Comcast program brings Internet access to low-income homes

| Saturday, March 9, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

Youngsters in some Mon-Yough school districts get more than a free or reduced-cost breakfast or lunch because of a federal government program.

Their parents, guardians and grandp arents get a break in the cost of going online, courtesy of Internet Essentials, an 18-month-old Comcast program.

“Offering our students a way to continue learning in their own home is one step in closing the digital divide in our school district,” McKeesport Area School District spokeswoman Kristen Giran said.

In a progress report this week, Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen said Internet Essentials connected more than 150,000 low-income families, or 600,000 Americans, to the Internet in their homes, “most for the first time in their lives.”

Cohen announced changes in the program, which costs $9.95 a month for families with children in the federally-funded free or reduced lunch program at school.

Eligibility criteria will be expanded to nearly 2.6 million families with the inclusion of parochial, private and home-schooled students.

Across Pennsylvania there are more than 7,800 Internet Essentials subscribers, including 5,700 in metropolitan Philadelphia, Comcast's hometown.

In the metropolitan Pittsburgh area, a major market for Comcast, 1,568 families participate.

Some districts get more out of the program than others.

“It is a very nice opportunity for those who qualify,” Norwin coordinator of educational technology Kathy Curran said. “But the low income requirement, school-aged children requirement, and the absence of cable services in the home does limit the number of eligible Norwin families.

“Certainly it is wonderful way to get technology into the hands of students who otherwise do not have access to those resources from their homes.”

In the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, spokesman Jerry Zufelt said information was sent home to parents in all parochial schools, but only one family was signed up, at Mary Queen of Apostles School in New Kensington.

Officials in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh did not respond to a request for information by presstime, but a local agency tied to the diocese benefits from the program.

“Auberle has been a great partner in promoting the Internet Essentials program and believes in its importance,” Comcast Keystone Region vice president of public relations Bob Grove said.

“We promote it among our clients,” Auberle spokeswoman Annie Schultheis said, “because it is a great resource for a lot of our families.”

Eligible families have an option to purchase computers for $150 and get free online digital literacy training.

“Our qualifying families with free and reduced lunch is approximately 91 percent for the district, and all have the opportunity to participate in this program,” Clairton City district spokeswoman Alexis Trubiani said. “This program has allowed affordable Internet and equipment for dozens of families.”

Grove said the program has gone through a number of changes since its inception, including doubling the connection speed to 3 megabits per second.

Cohen said families can apply for the program at the website via computers in community centers, libraries or the homes of friends.

Comcast is introducing “opportunity cards” to enable nonprofit organizations and others to prepurchase Internet Essentials service in advance, for up to one year, for low-income families.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or

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