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Pittsburgh's Astrobotic prepares for 2015 moon launch

From an old metal stamping building in Pittsburgh's Strip District, Astrobotic Technology is preparing to launch a mission to the moon on October 16, 2015.
 
The company is actively selling "payload" or cargo space at a price of $500,000 per pound to fly aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, along with an Astrobotic robotic lander and rover.
 
"It’s a little bit like UPS or FedEx delivery to the moon," says CEO John Thornton. Astrobotic has capacity for 600 pounds of payload; so far, they have been contracted to carry human ashes and a Japanese soft drink, in addition to a multi-million contract with NASA for data collection.
 
Paid space exploration is not new -- the International Space Station is the model -- but this will be the first private concern ever to land on the moon. (So far only three governments, the United States, the former USSR and, more recently, China, have reached the lunar surface.)
 
"It’s a game changer for space exploration," says Thornton. Potential markets include scientific and research organizations who want to conduct experiments or deliver instruments, governments interested in boosting national pride ("We’re selling Apollo moments") and marketing concerns, like the Japanese company who will promote itself as the first soft drink on the moon.
 
The flight will launch from Florida, but mission control will revert to Pittsburgh. The landing site is Lacus Mortis, a lunar "skylight" or 300-foot-deep pit that may lead to an underground cave formed by lava flow. The Astrobotic rover will drive around and look down with an eye towards a future mission exploring the slopes.
 
Since the last time Keystone Edge checked in with Astrobotic in 2012, the company has made significant progress towards winning the Google Lunar XPrize, worth millions. The company, founded in 2008 as a spinoff of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, currently employs 14 and is planning to hire another four as it prepares to move to an expanded 5,200-square-foot space that will accommodate offices and construction of its spacecraft.
 
Source: John Thornton, Astrobotic Technology
Writer: Elise Vider



Willow Grove's TextGen enables customer-to-business messaging

Customer service line hell -- the endless series of prompts, the interminable wait to find and talk to a real person -- could become a thing of the past thanks to TextGen, a Willow Grove startup.
 
TextGen has developed a cloud-based application that text-enables business landlines, allowing companies to respond in real time to customer inquiries, and then store and evaluate the interactions in order to measure and improve customer service. Using just their phones, consumers can ask a question, check their bank balances, register a new product purchase, request a user manual or order a pizza, even without Wi-Fi access. 
 
"The practical, real-world applications are just immeasurable," says Gary Pudles who co-founded the company last year with Thomas Howe and Noah Rafalko. "Anything you can do by voice, you can do by text."
 
With the ubiquity of text messaging and the advent of text-enabled toll-free numbers, Pudles says the growth potential for TextGen is enormous. 
 
Pudles is a serial entrepreneur -- he's lost track of exactly how many startups he's been involved with -- and CEO of AnswerNet, a large provider of call center services. The idea for TextGen came from an AnswerNet customer inquiry at a time when the three co-founders were looking for a business opportunity. Splentastic, a company co-owned by Pudles and Howe, developed the technology.
 
TextGen, which currently employs two, is actively fundraising and recently got a boost as a winner of the 4th annual Innovation Showcase competition sponsored by Enterprise Connect
 
Source: Gary Pudles, TextGen
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Changes point to growth at INDIGO Biosciences in State College

Founded in State College in 2005, INDIGO Biosciences has a new CEO, new investment, a new distribution partner and a new attitude.
 
The plan, says CEO Fred Marroni, who joined INDIGO in December, "is to move the company out of the startup framework into a full-fledged business." INDIGO is Marroni’s seventh startup; he is a former executive-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse
 
INDIGO is a contract research organization that provides testing products and screening services, determining how various compounds affect the receptors inside a cell’s nucleus. INDIGO’s technology can ascertain not only the efficacy of a compound, but potential adverse effects, and can test at multiple doses.
 
Marroni is steering the company towards new markets. Besides drug discovery, the technology has applications in agriculture (testing for the effects of genetically modified produce, for example) and chemical and nutraceutical manufacturing. INDIGO, says Marroni, "can put science behind nutraceuticals" which are largely unregulated. "We can give them scientific evidence -- yes or no."
 
Another "big strategic shift is to try to develop a stronger partner channel," explains Marroni. The company recently entered into a distribution agreement with Cayman Chemical Company to boost sales worldwide. They also plan to expand INDIGO’s product line and are currently working on toxicology tests.
 
