Comcast Says Its Sudden Love Of The Poor Is Just Altruistic 'Serendipity,' In No Way Tied To Wanting Merger Approval

from the really-really-really-genuine dept

To get its acquisition of NBC Universal approved, Comcast proposed a merger condition requiring the company provide $10 broadband to select low-income families in its footprint for three years. The company has gleaned endless PR traction from the "Internet Essentials" program, launching and re-launching the effort in school district after school district with a string of photo ops featuring Comcast's top lobbyist (uh, "Chief Diversity Officer") David Cohen standing among a sea of smiling childrens' faces. Of course in typical Comcast fashion the company made it intentionally hard to qualify and sign up for.

To get the offer you need to qualify for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), can't currently have or had Comcast service in the last 90 days, and can't owe Comcast money. Given the latter two are pretty common among the poor, many folks were disqualified out of the gate. Critics also pointed out that Comcast wasn't advertising the program (outside of press junkets designed to congratulate itself), so many poor families had no idea it existed. A year or two ago these concerns resulted in some street protests in Comcast's hometown of Philadelphia.

Since then Comcast has made some modest tweaks to the program, including a limited-time "amnesty" offer for past due balances. Not surprisingly, the company is again using the program as the centerpiece of its attempt to get its Time Warner Cable acquisition approved by regulators. And once again, critics are saying that Comcast's love of the poor is a lot of hot air used to push through deals that overall will hurt the poor by exacerbating the industry's competitive woes:
"Yet programs by Comcast and other cable companies offering cheap Internet aren’t benefiting enough low-income families, critics say. Comcast’s Internet Essentials, the biggest, has reached 350,000 households -- or about 13 percent of those eligible, according to one estimate. Cox Communications Inc., which has the capacity to provide service to 10 million homes, reports 15,000 subscribers. Time Warner Cable dropped its $9.95 offer after a year. The programs have tight eligibility criteria and balky signup procedures, where they exist at all, its detractors say.

"Everybody would like to pretend they’re doing something," said Harold Feld, senior vice president with the Washington-based policy group Public Knowledge. "Cable has not done anything real in this space."
Over the years Comcast has gotten amusingly indignant whenever anybody dares try to suggest that Comcast's restrictive low-income programs are anything other than pure altruism. Earlier this year Cohen breathlessly told the Washington Post that you can criticize Comcast for a lot of things, but that its love of the poor wasn't one of them:
"This makes me sigh,” Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen said in an interview. “You can criticize us for data consumption caps. You can criticize us because cable bills are too high. You can criticize us because the acquisition of Time Warner Cable will make us too big. I can understand that. But every once in a while, even a big company does a good thing for the right reasons."
Fast forward to this month and again, Comcast tells Bloomberg that the fact it decided to love the poor right around the time it wanted something from government wasn't self-serving, it was "serendipity":
"Comcast was considering a program like Internet Essentials before presenting it to the FCC, said Charlie Douglas, a spokesman for the Philadelphia-based company. He called it “a serendipity of timing."
Which is funny, given that I specifically remember a 2012 Washington Post love letter to David Cohen in which Cohen clearly points out the program was always designed to curry favor with regulators, but was delayed specifically to get approval for its NBC acquisition.

I'm not looking to pooh pooh the program completely, given that 350,000 households getting cheap broadband is at least something. But Internet Essentials is just one glaring example of how a company like Comcast is allowed to draft its own flimsy merger conditions, which amusingly even then it often struggles to adhere to. That's in stark contrast to regulators actually doing their jobs and drafting tough but sensible policies that encourage competition, ultimately driving broadband prices down for the benefit of everybody.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 30 Dec 2014 @ 7:24am

    What BS!

    Comcrap's "deals" are usually accompanied with caveat after caveat! $10 per month? It probably gets you about 2mbps and a 1GB data cap! Gotta wonder what overage will cost you... This deal with TW has to be stopped!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 30 Dec 2014 @ 7:43am

      Re: What BS!

      Gotta love those. I saw an ad here for 100mbit connection for around $20 in dollars. I was like "wow!" but when I made it to the site there was a surprise that was hidden in the 5pt Comic Sans bottom text: you only got that value if you signed up for an $120 TV+Phone package and it was limited to the first 3 months when it would revert to the non-promotional value of $40 (standalone internet offer was near the $60 range).

