In 2010 Comcast was voted “worst company” in America by readers of Consumerist.com. Since then the company has taken steps to improve its reputation. Comcast’s recent attempt to polish its image is a good one. In mid-September, the company rolls out a discounted broadband Internet service in the Twin Cities for $10 a month plus tax in homes that have at least one child receiving free lunches through the National School Lunch Program. The company is also selling optional Acer or Dell notebook-style computers for $150 that support wired and Wi-Fi and include Windows 7 Starter operating system.
That’s not a bad deal considering that 1.5 Mbps service level normally costs $27 to $40 per month, depending on bundling. Competitors that are currently charging $5 to $10 per month offer dialup service, which has significantly slower response time.
“It’s an effort to help more people afford digital service,” said Comcast spokesman David Nyberg. The company will also provide free training and educational resources on how to use the Internet safely and efficiently.
Local partners in the program include Neighborhood House, CLUES, Hmong American Partnership, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Minneapolis Urban League. “Internet access is often the first bill a low-income family eliminates when budgets get tight,” said Michelle Ness, program director at Neighborhood House in St. Paul. “We want to create a culture of going to college and you can’t do that without a computer.”
Some say there is there’s an ulterior motive to Comcast’s generosity, calling the low-cost service a by-product of the Comcast-NBC merger, in which the company agreed to “increase broadband deployment in low income households” as one of a number of conditions to the acquisition. People who commented on the Consumerist website wondered why low-income childless couples, singles, and the elderly are not part of plan.
“Internet Essentials stemmed from an earlier, similar program called Adoption Plus,” said Mary Beth Schubert, vice-president of corporate affairs at Comcast Twin Cities. “It never got off the ground, but approximately 6 million students from over 3 million families may qualify for the new program.”
To request an application in English, call 1-855-846-8376 or call 1-855-765-6995 for Spanish. For more information go to Internet Essentials. To qualify, enrollees must live in a Comcast service area, have not subscribed to Comcast Internet service in the previous 90 days and not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment.