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Comcast Releases 'Essentials' Findings, Improvements

Comcast will double the connection speed of its nascent Internet Essentials broadband program and make an estimated additional 300,000 families eligible for it (or about 2.3 million families in all), according to a report released Tuesday from the cable and Internet provider.

The report also found that the $9.95 monthly service had already connected 41,000 low-income families with school-age children, and an estimated total of 160,000 people, including children and adults. Of those, about half reported learning about the program through their children's schools.

"Schools are our most important partners," said David L. Cohen, Comcast's executive vice president, during a conference call. "We find a strategically significant correlation in terms of the percentage of eligible population signed up and the amount of collateral material the school ordered."

Those declining to enroll in the service have largely done so because of a lack of digital literacy—not the cost of the service or of a computer—according to the report.

"All of our research demonstrates that the relevance of broadband, the ability to understand how important it is, the value to the family, and even to understand what you don't understand, remains an impediment to broadband adoption," Cohen said.

Overall participation so far—which represents about 2 percent of families that had been eligible—far exceeded expectations when the program was announced, Cohen said. The service was available to approximately 2 million families who were not already Comcast broadband subscribers, lived in Comcast service areas, and included students who qualified for free lunch via the National School Lunch Program.

It has now also been opened to about 300,000 families whose children qualify only for reduced-price lunches, and its connection speed will be increased to 3.0 Mbps (millions of bites per second), up from 1.5 Mbps.

The one place participation lagged was in an accompanying program to buy a discounted, Internet-ready computer for $150, with only 5, taking advantage.

"We expected a bigger take rate on the computers," Cohen said. "Our guess is that in the first set of families that signed up for this are people who had computers, and who may have had Internet before."

The report—which includes data taken from the early months of the initiative—also represents one of the broadest works of research on the Internet demands of low-income families, and should prove useful to the Connect to Compete initiative, a private-public partnership marshaled by the Federal Communications Commission that will aim to stretch the intention of the Internet Essentials program beyond Comcast subscribers, Cohen said.

Comcast agreed to launch its Internet Essentials program as a condition of the FCC approving its purchase of NBC Universal a year ago in January. But Cohen said the program had been in the works well before that purchase, and pointed to the company's vigor in promoting and expanding the program as evidence of its intentions to go above and beyond the conditions set by the FCC.

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