Comcast is once again expanding its popular Internet access program for low-income families lacking broadband access.

The Internet Essentials program kicked off two years ago as a way to get low-cost, broadband Internet to families whose children qualify for free lunch at public schools.

Comcast designed the program in part to give students access to high-speed Internet so they can complete the same multimedia and online projects as their wealthier peers.

"It's leveling the playing field," said Comcast spokesman Bob Grove said.

Last year, that was expanded to families who qualify for reduced-price lunch, and the download speed was doubled to about 3 megabytes.

This year, low-income students at parochial and private schools and those who are home schooled are now eligible, Grove said.

That makes the overall eligible pool about 2.6 million families across Comcast's service area, several hundred thousands more than last year.

"We're forging on with this program," he said.

About 150,000 families overall and 7,800 in Pennsylvania have signed up so far for Internet access, according to Comcast; anyone living in Comcast's service area and who meets financial eligibility can qualify. High-speed Internet can be obtained for about $10 a month.

And thousands are signing up to get a heavily discounted laptop or netbook through the program, too.


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"We feel it's definitely hitting a need," Grove said. "The pace of signups is increasing."

For more information, visit www.internetessentials.com, or call 1-855-846-8376. School districts and nonprofits can get materials for free to have available for families, Grove said.

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com