Comcast plans to include more in low-cost Internet service

Comcast officials issued a progress report Tuesday on its program to connect low-income families with the Internet.

Officials of the Philadelphia-based company announced efforts to streamline the application process and quicken users’ broadband connection. They also plan to make more families eligible.

“We made a determination that this is a place for us to make our mark,” said vice president David Cohen. “We can’t expect Exxon to make broadband adoption a number one priority, or Wal-Mart. That’s not their businesses. That’s our business.”

Previously, a family had to be enrolled in a school-district free-lunch program to be eligible. Now the program, which provides Internet access for $9.95 a month and laptops for under $150, is open to those receiving lunches at a reduced rate.

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About 115,000 children from such families are enrolled in the Philadelphia school district.

Still, critics say the company could be doing more.

Craig Robbins, executive director of the activist group Action United, said Tuesday that of 150,000 eligible households in the region, only 463 have been enrolled so far.

“All the rhetoric is there. All the PR is there. But as far as we can tell, it just continues to be a program about PR and not about really bridging the digital divide,” Robbins said.

Robbins’ group says the program shuts people out who owe money or already have Internet service.

Cohen said his data showed those concerns are minimal. He reminded critics that the program, mandated by the FCC, is only a few months old.

Of eligible families across the country, only 5 percent have applied for the service so far.

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