Families with at least one child receiving free or reduced price school lunch through the National School Lunch Program are eligible for a Comcast program that provides broadband Internet access for less than $10 a month.
The program potentially affects more than 25 percent of all Marin County households, with nearly 22 percent eligible for free meals and the rest eligible for reduces meals, according to data for 2011.
The Comcast program, Internet Essentials, is in its second year and is part of a larger, industry-wide effort to increase high-speed Internet access among low-income families.
"A digital divide exists, and low-income families who don't have Internet access at home are being left behind," said Alisha Martin, a regional Comcast spokeswoman.
"So, the Internet Essentials program was designed to help close the digital divide and get more Americans, more families, connected to the Internet so they can experience the tremendous benefits that the Internet offers."
To be eligible, families must live in an area serviced by Comcast and have at least one child in their household receiving free or reduced school lunch. They cannot have subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the past 90 days, nor can they possess any unreturned Comcast equipment or have any overdue Comcast bills.
Research shows that the three primary barriers to broadband adoption are the cost of Internet service, the cost of a home computer and a lack of understanding that the Internet is useful and relevant, Martin said.
The Internet Essentials program aims to address all three of those issues. Aside from the low-cost monthly access, Comcast will offer qualifying families a low-cost computer for just under $150 and will provide online, print and in-person technical assistance and digital literacy training in English and Spanish.
The digital literacy programs teach everything from basic computer skills like how to access the Internet and email to more practical lessons like how to look for a job, find health care information or use social media. Training videos feature Al Roker and other NBC personalities.
Nationally, Comcast estimates at least 100,000 families — or about 400,000 individuals — now have broadband access thanks to the Internet Essentials program.
Last year, the program was only available to families of students who received free lunch. Broadening eligibility to include families with students who receive reduced-price lunch should make another 300,000 households eligible for the program, Martin said.
Comcast will continue to enroll families through at least the 2013-14 school year, and those families will remain eligible for the discounted rate as long as one child receives free or reduced lunch.
To sign up for Internet Essentials, families can call toll-free 855-846-8376 (for English) or 855-765-6995 (for Spanish) to get the process started. If eligible, a third-party company will verify that the family has at least one child receiving free or reduced price school lunch and will complete the registration process.
For more information about Internet Essentials, click here for English or here for Spanish. Educational and community leaders interested in spreading the word or purchasing bulk accounts can the program's website.
Don’t be left out of the conversation! Sign up for our daily newsletter, “like” us on Facebook and “follow” us on Twitter to get news, blogs, announcements and events. Catch up with us on Foursquare. Want to share your opinions with your community? Start your own blog here.