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Low Income $9.95 Internet Coming to Time Warner, Cox, and Charter… If You Qualify


The cable industry is expanding so-called “lifeline Internet service” to more households in an effort to combat what a government agency calls “a persistent digital divide.”

Next spring, Time Warner Cable, Cox, and Charter Communications will launch low-speed Internet service for $9.95 a month for two years.  The offers will echo Comcast’s Internet Essentials, which launched earlier this year as part of a deal with the government to win approval of the cable company’s merger with NBC-Universal.

The Federal Communications Commission calls the effort “Connect to Compete,” and suggests the public-private initiative will help rural Americans and low-income minorities get affordable Internet access. A study by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration found just 55% of black households and 57% of Hispanics currently subscribe to broadband.  More than 72% of Caucasian households and more than 81% of Asian homes use broadband by comparison.  The rural southern states of Mississippi (52%), Arkansas (52%) and Alabama (56%) have the lowest broadband penetration rates in the country.  In contrast, more than 80% of Utah residents have broadband in their homes.

“In this difficult economy, we need everyone to be working together on solutions,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said. “Broadband is a key to economic and educational opportunity and these kinds of commitments to close the digital divide are powerful.”

But not every poverty-stricken American will qualify for the discount programs.

Cable operators are following Comcast’s lead, restricting access to families with at least one school age child enrolled in the free school lunch program.  Customers must not have existing broadband service during the last 90 days and customers with past due balances cannot sign up.  Don’t have children or fell behind on your cable bill?  No discount Internet for you.

Pilot programs will be launched by each operator in around a dozen cities total starting next spring, with plans to roll programs out nationally by the start of the 2012 school year.  Broadband speeds, usage limits, and other fees were not disclosed.  Comcast’s Internet Essentials operates at 1.5Mbps with upload speeds up to 384kbps.

Comcast’s program sells a netbook computer loaded with Windows 7 Starter Edition for around $150.  The $250 computers expected to be provided by Microsoft will include Windows 7 Home Premium operating system and Microsoft Office.  An additional vendor will sell refurbished computers to interested program participants for around $150.

The program will primarily reach urban residents who cannot afford current Internet service plans that are sold for $40-45 a month.  Rural residents are unlikely to benefit much because most cable operators do not deliver service in rural areas.

CenturyLink announced its own version of discounted DSL Internet in October to sell for $9.95 a month, but with numerous “gotcha” fees and surcharges.

One group unlikely to take advantage of the program: older householders, particularly those ages 65 and older, where just 45% have broadband at home.  The biggest reason the rest don’t?  They don’t believe they need the Internet at any cost.


Currently there are 15 comments on this Article:

  1. Alex Perrier says:

    $150 and $250 computers are an excellent and inexpensive way to get online, but the regular price for a netbook and laptop, respectively, are $200 and $300 in Canada. Sometimes we have sales that take another $50 off these laptops. If i want to buy a computer, i’d go to the computer store, not via an ISP like Bell or Rogers.

    These $10 Internet plans should be offered to everyone, and at slightly higher speeds like 2 Mbit/s down and ½ Mbit/s up. There are so many restrictions, such as “you must be part of a free lunch program”, that make this offer unavailable to many. What does the cost of my lunch have to do with my Internet service!?

    Like i’ve said earlier, we have several options for cheap Internet here. High speed is getting cheaper, and dial-up is virtually available at no cost. Plus, there’s always Wi-Fi hotspots. :)

    • MojaveMike says:

      This structure enables them to provide it to everyone who doesn’t have high speed already. How? Where I live, Santa Ana, California every child is in the free breakfast and lunch program regardless of eligibility. http://www.limitstogrowth.org/articles/2010/09/05/santa-ana-schools-free-food-for-all-kiddies/
      So you’re disqualified if you already have broadband, but you’re in if you don’t. Except for the children qualification. My wife and I decided to not have children and we constantly suffer the discriminatory practices favoring families who decide to have children if they can afford them or not even if they’re unfit parents.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It should be like the lifeline telephone program, if your household income is below a certain margin or under certain government assistance, then you should qualify.

  3. AK says:

    There are already some companies taking pre-orders and some are actually beginning to install services – Direct TV Broadband (888) 750-2908

  4. MojaveMike says:

    It seems only fair and logical that since Internet is deemed so important, people who are already subscribed to a cable or satellite television service should not be eligible for this freebie. After all, television is not essential (I don’t watch anything but an occasional football game) and anything beneficial it offers is also available on the Internet. I’d love to hear the rebuttal on this point.

