There are still 100 million Americans living in areas with Internet service that are not subscribers, according to a 2012 report from the Federal Communications Commission. An additional 19 million Americans have no option to of buying broadband Internet service.

To meet this need, Comcast launched an initiative called Internet Essentials to expand broadband access. This program kicked-off in 2011 and over the past four years it has connected more than 2 million low-income Americans, or about 500,000 families across the country.

The discounted broadband service is just $9.95 a month for families with children currently eligible for participating in the National Free and Reduced Lunch Program. There are no activation fees and rates do not increase. (Visit www.internetessentials.com or call 1-855-8-INTERNET for more details and eligibility information.) This year, Comcast has enhanced the program by doubling the download speed from 5 Mbps to up to 10 Mbps, for no additional cost. According to Comcast, having in-home Wi-Fi was one of the most requested enhancements so Comcast is now offering a free Wi-Fi router to all Internet Essentials customers.

This is significant because most families have multiple school aged children and it allows them better connectivity for school work. In addition, with Wi-Fi at home, Internet Essentials customers are able to save money on their wireless data usage bills by connecting their smartphones to their Internet service.

With regular Internet access becoming as basic a need as food, heat and other utilities, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program is as essential as its name suggests. In today’s digital age, being able to apply for a job online can make or break a chance at a career; and access to the Internet to utilize a school district’s resources can mean a better chance at success for a student.

“Having access to the Internet is more critical than ever for individuals and families,” says Beth Hester, VP of External Affairs for Comcast NBCUniversal. “Everything from completing your school homework to securing a job requires access to broadband service. More and more, companies are accepting only online applications and students are required to submit homework virtually. Access means the difference between a life of opportunities or a life of limitations.”

This doesn’t solve entirely the complex issue of the digital divide faced in communities across the country. However, this program is making a difference as it completes its fifth back-to-school season. Bridging the digital divide by providing more and better broadband access has become the rallying call of the company and its Internet Essentials program a critical tool of its community investment.

Affordability, easy access, awareness and education are key in ensuring long-term Internet use for lower income families. With monthly rates of $9.95 for eligible families, the option of purchasing a laptop or desktop computer at $149.99 and access to in-person, free digital literacy trainings at local community agencies are a few ways Comcast is seeking to further support families.

Within Washington State, the program has connected nearly 24,500 families in areas where Comcast provides service.

“Most families who subscribed to the Internet Essentials program have never had access to Internet at home before,” says Hester. “We appreciate the impact it is making on families and are proud to have provided that.”

Comcast considered many factors when designing the Internet Essentials program—including partnering with local community organizations to make available free digital literacy trainings. It became an indispensable part of the overall effort by the company to bridge the digital divide.

“We realized at the outset of the program that access wasn’t enough,” says Diem Ly, Comcast Washington’s external affairs manager. “If we want to make a true difference in these families’ lives, we have to address other needs that intersect with this, such as awareness of the Internet’s vast potential to contribute to your quality of life, and education and training to get started.”

This training, facilitated by community partners and supported in part by Comcast, includes the basics of computer use, software applications, finding and applying for employment, and how to research online for social services or school district resources.

“These collaborative efforts are encouraging and impactful, but there is still much more to do and learn from our communities,” Ly adds.

“Ultimately, it’s about providing tools to each individual, each family, and every community to participate in the 21st Century. Each person deserves to be on an equal playing field and given the opportunity to live a better life,” says Hester.

So who’s eligible and how can families subscribe? Learn more about Internet Essentials and if you or someone you know is eligible by visiting www.internetessentials.com or calling 1-855-8-INTERNET.

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