Both the American government and some of the country’s largest tech companies have made clear their commitment to increasing Internet access, and on Tuesday, Comcast became the latest organization to jump on the well-intentioned bandwagon. In an upgrade many consider long overdue, the telecommunications company is boosting its low-cost Internet Essentials program, increasing the speed of the connection to 10 Mbps, which represents a 100 percent improvement over previous rates. While this is certainly an step in the right direction, it still comes in significantly under the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband benchmark of 25 Mbps, set earlier this year.
Internet Essentials, whose establishment was mandated four years ago after Comcast acquired NBCUniversal, costs only $10 a month — just 25 percent of the price other customers pay for faster connections. Families with children who qualify for discounted lunch are currently eligible to purchase the Essentials plan, as are senior citizens. But for years, customers found that these low prices came at a cost: incredibly slow Internet.
Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente, a Latino advocacy group, told the Associated Press, “The increasing of the speed is a step in the right direction. The real test will be in assuring that actual families will benefit from this.” Currently, it is estimated that some 20 percent of eligible households are enrolled in the program, but now that Comcast has extended the service range for Internet Essentials, this participation level may go up.
Hopefully, this will begin to address the frequently mentioned “homework gap,” a phenomenon some experts have observed between children of more affluent, Internet-connected families who have the technology at home to complete homework assignments that require them to go online. Already, access to Internet is a major marker of socioeconomic status, not only in the United States, but across the world.
While Comcast’s new and improved solution isn’t perfect, it’s certainly a significant improvement. And as more and more programs seek to address the discrepancy in Internet access across the country, we may be inching closer towards the recognition of the Internet as a basic right in the United States.