Earlier today, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen, and civic and community leaders kicked off the second year of Comcast’s “Internet Essentials” broadband program designed to help close the digital divide among low-income Americans.

In its first full year of availability, nearly 100,000 families (400,000 individuals) signed up for the program, with nearly 7,000 families signing on in Chicago alone. Regionally, more than 15,000 are using the program (in Illinois, northwest Indiana and southwest Michigan).

 “It is imperative that Chicago become a more digitally connected city so all of our children have the same opportunities and our adults can find jobs and help grow the city’s economy,” said Emanuel. “I am focused on closing the digital divide throughout our city and ensuring that every family in Chicago can benefit from getting online at home. Having widespread Internet access throughout our homes and in our neighborhoods will help the city move forward and ensure that our children have brighter opportunities in the future.”

Added Comcast’s Cohen, “I’d like to congratulate Mayor Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools for having made the Internet Essentials program such a resounding success. Cities like Chicago are making a tangible difference in the lives of their students and families who are now able to go online at home and access the endless resources the Internet has to offer.”

In Chicago, Comcast is working with a network of more than 1,100 community-based organizations, school districts, faith-based organizations, elected officials and others to make sure eligible families know about the low-cost Internet program. In the past year, the MSO says it’s sponsored or participated in nearly 200 events.

Enhancements to the program moving forward include:

>> Expanding the eligibility criteria to include families with children eligible to receive reduced price school lunches under the National School Lunch Program. Comcast believes this could add some 300,000 additional households to the program;
>> Doubling broadband speeds to 3 Mbps down and to as much as 768 Kbps up;
>> Upgrading the free Internet safety software to include the Constant Guard Protection Suite, comprised of the Norton Security Suite, identity theft protection and more;
>> Enriching digital literacy training efforts both online and in-person to instruct users on how to use job search tools and social-networking site as swell as offering tips for what parents should know about cyber bullying;
>> A streamlined the approval process that gives instant approval for all students who attend schools with the highest percentage of NSLP participation, which includes Provision 2 schools; and
>> A new “bulk-order program” that empowers community-based organizations to purchase Internet Essentials accounts so they can connect the eligible families they serve.

The Background

To be eligible for the Internet Essentials program, Comcast says a household must:

•    Be located where Comcast offers Internet service;
•    Have at least one child who is eligible to receive a free or reduced school lunch under the NSLP;
•    Not be subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days; and
•    Not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment.

Comcast will sign up eligible families in the program for at least three years, through the end of the 2013-2014 school year. Any household that qualifies during this three-year period will remain eligible for Internet Essentials if at least one child eligible for a free or reduced lunch remains living in the household.

The Daily

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