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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Internet Essentials is truly born from Comcast’s late founder Ralph Roberts’s vision to invest in our communities, because when the communities we serve thrive, everyone benefits. Internet Essentials has been woven into the cultural fabric of our Company, and I speak for all Comcasters when I say this program is one of our proudest achievements.
Internet Essentials isn’t your typical Comcast product or service. It’s the biggest community investment initiative our Company has ever undertaken, and its success is largely grassroots in nature. Thanks to the help and support of thousands of school districts, libraries, community partners, elected officials, and dedicated Comcast employees, the program has become the largest and most comprehensive high-speed Internet adoption program for low-income families anywhere in America.
If you’d like to get more involved and become a partner, please sign up at www.InternetEssentials.com/Partner, and help us spread the word.
Since 2011, Comcast has invested more than $240 million in cash and in-kind support to fund digital literacy initiatives, reaching nearly 3.2 million people through our national and local non-profit community partners. Additional key program milestones and facts through June 2015 include:
Dedicated more than $1 million in grants to create Internet Essentials Learning Zones, where networks of nonprofit partners are working together to enhance public Internet access and increase family-focused digital literacy training in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Fresno, Miami, and Seattle, among others.
Provided more than 41,000 subsidized computers at less than $150 each.
Distributed for free nearly 46 million Internet Essentials program materials.
Broadcast more than 7 million public service announcements, valued at more than $90 million.
Welcomed more than 3.5 million visitors to the Internet Essentials websites in English and Spanish and its Online Learning Center.
Fielded more than 3.2 million phone calls to our Internet Essentials call center.
Made Internet Essentials available in nearly 48,000 schools and more than 5,000 school districts, in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
Partnered with 9,000 community-based organizations, government agencies, and federal, state, and local elected officials to spread the word.
Internet Essentials customer research indicates the program is making a real impact on their daily lives.
86% of customers use their Internet service every day or almost every day.
Customers are most frequently using the Internet for schoolwork and finding general information.
98% of families are using their service for schoolwork, and 92% of this group feels their service had a positive impact on their child’s grades.
63% are using their service to pay for bills.
52% are using their service to search for a job, and 67% of those searching feel their service helped someone in the household locate or obtain employment.
90% of Internet Essentials customers are satisfied with the program, and 92% said they would recommend the program to friends and family.