Just in time for the new school year, Comcast will unveil the Internet Essentials program where families enrolled in the free-lunch program at their school can receive high speed internet service for $9.95 plus a new notebook computer for $149.
Eligible families must live within a Comcast service location; must not have had Comcast service within the last 90 days; must not have an outstanding Comcast bill or rental equipment; and must be enrolled in the free-lunch program at their school.
Enrolled families will receive a voucher to be used at a Comcast partner’s store, such as Walmart, to get their $149 computer. The computer will have standard software installed, including the Norton security program that comes with Comcast service.
Johnnie Giles, executive director of external affairs for Comcast Corporation and vice president of external affairs for Comcast Cable, announced the Internet Essentials program during the Blogging While Brown Conference held recently in Los Angeles.
Giles asked the bloggers in attendance to spread the word to their communities about the program.
“Community-based organizations or education advocates can sign on for the materials so you can distribute those to the families that we hope to serve,” he said. “We’re reaching out to public, charter and parochial schools to send these flyers home, hopefully in conjunction with free lunch [forms], so they can pay attention to those mailings. We have a robust marketing plan around this, and many government officials have pledged support to come out and really drive the message down into the school districts that they should participate in this. We’ve partnered with libraries, churches, community-based organizations and community leaders to help publicize that this is out there.”
The grassroots effort to raise awareness about the Internet Essentials program will also include public service announcements. “As we get closer to school actually starting, we’ll be running public service announcements on TV and radio. We’ve got some national partners, but I think this is really a local initiative. That’s why our field teams are pushing so hard right now to get schools signed up, to make awareness available to everybody and transform, and get people on the Internet.”
Noting that the Internet Essentials program is still in its “experimental stage,” Giles added that “many ISPs [Internet service providers] are doing their own projects but this is ours, and we hope to really make a difference.” Giles acknowledged that the program is a part of the conditions for the merger with NBC Universal, but that it is not a temporary initiative.
“We have been trying to work with the FCC and just the general community in trying to bridge the digital divide. This is an issue. For instance, we had a project in California with the California Emerging Technology Fund where we gave them a grant so they could work with the worst-performing middle school … So, that’s ongoing, and we’re still going to fund those kinds of activities, too. This is a bigger approach that we came to agreement to with the FCC.”
When asked if the $149, standard notebook computer is out of the price point for a family that is eligible for free-school lunch, Giles seemed confident that many families will be able to sign up.
“This was the best that we could negotiate with the manufacturers, and, so, this is what we’re going to try to go out with, and we’ll see what that take rate is,” Giles said. “It’s an experiment, so we’re going to have to test it. We do know that these households have very high adoption of cellular telephones, and [the] average costs for smartphones are more than $149.”
Comcast’s Internet Essentials program’s ultimate goal, Giles added, is to provide open access to the Internet and to bridge the digital divide. –zondra hughes