Gearing up for back-to-school season, Comcast announced Tuesday that Internet Essentials, its program for low-income families, had connected more than 500,000 families, and north of 2 million Americans as of June 2015.
In addition to releasing the new figures and milestones, Comcast said it is also doubling the downstream speed of the service to 10 Mbps (paired with a 1 Mbps upstream), and will offer a free WiFi router to new and existing Internet Essentials customers.
Comcast, which has increased the speed of Internet Essentials three times in four years, said existing customers can get the faster speeds by rebooting their cable modems and can obtain the WiFi router by calling the Internet Essentials dedicated call center. Comcast said it will ship the WiFi equipment for free and will also provide professional installations for no additional cost. New Internet Essentials customers can opt for the WiFi router when they sign up.
Comcast is also expanding the number of schools that are eligible for its streamlined auto-enrollment process. “Now, if a child attends a school where at least 50 percent of the students are eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program, all student families in that school are automatically eligible for Internet Essentials,” David Cohen, Comcast' executive vice president and chief diversity officer noted in a blog post.
Internet Essentials, a voluntary commitment linked to Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal, provides low-cost Internet service ($9.95 per month), computer equipment (less than $150) and free Internet training to low-income homes with school-aged kids.
Comcast launched Internet Essentials in August 2011, and has made the program available to nearly 48,000 schools and more than 5,000 school districts in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
Comcast also announced that it will conduct several pilot programs for low-income senior citizens, noting that 47% of seniors (aged 65 and older) have high-speed Internet at home, according to Pew Research Center. The first pilot is slated for Palm Beach County, Fla., and Comcast expects to introduce the pilot in additional markets in the weeks ahead. Cohen announced the pilot program there today with City of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, Palm Beach County School District Superintendent Robert Avossa, and Urban League of Palm Beach County President and CEO Patrick J. Franklin.
“We have made significant progress toward closing the digital divide for low-income parents and children across the country,” Cohen said in a statement. “In less than four years, Internet Essentials has connected more than 500,000 families, or more than 2 million low-income Americans, to the power of the Internet at home. With the increase in the program’s Internet speeds, the addition of Wi-Fi, and a streamlined auto-enrollment process, more families will have even easier access to the Internet and its life-changing resources for education, employment, healthcare, communication, and entertainment.”
Through Internet Essentials, Comcast said it has invested more than $240 million in cash and in-kind support to help fund digital literacy and readiness training and education, reaching nearly 3.2 million people through national and local nonprofit community partners.
Through the end of June 2015, Comcast said it has also dedicated more than $1 million in grants to create Internet Essentials Learning Zones; provided more than 41,000 subsidized computers (at least than $150 each); distributed for free nearly 46 million Internet Essentials program materials; broadcast more than 7 million public service announcements, valued at more than $90 million; and fielded more than 3.2 million phone via its Internet Essentials call center.