The company recently raised $250,000, half from the Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central Pennsylvania and half in only 10 weeks from angel investors. Marroni has created the company’s first inside sales position, bringing the workforce to 10 full-timers. He expects INDIGO to be break-even by the end of the year and to add another three jobs.
 
Source: Fred Marroni, Indigo Biosciences
Writer: Elise Vider
 

A robotics 'wow' for West Chester's ONExia

It’s been less than two years since Boston’s Rethink Robotics launched its game-changing Baxter Robot, and West Chester’s ONExia became the region’s exclusive distributor.
 
A few weeks ago, ONExia blogged about a "wow!" moment as it tested a beta version of the latest Baxter software. Founder and CEO Greg Selke is still psyched. Software updates for most industrial robots, Selke explains, are for small tweaks and bug fixes. What distinguishes Baxter is that its software "has continued to evolve, and that’s been the plan from the beginning." Baxter’s periodic software updates are a strong selling point for ONExia -- they can assure customers that the robot’s performance and potential will continue to grow. 
 
The "wow” moment came when ONExia’s tests found that a move that used to take as long as 15 seconds now takes six or six-and-one-half seconds, with improved accuracy.

"Baxter will now be able to work at a true human cadence, especially over sustained time," explains the blog post. 
 
Selke estimates that the new software, expected to be officially released later this month, boosts the robot's output by more than 50 percent by providing "a much more fluid and smooth motion so Baxter can perform repetitive tasks more quickly." 
 
Next for Baxter, says Selke, is software that enables it to "see," so that it can find and recognize particular objects. That upgrade is likely later this year. The Baxter Research Robot is also being sold to universities and research institutions that are developing their own software for the robot -- the ultimate vision is for a kind of iTunes store where Baxter owners can customize their robots.
 
 
Source: Greg Selke, ONExia
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 

Latest Pittsburgh scorecard tallies 302 deals worth of investment and job growth

Between new facilities, company expansions, attraction and retention of companies and startups, there were 302 economic development deals in the Pittsburgh region in 2013; that's a 12 percent increase. 
 
In its annual scorecard, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) reported that regional economic development deals totaled $2.4 billion in capital investment. PRA projected that 2013 activity will retain 1,669 jobs and create 6,983 new ones as announced deals come to fruition.
 
Financial and business services continued to be the backbone of the regional economy, but the big news was the growth in the region’s information and communications sector, which assumed second place for number of deals, growing from 33 in 2012 to 51 in 2013, its biggest spike since 2008. 
 
Jim Futrell, PRA’s vice president of market research, predicts continued growth in the IT sector. "Considering the presence of Carnegie Mellon and the 2,000 IT graduates coming from the region’s colleges and universities each year, the region is well positioned to become a major technology hub in the foreseeable future," he says.
 
The region also remains true to its industrial roots, with advanced manufacturing the most active sector for deals in 2013.

"The Pittsburgh region still makes things: specialty metals, medical devices, robots and turbines, to name a few," says PRA President Dewitt Peart. "We’re a manufacturer to the world, capitalizing on technology to make processes precise, sophisticated and efficient."
 
"While employment growth seems to have plateaued, the outlook for the region is still sound," adds Futrell. "We should continue to experience growth in critical sectors like financial and business services, and energy.  And manufacturing -- which has fueled our economy for some 200 years -- has been a very active sector in terms of business investment deals and activity.  
 
"What is critical for the region’s future is making sure that individuals entering the workforce have the skills needed to fill the 20,000-plus jobs open in the region right now," he continues. "More than half of these currently open jobs require tech skills, and that requisite won’t be changing any time soon. Tech is driving a 'new workforce order' in the Pittsburgh region. The demand for tech-savvy employees -- across all industries -- is only going to increase."
 
Source: Jim Futrell, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance
Writer: Elise Vider 
 
 
 

Philadelphia's Invisible Sentinel expands in plain sight

Philadelphia’s Invisible Sentinel continues to grow more visible.
 
Back in October, Keystone Edge reported that the company was launching its core product, Veriflow, a rapid diagnostic test to detect foodborne pathogens.
 
Last month, Veriflow was approved for detection of Salmonella. Earlier this year, it added Listeria. Invisible Sentinel now covers more than 90 percent of the food safety test market, says Ben Pascal, chief business officer and co-founder with Nick Siciliano.
 
