Comcast Announces Big Internet Essentials Expansion In Partnership With Federal Program

Image courtesy of Mr.TinDC

Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which provides broadband access to low-income Americans, has always been a nice idea. The reality, unfortunately, has been slow to catch up to the promise. Still, expanding affordable access to the most underserved is a laudable goal, so the big Internet Essentials expansion Comcast is announcing is good news.

Any residents in public or HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) assisted housing in any Comcast service area in the nation are now eligible for Internet Essentials, Comcast said today. That’s up to 2 million new households eligible for the program — a huge increase, considering that the last time Comcast touted its numbers, 500,000 households were signed up.

Extending eligibility to anyone in low-income housing also removes one of the biggest barriers to Internet Essentials: until now, except for some small pilot programs, households had to have children under 18 living in them in order to enroll. This, despite the fact that senior citizens, especially low-income senior citizens, are one of the most underserved groups in the country.

The ten largest cities seeing Internet Essentials expansions from this program, Comcast says, are: Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore, Houston, Washington D.C., Detroit, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh.

The expansion is part of the ConnectHome initiative that the White House announced last year. The program is a public/private partnership meant to bring inexpensive ($0 – $15) internet access into public housing nationwide.

“This announcement reaffirms Comcast’s determination to make a meaningful impact to close the digital divide for low-income families in this country,” Comcast favorite SEVP and total non-lobbyist David L. Cohen said in a statement.

He continued, “This is the single largest expansion of the Internet Essentials program in its history, and we’re thrilled to be working with HUD to help connect even more families, including seniors, veterans, and adults without children, to the transformative power of having internet service at home.”

Julian Castro, HUD Secretary, also issued a statement praising the move, saying, “Today’s announcement has the potential to transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of kids across the nation by giving them the tools to reach their full potential. We’re grateful to Comcast for joining the ConnectHome initiative, which has extended its reach to more than 1.5 million children in one short year.”

Comcast launched Internet Essentials in 2011 as one of the conditions of its merger with NBCUniversal. And on paper, it sounded great: $10 internet for poor families! Great!

But for the first few years, it was more flash than substance. There was the whole “must have a kid thing,” for starters, and even for families with children, there were many obstacles that stopped families from signing up.

Comcast made some small changes to the program in 2014, while it was still trying to look good for regulators so it could buy Time Warner Cable.

It also tweaked the program again last summer, doubling its connection speed from 5 Mbps (objectively cruddy) to 10 Mbps (actually useful). They also added the capability for home WiFi to the program — a vital change given how many low-income users’ primary devices are mobile phones.

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