By guest blogger Danielle Wilson
Comcast Corp. has announced that it will continue its discount Internet service to low-income families with children enrolled in K-12 schools, an effort that many educators and policymakers say is helping bridge the “digital divide.”
The Internet Essentials program provides qualified families with $9.95-a-month Internet service. Qualified families may also purchase a computer for $150 and participate in free Internet training online or in person.
The telecommunications giant is extending the program indefinitely beyond its original June 2014 end date, and expanding eligibility for families. The discounts had been limited to families of students who were receiving free lunches under the National School Lunch program, but is now also available for families with students receiving reduced price lunches.
As part of the extension, Comcast is offering eligible families in 20 major cities, who are not currently part of the program, free Internet service for six months if they apply by March 18.
The discounted Internet program is the nation’s largest broadband adoption program, Comcast executive David Cohen said in a conference call Tuesday morning.
Since its start in 2011, 300,000 low-income families have participated in the Internet Essentials program. Comcast believes extending the program and expanding eligibility will help bridge the digital divide, a key goal of President Obama’s ConnectEd initiative.
John Horrigan, a national expert on broadband adoption, presented research collected from surveys of Internet Essentials customers who had received a minimum of six months of service. He said they found that 98 percent of families said schools had the most influence in their decision to get high-speed Internet service. (Education Week outlines the online educational content made available to these customers in this article: Comcast, Khan Academy Partner to Increase Web Connectivity.)
“It’s really powerful how teachers have an expectation that students have access to the Internet to complete assignments; teachers have been big ambassadors for home Internet service,” said Horrigan in a phone interview with Education Week.
To increase the enrollment and streamline the application process, schools with 70 percent of their students qualifying for free or reduced price lunches as part of the National School Lunch program will receive instant approval for their students.
In addition to meeting income requirements and living in a Comcast service area, the families cannot have an overdue Comcast bill or have subscribed to Comcast Internet service in the last 90 days.
Comcast currently has an estimated 20 million high-speed Internet customers. The Internet Essentials program has assisted 1.2 million low-income Americans, according to a statement from Comcast.