For low-income families that want to join the Internet revolution, two big impediments often stand in the way: the cost of a modern computer, and the cost of high-speed Internet access that enables connectivity to a modern, digitally powered world. Both obstacles are being addressed at grand scale by one of the cable industry’s most ambitious efforts to connect more families to the web: Comcast’s Internet Essentials. Comcast describes Internet Essentials as “a first-of-its-kind effort to comprehensively address what are, according to the best research, the major components of the nation’s broadband adoption challenge: low digital literacy, perceived lack of relevance of online content, and the need for low-cost, good quality computers and Internet service.”
Available in all U.S. cities and towns served by Comcast since 2011, Internet Essentials offers:
- A $9.95 per month broadband connection with no price increases or activation/equipment fees
- A voucher to purchase a $150 computer
- Free Internet and digital literacy training in print, online and in person
- Free online security software valued at more than $360.
Internet Essentials is available to households with kids who are eligible for free or discounted school lunches under the National School Lunch program. Comcast works with a third-party verification agent, Solix Inc., to verify NSLP eligibility of applicants.
The impact so far
In its first full year of availability, more than 100,000 families – and roughly 400,000 people – added Internet access in their homes through the program. Among them, more than 11,000 also purchased low-cost computers, according to a Comcast report filed with the Federal Communications Commission. With awareness rising, and with eligibility requirements broadened in 2012 – now, kids who qualify for discounted school lunches also qualify – the numbers are likely to rise even further.
The impact of Internet Essentials is reflected in communities as far-ranging as Fresno, Calif., where 2,650 families had been connected through August 2012, to cities like Chicago, where 7,000 families had signed up.
One contributor to the high uptake levels: community partnerships with school districts, faith-based organizations and elected officials to spread the word. In Fresno, for example, Internet Essentials kicked off at a local elementary school. In Chicago, more than 1,100 community organizations are partnered with Comcast to raise awareness.
Also helping the cause has been volunteerism: In May 2012, Comcast launched an employee grassroots campaign named the Internet Essentials Ambassadors Program that invited interested employees to leverage existing relationships with schools, libraries and neighborhood leaders to help prepare for the 2012 Internet Essentials back-to school season.
Why it matters
Comcast’s Internet Essentials springs from a realization that going online is often a requisite to submit job applications, manage bank accounts, do homework, communicate with health-care providers and more.
Comcast surveyed newly connected households via Internet Essentials and found:
- 83% of respondents said they go online on a daily basis
- 93% of respondents said children in their household were making use of the service
- 93% said they used their broadband connections for general information research
- 90% used Internet Essentials for school assignments
- 53% paid bills online
- 50% conducted job searches online
In other words, families with Internet Essentials use broadband-powered Internet service in much the same ways that everyone does. It’s just that now, they’re able to.