Comcast Announces New Internet Essentials Program Milestones and Enhancements

By David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer in Community Investment

When Comcast launched Internet Essentials six years ago, we honestly had no idea how it would be received or how many low-income Americans we could reach. No one had ever tried anything this ambitious in the broadband adoption space before. We certainly wouldn’t have predicted the program would become the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption initiative for low-income Americans, connecting more homes than all other similar programs combined – by several orders of magnitude.

We did know, however, that low-income households are less likely to subscribe to broadband Internet service at home compared to higher income families. According to the American Community Survey, only 56% of households earning less than $35,000 a year have broadband service at home, compared to 92% of households earning more than $75,000 a year. This disparity, called the digital divide, has a negative impact on the scholastic achievement of children from low-income families; it limits the job prospects for and workforce readiness of the entire household; and it limits access to healthcare and to news, information, and entertainment for the entire family.

This year, after having expanded eligibility 10 times – to include more families with school-aged children, those receiving HUD housing assistance, and low-income seniors in select markets – and after having made more than 20 other enhancements to the Internet Essentials program, I’m pleased to report that we have connected four million low-income Americans, in one million households, to high-speed Internet service at home, most of them for the first time in their lives. What’s more, we continue to see strength in the program’s momentum, with the first six months of 2017 seeing more new connections than any other six- month period in our history.

The benefits of the program are real and tangible. We surveyed Internet Essentials customers about their experience and 98 percent said their children use the program’s Internet service for schoolwork, while 93 percent feel the Internet service has had a positive impact on their child’s grades. Moreover, 62 percent feel the Internet service helped someone in the household locate or obtain employment.

The “secret sauce” of the Internet Essentials program is its integrated and comprehensive, wrap-around design to address each of the three major barriers to broadband adoption – digital literacy, access to computer equipment, and affordable Internet service. Thus, since the program’s launch in 2011 with its $9.95 a month cost, we have expended about $350 million in cash and in-kind support to fund digital literacy initiatives nationally, reaching nearly 5 million people through our national and local nonprofit community partners; welcomed more than 9 million visitors to the Internet Essentials English and Spanish websites, and its Online Learning Center; and sold more than 65,000 subsidized computers at less than $150 each to make computer access more affordable.

Every year, we make enhancements to the Internet Essentials program to keep making it better and better and to adapt to the evolving needs of our customers. This year is no different. Today, we announced three more enhancements:

  • First, for the fourth time in six years, Comcast will increase the program’s Internet service speeds, this time from 10/1 Mbps to up to 15/2 Mbps. More speed was the number one requested enhancement from our Internet Essentials customers, and this latest increase will improve streaming quality in the home (15 Mbps is three times the speed necessary to view a high definition video), especially when multiple devices are connected to the Internet at the same time.
  • Second, to help family members connect to the Internet on the go and save money on their wireless bills, Internet Essentials customers will now enjoy 40 hours of free out-of-home WiFi access per month to the company’s growing network of 18 million Xfinity WiFi hotspots. That’s the equivalent of two hours of access every school night so kids can do their homework. This WiFi access is being offered in addition to the free in-home WiFi Internet Essentials customers currently enjoy.
  • Third, Comcast is also expanding its pilot program for low-income senior citizens from five cities and metropolitan areas to 12. (We will announce these expansions market-by-market over the next couple of months, but today we are adding Miami-Dade County to our list of pilot communities.)

The success of Internet Essentials would not have been possible without the partnership of over 9,000 community-based organizations, schools, libraries, elected officials, and businesses whose tireless efforts have helped close the digital divide for so many of their constituents. So, I’d like to recognize the top 10 states and cities with the highest number of households that have connected to the Internet under the Internet Essentials program.

While we are thrilled that Internet Essentials has come this far, there is still much more work to be done. Far too many families remain on the wrong side of the digital divide. Connecting these families remains our core mission and has become part of our organizational DNA. Our goal remains to ensure that all households, irrespective of their income or the zip code in which they live, can benefit from the life-changing resources and opportunities that having home Internet provides.

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