Comcast project for low-income extended

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A program launched as a temporary measure to address the nation's digital divide has gotten an indefinite extension.

David Cohen, Comcast executive vice president, said Tuesday that the Philadelphia company will continue its Internet Essentials program -- originally designed to assist low-income families for three years -- for the near future. The extension was tied to the recent creation of the federal ConnectED program, which aims to connect 99 percent of American students to high-speed Internet in the next five years.

Comcast Internet Essentials, introduced in 2011 to provide low-income families with vouchers to buy netbook computers for $150 and broadband service for $9.99 per month, has provided low-cost broadband to more than 1.2 million Americans, provided more than 23,000 low-cost computers, and supported free digital literacy training for more than 1.6 million, said Mr. Cohen in a blog post.

Throughout the state, approximately 14,500 families have received high speed broadband through the program. In Pittsburgh, the program has connected nearly 2,600 families, according to Comcast.

Comcast did not provide a city and state breakdown of discounted laptops sold.

The Internet Essentials program is geared toward families who do not have outstanding debt with Comcast, who are not current broadband subscribers, and who have at least one child eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program.

In a Tuesday blog post, Mr. Cohen applauded the program's early efforts and highlighted a $1 million effort to push digital literacy even further. The Gold Medal Recognition Program will split the money into grants designed to help nonprofit partners in 15 communities increase digital access by building Internet Essential Learning Zones in libraries, community centers and other publicly accessible areas.

The boost provided to low-income families through broadband service is having quantifiable effects, said John B. Horrigan, head of research for the Federal Communication Commission's national broadband plan.

Mr. Horrigan's study of Internet Essentials customers show 48 percent believe that online articles and videos are the most helpful way to teach themselves new things and 57 percent said the Internet helped "a lot" or "somewhat" in a job search.

Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652


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