      Since I've completely cut the cord I said no, thanks and kept my current provider who offer nothing but internet.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2014 @ 9:06am

      Re: What BS!

      3mbs and a 250gb cap, most likely, this isn't wireless.

      Though Comcast makes a profit at this price because broadband is absurdly profitable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 30 Dec 2014 @ 8:21am

    Dear Mr. Cohen

    “You can criticize us for data consumption caps. You can criticize us because cable bills are too high. You can criticize us because the acquisition of Time Warner Cable will make us too big."


    ...and I can criticize you for cravenly using the poor as a bargaining chip.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 30 Dec 2014 @ 10:36am

      Re: Dear Mr. Cohen

      I don't know if you can call a group our government doesn't really care about much of a bargaining chip.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 30 Dec 2014 @ 1:56pm

        Re: Re: Dear Mr. Cohen

        They don't care, but they know that pretending to do so makes for great PR with the people that do, or with other groups pretending to care, which is why they do it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2014 @ 8:36am

    But Internet Essentials is just one glaring example of how a company like Comcast is allowed to draft its own flimsy merger conditions, which amusingly even then it often struggles to adhere to.
    If Comcast was "struggling" with meeting these conditions it would imply some amount of good faith effort on their part. Which is patently untrue

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 30 Dec 2014 @ 8:45am

    If Comcast is all for supporting poor people why are they so dead set on reducing competition that would most likely result in lower prizes for everyone?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2014 @ 9:13am

      Re:

      Because the poor they are talking about are their primary shareholders. Because of these kind of restrictions, one of these will only be able to buy each of his grandchildren a mansion with a 5 car garage. The 6 car option was just out of range.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2014 @ 9:13am

    Broken Link

    FYI, Karl, your link in the "often struggles to adhere to" text is broken.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 30 Dec 2014 @ 9:33am

    You know you're old when the last time you heard anything good about Comcast was... was... er...

    Damn.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2014 @ 10:02am

    "We're not the worst company in US for nothing! It's because WE CARE!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2014 @ 10:11am

    A three year, short term solution. Doesn't solve America's long term, lack of competition and ever increasing broadband price, problem.

    Title II won't solve it either, but will at least limit the duopoly players on how much they charge businesses and residents to access their monopoly on last-mile network infrastructure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Better not say, 30 Dec 2014 @ 10:13am

    My horrifying experience with Comcast

    Sorry so long but I think you'll find it worth the read.

    Recently I was a blogger on CNBC's website. As a day trader I hung out "there" and commented on articles, shot the b.s. with others, and so on. Daily for many months. There were two particular bloggers on there who treated one section of the site as their own property and, often with the aid of plenty of sockpuppets, harrassed and insulted any blogger who made a comment they didn't like or that disagreed with one of their posts. They drove most good bloggers off the site pretty quickly. I stuck around and tried to engage in rational debate. Pointless. Tried to ignore them but after a while it got old and (a little regretfully) I began to throw there own b.s. back at them (the two dbags.) It wasn't hard to "win" arguments with these knuckleheads.

    As it turned out, they were both somewhat wealthy, retired traders (one in Maryland, one in Texas.) Much of the criticism aimed at these dbags concerned the extraordinary levels of self-entitlement -- when others weren't "rubbing it in" after I or someone else ripped on them over some new arrogant dbaggery.

    The two couldn't handle that and began firing off letters to CNBC's management "Comcast investors" whatever that means (their words), with the intent of getting me "banned." It became clear that they really were doing that -- their were a few rumblings from CNBC on the site about "censorship" being bad. But they persisted and elevated it -- they would tell us all about their latest attempts to manipulate CNBC/Comcast right there on the blog. Eventually they claimed to have gotten phone calls from CNBC's attorney asking about what was going on. And then assured us that the attorney called to let them know he'd hired private investigators to investigate -- ME! (and the implication was that they'd agreed to stop sending mail to "Comcast investors." I can't imagine what these two dbags told them.

    I didn't really believe that but within a week, there was an unmarked green sedan with FL plates parked in front of my small office -- a really intimidating looking guy would just sit in the car all day, with handcuffs hanging from the rear-view window.

    Another guy, also kind of intimidating looking, did the same at my apartment. Blue sedan. I thought it couldn't have anything to do with me, just coincidence or something. After a time I thought perhaps I should call the police but instead approached the green sedan.

    A black male, maybe early 30s, got out of the sedan and in a very threatening manner said to me, "You better watch what the f*$* you say on the web."

