By technology editor Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Comcast Corp. says its outreach efforts are paying off: thousands more low-income Philadelphia families have signed up for its low-cost, high-speed Internet service in the second year of the program.

But still more people are missing out.   Maybe even at $10 per month they think it’s too expensive, or the computer equipment is out of reach, or they just don’t know about Comcast’s “Internet Essentials” initiative.

“That is why we structured this program the way we did, and it’s why we launched this program — as a way to try and attack the three demonstrated barriers to broadband adoption,” says Comcast executive vice president David Cohen.  “And I think we’re making a difference.  I think we’re moving the needle.”

The program became an FCC-mandated condition of Comcast’s merger with NBC-Universal.

While only 500 families in the Philadelphia area had signed up a year ago, Cohen says, the number is now around 5,700.

But Comcast says more than 150,000 families could take advantage of the $9.95/month service and $150 computers.  (Philadelphia ranks eighth on the cable giant’s list of the top 10 metro areas for adoption of the program.)

Comcast estimates that 2.6 million families across the country would be eligible.

“You have to create an echo chamber where families hear about this in the school, in libraries, at rec centers, at church,” Cohen tells KYW Newsradio.  Especially now, as Comcast is expanding the service to include some parochial, private, and home-schooled students.

“The number one use of the service is for schoolwork, with 96 percent of our customers saying that’s the most common activity,” he says.

For more than a decade, KYW Newsradio has partnered withComcast Corp. to award laptops to people and schools in the Delaware Valley.  Cohen says that mass media is just one way to get out the word about Internet Essentials and bridge the digital divide:

“One of the things we piloted in Philadelphia was what we call our ‘beauty shop program,’ where we try to blanket beauty salons with posters and promotional materials.  Because in some of these communities, the beauty parlor is actually a social hub where mothers gather, talk — and we think that was successful.”


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