TOWANDA - In the area served by Comcast in and around Towanda, approximately half the families with school-age children are now eligible to participate in the company's "Internet Essentials" program, which allows the families to obtain Internet service at $9.95 per month, as well as a full-service, Internet-ready computer for under $150.

Comcast announced this week that eligibility to participate in the "Internet Essentials" program has been expanded to include all families whose children are eligible to receive reduced or free lunches through the National School Lunch Program.

Previously, participation in the program was limited to families where the children were eligible to receive free lunches through the NSLP.

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 locally, provided that those children remain eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, said Bob Grove, a spokesman for Comcast.

If a family does not have a computer, it would have the option of obtaining a voucher from Comcast to buy a computer for $149.99 plus tax, Grove said. The computer is manufactured by Dell or Acer, he said.

"It's our attempt to help bridge the digital divide in this country," Grove has said.

Grove said the computers offered through the "Internet Essentials" program are "full-service, Internet ready computers."

Comcast is currently "working to bring down the price" of the computers even further, Grove said on Friday.

In the Towanda School District, approximately half of the children are eligible to receive reduced or free lunches, Superintendent Diane M. Place said.

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