When viewed through the lens of the FCC, "broadband" currently is defined as supporting speeds of at least 25 Mbit/s in the downstream and at least 3 Mbit/s in the upstream direction.
Comcast's Internet Essentials program for low-income Americans, which presently maxes out at 15 Mbit/s down by 2 Mbit/s up, doesn't quite measure up to the broadband speed bar set by the FCC. And Comcast is perfectly OK with that.
Noting that Comcast has upgraded Internet Essentials' speeds four times since introducing the program in 2011 (when it supported speeds of just 1.5 Mbit/s down and uploads of 384 kbit/s), the current offering is "more than sufficient for our Internet Essentials customers to do everything on the Internet that they need to do," David Cohen, senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer of Comcast/NBCU, said Tuesday during a press call about a major expansion of the Internet Essentials program.
Comcast says it has expanded the eligibility of Internet Essentials 11 times and increased the offering's speeds four times since the program debuted in 2011.
"With all due respect to the FCC, I think the judgments they have made around what it is that represents 'broadband' are as much politically driven as they are substantively driven," Cohen said. "And there's no suggestion in any FCC proceeding that 15-Meg down speeds are not more than sufficient to be able to provide a high-quality Internet experience to any home that has that level of speed."
Cohen also stressed that Comcast would review and alter the speeds of the program as necessary.
Internet Essentials, a program introduced as a voluntary condition of Comcast's acquisition of NBCU, today enables eligible homes to get Internet service and in-home WiFi for $9.95 per month, plus access to heavily discounted computers (for just under $150). Comcast also builds in free digital literacy training in print, online and in person, both in English and Spanish.
Billing the move as the program's biggest expansion ever, Comcast this week said 3 million additional homes are now eligible for Internet Essentials after extending access to all seniors and to people with disabilities within its cable service footprint.
Cohen noted the company has expanded the program's eligibility 11 times so far. After an initial focus on pre-school and national school lunch programs, Internet Essentials has since grown to include residents of public housing and those receiving federal housing assistance, low-income veterans and pilot programs for low-income seniors and community college students.
"This expansion more than doubles the total eligible population of the program," Cohen said.
Comcast estimates about 8 million individuals from 2 million households have been connected to the Internet at home over the life of the program, and that it has sold more than 100,000 subsidized PCs and invested about $650 million to reach 9.5 million people with digital literacy training at non-profit outfits.
For more details about Comcast's program for low-income US homes, please see this story at sister site, Light Reading: Comcast Expands Reach of 'Internet Essentials,' 15-Meg Remains Service's Sweet Spot .
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading