With Merger Pending, Comcast Expands Internet Program for the Poor

The company’s plan fits closely with the administration’s goals.

Comcast service truck outside of a Comcast Payment and Technical Facility December 5, 2005 in Mount Prospect, Illinois.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Add to Briefcase
Brendan Sasso
March 4, 2014, 8:39 a.m.

Com­cast an­nounced Tues­day that it will ex­pand its pro­gram that provides high-speed In­ter­net ac­cess to poor fam­il­ies.

The com­pany also an­nounced more than $1 mil­lion in grants to non­profits to help con­nect more Amer­ic­ans to the In­ter­net.

Al­though Com­cast said its motives are purely al­tru­ist­ic, it’s hard to ig­nore that the an­nounce­ments align closely with tops goals for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion just as reg­u­lat­ors pre­pare to scru­tin­ize Com­cast’s pro­posed $45 bil­lion pur­chase of Time Warner Cable.

Dav­id Co­hen, Com­cast’s ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent, said the com­pany will in­def­in­itely ex­tend “In­ter­net Es­sen­tials” — the low-cost broad­band In­ter­net pro­gram that Com­cast first prom­ised to op­er­ate for at least three years in or­der to achieve reg­u­lat­ory ap­prov­al to buy NBC-Uni­ver­sal in 2011.

“With the re­cent an­nounce­ment of our mer­ger with Time Warner Cable, we see a tre­mend­ous and an ex­cit­ing op­por­tun­ity to bring the be­ne­fits of In­ter­net Es­sen­tials to mil­lions of ad­di­tion­al fam­il­ies,” Co­hen told re­port­ers.

He noted that if reg­u­lat­ors ap­prove the Time Warner Cable deal, the low-cost In­ter­net pro­gram will be avail­able in 19 of the na­tion’s 20 largest cit­ies.

“That’s go­ing to be a tre­mend­ous en­hance­ment to the eli­gible pop­u­la­tion of this pro­gram, and we look for­ward to ex­pand­ing the be­ne­fits of clos­ing the di­git­al di­vide to a lar­ger foot­print upon the close of the Time Warner Cable trans­ac­tion,” he said.

The pro­gram of­fers broad­band In­ter­net ser­vice for $9.99 per month for eli­gible low-in­come fam­il­ies. Ini­tially, fam­il­ies had to have a child that qual­i­fied for the fed­er­al free lunch pro­gram, but the com­pany has ex­pan­ded the pro­gram to in­clude chil­dren that qual­i­fy for low-cost lunches.

Com­cast has spent more than $165 mil­lion on ef­forts to pro­mote com­puter lit­er­acy, Co­hen said. That in­cludes free train­ing pro­grams, 3.6 mil­lion pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments, 23,000 sub­sid­ized com­puters, and 33 mil­lion bro­chures.

Since 2011, Com­cast has con­nec­ted more than 30,0000 schools to high-speed In­ter­net in 39 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia as part of the pro­gram, the com­pany said.

Co­hen noted that the ef­forts are in line with goals of the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion and the White House.

Ex­pand­ing broad­band ac­cess to poor and rur­al fam­il­ies has been a pri­or­ity for the ad­min­is­tra­tion since it re­leased its Na­tion­al Broad­band Plan in 2010.

Con­nec­tED, a top do­mest­ic ini­ti­at­ive for Pres­id­ent Obama, would con­nect 99 per­cent of the na­tion’s stu­dents to high-speed In­ter­net with­in five years. FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er has already pledged $2 bil­lion of an agency fund to help the ad­min­is­tra­tion achieve that goal.

“At Com­cast we are proud to join the pres­id­ent’s call to ac­tion,” Co­hen said.

The FCC will ex­am­ine wheth­er Com­cast’s mer­ger with Time Warner Cable is in the pub­lic’s in­terest. Either the Justice De­part­ment or the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion will in­vest­ig­ate wheth­er the deal vi­ol­ates fair com­pet­i­tion laws.

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