While technology relentlessly marches forward, it's important to remember that there are families across the United States who remain without internet service, or even a computer of any kind. As cable and fiber-optic technologies become more widespread, low-income families are left with few choices when it comes to getting online. Comcast hopes to change that by offering internet service for just $10 per month — as well as a discounted netbook computer — to families that qualify. The program is called Internet Essentials, and will be available in all Comcast service areas starting with the upcoming school year.
About the program
In order to qualify for the Internet Essentials program, a family must reside within a Comcast service area, have a clean billing record with Comcast, have no current internet service, and have at least one child who receives free lunch through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Comcast is using the NSLP requirement to ensure that only low-income families are able to take advantage of the Internet Essentials option.
The service provided by Internet Essentials includes connection rates of up to 1.5 Mbps download and 384k upload. Those speeds won't break any kind of record, and wouldn't be very useful for things like streaming movies or online gaming, but they should be more than enough for homework and other online school activities.
Families outside of Comcast service areas still have options for cheap internet access. Dial-up service providers like NetZero remain the most cost-effective way to get online, with prices hovering around $10 per month. Unfortunately, dial-up speeds are drastically lower than cable and DSL options, and top out at around 56k per second for download.
AT&T offers reasonably-priced DSL service in many areas, often costing as little as $15 per month. These monthly plans can offer speeds of up to 3 Mbps, but degrade with distance, meaning your speed could be significantly slower. Both dial-up and DSL require phone lines to operate, so you'll want to figure that into the overall cost as well.
No computer? No problem
When initially signing up for the Internet Essentials program — which can be done online or over the phone — families without a computer can purchase a discounted netbook-style laptop for $149. The computer comes equipped with Windows 7, though details on specific brand names or models remain absent. Also, as part of Comcast's internet service, Internet Essentials participants will also have access to free Norton anti-virus software, to ensure the PC is kept in top working order.
When Comcast acquired NBC a number of months ago, the FCC mandated that the company help low-income families get connected. Internet Essentials should go a long way towards that goal, and Comcast has already committed to reviewing and accepting new families into the program for at least the next 3 years.
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