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Comcast Rolls Out Internet Plan for Low Income Households

Comcast has unveiled a program, known as "Internet Essentials," to expand Internet access for about $10 a month to low-income families.

The cable and Internet provider wants to make the program available next month in 39 states, including Illinois, where the company's Internet service is offered. Comcast spokesman Jack Segal said eligible families must have at least one child receiving free school lunches through the National School Lunch Program. He estimates that lunch program is open to more than 4,500 students in Champaign and Urbana.

"Internet access is the great equalizer," Segal said. "It's great for people economically to have access --- kids especially to have access to the internet to do their homework, to learn, to dream, and to really, really participate in the world."

To qualify for the program, customers must not have any overdue bills with the company or unreturned equipment. They also cannot join Comcast's Internet service 90 days prior to joining the program.

The low-income families who qualify can purchase vouchers for a new computer valued at around $150. They can also sign up for free digital literacy training.

This is not the only internet plan coming to Champaign-Urbana. Organizers of the UC2B Big Broadband project are hoping to get high-speed Internet in the area by Feb. 2013. The University of Illinois has taken the lead in getting the more than $22 million federal grant and a $3.5 million state grant to support the project, but it is leaving much of the work to the cities.

The high-speed Internet plan would costs about twice as much for customers compared to the Comcast program and run up to 10 times faster, according Mike Smeltzer, the principal investigator of UC2B's grant.

"Our connection will be massively fast," Smeltzer said. "I think (Comcast's plan) is kind of like training wheels for our project. If somebody doesn't have Internet today, and they look at this and they say, 'Hey, this would be good for our kids that are in school, and we can afford the 10 bucks a month, let's get it.' It will only wet their appetite for something better."

Smeltzer also praised Comcast's reduced-price service, saying it will help connect people in areas where the UC2B project won't be available.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Categories: Economics, Technology