In a partnership with the department of Housing and Urban Development, Comcast will offer its Internet Essentials service to adults in HUD housing, whether or not they have kids. The program had previously been focused on families with children eligible for subsidized school lunches.
That will make 1.3 million more people eligible for the program, according to Ars Technica. Internet Essentials offers 10mbps download speeds and Wi-Fi equipment. Comcast also offers enrollees a laptop or desktop computer for under $150, and free basic computer skills training. Comcast says it has so far connected more than 600,000 low-income families and provided 47,000 subsidized computers.
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Comcast says this is the ninth time it has expanded eligibility for the program, though there have been some complaints that enrollment is cumbersome and slow. That’s not particularly surprising, considering the company’s near-legendary customer service problems.
The Internet Essentials program was initially created as part of the 2011 deal that allowed Comcast to acquire NBCUniversal. Comcast has continued the program beyond the timeframe required by that deal. However, that continuation seems to have been motivated as much by Comcast’s ill-starred bid to acquire Time Warner as by charitable urges.
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The benefits of internet access for education, job access, and economic mobility are substantial—but lower-income Americans are much less likely to have service in their homes. Though the swift spread of smartphones has lessened this so-called “digital divide” to some degree, a lot of the most important benefits of connectivity require a more full-featured device and home connection.
So, while Internet Essentals may be imperfectly-implemented regulator-bait, it’s still something Comcast deserves real praise for, and the expansion should give it even bigger impact.