Comcast announced this week that its broadband adoption program, Internet Essentials, has connected more than eight million people who qualify for low-cost internet service since the program's inception in 2011. Three million more households, including people with disabilities, are eligible to apply for the $9.95 a month service in the latest expansion. This marks the program’s largest expansion in history as the service now extends to every low-income home within Comcast’s footprint.
"This expansion is the culmination of an audacious goal we set eight years ago, which was to meaningfully and significantly close the digital divide for low-income Americans," said David Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast NBCUniversal. "The Internet is arguably the most important technological innovation in history, and it is unacceptable that we live in a country where millions of families and individuals are missing out on this life-changing resource. Whether the internet is used for students to do their homework, adults to look for and apply for new jobs, seniors to keep in touch with friends and family, or veterans to access their well-deserved benefits or medical assistance, it is absolutely essential to be connected in our modern, digital age."
The program, which also reaches senior citizens and military veterans who receive federal or state aid as Cohen noted, also provides affordable computers, in addition to the low-cost broadband subscription, that are subsidized by Comcast. Internet Essentials also prides itself on helping people get the most out of their internet experience by providing the tools and resources needed to increase the digital skills that Cohen stresses are integral for success in today's connected world. Comcast has invested more than $650 million towards digital literacy training and awareness over the past eight years, and the ISP works with dozens of nonprofits around the country to offer free digital training at community libraries and schools.
A recent report, issued by the Technology Policy Institute, examined barriers to closing the digital divide through the lens of the Internet Essentials Program, and found that the digital training component to the program is the key to motivating disconnected people to signing up for internet service and becoming digital citizens. The report indicates that even with the availability of low-cost offers, it has always remained a challenge "to encourage the remaining disconnected people to sign up for broadband service."
The report looked at survey results of IE's customers, and found that 66% of those who responded said that they were interested in receiving training on internet privacy and security. In addition, 60% were interested in learning how to better communicate with their child's school, and 52% said they would like to receive job or workforce training. "As people become household internet subscribers—either for the first time or after some interval without service—these users may see training on how to use broadband as a seamless part of the process of obtaining service," the report stated.
Programs like Comcast's Internet Essentials are critical to reaching the last percentage of unconnected Americans, not only through its low-cost internet and technology services but through its strong community partnerships, resources, and classes that foster digital inclusion and awareness.