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Comcast expands Internet access for more poor families

The cable provider is enhancing its Internet Essentials program to provide more options for low-income households.

Screenshot by CNET

Comcast is ramping up its Internet Essentials program to cover more low-income families and students eager to get online.

Launched last September, the program provides cheap Internet access, low-cost computers, and literacy training to poor families and their school-age children.

Families who have at least one child getting a free lunch through the government's National School Lunch Program (NSLP) have been able to receive 1.5-megabit-per-second broadband Internet for only $9.95 a month, compared with the $41 that Comcast typically charges.

Detailing the program in a blog post this week, Comcast noted several accomplishments, such as promoting the program across more than 30,000 schools, distributing more than 5,500 computers, and connecting 160,000 individuals to the Internet.

Polling people who have signed up for Internet Essentials, the cable carrier found that 86 percent were highly satisfied and 99 percent would recommend the program to others.

But Comcast acknowledged that there's still room to do much more. So, the company is kicking off several new initiatives.

In the second quarter of the year, Comcast will expand the program to include families with children eligible for reduced-price lunches at school, in addition to those who receive free lunches. That will expand the number of eligible households by 300,000 for a total of 2.3 million.

At the same time, Comcast will double the broadband speed available to 3Mbps downstream and 768 kilobits per second upstream.

Community organizations that have partnered with Comcast to offer the service will now be able to purchase the program in bulk amounts in an effort to reach more families.

Further, any student attending a school with the highest percentage of NSLP participation will automatically qualify for the program.

Comcast is also aiming to expand its literacy training programs through both online and in-person classes.

Finally, the company said it's planning to work closely with the new "Connect to Compete" partnership, a new program striving to promote broadband Internet for low-income communities.

A full report on the accomplishments and goals of Internet Essentials is available online as a PDF.