Almost six months ago, Comcast launched an ambitious broadband adoption program, Internet Essentials, with a focus on closing the digital divide and getting more low-income Americans connected to the Internet. Today we are releasing a launch progress report that highlights our successes and achievements and shares some of the lessons we have learned and the new enhancements we will be making to the program in the year ahead. You can find a copy of that report here.

Internet Essentials grew out of a multi-year internal project that had identified low-income broadband adoption as Comcast's most important community-investment strategy and priority.The program is not just another Comcast product or service. It represents the largest broadband adoption program anywhere in America, providing low-cost broadband service for $9.95 a month; the option to purchase a full-service, Internet ready computer for under $150; and multiple options for digital literacy training in print, online and in person.

Research consistently shows that the barriers to broadband adoption involve a complex mix of low digital literacy, perceived lack of relevance of online content, and the need for low-cost, good quality computers and Internet service. Internet Essentials is intended to address all of these hurdles to broadband adoption and it's the largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program in the country.

Now that we have launched Internet Essentials across the Comcast service area, we have taken a hard look at our rollout effort. We continue to analyze and make adjustments to Internet Essentials, but so far we have achieved a number of key accomplishments and met several milestones after only a few months of the program. They include:

  • Publicized the program across more than 4,000 school districts and over 30,000 schools, which have approximately 3.5 million National School Lunch Program (NSLP) families, of which 2 million qualify for free meals under the NSLP and, therefore, are eligible for Internet Essentials;

  • Worked with more than 3,000 partners, including governors; mayors; local, state, and federal legislators, and community-based organizations, including churches, libraries, and PTAs, to promote Internet Essentials and engage eligible families in their communities;

  • By the end of 2011, over 10,000 individuals and organizations had registered for the Partner Portal, the portal had experienced over 100,000 unique visits, and partners had requested 11.5 million pieces of promotional collateral —all at no charge to the partner organizations.

  • Offered approximately 300 in-person digital literacy training sessions with more than 1,250 individual attendees;

  • Empowered nearly 100,000 Comcast employees to directly connect eligible families in their communities;

  • Connected over 41,000 families (an estimated 160,000 Americans) to the power of the Internet in their homes, some for the very first time; and

  • Distributed over 5,500 computers at less than $150 each.

We have carefully analyzed our own data and also commissioned third-party survey research in connection with our launch of Internet Essentials — including surveying families who have signed up for the program and families who have not. We are pleased that 86% of Internet Essentials customers surveyed are highly satisfied with the product, and 99% of these surveyed customers would recommend Internet Essentials to others.

As gratifying as these early results are to Comcast, we recognize there is still a long road ahead. We knew this was not going to be an easy task. But we remain firmly committed to the important cause of providing low-income families with an opportunity to connect to affordable broadband service, purchase discounted computer equipment, and receive the digital literacy training they need.

Based on what we have learned from the launch and on the continuous feedback from potential customers and our community partners, we have already adjusted certain elements of Internet Essentials and remain committed to continue refining the program. For example we:

  • Initiated a "resend and remind" program, which automatically sends replacement application kits to those who have failed to return an application within three weeks of receiving it;

  • Added an option for applicants to fax back applications;

  • Inserted a brightly colored reminder checklist into the application kit to ensure documentation is filled out properly the first time.

Today, I am pleased to announce six key enhancements to Internet Essentials:

  • First, we will expand the eligibility criteria. Previously, Internet Essentials was available to families with children eligible to receive free school lunches as part of the NSLP. In the second quarter, we will extend eligibility to families with children eligible to receive reduced price school lunches as well. We believe this will make nearly 300,000 additional households in our service area eligible for Internet Essentials — bringing the total to 2.3 million eligible families.

  • Second, also during the second quarter we will double the speed of the broadband connection provided with Internet Essentials to up to 3 Mbps downstream and up to 768 Kbps upstream, helping to make the service even more attractive.

  • Third, during the first quarter we will give our community-based organization partners the ability to purchase Internet Essentials in bulk to help reach more eligible households with a streamlined and more customer-friendly process.

  • Fourth, effective immediately we will further streamline the approval process by providing an instant approval process for all students who attend those schools with the highest percentage of NSLP participation, including Provision 2 schools. We estimate this process will apply to 300,000 families.

  • Fifth, we will continue to expand and enrich our online and in-person digital literacy training efforts.

  • Finally, going forward we plan to work closely with the recently announced Connect to Compete initiative in a variety of respects — to try to reduce computer costs further, to enrich our digital literacy materials, to promote awareness of the importance of broadband adoption, and work to connect those calling about Internet Essentials and who live outside of our service area.

So with the help of public officials, civic leaders, school districts, local community-based organizations, public officials, and other partners across the country, Internet Essentials will continue to make a profound difference in the lives of those it touches.

There is no higher community investment priority for Comcast—or for the leadership of our company—than the Internet Essentials program. We are pleased with our progress and are looking forward to having an even bigger impact in 2012.