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August 05, 2015

Comcast helps students and seniors get connected

'Internet Essentials' program launching pilot to help low-income seniors cross 'the digital divide'

Internet Seniors
Comcast Gene J. Puskar/for PhillyVoice

In this Feb. 15, 2011 file photo, a Comcast logo is displayed on an installation truck in Pittsburgh.

Comcast announced Tuesday that it is going to upgrade its program that helps connect low-income families with children to the Internet and start a pilot project to expand that program to seniors.

Comcast’s “Internet Essentials” project aims to “attack the digital divide” by offering high-speed Internet to poor families with school-age children for around $10 per month and selling computers for less than $150. Since launching in 2011, the project has helped 2 million low-income people connect to the Web.

The company will boost the project by doubling Internet speed to 10 megabytes per second and installing free Wi-Fi routers so that families can browse the Internet on any device. It will expand auto-enrollment so that any child who attends a school where at least 50 percent of the students qualify for a reduced-price lunch will automatically be eligible for the program.

Now, the company wants to expand its offerings beyond families with children. It has partnered with the Urban League of Palm Beach County in Florida to start a pilot project for bringing Internet Essentials to seniors.

“Clearly, reaching seniors will require a different approach and mindset,” wrote Comcast’s Chief Diversity Officer David Cohen.

He cited research showing that only 18 percent of seniors said they would feel comfortable learning how to use new digital technology on their own, and 77 percent said they would need help from others. The pilot program will have to focus on education.

Many seniors also don’t think they need this new-fangled Internet stuff, making them hard to reach.

“35 percent of older non-Internet users don’t think they are at a disadvantage from missing out on information online,” Cohen wrote.

However, Comcast argues that seniors will be better able to connect with their families and do useful errands online, such as paying bills or signing up for healthcare, if they receive digital literacy training.

"The Internet has a tremendous power to help change their lives for the better by tearing down the walls that geography may have put between them and the ones they love,” Patrick Franklin, president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County, said in a statement to the Philadelphia Business Journal.

A study from the Pew Research Center found that 47 percent of seniors have access to high-speed, broadband Internet at home. However, the number falls to 25 percent if only seniors who make less than $30,000 a year are counted.

To apply for the program, visit