Comcast expands its low-cost internet program to 1.2M people

Comcast touted its internet access program for low-income students on Tuesday, saying that 1.2 million Americans are now enrolled in its Internet Essentials program at a press conference where it also said it would extend the program beyond its original three-year lifespan. Comcast’s EVP David Cohen also said that the cable company is in the midst of signing a partnership to make Khan Academy content available to Internet Essentials customers.
The announcement was part of a regular update on the program with the added bonus of helping Comcast tout the benefits of its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable. Time Warner Cable does not have such a program, which means if the deal closes about 19 new cities will get access to the low-cost broadband.
Comcast launched the Internet Essentials program in 2011, originally offering incredibly low-speed internet service (speeds were 1.5 Mbps and 384 kbps upstream) and a low-cost computer to people who can’t afford it. Broadband access costs $9.95 per month. It uses the federal school lunch program to determine what households might be eligible. In August, when it offered its last update it had connected 220,000 households to the program. At that time it also increased the speeds on offer to 5 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream, which also happens to be the speeds that Google is offering communities as part of its free service.
Today’s news isn’t just coming from the goodness of Brian Robert’s heart, but is a reflection of the $45 billion merger Comcast hopes to consummate with Time Warner Cable — a deal federal regulators are likely to scrutinize.
While Comcast has pledged to shed up to 3 million subscribers, the combined companies would still have about 30 million subscribers, almost a third of the U.S. households. It’s a deal that will consolidate Comcast’s power over the nation’s broadband, so it makes sense that it’s trying to give lawmakers and regulators something to make them comfortable.