Comcast said “Internet Essentials” connects more than 220,000 families and a total of 900,000 Americans as the MSO's program for low-income households enters its third year.
Among a handful of enhancements to the program that include faster Internet speeds and a streamlined enrollment process, Comcast has expanded the eligibility criteria to include parochial, private and homeschooled students. With those additions, Comcast estimates that nearly 2.6 million U.S. families are now eligible for Internet Essentials.
Comcast plans to kick off the program’s third year today in Miami at an event with Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, Miami Dade County School superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Miami Dade League of Cities president and Miami Beach commissioner Deede Weithorn, and Comcast EVP David Cohen. Comcast estimates that 18,700 families in South Florida and nearly 30,000 in the state are on board with Internet Essentials. Miami is home to one of a series of back-to-school events that the MSO is hosting in 23 states across the country to promote the program and “to raise visibility about bridging the digital divide in America and connecting more families to the Internet.”
Internet Essentials, a voluntary commitment linked to Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal, targets low-income households with school-age children who are eligible to receive free lunches under the federally assisted National School Lunch Program. Qualified households receive discounted Internet service from Comcast at $9.95 per month, the option to purchase an Internet-ready PC for under $150, and access to a free Internet training.
Comcast, which launched Internet Essentials in August 2011, said the program has enrolled upwards of 50,000 new families every six months, and has signed up 70,000 new families in the last six months alone.
Comcast estimates that, through the program, it has distributed more than 18,000 subsidized PCs and trained nearly 20,000 people, while publicizing Internet Essentials to more than 4,000 school districts and more than 30,000 schools. Comcast added that it has broadcast nearly 2 million public service announcements tied to Internet Essentials and partnered with nearly 7,000 community-based organizations to help spread word about the program.
With year three of Internet Essentials underway, Comcast is also layering on several enhancements including a ratcheting up of the program’s speeds to 5 Mbps downstream by 1 Mbps upstream. That’s up from a bump to 3 Mbps down/768 kbps upstream that Comcast made last year, and well above the speeds originally supported by Internet Essentials (1.5 Mbps/364 kbps).
Comcast is also streamlining enrollment by expanding the instant approval process to eligible families that attend schools with 70% or more National School Lunch Program participation. Comcast estimates that 4,600 additional schools located in states where Comcast provides service are now eligible for instant approval.
The MSO has also built an online enrollment tool at InternetEssentials.com and has introduced a program that lets community partners purchase “Opportunity Cards” that can be used toward the cost of paying for Internet Essentials service.