Comcast Launches New $9.99 Nationwide Plan For Needy Families

Families with limited income who are struggling to make ends meet may have reason to consider switching to Comcast. The company has rolled out a new $9.99 service tier that's available nationwide to citizens with at least one child receiving a free school lunch through the National School Lunch Program. The program isn't available to current Comcast subscribers (a significant oversight), but anyone who hasn't had Comcast service in 90 days and doesn't currently have an overdue balance with the company is able to apply.

According to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the new service is intended to bridge the so-called digital divide between low-income families and the rest of the US. "We know that the three biggest barriers to broadband adoption are cost, digital literacy, and relevance - that many Americans don't see broadband as relevant to their lives," Genachowski said. "The Internet Essentials program takes big steps to address these issues. By helping to close the adoption gap, this program will prepare the next generation, create new opportunities for more jobs and economic growth, and will make a positive difference in the lives of many Americans."

A recent survey by Connected Nation found that an estimated 17 million children (out of 75.6 million total in the US), or 22.4 percent, lacked home broadband. 7.6 million of them live in low-income households. There's a significant disparity between broadband access in racial terms as well. Just 37 percent of low-income racial minority households have broadband access, compared to 46 percent of all low-income families.

Genachowski believes that improved Internet access for poor families is an absolute necessity. "According to's data, there are 12 metropolitan areas in which the ratio of job postings to unemployed people is one-to-one. That's one job posting for every person looking for a job," the FCC Chairman said.

"These jobs aren't getting filled because our labor pool doesn't have the right skills. And while some jobs require engineering or extensive computer software expertise, many open basic require only basic digital skills knowing how to use a computer, search, process a transaction. Other jobs require skills or certifications that can be gotten online - like basic training for entry level positions in the health care industry, or being certified in the use of Microsoft Office."

Comcast is also offering a "netbook class" computer for $150 to families that qualify for its Internet Essentials service but don't have a home PC. The FAQ states that "This computer supports wired and Wi-Fi Internet connectivity. Every computer shipped includes Windows 7 Starter operating system and Internet browser software. Additional productivity software may be included when available."

The value of Comcast's offering will depend significantly on where a person lives. In areas formerly covered by BellSouth, AT&T offers a low-cost $19.95 DSL-only service, for example. In areas where the basic price is higher, ($29.95 isn't uncommon), Comcast's program could drive overall broadband costs lower. Alternatively, companies may opt to improve the speeds of their lower-tier offerings. Either way, this program is a win/win for consumers.