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Comcast Boosts Low-Income Internet Speeds

The company's discounted Internet service for low-income families is being doubled -- to 10 megabits per second.

(TNS) — Comcast said Tuesday it is boosting the speed of its discounted Internet service for low-income families to 10 megabits per second — a speed that would have been considered lightning-quick just a few years ago.

The price of Comcast's Internet Essentials service isn't changing – it's $10 a month. That compares to the company's standard rate of $67 a month for a standalone subscription to its 50 Mbps "Performance" Internet service. (Cheaper rates are available to customers who subscribe to more than one service, to new customers who negotiate an introductory deal and to returning customers who seek a "loyalty" discount.)

To qualify for the low-income discounts, families must be eligible for the federal free and reduced lunch program. That means household income below $44,863 annually for a family of four. (Oregon's median household income is around $53,000 a year.)

Ten megabits per second is plenty speedy to stream high-definition video and conduct video chats, but it's just 40 percent of the new federal broadband standard — 25 megabits per second. (CenturyLink also offers a discounted option for $10 a month, but its speeds are capped at 1.5 Mbps.)

Many Internet service providers are introducing full-priced services that are much faster than that as gigabit speeds — 1,000 Mbps — emerge as an aspirational goal. CenturyLink is rolling out gigabit service in several Portland, Ore., neighborhoods, Frontier Communications has gigabit service in a few areas in Washington County and Comcast is planning 2-gigabit connections in parts of the Portland area later this year.

For low-income households, Comcast said it's now adding a free Wi-Fi router. The company said 500,000 families nationwide use the program.

Additionally, Comcast said it will start a pilot program to try to reach seniors who don't have Internet service. A survey last year commissioned by the Oregon Public Utility Commission found people over 65 are among the most likely in the state to be without an Internet connection.

Comcast said just 25 percent of seniors with income below $30,000 annually have high-speed Internet service at home. But it said bringing seniors online could be tricky — reporting that fewer than a fifth of seniors say they would be comfortable learning a new digital device on their own.

©2015 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.