Students are surprised with free laptops from Comcast's Internet Essentials program. (Courtesy of Comcast internet Essentials)
Students are surprised with free laptops from Comcast's Internet Essentials program. (Courtesy of Comcast internet Essentials)

The announcement by Comcast on Tuesday that the company would significantly expand eligibility for Internet Essentials fulfilled an eight-year mission to connect millions of low-income households and those with disabilities to the internet, according to Karima Zedan, the director of the Internet Essentials program for Comcast Corporation.

“We’ve been running this program for eight years now and, over those eight years, we’ve had 11 significant expansions to increase the number of people who would be able to apply for Internet Essentials,” Zedan said.

“And, we have had to be really thoughtful in the way that we have worked with our community partners to implement this program, because it takes time to understand the needs of our customers … when we know that relevance is the most important issue as to why people are not describing the internet at home,” she said.

Zedan said by relevance, she means the people either don’t have the skills to navigate and understand how to use the internet successfully, or there’s either some fear around it, or they have not been able to afford the price of it.

“But generally it is this barrier around ‘why do I need it?’ ‘How does it help me?’ And that requires education,” she said.

“And that requires investing in our nonprofit partners so we’ve been doing that over the past eight years, and we’ve been doing it with different populations, families with school kids, those who receive housing assistance, and a partnership with HUD,” Zedan said.

“Last year, we did low income veterans. And I think now we have enough experience working with our community and government partners, that we are ready to take this program to the next level,” she said.

The plan to serve all low-income households in Comcast’s footprint is only the latest step. The company has established a vast network of nonprofit partners who provide Comcast with real time feedback about what is working and not working, and how to make improvements to the program.

“It’s really significant. Our customers so far has been more than 80% people of color. And our service area and Comcast is concentrated mainly in urban areas and if you look at the demographics, where there are a lot of low income households who are not connected to the internet at home, you do see correlations with those folks being primarily people of color,” Zedan said.

“There’s a lack of education as well, in terms of college, I mean, all of those really complicated those demographic variables that really help to explain the state of poverty, so that’s why we’re interested in really trying to reach the full potential of this program and connect as many low income households as possible, so they can enjoy all the same things that we all do,” she said.

Internet Essentials is a high-speed, low-cost internet service for eligible low-income households.

It includes Wi-Fi and an option to purchase an internet-ready computer with free digital literacy training online and in person.

Comcast officials called the expansion the most significant change in the program’s history.

The company estimates that more than three million additional low-income households, including households with people with disabilities, are now eligible to apply for the program.

Since August 2011, Internet Essentials has connected more than eight million low-income individuals, from two million households, to the Internet at home, most for the first time.

The announcement followed 11 prior eligibility expansions, including last year’s extension of the program to low-income veterans.

The most significant barriers to broadband adoption in low-income communities remains a basket of digital literacy deficits, lack of digital awareness, and fear of the Internet, Comcast officials said.

Internet Essentials has an integrated, wrap-around design that addresses each of those barriers, Zedan said, adding that the program includes multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online and in person; purchase an internet-ready computer for less than $150; and for all to have low-cost, high-speed internet service for $9.99 per month.

The program is structured as a partnership between Comcast and tens of thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners.

Since 2011, Comcast has invested more than $650 million to support digital literacy training and awareness, reaching more than 9.5 million low-income Americans.

The company has either sold or donated more than 100,000 discounted and heavily subsidized computers to families and veterans that need one.

“We’re delighted about this expansion but we always feel like there is so much more work to do,” Zedan said.

“We have a team of people who work full-time on Internet Essentials and we’re constantly asking ourselves, what can we do to make the program easier, better, faster; how can we provide more education with nonprofit partners so that people can get the skills they need?

“That’s our full-time job to really make this program the best that it can be and serve their needs. So we are certainly happy, but definitely by no means are we complacent,” Zedan said.

For more information or to apply for the program in seven different languages, go to or call 1-855-846-8376. Spanish-only speakers can also call 1-855-765-6995.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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