Foundations to Tackle Inequality through Internet Access
by Sunne Wright McPeak
On February 4, 2015 the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that several foundation heavy hitters, including the Ford, Knight, MacArthur, Mozilla, and Open Society foundations, had formed a partnership to figure out how to get the Internet to live up to its potential as a tool for social justice.
I applaud the announcement by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Mozilla Foundation, Open Society Foundations and Ford Foundation that they are joining forces to promote open and accessible Internet to increase opportunity in the Digital Age.
The rigorous debates over net neutrality and the protection of civil liberties are important. What cannot be lost in the “partnership to figure out how to get the Internet to live up to its potential as a tool for social justice” is the need for everyone to have access to high-speed Internet at home. The current debates do not guarantee affordable or accessible Internet to the 80 million people in the U.S. stuck on the wrong side of the Digital Divide.
As the Mayor Bill de Blasio and the foundation leaders expressed, now is the time for philanthropic groups to step up focus on getting more low-income households connected to high-speed Internet and realizing its benefits.
Additionally, the current corporate consolidation proposals pending before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provide an opportunity for the Commissioners to require Internet service providers to offer quality Internet at affordable rates to all low-income households. They also should require companies to provide ongoing support to community-based organizations, libraries and schools to do the critical on-the-ground work to prepare everyone to succeed in the Digital Age.
The five FCC Commissioners have the power to expand Internet affordability and access right now. Federal law says there must be a finding of public benefit if they choose to approve any merger, including the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable (TWC) consolidation. More than 115 civic organizations, school districts, and local governments across the nation are asking the FCC to consider key recommendations to improve and expand low-cost Internet service. The public education initiative, called Internet For All Now, has resulted in more than 170,000 written communications to the FCC and its Commissioners
The Comcast-TWC merger is up for consideration first, with an FCC vote possible as early as next month. We strongly urge the FCC to require the following five recommendations if they approve the deal:
- Include All Low-Income Households: Extend Comcast Internet Essentials to all low-income households, including low-income seniors, people with disabilities and returning veterans.
- Set Performance Goals: Set a goal for Comcast Internet Essentials to reach 45% of the expanded eligible group in two years, and to continue the program until 80% adoption is achieved in all low-income neighborhoods in the company’s major markets.
- Donate to an Independent Fund and Coordinate with States: In places such as Washington, D.C., New York and California that are major Comcast-TWC markets and also have a strategic plan to close the Digital Divide, require Comcast to dedicate a sufficient amount to an independently managed fund to engage experienced community-based organizations, libraries and schools to assist in achieving the adoption goals.
- Establish an Advisory Oversight Committee: Establish a national advisory oversight committee to provide input to the FCC in monitoring Comcast’s performance. Transparency and public accountability is critical.
- Offer Stand-Alone Internet Service: Require Internet Essentials to continue as a stand-alone service. The ability of eligible consumers to subscribe just to the discount Internet service should not be on condition of paying for other Comcast services.
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