Since its launch in July 2011, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program has provided affordable home broadband service to over 83,000 low-income households nationwide, including roughly 8,700 in California, according to a Comcast spokesperson.

Internet Essentials is currently the biggest discounted broadband program in the nation and provides three offerings to qualifying families: low-cost broadband service for $9.95 a month; the option to purchase a full-service, Internet-ready computer for under $150; and options for digital literacy training in print, online and in-person.

By December 2011—four months into the program—there were 3,000 Internet Essentials activations in California, making it one of the highest serving states within Comcast’s 41 service areas. (Florida, Georgia and Illinois also capped 3,000 activations.) Top California counties currently include Sacramento, Fresno and Alameda.

In Jan. 2012, Comcast expanded the program criteria to also include families with children eligible to receive reduced lunches. Previously, the program was only open to households with at least one child eligible to receive free lunch under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

“By adding the reduced lunch qualification, we’re including 300,000 more eligible households across the nation,” said Rachelle Chong, regional Vice President for Comcast Government Affairs in California. This brings the total of eligible families nationwide to 2.3 million.

Also new this year is a streamlined application process for students attending schools with the highest percentage of NSLP participation, including Provision 2 schools. If a school has at least 75 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, it is added to an automatically approved list.

A third enhancement: Last month, Comcast increased download speed from 1.5 to 3.0 megabits per second for all Internet Essentials recipients. This is equal to Comcast’s Economy Plus tier, which costs $30 to $40 for regular customers.

“We’ve gotten fantastic feedback from the schools and elected officials. Kids have been able to use the Internet for homework, and families can research health and job information,” she said, noting that a larger percentage of job and social services applications are only available online.

According to a statement by Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen, about 30% of Americans—many of whom are living near or below the poverty line—possess little to no computer literacy, do not have broadband access at home and/or do not have a home computer or device capable of supporting high-speed Internet use.

“Internet Essentials is a broadband adoption program, but we’re also assisting in the achievement gap for low income families,” Chong added. “They have been really grateful, and that has just doubled our resolve to make this a successful program.”

Information about the Comcast Internet Essentials Program is available online at www.internetessentials.com. Eligible families can also call 1-855-8-INTERNET or 1-855-SOLO-995 for Spanish-language assistance.