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Comcast rolls out low-income Internet service

Comcast Tuesday went nationwide with its $9.95-a-month cable Internet service for some low-income families. The plan, which had been available in some areas of the country earlier this year, now will apply to all of the 39 states Comcast is in, as well as the District of Columbia, where it was also initiated Tuesday.

The program, called Internet Essentials, offers the low-cost plan that's normally around $30 a month to those who have at least one child who receives free school lunches through the National School Lunch Program. Other criteria include being located where Comcast offers Internet service, not having subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days and not having an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment.

(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast.)

Comcast says it will deliver download speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 384 Kbps for those using the Internet Essentials program, with the discounted fee being offered for up to three years.

Other features will include not having to pay any activation or equipment rental fees, "never" having any price increases as long as participants qualify for the program, and being able to buy a computer at "initial enrollment" for $150 plus tax.

“Internet Essentials helps level the playing field for low-income families by connecting students online with their teachers and their schools’ educational resources," said David L. Cohen, Comcast executive vice president, in a statement. "The program will enable parents to receive digital literacy training so they can do things like apply for jobs online or use the Internet to learn more about health care and government services available where they live.”

Among the conditions of the FCC's approval earlier this year of Comcast buying a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal was that Comcast continue to offer an affordable, standalone broadband option for customers who want Internet access but not cable TV service. The Philadelphia-based company has about 23 million cable TV subscribers and nearly 17 million Internet subscribers.

In Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Cohen was joined by the D.C. Public Schools chancellor and FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski.

"We know that the three biggest barriers to broadband adoption are cost, digital literacy and relevance — that many Americans don't see broadband as relevant to their lives," Genachowski said in prepared comments. "The Internet Essentials program takes big steps to address these issues."

Genachowski also challenged "other service providers and those across the broadband economy to step up and take concrete steps to promote broadband adoption."

To learn more about Internet Essentials, visit Comcast's site, or call 1-855-846-8376 to request an application.

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