Following initial launches in markets such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Hartford, Comcast Corp. went national Tuesday in Washington, D.C., with its Internet Essentials program and its promise to help low-income families afford access to cable modem services.
"We are treating this as the national launch of the program," Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen tells Light Reading Cable. He was joined at the launch, held at the Ballou High School, by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
Internet Essentials, a voluntary commitment linked to Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal LLC, targets impoverished households with school-age children who are eligible to receive free lunches under the federally assisted National School Lunch Program. Qualified households (PDF) will receive discounted Internet service (1.5Mbit/s down by 364kbit/s up) from Comcast at $9.95 per month, a $149.99 voucher to be used toward the purchase of a PC and access to a free digital literacy training regimen. Acer Inc. and Dell Inc. are supplying computer equipment for the program, with Comcast subsidizing part of the cost, Cohen says.
Comcast is also waiving activation and equipment fees and promising not to increase the monthly price for as long as families qualify for the offer. As a standalone service, Comcast's Economy tier, which provides the same speeds as Internet Essentials, runs about $47 per month with the equipment lease included.
In addition to being eligible under the NSLP free school lunch program, families must also live in an area where Comcast offers Internet service, must not have subscribed to that service within the last 90 days and must not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned MSO equipment.
Why this matters
The national rollout fulfills one of several conditions tied to the NBCU deal while also fitting within the aims of the FCC National Broadband Plan.
Comcast has rolled out Internet Essentials in all markets, but says it's too early to say how many kids are signed up for it. Cohen notes that the eligibility process typically takes two to three weeks and many schools have not even been open that long.
Internet Essentials is also a 2.0 version of sorts of a similar program the cable industry launched in 2009. The effort, called Adoption Plus (A+), was to provide free cable modem installations in addition to a 50 percent discount on cable modem service. (See Cable Offers 50% Broadband Discount to School Lunch Bunch.)
"We didn't like the price target of that program," which was about $15, Cohen said, adding that it "was the best the industry could do at the time. We thought the price needed to be $10." Adoption Plus also targeted only at middle school students, so Internet Essentials also takes that commitment a step further by applying to a larger group of eligible families and students.
â€” Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable
Read more about Internet Essentials and the FCC National Broadband Plan.