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Marguerite Reardon began as a reporter in 2004, covering cell phone service, broadband, city-wide Wi-Fi, the Net Neutrality debate and phone company mergers.
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Comcast’s low-cost broadband program that was originally designed to get low-income families with children connected to the Internet is expanding to include all poor people in its service area.
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Comcast is expanding its low-cost Internet Essentials program to all low-income households across its service area, opening the program to individuals with disabilities, as well as seniors. The program’s expansion will more than double the number of households with access to the $9.95-a-month service, to about 7 million.
The program was introduced eight years ago to help poor children who receive free or reduced-price lunch at school access the Internet at home. The program has been amended 11 times to expand eligibility to include low-income veterans and people receiving 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, Comcast Group Executive Vice President David Cohen said, who are disproportionately left out of the digital experience.
“According to research, people with disabilities are about three times more likely to say they never go 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.”
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Cohen said this latest expansion is the culmination of the company’s goal, when it started the program in 2011, to “close the digital divide for low-income Americans in a meaningful and substantial way.”
“The Internet is the most important technological innovation,” Cohen said. in history. “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 on connecting people in rural communities without access to internet infrastructure.
There is also a digital divide between affluent and low-income households in serviced cities and suburbs. That divide is even worse for cities with the highest levels of poverty. According to US Census data, households living in cities that 10 times more likely to have the highest poverty rate than people in communities with higher levels That there will be no flat management at home. For example, in Palo Alto, California, or Bethesda, Maryland, where the poverty rate is very low, 94 percent of households are connected to the Internet. But in Trenton, New Jersey, and Flint, Michigan, where the poverty rate is higher than the national average, 60 percent or more of households do not have broadband at home.
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There are many reasons for the divide between the Internet haves and have-nots, with affordability being just one of the puzzles, Cohen explained. The main obstacle is what Cohen said is “a complex combination of digital knowledge, skills, fear and lack of awareness or interest to have Internet at home.” The second and third barriers include the lack of internet-capable computers and the cost of monthly home internet subscriptions.
Internet Essentials tries to solve all three problems, by providing affordable services and computers for less than $150, which is supported 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 for people to use the program.
Technology Policy Institute’s John Horrigan, who helped write the FCC’s 2010 National Broadband Plan, researched barriers to closing the digital divide. He also looked closely at Comcast’s projects. Results from a survey conducted earlier this year of more than 1,200 Internet Essential customers found that digital training is key to getting people to use the service.
Horrigan added that Internet Essentials customers are eager for more training. He said about 35% of Internet Essentials customers who responded to a survey within three months of signing up for the service had received digital skills training since receiving the 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% are interested in better communication with their child’s school, and 52% are interested in employment or labor training.
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“If the goal of the program is to bring people online, and for online access to help people improve their lives, then training resources – usually in community anchors such as schools and libraries – are important, as an initiative to make sure that people have knowledge. Theirs,” said Horrigan.
Cohen acknowledged that expanding the program may put pressure on existing community partners, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. But he said the company will also tap into established relationships with other groups to help have Necessary digital training for the new population to be served under the project.
“We have existing relationships with almost every major disability organization in America, nationally and locally,” he said. “And we intend to rely heavily on those relationships to help us reach people with disabilities, and provide the same level of service. The Boys and Girls Club is creating programs for families with children in school and for families with children in school. .”
There are also criticisms 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 service as a service that provides downloads of at least 25 Mbps.
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Cohen pushed back against this idea. He said 15 Mbps is “more than enough for our critical Internet customers to do everything on the Internet that they want.” For example, he said, this is more bandwidth to access educational programs or stream multiple videos at home at the same time. He also pointed out that the modem provided to families at no additional cost as part of the program also provides free Wi-Fi at home to connect multiple devices at the same time.
“With all due respect to the FCC, I think the decision they made about what it represents as ‘broadband’ is as much politically driven as it is substantively driven,” he said. He added that there is no guidance from the FCC that a download speed of 15 Mbps “is not more than enough to provide a high-quality Internet experience.”
He also pointed to the fact that Comcast has increased the connection speed for Internet Essentials, which starts at 1.5 Mbps download, four times since 2011.
“I think we’re getting our money’s worth in representing that it’s our goal to get people connected to the Internet,” he said. “We think we’re in the sweet spot right now with the program and the 15 Mbps download. But if that changes, as we did four times ago, we’ll consider the speed again.”
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To qualify for Comcast’s program, applicants must 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 (SSI) program. A full list of these programs can be found at www.internetessentials.com.
Comcast is already accepting applicants whose students are eligible 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 low-income seniors and communities. College students in the selected experimental market. Comcast has connected eight million low-income people, from two million households, to the power of the Internet at home, most of them for the first time.
Comcast has expanded eligibility to more than three million additional low-income households, including families with disabilities.
Comcast has invested more than $650 million to support digital literacy training and awareness, reaching more than 9.5 million low-income Americans.
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Three million new eligible households include disabled and elderly people. In 8 years, the project has connected more than eight million people from two million households to the Internet at home.
Comcast announced today that it is significantly expanding eligibility for Internet Essentials, the nation’s largest, most comprehensive and successful broadband adoption program in America, to include all qualified low-income households in its service area. Expansion is the most important change in the history of the project. The company estimates that more than three million low-income households, including families with disabilities, are now eligible to apply. It is estimated that nearly 7 million households now have access to low-cost Internet service, which doubles the number of households that were previously eligible. In addition, the company announced that since
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