The Salmonella approval is especially significant. The bacteria can be found (spoiler alert!) in ready-to-eat foods, deli meats, dairy products and on preparation surfaces. It accounts for 42,000 reported cases of food poisoning annually (though the actual number may be far higher) and 400 deaths.
 
In January, Invisible Sentinel announced a partnership with Jackson Family Wines in Sonoma, California, to develop a diagnostic tool for Brettanomyces, a yeast that can foul the taste of wine and give it an odor sometimes described as "barnyard-y" (hardly a desirable bouquet). Pennsylvania Bio nominated the partnership for its Deal of the Year award. (PA Bio also presented Paul Touhey, Invisible Sentinel’s executive chairman, with its 2014 Hubert J.P. Schoemaker Leadership Award.)
 
Invisible Sentinel recently closed on a $7 million private stock deal -- according to Pascal, those funds are being used to ramp up manufacturing and outfit the new corporate headquarters at West Philadelphia's University City Science Center. The company is moving one floor up into 7,500 square feet to accommodate increased production, R&D and corporate offices.
 
On the R&D side, the company is working on diagnostics for E.coli and on other applications in the craft brewing and wine industries.
 
The company currently has 21 people on the payroll (19 in Philadelphia), and Pascal expects to add another five to 10 this year.
 
"This has been a big year for us," he adds. "Last year was about coming out of the gate. Now there is significant demand for our products and we are scaling to meet future demand."
 
Source: Ben Pascal, Invisible Sentinel
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 
 

BFTP/SEP continues flurry of investment in Greater Philadelphia

With $8.1 million invested in 43 companies in 2013, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) ranked as the second most active investor in Greater Philadelphia, according to a new report by PwC MoneyTree
 
"Clearly this ranking and the diversity of our investments this past year demonstrate the sustained, vital role of Ben Franklin in catalyzing our innovative talent to solve business and societal challenges and open new markets that create good jobs and drive new growth," says RoseAnn B. Rosenthal, BFTP/SEP’s president and CEO.
 
BFTP/SEP also came in as the fifth most active investor in the nation during the fourth quarter.
 
BFTP/SEP says the information technology sector comprised 44 percent of its 2013 deals, while life sciences and physical sciences/energy captured 30 percent and 26 percent, respectively.
 
Investments included AboutOne, Community Energy, EyeIC, FLOWatchiMomentous, LuxTech, QLIDA Diagnostics, QR Pharma, Rumble News, RxSport Corporation, Solar Grid StoragetapCLIQZaahah  and ZSX Medical
 
Also in 2013, Ben Franklin companies attracted over $160 million in follow-on financing while several others went public or were acquired. These include Altosoft (acquired for $13.5 million), Aprecia Pharmaceuticals (raised $14.9 million), BioConnect Systems (raised $9.1 million), Ceptaris (acquired for $250 million), Clutch (raised $5.3 million), Coldlight Solutions (raised $10 million), InstaMed (raised $3.5 Million), Monetate (raised more than $20 million), NuPathe (acquired for $144 million) and Onconova Therapeutics (IPO totaled $79.6 million). 
 
Since 2001, BFTP/SEP has committed $70 million to over 495 early stage companies and leveraged $1.4 billion in follow-on investment. Its client companies created or retained over 3900 high-tech jobs.
 
 
Source: RoseAnn Rosenthal, BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Lewisburg's Brighton Training Group provides food and nutrition e-learning for teachers

The scourge of childhood obesity is well documented. But in order to teach children about nutrition and healthy eating, someone has to teach the teachers. Lewisburg's Brighton Training Group, an online training development company focused on providing e-learning solutions for K-12 school food and nutrition programs, is doing just that.
 
Launched last year by Mike Matukaitis and Eric Hunt, Brighton offers ready-to-use USDA-compliant training videos that can be customized to an organization's specific needs. They also provide automated tools to deploy, track and follow-up on training. Brighton's cloud-based web app, Brighton KB, is designed to present common questions or problems, and provide a solution.
 
What makes Brighton unique, says Matukaitis, is that it uses open source material. But just because it’s free doesn’t make it easy to use, so Brighton helps set it up, customize it, host it, support it and back it up, providing "all the technology behind it to make it run and make it look pretty."
 
The company is working on a big project with the Delaware Department of Education and other partners on food and nutrition training for early-childhood educators and food handlers.
 
