published Saturday, August 11th, 2012

Comcast offers low-cost Internet to some students

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To qualify for $9.95-a-month Internet service and a low-cost computer, the household must meet all of the following criteria:

• Be located where Comcast offers Internet service.

• Have at least one child receiving free or reduced-price school lunches.

• Have not subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days.

• Not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment.

Source: Comcast

As students head back to school, Comcast and local PTAs are encouraging low-income families to take advantage of the cable company's $10 monthly broadband Internet service.

Through the company's Internet Essentials program, eligible families can gain high-speed Web access for $9.95 a month, a price that includes free installation and Internet training. A small laptop computer is also available for purchase for $149.99.

Families with students who qualify for federal reduced-cost or free lunch programs are eligible.

The National Parent-Teacher Association has thrown its support behind such low-cost Internet programs offered by cable companies across the country. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association estimates that cable providers offering broadband service to 86 percent of U.S. households are participating in low-cost Internet programs. More than 10 million students across the country are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch programs, according to NPTA numbers.

Locally, the Hamilton County Council of PTAs is spreading the word across the area's public schools.

Scottie Goodman Summerlin, the local council's vice president of communications, said PTAs are working with school principals to get the word out about the benefits of the program.

"They know which kids need that service and they can let them know about it without singling them out," she said.

While it makes financial sense for families involved, Summerlin said bridging the so-called "digital divide" will help create higher-performing students and a better workforce. That, in turn, will help ensure economic stability throughout the region, she said.

"It's really not just about the kids. It's about the community, industry and the health of the whole area," Summerlin said. "It's really an important issue."

Nationally, about 92 percent of people have access to broadband, though only about two-thirds of those people actually have the service, said Jim Weigert, vice president and general manager of Comcast Chattanooga.

Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, launched Internet Essentials in 2011. The company promised federal regulators that it would extend broadband service to more people as part of its deal to purchase NBC Universal last year.

Comcast's surveying shows many people don't subscribe to broadband because they don't see how it's relevant to their lives, they can't afford monthly rates or the price of a computer or they just don't understand or are hesitant to use the Internet.

About 87 percent of families of four that make more than $30,000 a year have broadband Internet, Weigert said, but for families below the $30,000 mark, only about 50 percent subscribe to broadband. The Internet Essentials program is aimed at bridging that gap, he said.

"If you have a family who is already at a disadvantage from an income standpoint and they don't have Internet access, it's putting them at even more of a disadvantage," Weigert said. "It's kind of fueling itself."

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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