In an annual update typically timed with the back-to-school season, Comcast said Internet Essentials, the operator’s service for low-income families, has connected more than 4 million Americans, and about 1 million homes.
Internet Essentials, originally a voluntary commitment stemmed to Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal and now entering its seventh year, provides high-speed Internet service to those who qualify for $9.95 per month, plus subsidized computer equipment (less than $150 each) and free Internet training.
That’s up from 750,000 families or 3 million homes from last year’s update on the program.
Comcast also unveiled a set of enhancements for Internet Essentials, starting with a speed boost of up to 15 Mbps downstream and 2 Mbps upstream, up from previous speeds of 10 Mbps/1 Mbps. Comcast said it marked the fourth time in six years it has increased speeds for the program, and that the latest increase will help to support video streaming applications and provide enough headroom for multiple devices connected in the home.
Among other additions, Internet Essential customers will get 40 hours of free out-of-home WiFi access per month to Comcast’s footprint of 17 million hotspots. It’s also expanding its pilot program for low-income senior citizens – from five cities and metro areas, to 12.
Comcast also announced that Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the six-time Olympic medalist, has signed on for a second year as Internet Essentials’ national spokesperson. Adamari López, host of Telemundo’s Un Nuevo Día, is also coming on board as the program’s first national Hispanic spokesperson.
“Hispanics appreciate the value of the Internet because it is a connection to their families and their culture,” López said in a statement. “They also value it because of what it means for education and employment opportunities. I look forward to helping to connect even more Spanish-speakers to the amazing resources this program offers.”
Comcast said 55% of Internet Essentials customers are Hispanic.
David Cohen, senior EVP and chief diversity officer at Comcast, will make the announcement today in Miami, where he’ll be joined by Joyner-Kersee and introduce López to the program. They are kicking off a multi-city tour, which will run through October, Comcast said.
Comcast said it has invested nearly $350 million in cash and in-kind support to fund digital literacy initiatives nationally, and that it has dedicated more than $1.8 million in grants to create Internet Essentials Learning Zones.
Among other updated stats, Comcast said it has broadcast 10 million public service announcements tied to the program (worth nearly $120 million), has provided more than 65,000 subsidized computers, and has distributed nearly 55 million pieces of Internet Essentials program material. The operator has also fielded more than 5.6 million phone calls to its Internet Essentials call center, and has offered Internet Essentials in more than 55,000 schools in more than 5,000 school districts in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
Speaking on a reporter call on Monday, Cohen said that during the first six months of 2017, Comcast has seen more new connections for the program than any six-month period in the history of Internet Essentials.
“The benefits of the program are real and tangible,” he said.
Cohen also cited an American community survey that found that 56% of households earning less than $35,000 a year have broadband service at home, versus 92% of homes that earn more than $75,000 per year.
"That disparity, in a nutshell, is called the digital divide, and it has a negative impact on the scholastic achievement of children from low income families,” he said. “It limits the job prospects and workforce-readiness of the entire household -- young people and parents alike."
“Anyone who knows me knows that I love taking on big challenges,” Joyner-Kersee said. “And the digital divide is really a big challenge.”
Comcast said the top five states for Internet Essentials are California, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas. The top five cities are Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Miami and Fresno.