We’re big fans of Comcast’s Internet Essentials internet program, which helps low-income kids get online so they can better progress in school. The low-income program provides fast, unlimited cable internet to families with children who qualify for the National School Lunch Program.
That being said, there is something that has to be said about Internet Essentials program that surprises and disappoints us.
To be specific, the modem provided to Internet Essentials customer does not provide wireless access. In other words, your computer (perhaps even one of those sub-$150 computers offered by Internet Essentials and its partners) must be connected to the modem by a cable. And you can’t connect increasingly-popular tablets and other handheld devices to a wireless modem with a cable.
When the proverbial lightbulb turned on over our heads and we realized the offer was not wireless, we were frankly dumbfounded. Our first thought was, This can’t be right. We must be misinterpreting something. There must be some fine print that we’ve missed somewhere.
So we started scouring the Internet Essentials website for confirmation. And, sure enough, we found this nugget buried deep in the company’s FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).
Can I set up a wireless network (WiFi) in my home?
Yes. Although Internet Essentials does not include a wireless router, if you already own a wireless router or choose to purchase one it can be connected to the Internet Essentials provided modem.
No doubt about it, we were surprised — perhaps even shocked — to discover this technological gap in the Internet Essentials program. So we went back and looked at another of the FAQs:
What is covered by the $9.95 + tax monthly charge?
Internet Essentials makes the Internet more affordable, and for $9.95 + tax per month you can enjoy all of the benefits of our 5 Mbps Internet Essentials service at home. There are no price increases, activation fees or equipment rental fees so long as you maintain the service. The monthly price applies to a single outlet and basic modem (emphasis ours). If your household requires custom installation, additional outlets or other XFINITY services and service appointments, additional charges apply.
Plenty of detractors assault Comcast’s Internet Essentials program for its perceived faults. We, on the other hand, are the program’s biggest cheerleader. We think Comcast has done a terrific job, has already helped millions of low-income Americans, and will help millions more in the future.
But we are nothing if not realistic here at CheapInternet.com, so we would like to offer Comcast this simple bit of constructive criticism:
This is the 2015, Internet Essentials, so get with the program. If you really want to help your Internet Essentials customers, begin offering them wireless routers ASAP, or provide them with the wireless gateway you offer other customers.
Many families, even low-income families, will get much more out of Internet Essentials if their systems are wireless. It will allow more than one computer to access the internet simultaneously, so multiple children in one family can work online at the same time. And even more importantly, it will allow customers to access the internet from anywhere in the house rather than from the one spot where the modem is located. Cable outlets are typically located in the living room, while students typically do their homework in their bedrooms.
Computers are not the only way people access the internet now – iPads and other tablets and tablets are increasingly popular (especially with the students Internet Essentials is targeting). These devices need to be connected wirelessly.
The lack of wireless capability seems like a glaring omission on the part of Comcast.
The problems with adding your own wireless router
Of course, customers are free to purchase their own wireless routers to attach to their Comcast modems. But there are two big issues with asking Internet Essentials customers to purchase and install their own wireless router.
Problem #1: The purchase.
Problem #2: The installation.
Simply stated, the financially distressed families who sign up for Internet Essentials cannot afford $9.95 per month for Internet Essentials, plus the cost of a wireless router. They struggle to get by each month as it is.
The selection and installation of a wireless router is often difficult for the technically-inclined customers. From our experience, Internet Essentials customers have less experience with high tech products and are, therefore, likely to be less tech-savvy than the average internet service customer. The process – even just the thought of the process — is likely to keep a great number of potential Internet Essentials customers from ever getting a home wifi network up.
Of course we understand Comcast’s position. They were roped into creating Internet Essentials by the FCC when they acquired NBC a few years ago, and probably aren’t even making a profit from each subscriber at $9.95 a month. But, the fact is these are now Comcast customers, and not giving them all the ability to easily create a wifi network for their family defeats the purpose of Internet Essentials. A wireless setup would result in fewer support calls from frustrated customers who call to ask, “Where’s my WiFi?” Providing wireless equipment would undoubtedly prove less expensive than handling support calls.
One parting paragraph
You’ve done a great job with Internet Essentials, Comcast, but it’s time to start offering your wireless capability as part of the basic Internet Essentials package. That will be a giant step toward making the Internet Essentials program even more beneficial for your customers. And isn’t that really what Internet Essentials was designed to do?