For people living at or near the poverty line, cost is a major barrier to getting Internet access at home.  Now, thanks to Comcast, all public housing and HUD-assisted tenants (primarily those using Housing Choice vouchers or in project-based Section 8 units) in Comcast’s service area are eligible to apply for Internet Essentials, Comcast’s high-speed $9.95/month service for low-income residents. Here is Comcast’s notice. Until today, only families with children enrolled in the Federal free/reduced school lunch program (and a handful of seniors in pilot programs) were eligible. This one expansion SUBSTANTIALLY increases availability to low-cost Internet service in the United States.

NDIA applauds Comcast’s expansion and encourages other ISPs to follow suit. But the real test will be in how this program is implemented, how the barriers are handled and whether subscribers have access to local digital literacy training and technology support they need to take advantage of the offer. Thanks to HUD’s ConnectHome initiative, an increasing number of housing authorities and their partners already offer digital literacy training and technology support for residents of their public housing units. But Housing Choice voucher users, who are more than half of those newly eligible for Internet Essentials in many cities, live in privately owned apartments and houses distributed throughout their communities. How will they get the outreach, training and support that everyone including Comcast acknowledges to be critical for the program’s effectiveness?

NDIA welcomes the opportunity to work with Comcast to deliver a program that meets the needs of low-income Americans for home Internet service that can level the playing field.

Internet Essentials offers service at 10 mbps down for $9.95 a month + tax, without requiring a credit check, contract or installation fee. Potential customers of Internet Essentials must not have outstanding debt to Comcast that is less than a year old and must not have subscribed to Comcast Home Internet Service within 90 days, where applicable – two issues that may eliminate otherwise qualified households.

NDIA is a nonprofit alliance of advocates and providers working to promote digital equity. We are leaders of local government, community organizations, public libraries and other institutions committed to reducing digital disparities among our neighbors. To improve the daily lives of all community members, we call for widespread and actionable digital inclusion public policies that reflect what we’ve learned from experience.

NDIA has affiliates in the following cities in Comcast territory – Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Detroit, Atlanta, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Nashville, and Salt Lake City.

The contents of this blog post may be attributed to Angela Siefer, Director, National Digital Inclusion Alliance (angela@digitalinclusionalliance.org).