The $10-a-month service added 2 million subscribers since last year, when the company expanded the reach of its offering for senior citizens from five cities to 12, alongside other expansions.
As of Monday, the nearly 1 million low-income veterans who receive federal or state public assistance and live in a Comcast-served area will also have access to the program, in a move Comcast exec David Cohen says could be “life changing.”
“This program has had an enormous impact on millions of families and children who now have high-speed Internet at home, many for the first time in their lives,” said Cohen, senior executive VP and chief diversity officer at Comcast. “We’re excited to extend that same opportunity to more than 1 million, low-income veterans. Veterans have stood up for our country; now it’s time for us to stand up for them by providing access to life-changing digital tools and resources.”
In the Philadelphia area, Internet Essentials has some 196,000 Internet Essential subscribers, spread between low-income families, seniors and residents of public housing.
But according to Bryan Mercer, executive director of Philly-based advocacy nonprofit Media Mobilizing Project, the push to give veterans access to the internet doesn’t quite meet the mark.
“Internet Essentials doesn’t go far enough to meet the need, offering speeds that don’t even meet the federal definition of broadband,” Mercer said. “The program also has a series of restrictions that mean many who struggle to afford the internet don’t even have Internet Essentials as an option. One of the most egregious requirements is that otherwise qualifying families and veterans can’t have Comcast service within the last 90 days or any outstanding bills. That is a real roadblock to someone trying to keep their utilities affordable and their families online.”
(Mercer is correct on the broadband observation: Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission defined broadband as an internet connection with download speeds of 25 Mbps. Per its website, Internet Essentials offers 15 Mbps.)
Comcast said through a spokesperson that the 15 Mbps is “more than enough speed to stream video and to do everything on the Internet that any family would like to do,” and that the mission of the program is to help bridge the digital divide.
“In addition to 15 Mbps, we offer in-home and out-of-home WiFi, a heavily subsidized offer to purchase a computer for less than $150, as well as access to a full suite of digital literacy training materials online, in print, and in person at no additional cost,” the spokesperson said “It’s not just about the speed of the service, it’s the entire program that really matters.”
The tech corporation also disputes Mercer’s stance on its outstanding bills policy.
“The 90-day requirement is the case for the rest of the country but not Philadelphia,” the spokesperson said. “The reason for it is the program is about bridging the digital divide, so if customers already have access, they have bridged the digital divide. The whole point is to get access to people who don’t have it.”
Comcast said it has sold around 85,000 refurbished laptop or desktop computers to Internet Essential program subscribers.
In a 13-page report released Monday, the corporation cites Pew Research stats that say one in four American households don’t have internet access at home, and lack of access is — unsurprisingly — more common among low-income households, people of color and older adults.
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