Matukaitis and Hunt worked together at Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit and both have extensive e-learning and training experience. Their network and experience led them to the food and nutrition sector, but Matukaitis says the company is open to other education clients who have content, but don’t know how to deliver it online. And they are working on other online tools for in-person training. 
 
For now, the company is based out of the Bucknell University Entrepreneurs Incubator; Brighton expects to hire its first sale representative in July.
 
Source: Mike Matukaitis, Brighton Training Group
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Thanks to state fund, five Drexel buildings get energy retrofits

Campus science buildings are the modern version of the shoemaker's children without any shoes.

"Due to their ventilation requirements, science buildings are the largest energy users on campuses and consume dramatically more energy than other buildings on a per square foot basis,” explains Joyce Ferris of Philadelphia’s Blue Hill Partners. But, she added, they are often overlooked for energy efficiency projects.
 
Now, five Drexel University buildings -- three science and two mixed-use structures, totaling more than 430,000 square feet of space -- are about to get $6.6 million in retrofits to significantly cut their energy use. Upon completion, Drexel's energy consumption will decrease by more than 25 percent at the Lebow Engineering Center, the Center for Automation Technology, the Bossone Research Center, Nesbitt Hall, and the Paul Peck Problem Solving and Research Center. The upgrades will cut energy consumption by about 19.4 billion BTUs a year, approximately the same amount of energy consumed by 142 U.S. families. Drexel will eventually recover the costs through savings on energy bills.
 
Blue Hill is manager of the state's Campus Energy Efficiency Fund (CEEF), established by the Pennsylvania Treasury to help colleges and universities lower their operating expenses through innovative energy efficiency and sustainability projects. Blue Hill co-developed the project with Dallas-based SCIenergy. Other investors include Mitsui USA, The Reinvestment Fund and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation
 
The project includes state-of-the-art, centralized, demand-based controls for three buildings, reducing the energy used to operate the buildings’ more than 62 lab spaces by more than 46 percent. A complete mechanical upgrade of the Paul Peck Research Center will cut the 100,000-square-foot building’s HVAC energy load by 35 percent, saving the university more than $200,000 each year on utility bills. The project also includes a major renovation project at the 78,000-square-foot Nesbitt Hall featuring variable volume air handling units, supply air distribution systems, new lighting and new controls.
 
Blue Hill expects to lead more than $45 million in investments in CEEF projects at multiple colleges and universities in the Commonwealth. When fully invested, the fund will save Pennsylvania schools more than $150 million in energy costs over 20 years.
 
Source: PA Treasury and Blue Hill Partners
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Wayne's MaximTrak Technologies streamlines car buying and boosts dealer profits

Not long after founding his company -- a provider of training and development for automotive dealers -- in 1982, Jim Maxim Sr. embraced car phone technology. Today, the company, renamed MaximTrak, is still pushing forward when it comes to technological innovation, this time "to support dealers and make for a more transparent car buying experience," says James Maxim Jr., who serves as company president.
 
The Wayne-based company offers three cloud-based, digital products. Its MenuTrak allows automotive dealers to streamline financing and insurance procedures, saving time, money and a lot of paperwork. The technology is a profit generator, Maxim Jr. says, boosting dealer revenue by 30 percent, saving more than 15 minutes per deal and improving customer satisfaction.
 
Another product, Dashboards, pulls and aggregates data into a real-time reporting system for dealership executives. E-Trak, MaximTrak’s newest offering, is an electronic contracting platform, allowing dealers to get error-free VIN ratings and execute e-contracts with insurers and financing companies.
 
Maxim Jr., who joined the company in 2003, says that further development of e-contracting is a focus right now. Most auto financing work is still done on paper, a situation compounded by the need for car dealers to comply with an array of state and consumer lending requirements. "We hope to digitize all processes from front-end sales to auto registration," he explains. The company is also focusing on developing more mobile technologies -- "So you can buy a car with an IPad," says Maxim Jr.
 
And MaximTrak is currently emphasizing international sales. Through a network of distribution partners, Maxim Jr. expects to move into Canada (where it already has a small presence), Mexico, Brazil, Chile, China and the European Union nations in the next few years.
 
MaximTrak has about 3,000 dealers in its network and is growing fast, posting 40 percent annual revenue gains. The company added nine jobs in 2013, growing to about 40, mostly in Wayne, and expects to add another three positions this year.
 
