Comcast offering high-speed Internet at a reduced cost

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In an effort to bridge the digital divide, Comcast is offering low-cost Internet services to low-income families here and across the country.

Families whose children qualify for or receive free school lunches through the National School Lunch Program can sign up for Internet Essentials, which provides high-speed access for $9.95 a month.

Participants won’t have to pay for equipment rental or installation fees, and they will be guaranteed the same rate, as long as they remain in the program, said Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas. The program is open only to those who have not received Comcast Internet services in the last 90 days, and applicants can’t owe Comcast money or have failed to return equipment.

The cable company is offering the subsidized Internet service – it normally costs $29.99 – to increase digital literacy and Internet access among low-income families, said Douglas.

They are also offering online digital literacy classes, as well as in-person training, which is available to everyone, not just program participants.

Upcoming classes – for those who’ve applied or are already customers – will be held at Gads Hill Center on Oct. 19 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The Center on Halsted will also be offering an Internet training class on Oct. 29 from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

Families who don’t have a computer at home may purchase one through Comcast for $149.99 plus tax, Douglas said.

To enroll, students who qualify for the National School Lunch Program must obtain a letter of verification from their school, then call 1-855-8-INTERNET. Comcast will mail a packet for the family to complete and mail back to the company.

Public school teachers began distributing information about the program in early September, said Jack Segal, vice president of public relations for Comcast’s Chicago region. The entire application process should take a few weeks, Segal said.

Segal estimates that an estimated 332,000 children qualify for the low-cost Internet service. Comcast declined to provide the number of people who have registered for the program.

Families interested in the program must enroll before the end of the 2013-2014 academic school year, and the family can remain in the program as long as one child is enrolled in the National School Lunch program, he said.

The low-cost Internet will benefit a lot of people, said Elce Redmond, a community organizer with the South Austin Coalition.

Having Internet access at home will help students complete school assignments, keep up with current events and provide access to resources they would not otherwise have, Redmond said.

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