Comcast is opening its low-cost internet program to military veterans, the company announced Monday.
Comcast also said the program, which provides $10-a-month broadband to low-income families and individuals, has now reached 6 million Americans since it was introduced seven years ago.
Last year marked the largest subscriber increase with Comcast connecting 2 million users through the program in 2017, the company said. Now the Comcast will make the program available to military veterans, adding another million customers to the Internet Essentials roster.
"Veterans have stood up for our country," David Cohen, Comcast's senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer, said in a statement. "Now it's time for us to stand up for them by providing access to life-changing digital tools and resources."
Comcast voluntarily started Internet Essentials in 2011 as part of its commitment to the Federal Communications Commission 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.
In 2015, 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. Now the company has expanded the number of overall markets to 12 where it is offering broadband to senior citizens.
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. It has since expanded the program to offer the same discounted service, devices and training to individuals living in public housing, senior citizens and now low-income military veterans who are currently receiving federal or state aid.
Since the program's inception, Comcast has invested more than half a billion dollars to support digital literacy training and awareness, reaching more than 8.5 million low-income Americans, the company said. In addition, the company has sold more than 85,000 heavily subsidized computers.
For almost a decade, politicians and policy makers in Washington, D.C., have been talking about closing the digital divide. About 81 percent of all U.S. households subscribe to broadband at home, but only 63 percent of households with an annual income of less than $35,000 do, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey. It's not a surprising statistic given that the price of most broadband service is about $50 to $60 a month. But the price of the service alone isn't the only barrier. The cost of a computer and knowledge of how to use the technology are also factors.
That's why Internet Essentials includes subsidized computers, which can be bought for $150, as well as classes to help teach people digital skills. While Comcast offers the service for a discount, it partners with nonprofits in the community to help provide the educational programming.
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