A contingent of cable companies is about to start offering reduced-cost broadband to low-income households with students who otherwise lack access to the Internet.
The plan supports the FCC's challenge earlier this year to make broadband accessible to those who don't have access to the service because the cost of the service itself and the cost of computers have been barriers.
To that end, the FCC announced two programs today. Connect To Compete (C2C) addresses the cost of broadband. C2C will offer low-priced broadband service to households with children in grades K-12 who qualify for free lunch under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
C2C access will be $9.95 per month (along with a free rental or low-cost purchase of a cable modem) for 1 Mbps service. The program will be in place at the start of the 2012 school year.
The current broadband adoption rate in the U.S. is 68 percent. There are approximately 17.5 million children enrolled in an NSLP program. The NCTA estimates that there are more than 10 million NSLP students in approximately 5.5 million homes that currently do not have access to broadband.
The initial participants are BendBroadband, Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Charter, Comcast (through its Internet Essentials program, previously announced), Cox Communications, Eagle Communications, GCI, Insight, Mediacom, Midcontinent, Sjoberg's Cable, Suddenlink and Time Warner Cable. The group represents more than 50 million customers.
AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink did not get involved.
In remarks during the introduction of the programs today, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski credited Cox's Pat Esser and Cablevision's Tom Rutledge for their advocacy of making broadband more widely available.
Those two executives were among several NCTA members who helped that organization develop in 2009 a proposal for offering low-cost broadband that included the suggestion to link qualifying for the service with qualifying under NSLP.
Comcast executive vice president David Cohen noted that Comcast already includes digital literacy programs in its Internet Essentials program, but that it will adopt some of the digital literacy measures proposed by the FCC.
The second program the FCC announced is the Connecting America Fund, an element of the long-awaited revision of the Universal Service Fund.
Under the Connecting America Fund, Redemtech, a company that specializes in the refurbishing of PCs, will offer computers for $150. Microsoft agreed to provide new computers for eligible school-lunch families for $250 starting next year. Morgan Stanley said it would institute a microcredit program so that families can pay for the computers.
While the MSOs and the FCC stressed the benefits to students, the program is also openly designed to help low-income adults get greater access to help with job searches, job training, their own educational opportunities and reap other benefits, including better access to better deals often best accessible through the Internet.