TOWANDA - Comcast Corp. has extended the life of its Internet Essentials program, which provides, at a low price, Internet access and computers to low-income families, the company said.

In 2011, Comcast launched the Internet Essentials program, which provides low-income families with broadband Internet service at $9.95 per month and the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for under $150, the company said. At the time, Comcast said it would commit to offering the program for three years.

Now Comcast says it will continue to offer the Internet Essentials program after the three-year period is over.

"We (Comcast) have no plans to end the Internet Essentials program," Bob Grove, a spokesman for Comcast, said on Thursday.

The Internet Essentials program will continue to be offered "indefinitely," according to a press release that was issued last month by Comcast.

Internet Essentials "is much more than we thought it would be, and the fact is, the program has become a key part of who we are and what we do," said Comcast Executive Vice-president David L. Cohen.

"In just two and a half years, more than 1.2 million Americans, or 300,000 families, have been connected to the power of the Internet at home through Internet Essentials," Cohen said. "We've sold more than 23,000 low-cost computers (through Internet Essentials)."

To participate in Internet Essentials, families must have at least one child who is eligible to receive reduced-price or free lunches through the National School Lunch Program, Grove said.

Eligibility for reduced-price or free lunches is the only income requirement that a family must meet in order to be eligible to participate in the Internet Essentials program, Grove said.

In the Towanda school district, which is the area of Bradford County where Comcast provides service, approximately half of the children are eligible to receive reduced-price or free lunches, according to the school district.

Families that participate in the "Internet Essentials" program will continue to receive Internet service at $9.95 per month for as long as their children are enrolled in public school, provided that those children remain eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, Grove said.

Families whose children attend parochial school or are homeschooled are also eligible to participate in Internet Essentials, according to Grove.

Families that participate in Internet Essentials are also offered multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online, and in-person, the press release states.

In Bradford County, Comcast provides service in Towanda and Monroe boroughs and in Asylum, Monroe, North Towanda, Towanda and Wysox townships, so residents of those municipalities who live in an area where there is Comcast service would be eligible to participate in the Internet Essentials program, Grove said.

John B. Horrigan, head of research for the F.C.C.'s National Broadband Plan, recently released a study of Internet Essentials customers, almost all of whom reported that they signed up for Internet Essentials because their children needed its resources for school, according to the press release.

Comcast estimates that 2.6 million families in its service area would be eligible to participate in Internet Essentials, the press release states.

Internet Essentials is Comcast's attempt to help bridge the digital divide in the United States, Grove has said.

For more information about the Internet Essentials program or to apply for the program, visit www.InternetEssentials.com or call 1-855-846-8376.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.