Why Aren’t More Families Signing Up for Cheap Internet Service?

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A little over a year ago, Comcast introduced Internet Essentials, in which low-income families are eligible for home Internet service for just $9.95 per month. While roughly 2.3 million families in the U.S. qualify for Internet Essentials, only about 100,000 have signed up. According to Comcast, a main reason why enrollment is so underwhelming is that poor people don’t understand the Internet.

Now entering the second year of its “groundbreaking” program aimed at helping “close the digital divide,” Comcast says that Internet Essentials has surpassed the 100,000-mark for signups. The $9.95 monthly service, available only to American families whose children are eligible for reduced price school lunches, is spreading much more slowly than some anticipated.

In the Philadelphia area, for example, 3,250 families have enrolled. The number of Internet Essentials customers in Philadelphia proper has tripled since the end of 2011, but only 3.3% of the total number of families eligible in the area have signed up, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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How does Comcast explain the dismal enrollment for a service that represents a 79% discount?

Comcast says it has found that the biggest barrier to Internet Essentials’ adoption is that many people in poor neighborhoods don’t understand the Internet.

“They think it may be used for Comcast or the government to spy on them,” said David Cohen, the program’s chief booster and an executive vice president at Comcast.

Well, there are a few other barriers as well. Comcast doesn’t allow low-income families who already subscribe to its Internet service, or who have subscribed within the past 90 days, to switch to the cheaper Internet Essentials deal. It also bans families who have unpaid Comcast bills or unreturned Comcast equipment from signing up. According to the NPD Group, only 16% of American households do not subscribe to a pay-TV service. The majority of poor families have a pay-TV subscription, and it seems reasonable to assume that poorer families are more likely to have trouble paying the bill each month. If they have an outstanding bill, or if they have Comcast Internet service (including any of the popular bundled plans with TV, phone, and/or Internet), they can’t get Comcast’s $9.95 Internet plan.

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Comcast, according to the Inquirer, partly blames the Philadelphia school district for low Internet Essentials adoption, because not enough brochures were ordered and therefore not enough families know what the service is. Understandably enough, Comcast isn’t dropping a lot of money advertising the Essentials program. It’s not much of a money maker, so it makes more financial sense for the company to focus on the marketing and advertising of its higher-priced bundles and services. Observers have also noted that one of the main reasons Comcast launched Essentials was so that its merger with NBC would be OK’d by regulators. It’s not merely a gesture of pure goodwill, or a play for some good PR.

Comcast says, however, that to celebrate the second year of Essentials it is scheduling news conferences around the country to spread the word about its $9.95 Internet service, as well as a program offering vouchers for low-cost computers—just $149.95 plus tax.

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What Comcast isn’t saying explicitly in press releases or via spokesperson quotes is that eligible families who are already paying for full-priced Comcast Internet service should cancel their plans. After a 90-day period without Comcast Internet, the family can then sign up for the $9.95 Comcast Essentials Internet. The new service might not be quite as fast as Comcast’s standard Internet, but it sure will be a lot cheaper.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

11 comments
pecalhoun65
pecalhoun65

"poor people?" Seriously??? Did you really put that there as a poor excuse? Look here "bub", your labeling humans and what's poor is your mentality! It has nothing to do with being poor that one may not get the internet. Its has to do with Education. It has to do with ability to purchase a computer that cost over $100 even used. So if I were you I rewrite your article based on this.- sincerly, A poor person

KarriCulpepper
KarriCulpepper

poor people don't know how to use the internet??? are you serious!! it sounds like to me that nobody likes yalls service so it aint about how poor people use the internet its about getting good service and I will never recommend yall to no one cause if you have to talk about the poor folks well let me just put it to you this way if it wasn't for us POOR FOLKS yall probably wouldn't have a job!! so there because evidently your internet services suck really bad cause nobody even wants yalls service so talk about poor people yall are trying to rip people off just to get money to pay for your suckie services. so don't be taslking about the poor people.

