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Comcast expands low-cost Internet

– Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable company, is expanding the number of low-income families that can automatically qualify for its $9.95-per-month Internet access. It’s also boosting download speeds on the service to 5 megabytes per second from 3 megabytes per second to attract more subscribers.

The price is a big discount from a typical plan, which costs about $50 a month. The speed is good enough to watch online video.

“We don’t want this product to be perceived as a second-class product,” says David Cohen, Comcast executive vice president.

“Our goal is to make this product more attractive. We really want to keep moving the needle.”

Comcast first began its Internet Essentials program in 2011 as a voluntary condition of its $13.5 billion takeover of NBCUniversal.

The Federal Communications Commission, which ultimately approved the deal, has been pushing for affordable high-speed Internet access across the country.

Cohen says Internet access is essential to educate children, to look for a job and to stay informed and entertained.

So far, 220,000 households with an estimated 900,000 people have been connected by Comcast under the program.

While it’s doing a public service, Comcast benefits in the long run if families that never had access come to see the value of an Internet connection at home.

About 2.6 million families in Comcast’s coverage area are eligible. Families qualify if they have children in school who get subsidized or free lunches.

Starting immediately, students at about 25,000 schools with large low-income populations are automatically qualified, up from 20,000 previously.