Comcast is rolling out a few upgrades to its Internet program for low-income consumers, doubling download speeds and, for the first time, targeting senior citizens under a Florida-based pilot project.
The $10-a-month program, Internet Essentials, will be getting a free speed bump from 5 megabits per second to 10 Mbps, which is fast enough to support multiple video streams simultaneously. That's good news for poorer Americans who increasingly rely on the Web to do homework, find jobs and use government services.
Comcast is also expanding access to Internet Essentials. Eligibility for Internet Essentials used to be dictated by whether households had a child who qualified for free or reduced-price school lunches, or who merely attended a school where 70 percent of the school qualified for meal subsidies.
Now, Comcast is lowering that 70 percent threshold to 50 percent to make it easier for more families to qualify for Internet Essentials. And its pilot project in West Palm Beach will give older Americans — who, according to the Pew Research Center, remain disproportionately unconnected from the Web — access to Internet Essentials, too.
So far Comcast hasn't laid out how it will evaluate this pilot project, over what time period, or even how it will determine eligibility for seniors. Proof of eligibility could be Medicaid or Medicare, for instance. Although some older Americans already likely benefit from Internet Essentials by living in the same household as those eligible school-aged children, the program expansion would give other seniors the ability to sign up for low-cost Internet.
Roughly 500,000 households have signed up for Internet Essentials so far, up from 350,000 a year ago.