Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Comcast's $10 Broadband Hard to Qualify For - NBC Universal Merger Condition A Little Hollow -

Comcast's $10 Broadband Hard to Qualify For - NBC Universal Merger Condition A Little Hollow - 

To get their acquisition of NBC approved, Comcast proposed a condition requiring they offer $10 1.5 Mbps broadband to low income homes. As we pointed out last summer, Comcast proposed this condition because once potential applicants jump through a number of hoops, Comcast knew that very few low income families would actually qualify. 

Applicants have to qualify for the National School Lunch Program, can't owe Comcast money, can't currently have any Comcast service including basic (common even in low-income homes), and can't have had any Comcast service in the last ninety days. Should you actually qualify, Comcast is only offering the deal for two to three years -- so you won't qualify for long.

The policy been a massive PR bounty for Comcast, the company launching the program in numerous cities to great political fanfare. The FCC liked the policy so much, they put it front and center as part of their "Connect to Compete" plan, making political hay from promises to connect low-income families. Except as one Comcast insider told us last summer most low-income folks, as Comcast knew, fail to qualify. Groups like Action United are only now just realizing the plan is a little empty. According to the group, people aren't applying because the plan isn't being advertised, and those who do apply usually get rejected:
Action United said that of the 107 families who qualified for the school-lunch program, only eight had applied for Internet Essentials. Two of the families were approved and Comcast was sending them paperwork, said Elly Porter-Webb, Action United parent organizer. The group says it has about 44,000 members in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Allentown. Comcast told the other families they were not eligible because of past unpaid cable bills or because they had an existing Internet service, even though the families had children in the federal school-lunch program. "There are too many obstacles," Porter-Webb said.
Of course Comcast knew all of this when the deal was created, and was very fortunate to get the government to sign off on a condition that involves them doing very little actual work at very little cost. It's slightly better than Comcast doing nothing for low income folks, but it's a shining example of the kind of industry promises, FCC programs and regulatory conditions that wind up being 90% hollow upon closer inspection.


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