Families with at least one child receiving free or reduced-price school lunches are eligible for a Comcast program that provides broadband Internet access for less than $10 a month.
The program, Internet Essentials, is in its second year and is part of a larger, industry-wide effort to increase high-speed Internet access among low-income families.
With the school year starting around the area this week, the Internet Essentials program potentially affects several thousand Verona and Cedar Grove households, as well as all Essex County residents.
Around the country last year .
"A digital divide exists, and low-income families who don't have Internet access at home are being left behind," said Alisha Martin, a regional Comcast spokeswoman.
Charlie Douglas, a senior director of communications at the company agrees.
“The Internet provides a leveling power,” Douglas said, explaining the Internet “provides educational resources and resources for parents” as well as children.
He said research indicates there are three reasons why people don’t have the Internet:
- Lower income American families are not exposed to resources like the Internet — something most Americans take for granted.
- The cost of home computer is prohibitive. Research shows 90 percent of American homes have computer that is connected to Internet. Douglas said 100 million Americans have the ability to purchase the Internet, but haven’t done so. One in 4 homes don’t have a computer, he said, but Comcast is looking to change that by offering lower-income Americans the option to purchase a computer for as little as $149.99.
- The cost of Internet service is prohibitive. Douglas said Internet Essentials makes the cost of the Internet accessible with a price tag of $9.95 a month.
To be eligible, families must live in an area serviced by Comcast and have at least one child in their household receiving free or reduced school lunch. They cannot have subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the past 90 days, nor can they possess any unreturned Comcast equipment or have any overdue Comcast bills.
The company’s digital literacy programs teach everything from basic computer skills like how to access the Internet and email to more practical lessons like how to look for a job, find health care information or use social media.
Training videos feature Al Roker and other NBC personalities.
Nationally, Comcast estimates at least 100,000 families — or about 400,000 individuals — now have broadband access thanks to the Internet Essentials program.
Last year, the program was only available to families of students who received free lunch. Broadening eligibility to include families with students who receive reduced-price lunch should make another 300,000 households eligible for the program, Martin said.
Comcast will continue to enroll families through at least the 2013-14 school year, and those families will remain eligible for the discounted rate as long as one child receives free or reduced lunch.
Douglas said the company is partnering with local school districts and providing free brochures on the program. There is no cost to the school to take part in the program.
Comcast is also partnering with non-profits, churches and organizations to make the brochures available, Douglas said.
To sign up for Internet Essentials, families can call toll-free 855-846-8376 (for English) or 855-765-6995 (for Spanish) to get the process started. If eligible, a third-party company will verify that the family has at least one child receiving free or reduced price school lunch and will complete the registration process.