published Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Comcast expands low-cost Internet

The Comcast logo is displayed on a TV set.
The Comcast logo is displayed on a TV set.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

COMCAST DISCOUNTED SERVICE

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.

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Comcast, which agreed to offer $10 Internet service to low-income Americans as part of its merger with NBC Universal, is expanding the popular program.

After initially offering the deal to the families of children who qualify for free school lunches, Comcast will widen the launch to also cover the families of children with reduced-price school lunches, according to a news release.

"Since originally launching Internet Essentials, Comcast has experienced tremendous growth in the program," said Jim Weigert, vice president and general manager of Comcast Chattanooga. "The eligibility change will allow more households to participate in the program, which will bring the estimated total to 2.3 million eligible families across the nation."

Internet Essentials has been a boon to families with less than $30,000 in household income. In fact, Pew Research Center estimates that 45 percent of such households have a broadband connection.

With the extension of the program, Comcast's deal will reach 2.3 million eligible families, the company said.

Chattanooga-area families say that their kids are learning more than they were before, often out-learning their parents.

Brandy Bates, who is pursuing her GED following a divorce, likes to look over her son's shoulder when he's studying geometry and algebra.

Her daughter failed the third grade because of low math scores, so the family is learning it together with the help of the Internet.

"When it comes to homework, there are some times where I'm trying to learn what he's learning," Bates said.

The program also helps eliminate a certain social stigma that follows those who don't have Web access.

The Comcast program not only provides monthly Internet service for $9.95, it also allows eligible subscribers to buy a "netbook-style laptop computer" for $149.99.

Such computers support wired or Wi-Fi Internet connectivity, according to Comcast.

Before the Internet Essentials program launched in 2011, Becky Moses had to visit neighbors if her children needed the Internet.

It was embarrassing.

"Sometimes around 8 o'clock at night, I'd hear, 'Mom I've got some research to do,' and I'd have to write a note and explain and she would have to turn it in late and get a lower grade," Moses said. "It was just very frustrating, not being able to have that access in the home."

When she heard about the $10 per month Internet deal, she didn't believe it. Many families pay six times that amount.

Mary Tankersly, for instance, used to pay $150 per month for a triple-play package.

When bundled with TV and phone service, she's now paying less than $100.

"I'm raising my granddaughter, and she's 10 and a big girl. Now there's more food, especially during the summertime," Tankersly said.

But accessing the Internet is about more than just saving money and browsing Wikipedia.

Needie Lee's son, Michael Lee, is autistic. He doesn't really talk, his mother said.

"Being that he's autistic, like many autistic children he has a gift. His just happens to be the computer," his mother said.

Since Needie Lee signed up for Comcast's $10 Internet, Michael Lee has found a whole new universe.

The 17-year-old has begun to use sentences where silence once ruled, his mother says.

"He's learning about astronauts, he's teaching himself Spanish without any help, and I think he's teaching himself to type," she said. "He's still in his own little world, but he's able to tap into the outside world, too."

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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