Source: James Maxim, Jr., MaximTrak
Writer: Elise Vider
 

State College's KCF Technologies perfects wireless industrial monitoring

Just as your car's dashboard tells you when something is wrong under the hood, wireless monitoring from KCF Technologies in State College provides reliable information on machinery across a number of industries. KCF detects vibrations that can be an early sign of something amiss with pumps, motors, fans, compressors and similar equipment.
 
Jeremy Frank and Gary Koopmann founded KCF in 2000 as a spinoff of research done at Penn State. For most of its existence, the company has grown thanks to federal research and development contracts from the departments of energy and defense. Three years ago, KCF made a strategic pivot to focus on industrial and commercial sales of its technology. Market sectors include industrial HVAC and refrigeration, power generation, pulp and paper, and water. 
 
Most recently, KCF has turned its attention to a new and potentially huge market -- shale gas and oil drilling. As reported in Keystone Edge, the company won the first grant awarded by the Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation & Commercial Center through the state's "Discovered in PA, Developed in PA" program. 
 
Frank says the $20,000 grant is going towards field demonstrations; the technology is already deployed at four shale gas sites, two of them used for training. As a young industry, the kind of "predictive maintenance" that KCF offers (as opposed to scheduled maintenance or, worse, emergency repairs) is not yet widely embraced, and drill sites offer their own special challenges, including terrain and weather. But KCF is convinced that shale opens a potential market of hundreds of millions for wireless monitoring. The company is currently doing R&D to further its presence in the market with wireless air quality monitoring at well sites. Another project in the pipeline involves a medical device to monitor the function of prosthetic limbs for military amputees.
 
KCF employs 35 and Frank expects to add five to 10 jobs this year as its shale business grows. The company, he adds, has doubled its workforce five times in the past eight years.
 
Source: Jeremy Frank, KCF Technologies
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Bethlehem's Third Eye Diagnostics offers non-invasive monitoring for head injuries

Stroke, hemorrhage and head injuries in combat, and accidents on the playing field can be quickly catastrophic. Now Third Eye Diagnostics, a startup with offices in Bethlehem and a lab in Rydal, has developed a first-of-its-kind, non-invasive, handheld medical device that can be used in the field and at the hospital to quickly gather critical information from a patient's eye.
 
CEO Terry Fuller explains that when there is an insult to the skull, intracranial pressure (ICP) can rise fast, potentially leading to permanent brain damage or even death in less than an hour. Third Eye's Cerepress device measures blood pressure in the eye's central retinal vein, which correlates to ICP. For first responders in combat theater, at sports events and aboard medical transport vehicles, the Cerepress works as a "strategic triage device." An even bigger opportunity for its application is in hospital emergency rooms, neuro-intensive care units and surgical suites.
 
The current standard of care to measure ICP involves surgically inserting a sensor into the cranium through an access hole drilled through the skull. This procedure is expensive and exposes the patient to risks such as infection, malfunction and hemorrhaging. Because of these risks, ICP is only measured in patients who are critically ill.
 
The Cerepress can monitor ICP and evaluate patients without catheters as they await or move through treatment, or after the catheter is removed. According to Fuller, the potential savings to hospitals nationally is $1.6 billion; that's $320,000 for every hospital.  

"By properly triaging, not only does the patient get better care, but the hospital manages that patient through its system much more effectively, thus saving money," he adds.
 
Anthony Belleza and William Lai, who developed the technology, launched Third Eye in 2009 with Fuller. The company has received grants from sources including the National Science Foundation; the Innovation Partnership is now actively fundraising for the clinical trials needed for FDA clearance. From there, Fuller estimates it will take about a year and a half to commercialize the Cerepress.

Third Eye is resident at Ben Franklin's TechVentures in Bethlehem, employs six and is currently hiring two new engineers. 
 
Source: Terry Fuller, Third Eye Diagnostics
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Pittsburgh's PECA Labs develops valve to treat rate pediatric cardiac defect

2012 Carnegie Mellon graduate Doug Bernstein speaks from the heart when discussing Pittsburgh's PECA Labs -- Bernstein was born with a congenital heart defect and required delicate surgery at birth.
 
Then, in his sophomore year of college, he landed a job as a research assistant, working with Dr. Masahiro Yoshida, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Yoshida was developing a valve for implantation in children who need reconstruction of the right ventricular outflow tract, a rare heart defect. The invention achieved clinical results far surpassing the prevailing treatment (which uses a biologic valve from a cow, pig or human). Made instead from a flexible Teflon material, the new valve is better tolerated and, importantly, minimizes the number of surgeries -- typically three or four -- required as the child grows.
 
