Low-income subscribers to Comcast's Internet Essentials broadband service will soon see their speeds double at no additional charge. The service, which currently offers 25Mbps downloads, will automatically be upgraded to 50Mbps starting March 1, the company said Tuesday.
Upload speeds will also go from 3Mbps to 5Mbps. The speed boost at no additional cost comes at a time when Americans across the country are still mostly relying on the internet to access school and work remotely.
The Internet Essentials plan costs $9.95 per month and is available to qualifying low-income households. Families or individuals already receiving federal benefits through programs such as SNAP, Medicaid or WIC are eligible. This is the second time this year that Comcast has increased the speed of its low-cost service. It upgraded the service to 25Mbps from 15Mbps in March last year, just as most of the country was starting to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The upgrades are part of Comcast's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, the company offered 60 days of its service free to college, elementary and high school students. It later extended the offer through June 30. The company also opened up its Wi-Fi hotspots free of charge. And in September it started the Lift Zone program to provide Wi-Fi access and educational resources to low-income areas.
Comcast started Internet Essentials in 2011 to help impoverished children who received free or reduced-price lunches at school get access to the internet at home. The program has been modified more than a dozen times to expand the eligibility requirements to include low-income veterans and people receiving public housing benefits. In 2019, the company opened up the program to all low-income households.
In addition to the low-cost monthly fee, Comcast partners with trusted community organizations to offer free digital-skills training. Customers can also purchase low-cost computers as part of the program.
Comcast's initial response to the pandemic was part of a greater effort among more than 700 other wireless and broadband providers, including AT&T and Verizon. These providers all voluntarily signed on to the Federal Communications Commission's Keep Americans Connected pledge. As part of this pledge, broadband and wireless companies promised to not charge late fees or disconnect service of customers who can't pay their bills.
These companies then extended their pledge to June 30. At that time, Comcast also extended its offer of free Internet Essentials to qualifying households through the end of June. Though the free service offer ended in June, Comcast said it's remained committed to helping low-income families during the pandemic stay online, with the hope of eventually eliminating the digital divide.
"We've been on a mission to address digital inequities in under-resourced communities through Internet Essentials for a decade and there's never been a greater need than now," Dave Watson, president and chief executive officer of Comcast Cable, said in a statement. "Our commitment has never been stronger, and we are dedicated to leveling the playing field and making a lasting impact for generations to come."