Comcast to Forgive Unpaid Bills for Low-Income Families Seeking Internet Access
Comcast announced plans Monday to make it easier for some low-income families to sign up for a program intended to get more kids online at home, dropping a requirement that former customers settle outstanding bills before signing up for the service.
The change could make it easier for some low-income families to get Comcast’s $10-a-month Internet plan, which guarantees speeds of five megabits per second and qualifies families to purchase reduced-priced PCs. Some consumer advocates had complained that Comcast was hurting poor kids by excluding families that lost their previous cable service because they didn’t pay their bills.
Comcast* executives are most likely hoping that the change can also help insulate the company from more criticism about the program as it seeks regulatory approval for its $45 billion bid to buy Time Warner Cable.
Comcast has cited its Internet Essentials program to regulators as one of the benefits of the deal for consumers because it would extend the program into areas currently served by Time Warner Cable, most notably New York and Los Angeles.
The company launched the program in 2011 as a condition of its deal to acquire NBCUniversal. Comcast offered to operate the program for three years but later extended its availability indefinitely.
Internet Essentials is only available to families that have at least one child eligible for the federal school lunch program. It costs $10 a month (plus taxes) but was only available to families that hadn’t subscribed to Comcast’s Internet service in the last three months. Now, consumers with an outstanding Comcast balance more than a year old can still qualify for the program. Households that have a more current overdue bill, however, will still be disqualified until the money is paid.
As part of the announcement, Comcast said it would waive the first six months of fees — or about $60 — for new customers.
* Comcast’s NBCUniversal unit is an investor in Revere Digital, Re/code’s parent company.