Comcast will increase download speeds and give low-income families 40 one-hour hotspot sessions under the expansion of its Internet Essentials program, according to Education Week.
The program is available to families who have at least one child receiving free or reduced-price meals and aims to help address learning gaps between students who have sufficient internet access at home to complete assignments and do research and those who have an unreliable internet connection.
After six years of the program, a million households have subscribed to the service and 65,000 subscribers have taken advantage of Comcast’s discounted computer program.
With students increasingly required to access homework assignments online, at-home internet access as well as the speeds needed to take advantage of multimedia content, are more critical than ever. But research released last year by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center showed that many families, especially those headed by Hispanic immigrants, are “under-connected” and that students often depend on mobile devices and free Wi-Fi to keep up with assignments. Beyond schoolwork, families with reliable internet often use websites for informal learning and games that can further widen the gap.
The study also found that families often don’t take advantage of discounted internet programs, such as Comcast’s, suggesting that educators could play a larger role in making sure families are aware of and sign up for the program, perhaps by attaching information to enrollment forms for free and reduced-price meals. The government’s Lifeline program also provides low-cost internet to families, but earlier this year the FCC reversed an Obama administration decision to add nine additional providers to the program, and in June, the Government Accountability Office released a report saying that there is widespread abuse in the program.