Comcast has announced it will include up to six months of complimentary service for any new family that has not yet applied for Internet Essentials, which subsidizes the cost of basic broadband for low-income subscribers. Families must be approved for Internet Essentials by Sept. 20 to qualify for the service. The move may be more politically motivated than an act of altruism.
Comcast also announced a debt-forgiveness program for certain low-income families who could qualify for Internet Essentials, but have a past due balance. Customers who have an outstanding bill that is more than one year old are now eligible for the program. Comcast will offer amnesty for that debt so long as the customer meets all other eligibility criteria.
Comcast wants to merge with Time Warner Cable. To do that, it needs to convince the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission that the merger won’t create a monopoly or hurt consumers. And since Comcast can’t offer much in the way of good customer service, its promise to extend Comcast-level quality to America’s second-largest ISP rings a little hollow. But the company has at least one legitimate, potentially meaningful arrow in its rhetorical quiver: the Internet Essentials plan. For families that qualify for the National School Lunch Program (which generally applies to households who make 185 percent or less of the poverty line), Internet Essentials provides internet service for $9.95 and a desktop or laptop for around $150. Comcast says that since launching the plan in 2011, it’s signed up 350,000 families and sold 30,000 subsidized computers. Having originally created the program to appease regulators during its merger with NBCUniversal, Comcast is now using it to argue that a Time Warner Cable acquisition would allow millions more to get online, an argument that plays directly into the Obama administration’s attempt to make broadband access widely available and affordable.