Children who are eligible for free lunches under the National School Lunch Program are going to get a whole lot more bundled with that service for improving their education.
Thanks to a new program dubbed Internet Essentials, unveiled in partnership between Comcast and the Federal Communications Commission, these same students will be provided with low-cost Internet service and computers along with digital literacy training.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski explained during the launch event in the District of Columbia on Tuesday:
The program will prepare the next generation, create new opportunities for more jobs and will make a positive difference in the lives of many Americans. I challenge other service producers to take concrete steps to help close the broadband adoption gap.
Genachowski said that "roughly 100 million Americans are being bypassed by the broadband revolution," and that 68 percent of Americans don't have Internet connections at home -- compared to 90 percent in South Korea and Singapore.
The FCC chairman also cited a survey from Connected Nation that found that only 46 percent of low-income households with children have adopted broadband, and that number plummets to 37 percent for minority low-income households.
Thus, Comcast is working with a network of school districts and community based organizations nationwide to get Internet Essentials running. Here's a snapshot of how large the program is so far:
- Incorporates over 1,000 school districts with roughly 20,000 schools and over 4.5 million students who are eligible for the National School Lunch Program
- Almost 1,000 community partners are participating and sharing information about Internet Essentials
- Nearly 10 million pieces of bilingual Internet Essentials informational materials have been distributed
The overall idea behind the program is to address what Comcast executives argue are the three primary barriers to broadband adoption: a lack of knowledge as well as the expense of a home computer and the cost of Internet access.
Comcast's executive vice president David L. Cohen added:
Internet Essentials helps level the playing field for low-income families by connecting students online with their teachers and their schools’ educational resources. The program will enable parents to receive digital literacy training so they can do things like apply for jobs online or use the Internet to learn more about healthcare and government services available where they live.
Again, this is low-cost -- not completely free -- but certainly a bargain and an education-related cause worth supporting. Residential Internet service under this program will cost $9.95 per month + applicable taxes with the promise of no price increases, activation fees or equipment rental fees. Additionally, members of this program will receive a voucher to cover a low-cost computer for $149.99 plus taxes.
Digital literacy training (online, in person and via print) will be completely free.
Not only does this program put pressure on other Internet providers to do something about providing lower-cost coverage to students and low-income families, but there is also an opportunity for computer manufacturers as well. There are few computers that fit into the sub-$200 range, but we could be seeing some in the next few years -- especially browser-only models like Google's Chromebook series that are already being touted for educational purposes.