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February 04, 2021

Comcast boosts Internet Essentials speeds after criticism from students

The program did not support households with multiple users needing to access video conferencing platforms, users said

Comcast Internet
comcast speed increases Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

Comcast will raise its Internet Essentials download speed to 50 Mbps and boost the upload speed to 5 Mbps on March 1.

Comcast will automatically increase speeds offered by its Internet Essentials program on March 1. The announcement arrived shortly after the company received complaints from some students who said it did not adequately support video conferencing technology. 

Comcast will raise the program's download speed from 25 Megabits per second to 50 Mbps and boost its upload speed from 3 Mbps to 5 Mbps. Users will not face any additional fees.

The program, which costs $9.95 per month, is used by more than 2 million low-income households. It is free to qualifying Philadelphia families enrolled in PHLConnectED, a partnership between Comcast, Philadelphia and local schools.

Comcast said it was choosing to raise speeds now in order to coincide "with the 10th anniversary of its Internet Essentials program," which debuted in 2011. This also marks the second time Internet Essential's speeds have been raised in the last year.

The program's speeds were last increased in March, when the coronavirus pandemic deepened the digital divide as schools shifted to remote learning. Since then, tens of thousands of people have enrolled in the program, according to the Inquirer.

A group of Baltimore high school students were among the most vocal that recently advocated for even faster internet speeds. One high school senior told BuzzFeed News that she regularly gets kicked off Zoom when her younger siblings are also taking classes. 

Earlier this month, a Twitter thread written by former Comcast employee Chase Roper went viral for its sharp criticisms of the Philadelphia-based company. In a subsequent blog post, he said Internet Essentials speeds were slow and ineffective. 

"Internet Essentials is a 25mbps download and 3 mbps upload," he wrote. "So it is right on the cusp of 'fast enough' for one person. Depending on the devices in the home, placement of the modem, number of people trying to use the internet, your kids may not be able to do the live stream class environment."

Roper maintained his criticism after Comcast announced it would raise speeds Tuesday. 

"If you’ve read this entire thread, you’ll know that an upload of 5mbps is still not likely to help a whole lot," he tweeted. "But they were forced to act."

Comcast previously had said the speeds offered by Internet Essentials met the Federal Communications Commission's definition of high-speed broadband, BuzzFeed reported. 

Former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai vouched for those speeds last month, saying they were "an appropriate measure by which to assess whether a fixed service is providing advanced telecommunications capability," according to The Verge.

Following Tuesday's announcement, a Comcast spokesperson told PhillyVoice the increases were not in response to student complaints, but one of six times the company has increased program speeds since Internet Essentials began ten years earlier.

Comcast Cable CEO Dave Watson also said the company's commitment to addressing digital inequities "has never been stronger."

"We’ve been on a mission to address digital inequities in under-resourced communities through Internet Essentials for a decade and there's never been a greater need than now," Watson said. "Our commitment has never been stronger, and we are dedicated to leveling the playing field and making a lasting impact for generations to come."

Additional concerns have been raised about the impending data threshold that will begin affecting customers in its Northeast division in August. Any customer who surpasses the monthly 1.2 terabyte threshold will be charged an additional $10 for every extra 50 gigabyte block. 

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