Comcast enrolled 91,000 low-income families for its $9.95-per-month Internet Essentials service through June 21 -- and said it is nearing the 100,000 mark -- more than doubling the size of the program since the start of 2012.
In a press release Wednesday, Comcast said it had signed up "nearly 100,000" households for the program, enabling access to almost 400,000 Americans to date, without providing specific figures. Through June 21, which marked the one-year anniversary of Internet Essentials, the operator estimated it had connected 364,000 people, including 182,000 children.
The MSO is required to offer low-cost broadband to poor Americans under the conditions the Federal Communications Commission attached to the approval of its NBCUniversal takeover. However, Comcast has said planning for the Internet Essentials program began two years prior to the NBCU deal.
About 2.3 million households in Comcast's service areas are eligible for Internet Essentials. The program is available to families who qualify for free school lunches under the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program, and the company extended the program earlier this year to those eligible for reduced-price lunches as well.
Now Comcast is about to kick off another multi-city tour to promote and publicize the program, as it did last year, David Cohen, Comcast's executive vice president and chief diversity officer, said in a blog post Wednesday.
"We have a lot more work to do because the fact remains that far too many Americans, many from low-income families, are still not connected to the Internet and taking advantage of all that it has to offer," he wrote.
Comcast launched Internet Essentials in Chicago in May 2011. Since then nearly 7,000 families have signed on in Chicago alone, and more than 15,000 have enrolled across the region, which includes much of Illinois, northwest Indiana and southwest Michigan.
"It is imperative that Chicago become a more digitally connected city so all of our children have the same opportunities and our adults can find jobs and help grow the city's economy," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. "I am focused on closing the digital divide throughout our city and ensuring that every family in Chicago can benefit from getting online at home."
Earlier this year, Comcast doubled the speeds available with Internet Essentials, to up to 3 Megabits per second downstream and 768 Kilobits per second upstream.
In addition to Internet service for $9.95 per month plus taxes, participants receive a voucher to purchase a low-cost computer for $149.99 plus tax and access to free digital literacy training in print, online and in-person. Comcast guarantees it will never increase prices for Internet Essentials, nor will it charge activation or equipment-rental fees.
According to Comcast, satisfaction with Internet Essentials continues to be very high, with 86% of customers surveyed agreeing that they are "highly satisfied" with the product and 96% saying they would recommend Internet Essentials to others.
In the first year of the program, Comcast distributed more than 11,548 computers to program participants.
Comcast provides more information about Internet Essentials at internetessentials.com in English and internetbasico.com in Spanish. The MSO also operates toll-free numbers for enrollment, at 855-846-8376 (English) and 855-765-6995 (Spanish).
Comcast's annual compliance report on Internet Essentials with statistics through June 21, required under the FCC conditions, is available here.
The company produced a promotional video about the broadband initiative, available here, featuring FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Emanuel, and civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), among others.
Cohen said he's been personally inspired by stories of people who have connected with Internet Essentials. In his blog post, he recounted meeting a young woman in Miami last year who said she no longer has to take an hour-long bus ride to use the Internet at a library to do her homework.
"When the young girl explained to her mother (who didn't speak English) that this program offered Internet at home for $9.95, the mother burst into tears and said, ‘I can afford that,'" Cohen wrote. "There are so many stories like this one and they inspire me every day to continue to enhance this program and make sure more people are aware of it."