When Comcast needed to get their acquisition of NBC approved by regulators, they proposed a requirement that forced them to provide $10, 1.5 Mbps broadband to all of the homes that qualify for the National School Lunch Program. This program was called “Internet Essentials” and was promoted nonstop by Comcast as a way for the company to connect to lower income areas and a way for Comcast to be looked upon as generous.
Except, the program has been a complete disaster and has even seen people protest it in Philadelphia. The program is a disaster because Comcast made it ridiculously difficult to qualify for at first. Applicants could only qualify for this program if they qualified for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), didn’t owe Comcast money or equipment, didn’t currently have any Comcast broadband service, and didn’t have service in the last ninety days. As others pointed out at the time, many low-income homes live in debt.
Since the program was first launched, Comcast has made slight changes to the rules. Families can now qualify for the program if they are eligible for reduced school prices (and not just the lunch program), speeds were increased and an “amnesty program” was announced for low-income users that have a past-due balance with the company, something that previously disqualified potential applicants.
But, I wonder why they are making these changes? Oh, that’s right. Comcast is using their “Internet Essentials” program in filings to the FCC in the hopes that regulators will approve its merger with Time Warner Cable.
Even today, we are seeing Comcast’s top lobbyist trying his best to claim that the program is a success. A success that has fallen laughably short of the numbers that Comcast originally claimed this service would garner.