Ten years ago, Comcast launched its Internet Essentials program to connect low-income families to low-cost internet service. In honor of its anniversary, the corporation is pledging $1 billion to the program for the next 10 years, it announced Wednesday.
But it’s not clear if this is more or less than that first decade: A Comcast spokesperson couldn’t tell Technical.ly how the $1 billion commitment compares to what the company has invested over the last 10 years, saying the company doesn’t have a calculation of overall investment.
Internet Essentials launched in Philadelphia in September 2011 after first launching in Chicago that May, as part of a deal Comcast made to the FCC in seeking approval of its majority-stake acquisition of NBC Universal in 2010. The deal has stayed about the same for its decade-long run: $9.95 a month for internet, and now the option to purchase a computer for $150.
Since the program launched, it has served 10 million people nationwide and about 840,000 Greater Philadelphia residents, including 520,000 in the city. It’s grown to include low-income seniors, veterans and people with disabilities. During the pandemic, the company has opened the program up to eligible households for 60 days of free service.
“Today, we are rededicating ourselves to this mission to ensure that the next generation of students in America has the tools, resources and abilities they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world,” said Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable, in a statement.
The company also got involved in the City of Philadelphia’s plan for virtual schooling for the School District of Philadelphia’s 2020-2021 year, in an initiative called PHLConnectED. The plan intended to provide eligible K-12 households with free wired, reliable internet from Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, or a high-speed mobile hotspot for families who are housing insecure. The program has covered more than 15,000 internet connections to the families since it launched in August, the City reported earlier this month.
In a statement, Philly’s chief education officer, Otis Hackney, said PHLConnectED “simply would not be possible for our schools without Internet Essentials as one of the initiative’s key internet solutions.”
About a year into the pandemic, in February, Comcast said it would double the download speed of its Internet Essentials service for low-income Americans to 50 Mbps and increase its upstream speed to 5 Mbps, effective March 1. It came after months of criticism from around the mid-Atlantic region and beyond that Comcast must do more to bridge the digital divide in the regions where it operates — especially during the pandemic, when digital access inequities have been laid bare. (See also: Is it enough?)
The $1 billion commitment also includes investment in Comcast’s ongoing Lift Zones initiative, which establishes Wi-Fi-connected safe spaces in community centers nationwide for students and adults. There are more than 40 locations throughout Philadelphia currently, and about 100 in the Philadelphia and New Jersey region.
The commitment also includes laptop and computer donations, plus grants for nonprofit community orgs to create opportunities for low-income Americans, particularly in media, technology and entrepreneurship, the company said.
Comcast has a market cap of $258 billion as of Wednesday afternoon.
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