    I was speechless for a moment, as he turned to get back in his car. I yelled "Who hired you?" He didn't respond. But I never saw his car of the blue car again. I got the green sedan's license plate number (never got the blue car's) and paid a P.I. to check it out. He said the owner was a licensed P.I. from Florida and that the guy had a bad reputation as a "goon."

    Really freaked me out. I started lurking on CNBC (not posting) using Tor. The two dbags were no claiming victory. "They found him," one posted. The other kept posting undetailed thank you's to CNBC's attorney by name.

    Another blogger who knew the two dbags posted their names on the site after they turned on her (they had shared identities etc by email.) They got pretty upset about that so I knew it was probably true. My P.I. checked them out -- one was a former FCC attorney, retired. The other a former honcho at HP, retired.

    I posted on the site that I intended to sue them. They laughingly challenged me to prove it and I told them I had all I needed to tie CNBC to the threats/stalking, and that subpoenas/testimony/deposition would prove it.

    Then they got pretty worried, stopped being dicks, sort of apologized without admitting anything, and changed their screen names and laid low a while.

    Needless to say, I was done with CNBC/Comcast/ADELPHIA/etc(check out Comcast's holdings -- these guys seem to love buying up company's with a history of criminality.)
    Currently looking for an attorney to take it pro bono. Can't afford the cash for this that a few attorneys quoted me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2014 @ 10:58am

    Checking the Internet Essentials page (http://learning.internetessentials.com/internet-essentials-support), for $10 per month, you can get up to 5 Mbps.

    I don't understand how this is something worth special commendation when "Internet Plus" with Comcast gets you 25 mbps for $40 per month. If you factor in there not being rental charges for hardware on the internet essentials program, but about a $10 per month charge on most other programs, the "Internet Plus" program becomes $50 per month for up to 25 Mbps.

    Both programs offer you 1 mbps : $2 per month. So, is Internet Essentials a deal, or just a means for poor people to buy Comcast's service while at the same time allowing Comcast to keep richer customers from buying a small serving of Internet if that's what they wanted.

    Note, anything more expensive than "Internet Plus" has a much better ratio of Mbps to monthly dollars spent. The "Internet Plus with Blast" gets you 50 Mbps for $50 per month (before equipment rental charges), much close to 1 Mbps: $1 per month with the added benefit of TV channels as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2014 @ 11:58am

    Nor is Comcast unique in this. AT&T was required to give a program for the poor as part of a deal with the DOJ. Something like $10 per month (memory could well be wrong here but not that there was a program set up). AT&T made the program and then buried it where it was extremely hard to find.

    I found it on a radio public notice. I applied for it and it was shortly cancelled to raise the price as the program was ending. Never did get the claimed price advertised on the radio. It pretty much came out to be bait and switch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2014 @ 12:32pm

    is there anyone, other than those who continuously take the 'encouragements' from Comcast to improve their own personal 'circumstances' that actually believes an iota of the crap that is spilled by this and the other main players? and even more so when there is something that would give the company a massive amount of control on other members of the industry and more importantly the hundreds of thousands of customers who only want to be treated fairly, to get a fair crack of the whip? if this deal gets approval, those involved in giving the approval need to be thoroughly investigated for underhand dealings! no body of people who are supposed to be looking after the interests of the public, ensuring that there are no monopolies or that monopolies that have already been put in place, can be increased, should take the acceptance road, but then, we know how politicians greatly prefer to be 'encouraged' rather than do their job, dont we!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    RoKphish (profile), 30 Dec 2014 @ 6:12pm

    Comcast are liars ... plain & simple

    You can't believe a damn word Comcast says ... even if you have a recording of it.

    http://bgr.com/2014/12/30/why-is-comcast-so-bad-30/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mark Henry, 1 Jan 2015 @ 9:29am

    If you think this is bad, check out Centurylink's Internet Basics

    There is another almost exact replica of a $10 a month deal with CenturyLink. They wanted a merger and the FCC "convinced" them that they need to start "Internet Basics" a $10 a month plan with the same restrictions. They claim to market the heck out of it, but a closer look at their lack of marketing of it shows that they are not interested at all in getting people on it, just on making the FCC think they are. Here's the article:

    CenturyLink’s Internet Basics: Not Living Up to Its Potential

    Link: http://bit.ly/1CVScV8

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.