The success of the device raised questions for Bernstein.

"If this is so much better, why is it available only in Pittsburgh?" he asks. "Why not make it available to kids all around the world? That’s what got me falling down the rabbit hole of entrepreneurism.”
 
Today, PECA Labs has produced a manufactured version of its Masa Valve, named for Yoshida, and will do its final testing over the course of the year. Bernstein anticipates a 2015 market launch. 
 
PECA has raised $840,000 from sources including Innovation Works and Carnegie Mellon's Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund. Commercialization will cost about $2 million, many times less than the typical medical device, and the process will be expedited in large part due to the device falling under the FDA's Humanitarian Device Exemption.
 
The potential market is small: only about 3,200 patients a year and about 100 pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons in the country. Now PECA has received a grant from the Atlantic Pediatric Device Consortium for R&D on a similar device to treat "the Norwood Procedure," another pediatric procedure with a high mortality rate. 
 
For now, PECA has three on staff, but Bernstein expects that with market launch, sales and marketing positions will bring the staff to 10.
 
Source: Doug Bernstein, PECA Labs
Writer: Elise Vider
 

C3i, a New Jersey life sciences tech provider, adds jobs near Scranton

C3i, Inc., a New Jersey-based provider of technology support services for the life sciences industry, is significantly growing its presence in Pennsylvania with a new help desk facility in Pittston. The new center will create 256 jobs in the next three years, bringing the company's total employment in the Commonwealth to more than 600.
 
C3i came to Northeast Pennsylvania in 2007 with a help desk located in Plains Township. In 2012, C3i opened a second facility nearby -- a hardware services depot located in Jenkins Township. These two centers, combined with positions located on-site at a client in Swiftwater, have led to 354 jobs in the state over the past six years. 
 
The new center will be located at the CenterPoint Commerce & Trade Park, site of the company's hardware depot. Governor Corbett's office reported that C3i will lease about 25,000 additional square feet of space to accommodate its growth plans and will invest $1.95 million in leasehold improvements, new equipment and employee training.

The company received a funding proposal from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, including a $115,200 grant for workforce training. Additional state funding offers include a $500,000 grant that facilitates investment and job creation, and $512,000 in job creation tax credits. 
 
"The expansion is a result of C3i recently winning large contracts with two global pharmaceutical companies to provide help desk support services for campus and field sales-based personnel," said the company. "This help desk will be open 24 hours a day, and while all calls in this center will be handled in English, they can originate from anywhere in the world."
 
Founded in 1993, C3i has grown into the leading provider of technology support services for the life sciences industry. Today, the company has over 1,500 employees and serves over three quarters of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies from global operations centers in North America, Europe, India and China.
 
Source: C3i and the Governor’s Office
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Comcast extends its broadband adoption program for low-income families

Comcast is making a major push to close the digital divide; its latest research reinforces how digital literacy drives economic development.
 
The Philadelphia-based cable giant commissioned John B. Horrigan, head of research for the FCC's National Broadband Plan, to survey customers of its Internet Essentials program, a national broadband adoption initiative for low-income families. Eligible families, who must have a school-age child at home, get broadband service at $9.95 per month, the option to buy a computer for less than $150 and multiple options for digital literacy training. 
 
62 percent of respondents said they needed Internet service to look for or apply for jobs; 57 percent said the Internet helped them with job searches. According to the survey, "Broadband adoption programs are an important resource for economic advancement." It recommends, "Stakeholders focused on economic and community development must make appropriate investments to facilitate broadband adoption at home."
 
Comcast executive David L. Cohen announced that the company will continue Internet Essentials indefinitely. The original plan had the program running for three years and ending in June, 2014. The program has already connected more than 1.2 million low-income Americans -- or 300,000 families -- to broadband Internet at home.
 
Cohen also announced more than $1 million in grants to 15 cities. Although none are in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia was recognized as a "most improved" community; eligible residents can apply before March 18 to receive six months of free Internet service.  
 
If Comcast's planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable goes through, the company will have a presence in 19 of the country's 20 largest cities, significantly boosting the number of those eligible for Internet Essentials. 
 
Source: David L. Cohen, Comcast and John B. Horrigan, FCC
Writer: Elise Vider
 
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