Families eligible for free lunch now qualify for cheap broadband

Aug 15, 2011

Washington is known for being on the cutting edge of technology when it comes to companies such as Amazon and Microsoft, but some people are getting left behind. 

Many of the state’s low-income residents rely on out-dated internet service, or don't have any at all. A new program could help.

Even in a place like Seattle that’s been called one of the most “wired” cities in America in Forbes' annual rankings, it’s not easy for everyone to jump online. Only 46-percent of households that pull in less than $30,000 dollars a year have access to high-speed internet, according to a 2009 city survey. 

Now it might be more of an option for some of them. 

Families with children who qualify for the federal free lunch program can get a big discount on broadband service if they live in an area served by Comcast.

Steve Kipp, a spokesman for the company, says it's part of an effort to close the "digital divide":

“We felt that starting with the free lunch program made a lot of sense because you’re looking at people that wouldn’t necessarily have ever thought about signing up before simply because they couldn’t afford it.”

Families who meet the criteria will pay just $9.95 a month for service and nothing for setup and equipment rental under the plan, called Internet Essentials. A refurbished laptop can also be included for $149.99. 

Of course, Comcast gets something out of the deal, too. 

It had to make internet more affordable for low-income households to get its acquisition of NBC Universal approved, as NPR has reported.

Also, the offer’s only open to people who don’t already have internet through the company. With 373,349 kids who qualify for free lunch in Washington alone, that could mean a lot of potential new customers.