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Comcast expanding Internet Essentials to reach 2 million HUD-assisted households

When Comcast Corp.'sInternet Essentials launchedin 2011, it was only expected to last three years and it was only directed at familieswith at least one child eligible for free lunch from the National School Lunch Program.

Now, almost five years later, the program is still growing.

On July 15, Comcast expanded its eligibility requirements toinclude anyone in the company's footprint who is living in public housing or receivingassistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — regardlessof age or family status. All told, including pilot expansions previously announced,up to 2 million HUD-assisted homes will now be eligible to participate in the program.

"This is the first time that officially as a policy changeto the program, that any adult living in a HUD property can apply," Comcastspokesman Charlie Douglas said in an interview, adding that the change represented"the most sweeping eligibility change we've ever made in the history of theprogram."

Internet Essentials provides high-speed internet to low-incomefamilies, offering 10 Mbps broadband service for less than $10 a month. Comcastoriginally volunteered to develop the program in connection with its acquisition of a majority stake in NBCUniversal Media LLC in 2011.

Comcast's Douglas said it was important to expand the programbeyond just households with school-age children. "A lot of people living inHUD homes are looking to improve the quality of their life. They might want to geta GED certificate or credentials or they are looking to create online classes orthey are looking for jobs or becoming more digitally literate so they can get betterpaying jobs," he said.

Comcast is working in partnership with HUD and the department'sConnectHome initiative. HUD has also partnered with Cox Communications Inc. through its Connect2Compete programand Google Inc.'s . "Each of thesestakeholders have made different types of commitments," HUD spokeswoman HeatherFluit said in an interview. "Certainly, Comcast's is the largest one. Theyhave the largest footprint so far."

More than 40% of all HUD-assisted households nationwide fallinto the Comcast footprint. "So it's a big step for the program," Fluitsaid.

Douglas noted that bringing broadband to these homes generallydoes not involve laying down new pipes or investing in new infrastructure.

"These 2 million homes probably already have connectivityright outside the building or even inside the building but they just haven't takenadvantage of it — maybe because they couldn't afford it or because the biggest barrierto adoption is relevancy," he said, explaining, "Those of us who use theinternet everyday know that we can't live without it. And yet people that live withoutit don't know what it could do for them."

Internet Essentials seeks to address both the cost and relevancyquestions, offering access to free digital literacy training.