Aug. 19--The Comcast Corp. program that offers cheaper internet service to low-income families has connected a million of them nationally -- many for the first time in their lives -- since its introduction in 2011, officials said this week.
In Philadelphia, which has one of the nation's worst rates of web access, 31,000 families have signed up through the Internet Essentials program, which gives families high-speed broadband access for $9.95 monthly, a fraction of commercial rates. It also allows them to purchase a computer for under $150.
Families qualify if they have a child who receives free or reduced lunch at school, if they live in public housing, or, in some parts of the country, if they are senior citizens. The sign-up is at https://internetessentials.com/
Critics say the company does not advertise the program sufficiently and carefully limits those who qualify. While Comcast has broken the million level for sign-ups, it would not say how many people are currently in the program.
One family that has benefited is Delis Serrano-Estrada's. Six years ago, her son was getting ready to start school, and she saw posters advertising internet service at a price she could afford. It seemed too good to be true, but she found that it wasn't.
Without the program's help, Serrano-Estrada could not afford the service. Having internet access has helped her son, now 10, soar in school, she said.
"He likes science," said Serrano-Estrada, of South Philadelphia. "He likes to know stuff about the world, animals and countries."
The internet has helped her family in other ways, too. She said she has used it to find a better job working for the city, improve her English, research resources for her son's special needs, and connect to far-flung family.
"There's no excuse not to have the internet," Serrano-Estrada said. "It's $10 a month to connect to the world."
The vast majority of households earning $75,000 a year and above have internet access. Many that earn less than $35,000 do not.
Philadelphia has one of the lowest internet-adoption rates of any major U.S. city, but Comcast officials said that the program is among its strongest, behind only those in Chicago and Houston.
The program got off to a slow start in Comcast's home city, but officials attributed that to the turmoil roiling the Philadelphia School District when Internet Essentials was launched.
Since then, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has been a staunch supporter, saying that internet access is crucial to 21st-century learning.
"It's just so important to get this information to families," Hite said. "We push it as much as we can in the beginning of every school year."
David L. Cohen, Comcast senior executive vice president, said the one-million-family milestone -- the company believes that translates to about four million people over the program's life -- was meaningful.
"This is essential to be able to level the playing field," Cohen said. "We're connecting wide swaths of people to the internet, and that's transformative."
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