Expansion of at-home internet access program for low-income people seeks to bridge the digital divide

Everybody needs the internet. It’s a whole new world to explore!

More than one million California households newly eligible for internet essentials – including those on MediCal with disabilities and previously uncovered seniors

The San Francisco Bay Area is the global epicenter of technology, yet many Californians still don’t have access to a crucial digital tool, the internet. While strides have been made, gaps persist for low-income, African American and Latino households. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, 67 percent of African America households have broadband at home, compared to 74 percent of all households – among low-income households without broadband, 25 percent cited affordability as a key barrier.

“The internet is arguably the most important technological innovation in history, and it is unacceptable that we live in a country where millions of families and individuals are missing out on this life-changing resource. Whether the internet is used for students to do their homework, adults to look for and apply for new jobs, seniors to keep in touch with friends and family, or veterans to access their well-deserved benefits, it is absolutely essential to be connected in our modern, digital age,” said Comcast NBCUniversal Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer David L. Cohen.

This latest expansion and the most significant change in the program’s history could benefit more than 1 million low-income households in California and 3 million additional low-income households nationally – estimating a total of nearly 7 million households now have access to low-cost internet service, which doubles the total number of previously eligible households.

California has eight of the top 50 ranked cities to participate in the program, including San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. As a result, California once again leads the nation in efforts to close the digital divide. With this new expansion, MediCal recipients, households with people with disabilities and previously uncovered seniors are now eligible to apply.

“This expansion is the culmination of an audacious goal we set eight years ago, which was to meaningfully and significantly close the digital divide for low-income Americans,” said Cohen.

The announcement follows prior eligibility expansions, including last year’s program expansion to low-income veterans – and previous years to students under the National School Lunch program, those who receive HUD housing assistance and low-income seniors.

Comcast hopes to address each of the three major barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified. These include a lack of digital literacy skills, lack of awareness of the relevance of the internet to everyday life and fear of the internet, the lack of a computer and the cost of internet service.

To help address these barriers, Comcast has invested more than $650 million to support digital literacy training and awareness, reaching more than 9.5 million low-income Americans. In addition, the company has either sold or donated more than 100,000 discounted and heavily subsidized computers to families and veterans that need one.

Internet Essentials provides internet access at home for a monthly fee of $9.95 plus tax. There is no installation fee and the service can be canceled at any time. With the program, people can buy a discounted computer and receive technology training, as well.

To be eligible to apply to the program, applicants simply need to show they are participating in one or more of a dozen different federal assistance programs. These include Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). A full list of these programs can be found at www.internetessentials.com.