Comcast announced a partnership with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHome initiative, expanding its Internet Essentials low-cost high-speed data service to HUD-assisted households within its service territory.
Comcast launched Internet Essentials, which initially provided low-cost broadband to homes in its territory that participated in the National School Lunch Program in 2011. The service was part of conditions imposed on the company by the Federal Communications Commission for approval of its purchase of NBC Universal. To date, Comcast has provided Internet Essentials, which offers up to 10 Mbps service for $9.95 per month, computer equipment and training, to about 600,000 homes, representing 2.4 million individuals. In addition, the cable operator has provided about 47,000 low-cost computers at less than $150 each to residents and distributed nearly 51 million Internet Essentials program materials.
Including homes covered by Comcast’s pilot public housing expansion in March, a total of about 2 million HUD-assisted homes, including Public Housing, Housing Choice Voucher, and Multifamily programs, will now have access to the low-cost internet service.
“ConnectHome is opening doors of opportunity for our next generation of Americans,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro in a statement. “Today’s announcement has the potential to transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of kids across the nation by giving them the tools to reach their full potential. We’re grateful to Comcast for joining the ConnectHome initiative, which has extended its reach to more than 1.5 million children in one short year.”
ConnectHome strives to ensure students can access the same level of high-speed Internet at home that they have in their classrooms. Despite huge investments in broadband – about $422 billion between 2009 and 2014 – that has brought high-speed Internet service to three out of four American homes, there is still a huge gap between low-income and higher income households. According to the 2013 American Community Survey, less than 43% percent of individuals without a high school diploma or equivalent lack home internet access.
“This announcement reaffirms Comcast’s determination to make a meaningful impact to close the digital divide for low-income families in this country,” said Comcast Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer David Cohen in a statement. “This is the single largest expansion of the Internet Essentials program in its history, and we’re thrilled to be working with HUD to help connect even more families, including seniors, veterans, and adults without children, to the transformative power of having internet service at home.”
Among the areas in Comcast's service territory, the cities with the largest number of HUD-assisted homes include Chicago (91,000), Philadelphia (35,000) and Miami (31,000). Top states within its service area with HUD-assisted households are California (191,000), Illinois (175,000) and Massachusetts (167,000).
This is the ninth time in five years Comcast has expanded eligibility for Internet Essentials. The policy change marks the first time, nationally, households without children eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program are officially able to apply for Internet Essentials. In 2011, the program was first offered to families with children eligible to receive a free school lunch from the National School Lunch Program. It was expanded, in 2012, to children eligible for the reduced price school lunch program. In 2013, Comcast expanded eligibility to include families with children in parochial, private, charter, and cyber schools, as well as students who are home schooled. Last year, Comcast extended the program two more times, on a pilot basis, to low-income seniors and low-income community college students. Earlier this year, another pilot program extended Internet Essentials to those living in public housing in Miami, Nashville, Philadelphia, and Seattle. Finally, Comcast has expanded the number of schools where every student in the school will be deemed eligible for the program so long as a certain percentage of the kids in that school are NSLP eligible – from 70%, to 50%, and now to 40%. As a result, Comcast estimates auto-enrollment now applies to about half of the 48,000 schools across its service area.