Originally published: January 21, 2013
Last updated: January 23, 2013 - 3:10am
Internet Essentials is not a government program, although that would be difficult to tell from the poster. Instead, it is a two-year-old program run by Comcast, the country’s largest Internet and cable provider, meant to bring affordable broadband to low-income homes.
Any family that qualifies for the National School Lunch Program is eligible for Internet service at home for $9.95 a month. The families also receive a voucher from Comcast to buy a computer for as little as $150. The program is not charity: Comcast started Internet Essentials in order to satisfy a regulatory requirement to provide Internet access to the poor, which also happens to be one of the few remaining areas for growth for cable companies across the country. More than 100,000 households in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and other major markets have signed up for Internet Essentials. But as the program gains popularity, the company has come under criticism, accused of overreaching in its interactions with local communities — handing out brochures with the company logo during parent-teacher nights at public schools, for instance, or enlisting teachers and pastors to spread the word to students and congregations.