Digital Divide Is a Key Factor in Government's Review of Charter's Merger

Digital Divide Is a Key Factor in Government's Review of Charter's Merger

Los Angeles Times

Meg James | March 15, 2016

For Alfonso Escobar, the Internet was once out of reach.

The 55-year-old retired bread baker from Bell had limited computer skills and couldn't afford the monthly service charge.

"It's like you can't see if you don't have glasses," said Escobar, who recently began taking an Internet skills class offered by a community group. "The Internet gives you access to the world. You can pay bills, make doctor appointments ... or keep in touch with your family. You can learn what's going on in your city, in Los Angeles, in Sacramento — and in the whole country." 

Bridging the so-called digital divide — the gulf between people who have ready access to the Internet, and those like Escobar who do not — has long been a priority of President Obama. And addressing the issue has become a key component in the government's review of a mammoth cable merger that could transform the local pay-TV landscape.

Charter Communications' proposed $67-billion plan to acquire two other cable companies — Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks — would make it the dominant pay-TV and Internet service provider in Southern California, with more than 2 million customer homes.

"Charter is not just buying a big new service area — they are buying the digital divide," said Sunne Wright McPeak, president and chief executive of the nonprofit California Emerging Technology Fund, which is working to bring computers and affordable Internet connections to more California residents.

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