Digital Divide Persists: 100+ Groups Call on FCC to Hold Comcast, Other ISPs Accountable

Initiative urges FCC to seize ‘unique opportunity’ to require ISPs under merger review to expand discount service to low-income households

San Francisco, CA – December 10, 2014 –More than 100 national and California organizations and school districts are calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require companies to improve and expand affordable home Internet service as a condition of approval for corporate consolidations.  The group is launching a nationwide online movement, Internet For All Now, to serve as a public education initiative and encourage people to contact FCC Commissioners with recommended strategies (video) for using the review process to close the Digital Divide.

Participating groups include EveryoneOn, the YMCA (Long Beach and East Bay chapters only), Salvation Army (Pico Union chapter only), Access Living – Chicago, Florida Minority Reinvestment Coalition, California Seniors United,  Glide Memorial Church, Latino Community Foundation, The National Disability Rights Center, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Radio Bilingüe, Youth Policy Institute and school districts/county offices of education in Detroit (MI) and San Mateo County (Silicon Valley), Santa Ana and Fullerton (CA), among others.

Current Internet discounts offered by Comcast, whose proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is under FCC review, now only apply to families with students eligible for free- or reduced-lunch under the National School Lunch Program.  “We have seen students and their families blossom when they get Internet at home for the first time, and we think such opportunities should be made available to more low-income households,” said Zach Leverenz,  CEO of  EveryoneOn, a national non-profit organization working to eliminate the Digital Divide through partnerships with industry, non-profits, libraries and others.  “Too many low-income people – including job seekers, older students, seniors and people with disabilities – can’t afford full-priced Internet and often they can’t reach their fullest potential without it.”

Hugo Morales, Founder and Executive Director of Radio Bilingüe and a member of the California State University Board of Trustees, said “Federal law says there must be a finding of public benefit to approve the proposed Comcast acquisition of Time Warner Cable.  This review process provides an opportunity for the FCC to hold Comcast accountable to improve its Internet Essentials program and achieve acceptable performance.  In 3 years, Comcast has signed up only 14% of the eligible households in California and the nation. That is 46,000 households in California.  At that rate, it would take another decade for Comcast to reach just half of the currently-eligible population.”  

Organizations active in some of the least connected parts of the country are involved in the Internet For All Now initiative.  A recent analysis of U.S. Census American Community Survey data found:

  • Detroit has among the very highest percentage of households in cities of more than 50,000 without a fixed broadband connection, at 57%.  (Fixed broadband is an FCC definition that includes direct Internet access through DSL, cable modem, fiber-to-the-home or satellite accounts but does not count mobile devices or dial-up).  Detroit Public Schools is a member of the Internet for All Now initiative.
  • In East Los Angeles, 51% of households have no fixed broadband.  Several non-profit organizations working to integrate technology in teaching and learning in Los Angeles public schools (the second largest school district in the nation) are active in the initiative. 
  • In Fresno, 42% of households have no fixed-broadband, and the initiative counts Fresno County’s First Five Commission, which focuses on early childhood development, among its members. 
  • In Richmond, California, 40% of households do not have fixed broadband, and a leading city non-profit, Building Blocks for Kids, is involved in Internet For All Now.

“The FCC wants something specific as a public benefit, not the iffy Comcast program that is here now and does not perform well,” said Rita Walters, a former member of the Los Angeles Board of Education.  “If Comcast were as magnanimous as they would have you believe, the company would jump in and say ‘let’s set goals, let’s make it better, let’s reach all who need it’.  That’s not what we hear from them.”

In 2010, the FCC adopted the National Broadband Plan with the goal to connect 90% of the nation to high-speed Internet at home by 2020.  “Progress has been made, but we have hit a ‘wall of poverty’,” said Sunne Wright McPeak, President and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund.  “This initiative urges the FCC to seize a unique opportunity to require ISPs under merger review to expand discount service to low-income households in their service territories, if the deals are to be approved.  We commend the more than 100 groups and counting that are standing up to tell the FCC that we will not tolerate leaving one-quarter of  our nation’s  poorest residents – 80 million people – on the wrong side of  the Digital Divide. ”

Internet For All Now is asking people to email the FCC  with five recommendations for the Commissioners to consider requiring of companies, should the mergers be approved:

1. Expand offer to ALL low-income households.

2. Enroll 45% of eligible households in the next 2 years.

3. Donate to independent funds for non-profits, libraries, and schools to sign up households.

4. Report to an oversight committee.

5. Offer Internet Essentials as a stand-alone program.

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