Can more homes with Web access change the way students learn? Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable provider, is starting a three-year experiment to test how much difference low-cost broadband makes in the homes of low-income families with students.
Called the Internet Essentials program, the test will offer $9.95 per month broadband connections to every family who lives in the Comcast service area and who has a child receiving free school lunches.
Launched this past summer, the program will run through 2013, said Comcast spokesman Walt Neary. Neary visited Spokane this week and took part in two sessions explaining the program.
Eligible families can also receive a voucher worth $150 toward the purchase of a netbook computer for use in the program.
In addition, Comcast is arranging for free Internet training across Washington state for eligible families. In Spokane, those courses will be provided through the Boys and Girls Club of Spokane County and through Tincan, a nonprofit that advocates for technology training.
No starting dates for the classes have been announced.
To be eligible, a family must live within Comcast’s service area, have a child participating in a free school lunch program and not have used the company’s Internet service in the preceding 90 days.
Once signed up, the program continues at $9.95 through the child’s senior year in high school if the student continues receiving a free lunch.
Comcast officials say between 2 million and 3 million children within its national service area are eligible. Neary said the Washington state number is roughly 187,000 students.
Comcast will not be looking through financial records of customers, added Neary. A third party provider will verify eligibility and confirm the name and address of eligible families.