(Photo by Flickr user Ryan Hallock, used under a Creative Commons license)
It’s year six for Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, and the numbers are in: 47,000 families or approximately 190,000 people in the Greater Philadelphia Area are now signed up for the $10-a-month broadband service.
In a call with media outlets on Monday, Comcast EVP David L. Cohen said the program had hit a landmark of connecting 4 million people to the internet thanks to the backing of 9,000 organizations, politicians and nonprofits.
Philly proper accounts for 31,000 families or 125,000 individuals who are part of the program, which was first launched in 2011 as part of Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal.
“The secret sauce of the program is its wraparound design to address three barriers: digital literacy, access to equipment and affordable service,” said Cohen. “Since this launched in 2011 we’ve spent $350 million towards digital literacy initiatives and we’ve sold 65,000 subsidized computers.”
Comcast announced three expansions to the program:
- For the fourth time since 2011, internet speeds were increased: from 10/1 Mbps to up to 15/2 Mbps.
- Subscribers will get access to 40 hours of free out-of-home WiFi through the company’s network of 18 million wifi spots.
- Access to the program by low-income senior citizens will be expanded from five to 12 cities (to be announced). Philly was the first city to be included in that rollout.
Delis Serrano-Estrada, 37, was an early adopter of the program. In 2008, the single mom moved to Philly from Puerto Rico, her two-year-old son in tow. When the program rolled out in 2011 she was among the first to sign up.
“We didn’t have access to the internet back then, and I thought the program could help me find a job,” Serrano-Estrada told Technical.ly. “I was able to get a job and got into a special needs education program for my child because of the internet. We also use it to speak to my family in Puerto Rico.”
Fifty-five percent of the program’s subscribers are Hispanic. To better reach out to the Spanish-speaking community, Comcast named Telemundo host Adamari López the program’s first-ever national Hispanic spokesperson. López will join national spokesperson Jackie Joyner-Kersee — a six-time Olympic medalist and digital literacy activist — on a multi-city tour to stump for Internet Essentials.
“We’re thrilled to announce this expansion, but more work remains,” Cohen said. “Far too many families are on the wrong side of the divide, and connecting them remains part of our core mission.”
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