Internet speeds to increase for customers of Comcast’s reduced-cost service

Low-income households connected to Comcast’s reduced-cost internet service are in luck: Their internet speeds are about to get 50 percent faster, and they now can use any of the company’s Wi-Fi hotspots for free.

Comcast announced last week that its Internet Essentials program, which offers internet for $9.95 per month to families receiving public-housing assistance or with at least one child who qualifies for the National School Lunch Program, will see speeds boosted from 10 mbps to 15 mbps.

Customers of that program can now also get 40 hours of free monthly access to any of Comcast’s 18 million Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots (there are 800,000 in Washington, 159,113 in Pierce County, and 44,734 within Tacoma city limits, the company said).

Comcast launched the Internet Essentials program in 2011, and a spokeswoman said Washington ranks eighth in the nation for number of connected households with 46,000 since the program started.

Internet Essentials offers customers in-home Wi-Fi, free digital literacy training, and the option to buy an Internet-ready laptop or desktop computer for about $149.99, plus tax. Those computers come with Microsoft Office, Norton Security Suite and a 90-day warranty.

The program was designed to help bridge the digital divide between those who have internet at home and those who do not.

Low-income households are far less likely to have internet at home than higher-income families. In its news release, Comcast cited research from the American Community Survey that found 56 percent of households earning less than $35,000 a year have broadband internet at home, compared to 92 percent of households earning more than $75,000 a year.

In Pierce County, 7,500 households are connected to the internet via the Internet Essentials program, a Comcast spokeswoman said. In Tacoma alone, 4,300 households are connected.

Comcast competitor CenturyLink also has a low-income affordable internet option that is $9.95 per month.

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud