Low-Income Kids Latest Comcast-TWC Battleground

Internet Essentials slammed, defended

Comcast fired back Wednesday at critics of its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, who took aim at Comcast's Internet Essentials low-cost, low-income broadband initiative in yet another front in those critics' efforts to kill the deal.

In a blog post, Comcast executive VP David Cohen flew to the program's defense. He said those critics were recycling old claims, based on inaccurate information. "The reality is that Internet Essentials has been one of the most successful, if not the most successful, private sector initiatives to close the digital divide ever," he said.

Comcast has said the extension of that program to Time Warner Cable is one of the deal's benefits, but the Stop Mega Comcast Coalition, including deal opponents, took aim on Wednesday at that program, saying that it had only signed up a fraction (13.4%) of 2.6 million eligible households, meaning it was far from the success Comcast claimed.

The coalition said other criticisms included "narrow, exclusionary program qualifications” and “arduous enrollment procedures”

"Despite the program’s numerous shortcomings, Comcast is shamelessly touting Internet Essentials as a key rationale as to why its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is somehow in the public interest," the coalition said, as usual mincing no words. "The company is offering to expand the deeply flawed initiative in exchange for a virtual monopoly over the cable-and-broadband marketplace."

Cohen said he took the critics at their word that they wanted Internet Essentials to be more robust, but that was no reason to discount what it had already achieved. He responded to the criticisms point by point.

Cohen said the program had reached 17% of its eligible population, with over 20% in some cities. He also pointed out that without systems in two-thirds of the country, it has 25% of all the national broadband adoption growth for low-income families with eligible children.

He says the sign-up process is being constantly improved, and the charge that it is long and cumbersome is not true. The "exclusionary" argument fails to recognize that the program is meant to be targeted at low-income, school-aged children, but has also twice expanded its criteria.

"We are extremely proud of Internet Essentials and are confident that we will be able to do even more to help close the digital divide and encourage broadband adoption by expanding it to New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Charlotte, and other communities in the TWC markets."