Most major cable companies have committed to supply broadband Internet access to low-income households for $9.99 a month, the Federal Communications System is expected to announce Wednesday. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has made expanded broadband access a top priority, and he told the New York Times that with cooperation of the big cable companies “we can make a real dent in the broadband adoption gap.” No federal funds are being invested. The plan relies on the cooperation of private companies. Comcast, for example, began offering $9.99 monthly broadband to some low-income households this year after promising the F.C.C. that it would do so when it acquired control of NBCUniversal.
The low introductory price is meant to appeal to new customers who have never had broadband, either because it was not available or because of the cost or perceptions that it was not relevant to their lives. In addition to the low introductory price, a tech company will offer refurbished computers to low-income households for $150 and Microsoft will provide software. Morgan Stanley will help develop a microcredit program to make it easier for families to afford them. Job websites and education companies also will offer content that, in theory, will underscore the value of online access.
For eligible households — those with a child enrolled in school lunch programs who are not current or recent subscribers to broadband — the $9.99 monthly price will apply for a two-year period with the hope that afterward they will decide to pay more. The initiative will begin in the spring and reach all parts of the country by September 2012. Cable companies taking part include Time Warner Cable, Cox and Charter, and they are not expected to lose a lot of money because the $9.99 likely will cover the overhead costs of providing service. Two big telecom companies that opted not to participate are Verizon and AT&T.