Cable For Low Income Families – Marguerite Reardon began as a reporter in 2004, covering phone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and phone company consolidation.
Comcast’s low-cost broadband program originally designed to get low-income families with children connected to the internet is expanding to include all poor people in its service area. Comcast
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Comcast is extending its low-cost Internet Essentials program to all low-income households throughout its service area, opening the program to individuals with disabilities, as well as seniors. The expansion of the program will more than double the number of households that can access the $9.95-a-month service, increasing it to about 7 million.
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The program was introduced eight years ago to help poor children who received free or reduced-price meals at school to have access to the Internet at home. The program has been amended 11 times to expand eligibility requirements to include low-income veterans and people receiving public housing benefits. A pilot in several cities also offered the service to qualified seniors.
This latest expansion is the largest to date and brings people with disabilities, a group Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen says is disproportionately out of the digital experience.
“According to the research, people with disabilities are about three times more likely to say that they have never gone online,” he said in a call with reporters on Tuesday. “They are also almost 20 percentage points less likely to subscribe to broadband at home.”
Cohen said this latest expansion is the culmination of the company’s goal, when it started the program in 2011, to “significantly and meaningfully close the digital divide for low-income Americans.”
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“The Internet is arguably the most important technological innovation in history,” Cohen said. “And it is unacceptable that we live in a country where millions of families and individuals lack this life-changing resource.”
The news of Comcast’s expansion comes at a time when the Federal Communications Commission, Congress and President Donald Trump have talked a lot about the digital divide, focusing mainly on connecting people in rural communities who don’t have access to broadband infrastructure.
But there is also a digital divide between affluent and low-income households in cities and suburbs where the service exists. This divide is worse for cities with the highest levels of poverty. According to US Census data, households living in cities with the highest poverty rates are up to 10 times more likely than those in communities with higher income levels to not have broadband in house For example, in Palo Alto, California, or Bethesda, Maryland, where poverty rates are very low, 94 percent of households are connected to the internet. But in Trenton, New Jersey, and Flint, Michigan, where poverty rates are well above the national average, 60 percent or more of households don’t have broadband at home.
There are many reasons for this divide between the Internet haves and have-nots, with accessibility being only one piece of the puzzle, explained Cohen. The main barrier is what Cohen said is a “complex mix of digital literacy, skills, fear and a perceived lack of need or interest in having internet at home.” The second and third barriers include the lack of an Internet-capable computer and the cost of a monthly Internet subscription at home.
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Internet Essentials tries to address all three problems by providing low-cost service and affordable computers for less than $150, which are subsidized by Comcast. But the company also works with dozens of non-profit organizations across the country that provide free digital training to help provide the digital literacy needed to get people to use the program.
John Horrigan of the Technology Policy Institute, who helped write the FCC’s 2010 National Broadband Plan, studied the barriers to closing the digital divide. He also looked closely at Comcast’s schedule. The results of a survey conducted earlier this year of more than 1,200 Internet Essential customers found that digital training is the key to getting people to use the service.
Horrigan added that Internet Essentials customers are eager for more training. He said that about 35% of Internet Essentials customers who responded to the survey within three months of signing up for the service had received digital skills training from their service. But a large number said they were interested in some form of training, with about two-thirds, or 66%, interested in training about the privacy and security of their data. About 60% were interested in how to better communicate with their children’s school, and 52% were interested in job training or workforce development.
“If the goals of the program are to get people online, and for online access to help people improve their lives, then the training resources – typically in community anchors like schools and libraries – are key, as are initiatives to ensure that people are aware of them,” said Horrigan.
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Cohen admitted that expanding the program would likely put pressure on existing community partners, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. But he said the company has also tapped into already established relationships with other groups to help provide the digital training needed to the new populations that will be served under the program.
“We have existing relationships with virtually every major disability organization in America, both nationally and locally,” he said. “And we intend to rely heavily on those relationships to help reach people with disabilities, and provide the same level of services. The Boys and Girls Clubs create programs for families with children in school and for families with school-aged children.”
There has also been some criticism of Comcast’s program. The biggest one is that speeds for Internet Essential customers are limited to 15 Mbps downloads. The FCC has defined broadband services as those that provide at least 25 Mbps downloads.
Cohen pushed back on this idea. He said 15 Mbps is “more than enough for our essential Internet customers to do everything they need to do on the Internet.” For example, he said, this is a lot of bandwidth to access educational programs or to stream several videos at home at once. He also said that the modem provided to families at no additional charge as part of the program also provides free Wi-Fi at home to connect multiple devices at once.
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“With all due respect to the FCC, I think the judgments they’ve made around what constitutes ‘broadband’ are as much politically driven as they are substantively driven,” he said. He added that there has been no suggestion from the FCC that download speeds of 15 Mbps “are not more than sufficient to be able to provide a high-quality Internet experience.”
He also pointed to the fact that Comcast has increased the connection speed for Internet Essentials, which started at 1.5 Mbps download, four times since 2011.
“I think we’ve earned our stripes by making the representation that our goal is to get people connected to the Internet,” he said. “We think we are in a sweet spot now with the program and 15 Mbps downloads. But if it changes, as we have already done four times before, we will take a look at the speed again.”
To be eligible for Comcast’s program, applicants need to show that they participate in one or more government assistance programs, such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI). A complete list of these programs can be found at www.internetessentials.com.
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Comcast is already accepting applicants who are eligible students to participate in the National School Lunch Program, live in public housing or receive HUD Housing Assistance, including Section 8 vouchers, or participate in the Veterans Pension Program, as well as seniors and low-income communities. University students in selected pilot markets. Why you can trust us We compare current Internet plans to help you make the best decision for your needs and location. How we review providers How we make money
(eg $55,500/year for a family of four, $27,180/year for an individual) or qualify for certain government assistance programs, you are a good candidate for help with paying for the service Monthly internet.
Nearly 30 million US homes lack Internet, and 18 million of those don’t have it because they can’t afford it, according to Education Super Highway’s No Home Left Offline Report.
“Accessibility has now emerged as the number one barrier to closing the digital divide. We have a historic opportunity to close two-thirds of the digital divide by connecting 18 million households that have access to the Internet but cannot afford to connect ” said Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway.
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The federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and Lifeline were created to help low-income families get internet access.
ACP provides a discount of up to $30/mo. (and up to $75/month for families on qualified tribal lands) for monthly Internet service and a one-time $100 discount toward a laptop, desktop computer or tablet. ACP partners with several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the country that have created $30 and under plans with a minimum of 100 Mbps download speed –
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