Huh? Not many people know about this uber-deal, and few even qualify.
If you're reading this on newsprint, you might not qualify. If you're reading this on a home computer, you definitely do not qualify.
Each cable provider participates in a program for low-income families with students in local schools. Aside from cut-rate Internet service, families are also eligible to purchase refurbished desktop computers for $150 or refurbished laptops for $199. Though it might encourage endless hours of Facebook time, the intention is educational enrichment. (Consider Facebook a reward for hard work.)
"General research tools that come with being connected to the Internet are limitless," says Mark Benigni, superintendent of Meriden schools. "Some of our schools are utilizing online reading programs such as myON, where students can actually connect through the Internet for online reading material and take quizzes on their reading. Teachers can observe how many books and how many minutes they have read. This is where learning is going. It will open opportunities for all of our students."
Cox participates in Connect2Compete, a national nonprofit backed by Internet service providers and technology companies formed at the urging/insistence in 2011 by Julius Genachowski, then the Federal Communications Commission chairman. Comcast's Internet Essentials was required by the FCC as part of the cable company's acquisition of NBCUniversal completed earlier this year.
The programs' influence on local schools could be profound. Less than half of low-income families with children in kindergarten through high school have Internet access at home, according to the Pew Research Center. More than 90 percent of higher-income families have Internet access at home.
In Meriden, says Benigni, about 70 percent of the town's 9,100 students are eligible for free or reduced-rate lunch at school.
"They'd basically have to qualify for free lunch," says Benigni, "so a significant number of families would be eligible for these reduced rates."
Concepts for Adaptive Learning, a New Haven nonprofit organization that uses technology to enhance public-school eduction for children of low-income families, uses both Connect2Compete and Internet Essentials in the six cities (Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, hamden, Meriden and Waterbury) it serves.
"Many live in housing-authority properties," says CFAL Executive Director Curtis Hill. "For them, trying to afford $40 or $50 a month for Interneet service is impossible."
A CFAL (http://www.eachchildlearns.org) program teaches parents how to use a computer and, afte training, gives them a computer and the first year of Internet service free. The latest independent evaluation of CFAL's programs, which Hill says the group receives eavery six months, showed 90 percent of parents indicating they ahve increased their involvement in their children's education and 78 percent said their children's grades have improved.
In Hartford, says Hill, the group has given computers and Internet service to about 360 families.
"This shows that through the use of technology and having technology in the home it is having a positive impact on [children's] academic achievment," says Hill.
Cox, which joined Connect2Compete earlier this year, said last week it is increasing the program's Internet speeds by up to 500 percent, to 5 megabits per second — equivalent to speeds provided by its $41.99 Cox Internet Essential package. Comcast also recently increased its offered speed to 5 megabits per second, faster than its $19.99 Economy Plus package (3 megabits per second).
Low-income families in towns serviced by Cox and Comcast might not know about the programs. Cox is sending out flyers to all families in the 19 towns it services. Do not call the schools for information.
"We're not the middleperson," says Benigni. "We refer the families directly to Cox. We're not judging which families qualify and which do not. We're just letting families know it's an option."
Eligibility requirements for the programs are similar.
>> Both seek households with at least one child receiving free school lunch through the National School Lunch Program. (Comcast's Internet Essentials also accepts families with a child on a reduced-rate lunch program.)
>> A household must not have subscribed to Internet service through the cable provider in the past 90 days.
>> No overdue cable bills or unreturned equipment issued by the cable provider.
>> Reduced-rate desktop computers ($150) and laptops ($199) are available but not required to get the reduced-rate Internet service.
>> For information or application:
Connect2Compete: 1-855-222-3217 or, if you have access to a computer, visit http://www.Connect2Compete.org/Cox.
Comcast's Internet Essentials: 1-855-846-8376 (for Spanish, 1-855-765-6995) or visit http://www.InternetEssentials.com/partner.