Comcast’s Internet Essentials program offers cheap Internet access to poor customers. It started in 2011 as an FCC condition of Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal. And now with Comcast’s pending Time Warner Cable purchase, the company is beefing up Internet Essentials to try and prove its commitment to serving a diverse customer base.
Currently the program offers 5 Mbps download speeds and 1 Mbps upload speeds, so this isn’t exactly glamorous access, but it’s good enough for basic browsing. And Comcast also sells low-end laptops and desktops through Internet Essentials for under $200. Additionally, Comcast announced Monday that it will now offer new Internet Essentials subscribers six months of free service when they sign up, and will roll out an “amnesty” program for customers who have an outstanding balance from bills that are more than a year old.
David L. Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president of community investment, wrote in a statement that, “There are deeply entrenched barriers to broadband adoption. … We’re doing this because there is no more important back to school supply than Internet service at home. In today’s classrooms, as well as in the workforce, students need to be digitally ready.”
Internet Essentials is controversial in a number of ways. Some advocates have alleged that the program is prohibitively difficult to sign up for, and critics, including some on Slate, have also noted Comcast’s conflict of interest as a large for-profit corporation delivering what would normally be a government or charitable service.
So far Comcast has enrolled 350,000 families, or more than 1.4 million people, in Internet Essentials, and by forgiving outstanding bills that are more than a year old, even more people will be able to qualify. (You can’t sign up if you owe Comcast money.) The promotion for six free months ends on Sept. 20, so it should usher in even more users. Time for the huddled masses to flock to Comcast.