Comcast said it has extended two broadband-focused commitments through June 30, 2021, as millions continue to work and school from home through an unrelenting pandemic.
Under the first extension, the cable op said it will continue to provide free Internet service for the first 60 days to new Internet Essentials customers. Internet Essentials, a low-cost service program born out of Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal, provides Internet service (up to 25 Mbit/s downstream) for $9.95 per month to eligible households, plus access to discounted computers and free digital literacy training. Comcast recently complemented its Internet Essentials program with the deployment of more than 1,000 Wi-Fi "Lift Zones" in community centers in several US cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Detroit and Philadelphia. These lift zones provide free connectivity to low-income students. Comcast expects to install least 200 Lift Zones before the end of the year.
For its second COVID-19-related commitment extension, Comcast said it will provide free access to more than 1.5 million public Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots through June 30, 2021.
Today's announcements mark the third time Comcast has extended these two commitments, which were set to expire at the end of 2020.
The extensions also enter the picture as data consumption on US residential cable networks is rising again. According to the NCTA's COVID-19 Dashboard, which tabulates and presents network usage from several US key cable operators, peak downstream usage has climbed 27.4% since March 2020, while peak upstream usage has surged 46.9% over that timeframe.
One early, temporary COVID-19-related change to Comcast's broadband policies has not carried through, though. Comcast temporarily suspended its use of data caps and other usage-based data policies for its home broadband service in the initial phases of the pandemic, but restored them in July while also raising the policy's monthly ceiling to 1.2 terabytes – 200 gigabytes more than the 1TB limit in place prior to the US COVID-19 outbreak.
Comcast also confirmed that it will extend its broadband data policy to its northeast region starting in January 2021. However, customers there will effectively get a two-month grace period, as Comcast will credit back any charges associated with data overages or unlimited data for January and February. Additionally, customers on Comcast's data plan also get one courtesy month every 12 months, so it's possible that some customers in Comcast's northeast division would get a reprieve until April 2021.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading, special to Broadband World News