Digital access / Internet

Why Comcast is finally upgrading its low-cost internet option

Among the upgrades: faster speeds, free WiFi routers and a pilot program for low-income seniors in Florida.

The Comcast Center in Center City Philadelphia. (Photo by Flickr user Knitting Zeal, used under a Creative Commons license)
Full disclosure: Comcast was the title sponsor of Philly Tech Week 2015, which is organized by

Comcast is upgrading its low-cost internet option, Internet Essentials.
For one, it’s doubling the speed of the service, from 5 megabits per second to 10. It’s been incrementally increasing the speed since the company launched Internet Essentials in 2011 at 1 mbps, but this is the biggest jump yet. (Non-Internet Essentials speeds range from 3 mbps to 505 mbps.) Slow speeds have historically been a complaint about Internet Essentials, which is only available to families whose children go to schools where a majority of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
The other big announcement is that Comcast is giving away free wireless routers to Internet Essentials customers. In the past, Internet Essentials customers had to buy their own, a barrier to entry for the low-income families that Internet Essentials serves. Customers could not rent routers from Comcast, a spokeswoman told us. Comcast does not have numbers on how many Internet Essentials customers use WiFi, the spokeswoman said.
These upgrades appear to be a response to Comcast’s struggles to sign up eligible families for the service.
In its first year, it only signed up 463 families in Philadelphia, though there were 150,000 families eligible. Those numbers rose last year but were still underwhelming: only one in 10 eligible families were using Internet Essentials last year — both in Philadelphia and nationally.
Today, the national numbers are slightly higher, with more than 500,000 households using Internet Essentials now, up from 300,000 last year, Comcast said. More than 17,000 families in Philadelphia use the service.
That increase comes after the company announced last year that families with late bills could sign up for the service — a distinction that had previously ruled out many families from subscribing. A Comcast spokeswoman said the company did not have local numbers to share.
When asked why Comcast decided to make these upgrades now, a Comcast spokeswoman wrote in an email:

We’re serious about our commitment to attacking the digital divide with our Internet Essentials program. Including this year’s announcements, we’ve made 25 changes to the program over the past four years, and the program today looks very different from what it was when we first introduced it. Plus, we extended the program indefinitely, and we continue to stand by this commitment.

The company also plans to launch a pilot low-cost internet program for low-income seniors, according to the release. It’ll start out in Florida because Comcast already has partners there.

Companies: Comcast

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