jamal Abodalo said that residents are receiving warnings because the previous administration did not allow the city’s property inspectors to do their job.
“Now we are on a phase to create community awareness,” Adodalo said. “It’s a very fine line we are walking.”
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