This is really big news for financially-troubled Americans: Comcast, the nation’s largest cable TV company, is “indefinitely” extending Internet Essentials, the company’s subsidized broadband program for low-income families. The offer was originally scheduled to end in June 2014.
“In just two and a half years, this groundbreaking initiative has connected more than 1.2 million low-income Americans, or 300,000 families, to broadband Internet at home,” said Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen. “Here at Comcast, addressing the digital divide head-on has long been a priority for our company. We believe the Internet has the power to transform lives, strengthen communities, and inspire a new generation of leaders.”
Internet Essentials offers low-income families with school-age children three great services: Discounted high-speed internet access, low-cost computers, and free computer training.
Impact of the merger
Critics say Comcast, the nation’s largest cable TV provider, started the program only in order to win Federal Communications Commission approval of its merger with NBC Universal. Those same critics will surely now accuse the company of extending the Internet Essentials offer only in order to win approval of its purchase of Time-Warner Cable, the nation’s second largest cable TV provider. Together, the combined entity will have 35 million customers (Comcast brings 23 million customers to the deal and Time Warner brings 12 million).
As the nation’s leading proponents of subsidized internet, we don’t care why Comcast is extending the Internet Essentials program. On behalf of the nation’s needy, we’re just happy to know that this valuable program is being continued.
Internet Essentials is currently available to students in more than 30,000 schools and 4,000 school districts spread across 39 states and the District of Columbia. Of course, the program is only available in markets already covered by Comcast – including large urban markets such as Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Miami, and Philadelphia. That could soon change, however. If the FCC approves the Time Warner merger, Internet Essentials will be dramatically expanded to New York, Los Angeles and to 19 of the 20 of the nation’s largest cities.
How Internet Essentials works
Who’s eligible for Internet Essentials’ cheap internet program? Families with at least one child eligible for free or reduced lunch as part of the federal government’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) can sign up for high-speed broadband service for just $9.95 per month. That’s a huge savings on typical monthly internet charges, which can easily cost $49 per month and higher.
Comcast has expanded eligibility rules as the program has grown. In addition to students eligible for free lunches, it now includes children also receiving reduced-price lunches. And as cnet.com explains the expanded eligibility rules, “…in schools where at least 70% of the school population qualifies for free or reduced lunch, Comcast is offering the program to every student. This means that the 30 percent of students in those schools who don’t qualify for the free or reduced lunch program can still qualify for Internet essentials. The program also now includes students enrolled in parochial schools as well as those who are home-schooled.”
Cheap computers and training, too
Cheap internet access is just the beginning of the Internet Essentials program, because Comcast eligible households can also purchase big name computers for less than $150.
On top of that, Comcast put together printed and online digital literacy training classes and offers them to Internet Essential customers free of charge through schools, libraries and community organizations.
How popular is the program? More than one million financially-challenged American families have already signed up Internet Essentials and more than 23,000 families have purchased inexpensive laptop and desktop computers.
Defining the Digital Divide
In 2010 the Federal Communications Commission issued a report called the National Broadband Plan. It pointed out the huge gap between broadband adoption among the nation’s rich and poor and noted that 93 million Americans lacked high-speed internet access at home due to high prices and a lack of digital literacy.
That shocking gap is what’s called the Digital Divide and it’s precisely the problem that Internet Essentials was created to solve.
Will Internet Essentials expand?
Comcast isn’t stopping with families of school-age children. It’s also looking into the possibility of extending Internet Essentials or a similar program to America’s elderly.
According to cnet.com, “The company has done a pilot program with the American Association of Retired Persons or AARP to see how it can help connect more senior citizens to broadband.”
Excellent idea, Comcast. The digital divide between older and younger Americans is just as stark as the one between the rich and poor. We urge you to address the former problem just as thoroughly as you’ve addressed the latter one.
And we give you another enthusiastic “Bravo!”