Unfinished Business

Comcast Low-income Program Provides Internet Access

By Shawn Dye, a Summer Intern

As schools open up across the nation, nearly 2.5 million low-income households with children will now have the opportunity to browse the web at a subsidized cost.

As a part of Comcast’s merger with NBC earlier this year, the company has launched its Internet Essentials program, which will be offering discounted internet services to families whose children receive free lunch from the National School Lunch Program. Also, new customers will have the opportunity to buy a “netbook-style laptop computer” that will include the Windows 7 Starter operating system and free internet training. In addition to participating in the school lunch program, families must:

  • Be located in one of the 39 states where Comcast offers internet service
  • Have not subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days
  • Do not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment

The Internet Essentials program seeks to close the Digital Divide by targeting low-income families with children who lack opportunities to access information and communications technology. The school lunch provision is intended to increase computer literacy among children who attend public schools.

It’s clear that corporations like Comcast are beginning to recognize the current inequity within STEM education and access to technology. “Access to the internet is akin to a civil rights issue for the 21st century,” said David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president. “It’s that access that enables people in poorer areas to equalize access to a quality education, quality health care and vocational opportunities.”

Although the Internet Essentials program is providing internet access to low-income families, it is difficult to predict its impact for the long run. Because the program will accept new customers for only the next three years, and because the duration of services will depend on how long a student participates in the School Lunch Program, the program appears to be a short term fix.

Recognizing that Comcast has taken a step in the direction of closing the Digital Divide, the civil rights community and the nation at large still have the task of developing long-term solutions.