Comcast’s Low-Income “Internet Essentials” Service Fails to Attract Subscribers

Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, a low-cost Internet subscription option available to low-income households, failed to get far off the ground over the last year. The company claims that many low-income households fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the Internet and refused to take advantage of the service, which offers high-speed Internet access for only $9.95 per month.

Comcast says that its goal is to “close the digital divide” by bringing low-income families an affordable way to access the Internet. Early press releases for Internet Essentials described the program as groundbreaking, and Comcast says that 2.3 million families qualify for the $9.95 pricing. Internet Essentials’ annual report to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) describes it as “the largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program of its kind.”

However, while subscriptions aren’t exactly dismal, low-income families aren’t signing up as quickly as Comcast had anticipated. The company claims that a widespread ignorance of how the Internet works and what it is might contribute to the low subscription rates.

“[Poor people] think it may be used for Comcast or the government to spy on them” said Internet Essentials’ spokesperson David Cohen, an executive vice president at Comcast.

There are certainly other factors involved, but the overall limited success of the program is not disputable. Comcast only signed up about 100,000 families for Internet Essentials, a small percentage of the qualifying households.

To qualify, a household needs to have children who qualify for reduced-cost or free school lunches. Current Comcast Internet subscribers are ineligible, so a family can’t quit their plan and sign up at the reduced rate. Households cannot sign up if they have any outstanding bills with Comcast or if they have failed to return any of the company’s Internet or TV service equipment.

To educate Internet Essentials users, Comcast set up an “Internet Learning Center” on the program’s website, www.internetessentials.com. The center contains answers to questions like “what is social media?” and “how do I set up an email account?” The cable giant also offers free Internet training online, in print and in person, and Comcast is even reaching out to educators and civic leaders for help.

The cable company has not indicated that they will suspend or cancel the program. Their annual report states that the Internet Essentials program will continue across “more than 4,000 school districts in 39 states plus the District of Columbia during the 2011-2013 school year,” and that the program will continue until at least the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

Comcast’s report also notes that qualifying families will continue to receive the reduced Internet rate after the program ends as long as they have at least one child in school who qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch.

In addition to cheap broadband access, Internet Essentials offers families access to discounted computers–Acer and Dell is providing computers for $149.99 through the program–and digital literacy training. Internet Essentials’ current standard connection speed is 3 Mbps downstream and 768 Kbps upstream, twice as fast as when the program was launched.

Comcast notes that Internet Essentials may have operational challenges that prevent some families from signing up. To make the program simpler, Comcast created straightforward elgibility rules and offers clear instructions throughout the signup process. The company also offers signup help in English and Spanish, and all Comcast employees train to offer Internet Essentials information and help.

Comcast is pinning its hopes on good educational tools and well-informed employees. The Internet Essentials program certainly offers a major asset to low-income households, but one year into the program, it apparently needs an extra push to become the “groundbreaking” program that Comcast envisioned when the service launched in the summer of 2012.

5 Responses to “Comcast’s Low-Income “Internet Essentials” Service Fails to Attract Subscribers”

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  1. Sqwubsy says:

    The biggest hurdle here—the real reason it’s not a “groundbreaking” program—is that if you’re a Comcast subscriber for more than 90 days prior you don’t qualify. Other than that, we totally qualify for Internet-essentials.

    But where I live Comcast has a monopoly. They are the *only* choice. Comcast or nothing.

    And Comcast knows it. So they make it a rule. And cash in on it.

    If Comcast were truly as utopian as they present themselves they would relax the 90 day rule…

    But that’s not as profitable. Easier for Comcast to just blame it’s constituents “low-income households fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the Internet.” Yeah, right.

    • Noway says:

      that’s silly.. they can always choose satellite internet, which also offers a rural plan funded by the government…. for 4x that price.

      That being said the goal is to provide internet to people who cannot afford it. So if you already have the internet either A.) you cant afford it and dont know howt o budget your money or B.)You can afford it you just want it cheaper.

      There is no reason for comcast to offer it to people who have already made the choice to purchase their internet services. IMO that’s not the intent of this program.

      And satellite internet is a rip off. So i commend Comcast for stepping up.Even if the government will probally provide most of the funding anyway. Dish for example, they just use it as a marketing tool to get people to call them and then say “oh sorry your areas not eligible”. SO it’s free advertising for these companies.

      Long post short, i WISH i had the option of Comcast. I really only have the option of satellite or dialup. And do some research into satellite internet it’s not worth the money(although dish.net is going in the right direction as far as price just not fair use policies)

  2. Rachon Ward says:

    The reason they have no low income subscribers is they have no service in low income areas. I’m shocked at how many areas in Georgis still have no technology at all and most of these are in low income areas. Low income areas that do offer services are charged three times as much for the same services offered in town. I live in one of the areas that dial up is still considered technology and high speed :(

    • Noway says:

      I live in an area where highspeed is king. I can afford cable/dsl they just cant afford to bring it out to me. That’s where the government needs to be focusing… not on providing the services to people who cant afford it. Start with those who can but are not able. And THEN expand to people who cant.

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