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Comcast extends low-cost Internet service to community college students

An expansion of the Internet Essentials program will offer cheap broadband to students who qualify for federal education grants. It's being tested in Colorado and Illinois.

Comcast wants to make it easier for low-income families to get broadband Internet access.

The Philadelphia-based cable giant announced Wednesday that it will extend its Internet Essentials program, which offers 10 megabit per second broadband service for $10 a month, to families with students in community college who qualify for federal education grants. The extension to the program is being tested throughout Colorado and Illinois.

Comcast said it is experimenting with the reach of the program to ensure that all students have access to high speed Internet. David L. Cohen, senior executive vice president of Comcast, said equalizing access to educational resources is one of the most important benefits of a home Internet connection.

Comcast's David L. Cohen, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Wendy Duboe, president and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, visiting the computer lab at the Johnson School of Excellence in Chicago. Comcast

"Students need support at every level of their education," he said in a statement. "Extending Internet Essentials to community college students highlights our commitment to providing them the support they need, whether in elementary, middle, or high school or pursuing post-secondary education."

Comcast's support of Internet Essentials comes as the Obama administration pushes to improve Internet access among low-income families and individuals. In July, President Barack Obama announced ConnectHome, a new initiative to bring high-speed broadband access to over 275,000 low-income households across the US. In June, the Federal Communications Commission voted to advance a proposal that would allow qualifying households to use their $9.25-per-month Lifeline subsidy on either phone or broadband service.

All of this is being done to help poor people get access to the Internet, which is seen as a gateway to providing a better life through improved access to educational, employment, health care services and opportunities. According to the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of households with incomes between $100,000 and $150,000 have broadband access, but less than half of households below the $25,000 income level can tap into high-speed Internet.

Comcast voluntarily started Internet Essentials in 2011 as part of its commitment to the FCC in order to get its merger with NBC Universal approved. Even though the company only agreed to keep the program going for three years, it has continued to offer it beyond its original commitment. And it has been extending the reach of the program. Last month, Comcast announced it was testing a program to extend the low-cost broadband service to low-income senior citizens in parts of Florida and San Francisco.

The program was originally designed to help poor families with school-aged children get connected to the Internet by offering a combination of discounted broadband service, low-cost computers, and free training programs to teach people how to use the technology.

In Colorado, which has the highest participation of the Internet Essentials program for school-aged children, nearly 24,000 households have been connected to the Internet, benefiting nearly 100,000 residents, Comcast has reported. Nationwide, the program has connected more than 500,000 households or roughly 2 million low-income individuals to the Internet.

"For millions of Americans, community college is one of the most accessible paths to a post-secondary education and a brighter future," Cohen said in a statement. "By offering an affordable Internet connection and computer, Internet Essentials will enable low-income community college students to access educational resources not just at school but also at home."