MILTON -- A little more than five months after its inception, Comcast's Internet Essentials program -- an initiative to give low-income families affordable access to broadband Internet at home -- has proven to be a success.
According to Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen, the company signed up 41,000 families by Christmas.
Internet Essentials allows families who qualify for free school lunches to sign up for broadband Internet access for $9.95 per month and purchase computers for $150. Cohen said 80,000 children and 160,000 total customers now have broadband as a result of the initiative.
"We didn't have a specific goal, except that now that we have 41,000 families signed up, in 2012 we think we can do better," Cohen said. "Our early results have only convinced us that if we stick at this, and the rest of the Internet comes on board, we think we're going to make a dent going forward."
The program may have a significant impact in Sussex County. Computer centers in libraries have seen increased use in the down economy as people have had to cancel their Internet subscriptions to save money.
At the Milton Public Library, people begin using computers as soon as the doors open, said Assistant Director Pam Bratten. Many, she said, are working on their resumes.
"Right now, lots of people are out of work," she said. "Some of them have no computer experience."
Cohen said that isn't uncommon. Frequently, those without broadband Internet are simply averse to the idea. Education is a key component of Internet Essentials.
"This is a broadband-resistant population," he said. "Hundreds of millions of dollars have been applied trying to sell broadband. This is a population that by definition has not bought into that. Digital literacy and awareness remains the No. 1 barrier to broadband adoption."
Comcast provides free literacy training with the program -- on the Internet Essentials website and in the community -- which Cohen said has been attended by more than 1,250 customers.
In 2012, Comcast is expanding Internet Essentials to include all families eligible for free and reduced lunches, doubling the speed of the connection, increasing outreach for the program and expanding training opportunities.
"We're the largest cable company in America," Cohen said. "I believe that with that size we have certain advantages and certain responsibilities. One of those is a leadership responsibility."