Comcast announced Tuesday that it will extend beyond an initial three-year period a program that offers low-income families Internet access for $9.95 a month.

The Internet Essentials program, launched in 2011, helps ensure that students are "wired" not just at school, libraries and after-school programs, but also when they are home.

Comcast also announced that it would provide special help to St. Paul families, in particular, in the form of a $50,000 grant to the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation as well as an offer of free online access for six months to Internet Essentials-eligible families who are not yet Comcast customers.

Nearly 6,350 families in Comcast's Minnesota and Western Wisconsin service area have Internet access through the Internet Essentials program, a Comcast news release said. To qualify, families must have at least one child eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program.

The St. Paul Public Schools Foundation is overseeing distribution of the $50,000 to nonprofit groups that include Neighborhood House, Project for Pride in Living, West 7th Community Center and the Liberty Plaza affordable housing development in St. Paul's Summit-University area.

According to Comcast, the grants "will enable these communities to create a continuum of connectivity -- or 'Internet Essentials Learning Zones' -- that begin in the classroom with wired schools, follow the students to wired libraries, wired computer centers and wired after-school programs, and end in wired homes when the day is done."

To apply for the Internet Essentials program, visit or call 1-855-846-8376. Spanish-speakers can visit or call 1-855-765-6995.

St. Paul families new to the program who wish to sign up for the six months of free service can use the same contact information. The deadline for that offer is March 18.