Low-income families are able to purchase broadband service for $9.95 a month from Comcast, under a new program that was launched in May and will continue through the 2013-14 school year.
Called Internet Essentials, the program is available to any family with a child living in the home who qualifies for free lunches under the Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program. The broadband program, which is an outgrowth of Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal, is available to eligible families in any area served by Comcast, which has a presence in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
Charlie Douglas, a spokesman for Comcast, outlined the program after its official launch today in the Washington, D.C. area. The program has previously been launched in other locations including Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., and Atlanta.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski appeared with Comcast Vice President David Cohen and D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to unveil the program in Washington. Genachowski has set closing the digital divide between low-income citizens and others as one of his priorities. President Barack Obama’s stimulus package contained billions to provide broadband connections in rural and remote parts of the country.
Studies conducted by Pew Charitable Trusts and others have shown that the lack of computer use by low-income families is often because they do not understand the relevance of computer use and how their children need to use computers to progress in school, they cannot afford a computer and they cannot afford internet service.
In addition to the guarantee of $9.95 (plus tax) a month Internet broadband service, families that sign up for a computer receive a voucher that they can then use to purchase a computer of their own for $149.95 (plus tax). Douglas said the computers that are available are Dell and Acer netbooks.
Douglas said there are about 2 million to 2.5 million students in the communities that they serve who are eligible for the free lunch program and thus their families qualify for the low-come internet service. Any family eligible for the program can call 1-855-846-8376 to sign up.
In addition, Comcast is recruiting community-based groups to help spread information about the program. Interested groups can go to internetessentialspartner.com for information on how to obtain information about the program, including literature that can be used to give to eligible families.