Comcast extends Net service for low-income families

Comcast's Internet Essentials program is aimed at ensuring Web access for schoolchildren from all economic groups.
Comcast's Internet Essentials program is aimed at ensuring Web access for schoolchildren from all economic groups.
Posted: March 06, 2014

Comcast Corp., facing federal and state government reviews of its proposed $45.2 billion deal for Time Warner Cable Inc., said Tuesday that it would indefinitely continue a $9.95-a-month Internet service for low-income families with schoolchildren.

The market-rate Xfinity Internet service from Comcast starts about $50 a month.

Comcast agreed to offer the discounted Internet service as a public-interest benefit and a condition of its acquisition of NBCUniversal in 2011. The program was scheduled to expire this June.

Comcast says that over the last three years, it provided 300,000 low-income families with the discounted Internet service, including 9,000 in the Philadelphia area.

If the Time Warner Cable deal is approved, Comcast's discounted Internet program will be available in Time Warner Cable areas and 19 of the nation's 20 largest metropolitan markets, Comcast executive David L. Cohen said in a conference call Tuesday morning.

"It's just that important," Cohen said of the Internet program that seeks to close the "digital divide." That refers to the gap between middle-class and wealthier families with home access to high-speed Internet services and the significant percentage of low-income families who lack it.

As part of Tuesday's announcement, Comcast is offering six months of free Internet Essentials for eligible low-income families in Philadelphia and 19 other areas if they apply for the program in the next two weeks.

To qualify, the family must have at least one child in school in the federal National School Lunch Program and live in a Comcast cable-TV service territory.

The family cannot have an overdue Comcast cable bill and could not have applied for Comcast Internet service in the last 90 days.

Those seeking to register for the program need to apply for Internet Essentials and be approved by March 18, the company said.

Cohen said Comcast would like to "blow the barn doors off" the program with the special offer, which also is being made in Baltimore; Lee County, Fla.; San Francisco; Stockton, Calif.; Adams County, Colo.; Atlanta; Aurora, Colo.; Chicago; Cicero-Berwyn, Ill.; Collier County, Fla.; Denver; Elk Grove, Calif.; Fresno, Calif.; Miami; Palm Beach, Fla.; Pasadena, Texas; Seattle; St. Paul, Minn.; and Tacoma, Wash.

Comcast says that since 2011 it has spent $165 million in cash and in-kind services, such as public service announcements, on Internet Essentials, and offered the service in 30,000 schools in 39 states and Washington, D.C.

John Horrigan, a national expert in broadband adoption and a former official with the Federal Communications Commission, said that 43 percent of households with incomes below $25,000 a year lack Internet in their homes - a far higher percentage than the overall population that lacks broadband Internet, 28 percent of households.

Unlike cable TV, which is considered a luxury, public policy experts view the Internet as a critical service for education, accessing health care, job applications, and other functions. Some believe the service should be regulated to make it more affordable.

As part of Internet Essentials, Comcast makes available a $150 Internet-ready computer to a participating family and digital literacy classes.


bfernandez@phillynews.com

215-854-5897

@bobfernandez1

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