500,000 have already signed up in the most successful program in the U.S. In Philadelphia, Comcast has agreed to extend the program to low-income individuals and seniors, "Internet Essentials" now delivers 10 megabit service, enough for an HD channel and plenty of surfing. They've simplified the application form, reduced red tape and have fewer restrictions. 

In August of 2014, while Comcast was looking for approval of the Time Warner deal, I spoke with David Cohen of Comcast about the program. "We're going to expand it to senior citizens and others, not just families with schoolkids." Many thought this was just hollow pr to look good in D.C., but talking to Cohen made it clear this was a passion project for him. He's now expanding the program significantly despite losing the merger fight. 

Bob Fernandez, in a thoughtful article, quotes Deb Socia of Next Century Cities. "This will be what people look at when they are organizing their franchise-renewal agreements in the future.

It's wonderful that it's [Comcast's] home town. They should take care of the people in the neighborhoods in the city where they have their headquarters."

Every effective program I've seen in the U.S. to increase broadband adoption centers around price discounts. Talk therapy just doesn't work here, as the NTIA Broadband Stimulus proved. Areas of Chicago with an NTIA "demand stimulus" program actually had slower growth in broadband takeup than other parts of the city. Cohen told me things wouldn't have worked without the outreach and added support, although they clearly didn't work on their own. 

Verizon, in FiOS buildings, will not serve anyone for less than $70/month. With Verizon willfully breaking the franchise agreement for universal FiOS in New York, large fines are in order. Wall Street Analyst Craig Moffett thinks the city is going to get tough. 

Taking care of the poor should be high priority.

Here's the pr. I often include pr so readers can decide for themselves about the company claims. I've followed this program closely and can confirm most of what Comcast is saying.

INTERNET ESSENTIALS DOUBLES SPEEDS, ADDS FREE WI-FI TO FURTHER CLOSE DIGITAL DIVIDE

As we enter our fifth back-to-school season for Internet Essentials, we are more committed than ever to attack the digital divide in a meaningful way.  I’ve seen first-hand the power that the Internet has to transform lives, strengthen communities, and inspire a new generation of leaders.  It levels the playing field by creating greater access to education, health care, employment opportunities, news, information, and entertainment.

So, it gives us great pleasure to announce a number of new and exciting ways we are enhancing the program.  These changes come from our own learnings, as well as from feedback from our customers and nonprofit and governmental partners.  Since we first offered Internet Essentials in August 2011, we have now made 25 enhancements to the program.  Highlights from this year’s announcements include:  

500,000 Families, 2 Million Americans (and counting…)

We have made real and measurable progress in closing the digital divide in America over the past four years.  Through the end of July 2015, we have connected more than 500,000 low-income families, or more than 2 million Americans, to the power of the Internet in their homes. 

To put that in perspective, 2 million is larger than the populations of 96 of America’s 100 largest cities, as well as the populations of 14 states, including Nebraska, West Virginia, and Idaho.  And it is multiple orders of magnitude greater than the impact of all other private sector low-income broadband adoption programs combined.

We’re seeing strength in the program’s momentum as well.  The first two quarters of 2015 have been the best in its history.

Expanding Auto Enrollment

We have again made it even easier for more families to sign up for Internet Essentials by expanding the number of schools that are eligible for our streamlined auto-enrollment process.  Now, if a child attends a school where at least 50 percent of the students are eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program, all student families in that school are automatically eligible for Internet Essentials.

Doubling Speed

Third, we are doubling the download speed of the service from up to 5 Mbps to up to 10 Mbps for no additional cost.  This is the third time we have increased the speed of the Internet service in four years.  It means families are now easily able to use multiple devices in their homes at the same time and have enough bandwidth to power resource-intensive services.

Free Wi-Fi

Fourth, we’re now offering a free Wi-Fi router to new and existing Internet Essentials customers.  Having in-home Wi-Fi was one of the most requested enhancements for the program, and it has many key benefits.  For instance, in-home Wi-Fi means Internet Essentials customers are now able to connect any Internet-enabled device including laptops, tablets, and smartphones. 

Combined with our new speed increase, it will now be easier for multiple family members to connect to the Internet simultaneously.  For example, one child could use her laptop to watch an educational video from Khan Academy while her brother uses their mom’s smartphone to look up definitions for a vocabulary test.  In addition, with in home Wi-Fi, customers are able to save money on wireless data usage bills by connecting their smartphones to their Internet service at home.

Senior Citizen Pilot Program

Over the past several years, we’ve focused on building a network of nonprofit, governmental, and educator partnerships to help spread the word about Internet Essentials to low-income families with children and to provide digital literacy training for that population.  We learned a lot in the process, and we’ve published two reports, authored by Dr. John Horrigan, that discuss those findings.

We have received feedback asking us to extend Internet Essentials to additional populations, especially low-income seniors.  While there are complexities with any expansion, we’re excited to announce we’re going to conduct several pilot programs designed to increase Internet adoption rates among low-income senior citizens. 

When seniors are on the wrong side of the digital divide, it can be isolating.  We’re excited about the opportunity to bring the power of the Internet to this new demographic, so they can stay in touch with family and friends and learn how to do things online like enroll in healthcare and pay bills.

The first pilot will take place in Palm Beach County, and a number of additional pilot programs will be announced in other markets in the weeks ahead.

Research on the digital divide for seniors is very clear.  According to the Pew Research Center, just 47 percent, or less than half, of seniors (aged 65 and older) have broadband Internet at home.

And the picture for low-income seniors is much worse.  Only 25 percent of seniors with household incomes below $30,000 have home high-speed Internet, compared to 82 percent of seniors with household incomes at or above $75,000.  That is a massive gap of nearly 60 percentage points, which is roughly twice the size of the gap in broadband adoption rates between low- and high- income families with school-age children.

Research also indicates that, as with the population of families with school-age children, perceptions of relevancy of the Internet will be the major barrier to adoption for seniors.  For instance, 35 percent of older non-Internet users don’t think they are at a disadvantage from missing out on information online.

In addition, research indicates how vital digital literacy training will be for any Internet adoption program to be successful.  Only 18 percent of seniors would feel comfortable learning to use a new digital device on their own, and 77 percent would need someone to help them.

Clearly, reaching seniors will require a different approach and mindset.  Internet Essentials was originally designed for a specific community – low-income families with children.  We want to take that same philosophy and tailor our approach to reach the low-income senior citizen population.  Just like with the original targeted population for Internet Essentials, we need to take our time and be rigorous, methodical, and thoughtful in our approach.  We know we have a lot to learn, but we’re confident we can make a difference, and we are excited to embark on a new journey.

 

The world needs a good news source on Internet and telecom policy. I hope to create one. Catch a mistake? Email me please.  Dave Burstein