Users of Comcast’s Internet Essentials plan will be getting a significant speed increase on March 1st. The service, which currently runs at 25Mbps, will be automatically upgraded to 50Mbps without requiring additional fees or action from customers. Upload speeds are also being increased from 3Mbps to 5Mbps. Faster access for the same price should be a relief for many families struggling to adapt to having work, school, and entertainment largely shifted to the internet during the pandemic.
The Internet Essentials plan is Comcast’s $9.95 per month (plus tax, of course) internet service provided to qualifying low-income households eligible for assistance from programs like SNAP, Medicaid, or WIC. This is the second time in a year that Comcast’s program is getting a speed bump: it was upgraded from 15Mbps in March of last year.
Comcast upgrading its cheapest plans to 50 / 5Mbps is somewhat of a rebuke to former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who last month claimed that 25 / 3Mbps speeds are “an appropriate measure by which to assess whether a fixed service is providing advanced telecommunications capability.” It seems even Comcast disagrees with Pai.
The upgrades are part of Comcast’s response to the coronavirus, but the faster speeds should stick around after the pandemic is over. In March, the company made its public Wi-Fi hotspots free, and in September it started the “Lift Zone” program, which provides access to Wi-Fi and educational resources for people living in low-income areas.
With COVID-19 shutdowns having a disproportionate impact on low-income households, it’s good to know that the people who need it most will be getting faster internet service without having to pay any additional cost. Of course, there will still be people who need internet access that won’t have it, but the announcement is one bright spot in a news category that often doesn’t provide feel-good stories.
Disclosure: Comcast is an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.