Comcast’s Internet for the Poor Is Too Hard to Subscribe, Advocates Say
A California-based nonprofit says a Comcast internet service program for the poor is too difficult to subscribe to, which means only 11% of eligible households in the state get a service.
Comcast had to create the Internet Essentials program of $ 10 per month in order to gain approval for its 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal. About 300,000 households containing 1.2 million people across the country have obtained inexpensive internet service as a result, but the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) is complains that the registration process is riddled with problems, a charge Comcast denies.
The CETF itself was created by the California Public Utilities Commission during the approval of the SBC-AT&T and Verizon-MCI mergers, and its goal was to accelerate the deployment of broadband for unserved populations or underserved. The group says additional demands should be placed on Comcast as part of its pending the acquisition of Time Warner Cable.
In comments filed with the FCC, CETF said that Comcast has enrolled 35,205 households out of more than 313,000 eligible households in California. Across the country, 300,000 families out of 2.6 million eligible have registered, Comcast said in March. The service offers 5 Mbps upload and 1 Mbps upload speeds and a computer for $ 150, of which 23,000 were sold.
“Comcast makes the registration process long and tedious,” CETF said. “The application process often takes 2-3 months, too much for customers who are initially skeptical about the product and have other pressing demands on their budget. The waiting period between the initial call to Comcast and the CIE [Comcast Internet Essentials] requests arriving by mail can last from 8 to 12 weeks, if applicable. After submitting the request, it takes another 2-4 weeks for the equipment to arrive. Many low-income residents do not have Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and are required to travel long distances to verify their identity as Comcast has closed several of its regional offices. Recently, some potential subscribers with SSNs were rejected over the phone and said they had to come to a Comcast office. Comcast has a pilot effort in Florida that is expected to be expanded to allow customers to fax or email photocopied identification as proof of identity. “
This is not true, Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas told Ars today. “Once we receive a fully executed application, we can deliver the service in about three to five days,” he said. CETF “has brought us clients in the past, and we are carefully reviewing each of them and trying to resolve it to the best of our ability and will continue to do so if there are additional clients that they do not have. brought to our attention, ”says Douglas.
CETF also wrote that Comcast violated program rules by performing credit checks. “Comcast performs credit checks for certain customers, contrary to CIE rules,” says the CETF file. Dozens of customers receive letters from Comcast stating that they have failed a credit check. Comcast specifically states and announces that no credit check is required for CIE. This has implications beyond the getting broadband service. Performing a credit check can have a negative impact on a consumer’s creditworthiness. Initially, some CIE service representatives told customers they could pay a down payment of 150 $ to avoid a credit check, which is also against the rules of the program. “
Douglas acknowledged this problem as a “technical error” in which a credit check was falsely triggered by an automated process. “It was a mistake we made and we tried to correct any affected customer,” said Douglas. “We contacted our customers and apologized and tried to resolve the issue in each case.” In cases where a credit check was performed in error, “we have worked with the credit bureaus to have it removed from the applicant’s file, and we have worked with the partner organization to communicate it to the applicant” .
The CETF also claimed that the CIE’s online application “never worked properly… The site is often unable to complete address eligibility searches and simply redirects the customer to the 1-855 number. This situation has been a major hurdle at tech fairs, where families are told they can’t register online and have to make a separate trip to a Comcast office. Comcast continues to ignore consumer feedback on bad website operations. “
Douglas said the online application was working. “We are processing thousands of applications online,” he said. Applicants may be asked to call if Comcast’s records indicate they have an unpaid bill or are at an address outside of the company’s service territory, he said.
Internet Essentials to play role in Comcast / Time Warner Cable merger
Comcast’s annual report on its NBC commitments said it “distributed 27 million brochures in 14 different languages to school districts and community partners, answered more than 1.5 million phone calls to the Internet Essentials call center, made 1,2 million website visits and served over two million public service announcements on The company delivered Internet Essentials to over 30,000 schools in 4,000 school districts and provided training to tens of thousands of people in digital literacy. “
Comcast originally promised to keep the program going until June 2014, but “in March we voluntarily announced that we were going to extend the program indefinitely,” Douglas said.
“This is an extremely difficult group to market,” Sena Fitzmaurice, vice president of government communications at Comcast, told Ars today. “After more than 15 years of marketing broadband wherever we can, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on it, our overall broadband penetration is only 39% in our markets (thanks to our call for results yesterday). folks like us signed up through this program in this short time is awesome. “
Comcast touted Internet Essentials while trying to gain approval for its acquisition of Time Warner Cable, promise to bring the program to “millions of additional families in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Kansas City and Charlotte,” who are in TWC’s service areas.
CETF urged the FCC to increase Comcast’s commitments if the TWC merger is approved, asking for conditions, including the following:
- Include all low-income households: Extend Comcast Internet Essentials to all low-income households, not just those with children in school. For example, low-income seniors, people with disabilities and recently returned veterans are not covered today.
- Define performance objectives: Set a national goal for Comcast to increase Internet Essentials subscription for eligible households (now at around 11% in California and nationwide) to 45% in 2 years and to continue the program until 80% adoption is achieved in low income neighborhoods in every major Comcast market.
- Capitalize an independent fund and coordinate with the States: Work with states such as California which are Comcast-TWC’s primary markets and have a strategic plan to bridge the digital divide and require Comcast to dedicate sufficient amount to an independently managed fund to engage experienced community organizations to help achieve subscriber goals.
There should also be an oversight committee to monitor Comcast’s progress, the group said.