Comcast Will Offer Internet Access To Low-Income Families

Mark Long,

Comcast is poised to launch a broadband program for low-income families called Internet Essentials that will provide qualifying households with low-cost Internet service. To qualify, however, households must have one or more children eligible to receive free lunches under the national school lunch program.

One of the regulatory requirements imposed on Comcast when it acquired NBC Universal earlier this year was to find ways to provide low-income households with Internet access. With Internet Essentials, the goal is to help close the digital divide and ensure more Americans benefit from all the Internet has to offer, Comcast said.

"Internet Essentials helps level the playing field for low-income families by connecting students online with their teachers and their schools' educational resources," said Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen. The new program also will enable "parents to receive digital literacy training so they can do things like apply for jobs online or use the Internet to learn more about healthcare and government services available where they live."

Eligibility Requirements

Participants will pay only $9.95 per month for Internet access, with no activation or equipment rental fees required. The service will deliver download speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 384 Kbps, Comcast said.

Beginning with the 2011-12 school year, Internet Essentials will be made available in areas where Comcast offers Internet service.

As an example, a household of three reporting an annual income of less than $25,000 would qualify for the program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, other restrictions apply. For example, households that have subscribed to Comcast's Internet service within the last 90 days will not be eligible.

Each participating household will be given a $150 voucher to apply toward the purchase of a low-cost computer. What's more, participants will receive online security protection from Norton Security Suite.

Broadband Adoption Gap

While broadband is available to most Americans, roughly one-third of Americans still are unconnected, noted Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski. "That's nearly 100 million Americans who are being bypassed by the benefits of broadband," he said. "This is the broadband-adoption gap."

Comcast plans to make its low-cost adoption program available to qualifying participants through the end of the 2013-2014 school year. "Once enrolled, Internet Essentials participants will be able to continue receiving Internet service for $9.95 a month plus tax as long as at least one child in their household continues to receive free lunches under the national school lunch program," Comcast said.

Including its new NBC Universal division, Comcast posted a six percent rise in revenue during the seasonally weak second quarter, compared to the year-earlier period.

"Our high-speed Internet service was once again one of the real highlights and was the largest contributor to cable's growth this quarter," Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told investors last week. "The second quarter marks the eighth quarter in a row where we significantly outpaced the net additions of our competitors due to strong execution and the expanding differentiation between our high-speed service and DSL."