Comcast: Internet Essentials
Comcast's Internet Essentials, now in its seventh year, was the first of these programs to be agreed upon and implemented; the first (and so far the only) merger-agreement program to be extended by the provider past its original expiration date; the first to increase the speeds it offers users and the categories of customers who are eligible to enroll; and the only program to have provided regular, public documentation of its progress, including a third-party evaluation and significant user survey data after its third year29. (Comcast never asked to have the data in its annual compliance reports to the FCC redacted, unlike CenturyLink, AT&T and Charter.) Internet Essentials is unique in having an identifiable, personal leader within a provider's senior management – Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen, who has been the face of the program since it was first proposed.
It's fair to say that Comcast has publicly “owned” its low-income broadband adoption program to a far greater extent than any other commercial provider.
So it's not surprising that Internet Essentials is the only one of the provider adoption efforts we've found to report having served more than a million customer households. Comcast reported reaching that milestone in its 2017 IE progress report, which also said the enrollment rate for the program was acceleratingX. A year later the reported participation number is 1.5 households with an estimated 6 millions individual users30.
Chairman Genachowski and Commissioner Clyburn hoped that Comcast's program would be a model for other providers, both for Connect2Compete and for subsequent merger agreements. After seven years that hope seems to have been well-founded – at least in the sense that Internet Essentials seems to be a model program, whether or not it's actually being imitated by others.
To be clear: Internet Essentials’ publicly released participation numbers and other metrics are all self-reported. Comcast’s obligation to file compliance reports to the FCC, with results subject to independent verification, ended in 2014. There’s no indication on the Internet Essentials program website that the current reported results have been audited.
So is it possible that Internet Essentials’ 1.5 million households are partly hype? Yes, as far as we can say, that’s possible. And there have been instances when the program’s local totals -- which are not regularly made public, at least in the national progress reports -- have been questioned by activists on the ground… who also ask why a company with 25 million Internet customers, and many millions of unserved poor households in its service area, has only signed up a million and a half for heavily discounted access in eight years.
But even allowing for some corporate PR effect, the scale, ambition and apparent success of Comcast’s effort are unique.
Via local community partners, Mobile Citizen facilitates access to $10/month broadband service on the Sprint Network. Mobile Citizen welcomes new partnerships with organizations sharing their mission to close the digital divide and to make affordable internet available for those that need it most. Interested organizations should fill out the "Get Started" form31 to initiate a conversation.
PCs for People and Mobile Beacon partnered to create Bridging the Gap, a program that provides $10/month broadband service on the Sprint Network to individuals and families under the 200% poverty level. Nonprofits and anchor institutions can become a Bridging the Gap32 partner and offer low-income families they serve the ability to purchase low cost internet and computers directly using an organization branded portal. Becoming a partner is free and the program is easy to administer. PCs for People handles all of the back end billing, customer service and technical support for your clients.
Additionally, Mobile Beacon provides nonprofits and anchor institutions the opportunity to receive donated hotspots for community programs such as hotspot lending through Mobile Beacon’s device donation program with TechSoup33. Eligible organizations can receive up to 11 donated devices per year.
- Horrigan, John B. (January 2015). Deepening Ties: Comcast Internet Essentials Customers Show Broader and Deeper Ties to the Internet Over Time-Especially Among Those Who Had Digital Literacy Skills Training. Retrieved from: https://corporate.comcast.com/images/comcast-ie-report-2-horrigan.pdf (Back to text)
- Cohen, David L. Comcast Announces New Internet Essentials Program Milestones and Enhancements. (August 15, 2017). Retrieved from: https://corporate.comcast.com/comcast-voices/comcast-announces-new-internet-essentials-program-milestones-and-enhancements (Back to text)
- Comcast NBCUniversal. (2018). 2018 Progress Report. Retrieved from: https://update.comcast.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/dlm_uploads/2018/08/2018-Progress-Report-.pdf (Back to text)
- Mobile Citizen. (n.d.). Getting Started is Easy. Retrieved from: https://mobilecitizen.org/get-started (Back to text)
- PCs For People. (n.d.). Bridging the Gap. Retrieved from: https://www.pcsforpeople.org/bridging-the-gap (Back to text)