Comcast: More Bits for the Needy


Can Comcast and other cable operators
do well by doing good?

The industry is trying to take the lead in connecting
poor U.S. families to the broadband Internet
— not only as a public-relations gesture,
but as a bid to strengthen the country’s future
economic prospects.

Last week, Comcast said it connected 41,729
low-income households in the first five months
of its $9.95-per-month “Internet Essentials”
broadband program, a population representing
an estimated 80,000 children and 160,000

Now, to spur greater adoption, the operator
will expand eligibility requirements for the
program, double connection speeds and step
up digital literacy efforts.

The goal for 2012 “is to do better,” Comcast
executive vice president David Cohen said.

Last week, Cohen told reporters that Internet
Essentials was a success so far — even though
the operator had no defined goals or expectations
for how widely or quickly it would be
adopted. “I said, if we reach no one except the
people we talked to … I was going to declare
victory,” Cohen said. “I know we are making a
difference in these people’s lives.”

Federal Communications
Commission chairman Julius
Genachowski applauded
Comcast’s expanded
commitment to broadband
adoption among low-income
American families.

“I commend Comcast for
their strengthened commitment
to broadband adoption,”
Genachowski said
in a statement that likely
would never have passed the
lips of his predecessor, frequent
Comcast critic Kevin
Martin. “Having more
Americans who are digitally
empowered will mean
more students able to access
the benefits of digital learning,
more Americans with
the skills needed to find and
land the jobs of today and tomorrow, and millions
more customers for online businesses.”

Last September, Genachowski also gave
kudos to the Philadelphia-based MSO for the
Internet Essentials program and challenged
other service providers to take similar steps.

The cable industry responded: In November,
operators including Comcast,
Time Warner Cable,
Cox Communications, Charter
Communications and Cablevision
Systems announced
the “Connect to Compete”
broadband-adoption initiative,
patterned on Comcast’s
Internet Essentials. The program
will provide discounted
broadband to kids who are
enrolled in free school lunch
programs starting with the
2012 school year.

Comcast’s Internet Essentials,
in the initial phase,
was available to low-income
families with children who
are eligible to receive a free
school lunch as part of their
enrollment in the U.S. Dept.
of Agriculture’s National
School Lunch Program.

As of the second quarter,
the MSO will expand eligibility
to include families who
qualify for reduced-price
school lunches as well, which
will make it available to nearly
300,000 additional households
in Comcast’s service
area. Comcast also will double
speeds — to up to 3 Megabits
per second downstream
and 768 Kilobits per second upstream — to
make the service more attractive.

Comcast agreed to offer low-cost broadband
to poor families under the FCC’s conditions
on the company’s merger with
NBCUniversal. However, Cohen said, planning
for the initiative predated the NBCU
deal by two years, and Comcast offered to implement
Internet Essentials voluntarily. “It is
something we would have done with or without
[the NBCU] transaction,” he said.


Comcast, in the first phase of its Internet Essentials program, from August to December 2011:

Connected 41,729 low-income households, or about 2% of the 2 million
eligible families.

Distributed 5,531 computers at less than $150 each, which executives
acknowledged was lower than expected.

Publicized the program in more than 4,000 school districts and 30,000-
plus schools and generated 750 million unpaid media impressions
(seven times a typical Comcast product launch).

SOURCE: Comcast