  5. Connect to Compete Expands With Cable Industry Partners | ConnectNationwide | Call 1-855-626-8452 says:

    [...] can take advantage of the educational and economic opportunities that the Internet offers. Today, at the Langley Education Campus in Washington, D.C., FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announce…st computer equipment. This effort is part of the recently announced Connect to Compete (C2C) [...]

  6. Suzan Oliver says:

    Doesn’t seem fair to be to be excluded from this program just because I do not have children. I am low income and would really benefit from this service when it is offered. Thanks! I signed with Cox Cable for two years with a freeze on my account as far as fees go but once this expires you can bet I’ll find services elsewhere!

    • I believe Time Warner still sells 3Mbps service for around $20 a month, which might be affordable. The promotional price for standard service is as low as $29.99 a month for 6-12 months, depending on the promotion. Earthlink (which works over TWC) is also $29.99 a month for six months.

      These offers are available to everyone without having to pre-qualify for anything.

  7. AK says:

    Other companies are offering similar services without the same stringent rules about having kids on free lunch programs. Direct TV has an offer posted at lowincomeinternet.com
    or you can call directly (888) 750-2908

  8. nataliegeisselhardt says:

    I Called Time Warner Cable in Raleigh, N.C. For the free lunch Internet they longer offer it & told me,I was the first 1 to call about it it need to be advertised so people will know about it. Comcast does not offer it in my Area of Raleigh,I think Comcast need to provide to all the Raleigh Area family’s Especially in the 27604 zipcodes as well as the 27601 & 27606 zipcodes

    • Raleigh is TWC territory. Are you served by CenturyLink or AT&T in Raleigh? I know CenturyLink has a discount service for the disadvantaged — slow speed DSL.

      I am not sure what AT&T might offer.

      Another option is Freedompop, which offers up to 500Mb of wireless service for free through Clearwire. Check to see if you have coverage here:


      You purchase the wireless device and then get up to 500Mb of usage each month. You want to watch your usage — that isn’t very much. Clearwire may or may not deliver a good signal in your area, and speeds are not really suitable for online video, but works fine for basic browsing.

      More info on FreedomPop at http://freedompop.com

  9. Kimberly says:

    With these restrictions this program is not going to be able to help those who are really in need.

    I home school my special needs daughter, currently have Lifeline telephone, and am sacrificing everything in order to maintain an overpriced (increasing at least twice a year) internet connection in my home for my child’s schooling. And I DON’T qualify?

    So…….I’d have to enroll my daughter in public school (which means she’d be required to attend for an entire semester because her home schooling spot would be lost, and most likely not regained) in order for her to qualify for free lunches (not that I’d let her eat them), and disconnect my internet for 90 days in order to qualify for this?

    Oh wait, I can find someone else who has a child who receives free school lunches and without internet access, put it in their name for 90 days and then switch it back to my name. Yeah…… that’ll happen.

    This is counterproductive……..

    • Kimberly says:

      And before anyone gets themselves in an uproar, I do not have cable TV or any other “extras”. I sacrifice much to give my daughter the best possible learning opportunities. Having internet is essential to her schooling, so I do currently have that. :)

    • I have come to believe these companies are trying to score positive publicity by offering these programs, but then make people jump through so many hoops only a handful end up qualifying. In part that is designed to protect their regular-price service. If it was easy to sign up for discount Internet, more people would do it, and they don’t want current customers getting lower bills.

      You could try TWC’s 3Mbps service and see if that works well enough, because it will cost less. If it doesn’t work well you can always switch back. Another option is to grab a six month promotion from Earthlink for $30 a month (no modem fee) and then switch back to TWC when the Earthlink promotion expires with a new TWC broadband pricing promotion for a year. You don’t have to change your modem or have a service call. They take care of billing Earthlink on your TWC bill and the only change is made in the office. Ignore their advertised speeds on Earthlink’s website. You will get at least 15Mbps service at the $30 price.

      • Kimberly says:

        Phillip, thank you so much for the suggestions. Unfortunately, Charter has a monopoly in our area and we’re unable to get TW here. I’ve also since found out for low income internet, I’m only able to access “Connect to Compete”. This is what they offer:

        FREE – 1GB/month at 1.5 Mbps
        Basic – $9.99/month – 12GB/month at 1.5Mbps
        Faster – $14.99/month – 12GB/month at 3Mbps
        Fastest – $18.99/month – 12GB/month at 8Mbps

        This only AFTER I purchase a wireless router from them at $49.99! I’m not sure how long 12GB would last us, but I’m guessing not very long. It also seems in order to get a decent speed, I’d be up to half of what I was paying for less internet. I can’t win for losing……

        I’m currently using my neighbor’s internet connection (with their permission of course), as I’m no longer able to afford the $35/month Charter had increased to. Not sure what to do when we move…….

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