sueshe
sueshe

The real reason families aren't signing up is  because it's a 1 MB plan.  Forget any sort of streaming or use of educational software at that speed. I recently switched from the overpriced 15 MB Comcast plan to the 7 MB cheaper Centurylink plan. I have had far fewer interuptions streaming with the Centurylink plan.  Comcast is a rip off.

im.sueszi
im.sueszi

My "kids" are grown, so those who are like me on a fixed low income, still have to contend with the insane bundle pricing nonsense, and ridiculous contracts of these big brutes.  

I keep trying to get internet service. . . JUST INTERNET!!!  The shhhhspeal is: Sorry, that service is not available at your address!!!  Yet when I call them up, I am told not to worry; that all I need to do is:  to sign up for TV and phone, then they can sign me up for internet service(tongue in cheek)at a price I can afford!!!  Wt?  I became begrudgingly, temporarily retired @62 until further notice, heh heh~now if only I could get internet service at "home?" I might be able to scootch a little closer to the bottom rung of making a living by selling my nik naks and whatchamacallits that I no longer have a need or room for. 

Hey, and these comments by Comcast:

"Comcast says it has found that the biggest barrier to Internet Essentials’ adoption is that many people in poor neighborhoods don’t understand the Internet.

“They think it may be used for Comcast or the government to spy on them,” said David Cohen, the program’s chief booster and an executive vice president at Comcast.

are offensive and ludicrous.  These remarks just go to show us all that class prejudice is the number one hindrance to anyone and everyone, who for whatever reason, sooner or later find themselves struggling to get to or back to; that bottom rung!!! 

*sask. . .

laurajeannie
laurajeannie

Another reason is a lot of families like mine have struggled to pay the normal cable fees because Comcast was the only thing offered in our area and my child needs internet for school, so if you are poor (me) but already forced into having a Comcast account you are not eligible for the $10 internet. To become eligible you need to cancel your account and go four months without any service (again only comcast serves my area) It's comcasts way of beating the system. I cancelled my comcast today and will drive my child to her grandmothers for any assignments that need interenet or use my cell as a hot spot... i think i can do that?... So haha comcast see you in four months for $10 bucks instead of $50.

VGonzales7
VGonzales7

You want to know WHY more families aren't sign up for cheap internet with Comcast. It is that you have to have a child. A lot of the families out there don't have children at home. Therefore they CAN'T get the cheap internet.  That is the situation I am in I don't have children at home so I don't get to get the cheap internet 

mmurray9171
mmurray9171

The reason more people aren't enrolled is because Comcast Customer Service SUCKS!!!  I have tried since September, when I learned of the program, to get the service.  I have sent the application 4 times...each time it mysteriously has gotten lost.  The last phone call I made was a week ago where I was accused of not caring about the people of New Jersey because I wouldn't take their excuse that Hurricane Sandy has them behind in processing applications.  Mind you, I was talking to a man in Texas at the time...why can't they process the applications?

pecalhoun65
pecalhoun65

"And for the record, Mr Reporter, " I signed up and I have no issues with it.

pecalhoun65
pecalhoun65

I agree with you, I didn't even read the rest of the article after that. That lit up a fuse for me. The writter has a poor mentality of what poor is.

VGonzales7
VGonzales7

@mmurray9171   Well I tried to get Comcast and I couldn't get it.  The reason is I don't have a CHILD at home. No offense but what about us that don't have children..I guess that they are just kicking us to the curb...

laurajeannie
laurajeannie

@VGonzales7 @mmurray9171 They dont care about the adult generation, this is for the next generation so that those children will have a fighting chance in a completely digitalized world. Hopefully they will rearrange this program in the future to include single adults with no children or married adults with no children providing they are under the poor bracket, because they as well deserve the experience of learning that comes with the internet, until then... I guess a lot of citizens will be "on the curb".