Raquel Donoso, Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood (Comunidad Promesa de la Mission) at the Mission Economic Development Agency.
"An opportunity like this rarely comes along, and it will go a very long way to finally close the Digital Divide in California and set an important threshold for regulators across the country."
One month ago, California Public Utilities Commission Administrative Law Judge Karl Bemesderfer issued a proposed decision that spells out conditions to which Comcast must agree before gaining CPUC approval of its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable. The full commission has the final say and is expected to vote on the proposed conditions in six weeks.
Simply put, if the CPUC commissioners show bold leadership, many parts of California, including underserved parts of the East Bay, will finally have access to affordable high-speed Internet at home.
We live in a region in which many urban households still do not have home broadband, meaning hundreds of thousands of our family members, friends, and neighbors do not have home access to the educational, economic and health care opportunities necessary to succeed and thrive in the 21st century.
Comcast is the major Internet service provider in the Bay Area, and the proposed conditions would put affordable broadband in reach of many of these unconnected residents.
Many of us who work to improve education and the lives of low-income residents in the Bay Area, including Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), PolicyLink, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, Building Blocks for Kids, Oakland Technology Exchange West, The Stride Center, Center for Accessible Technology, Centro de la Raza-Oakland, YMCA of the East Bay, World Institute on Disability and Winning Strategies, have been advocating for the kinds of conditions in the proposed decision.
- The conditions will open up a new world of possibilities for many low-income residents throughout California. Key proposed conditions say Comcast shall:
- Expand eligibility for its low-cost, $9.95-a-month Internet Essentials service to all low-income households in its service area. Currently, the discount is available only to families with students eligible for free or reduced lunch.
- Enroll at least 45 percent of eligible households in the program within two years of the merger date, with some exceptions.
- Spend a minimum of $275 per eligible household to promote adoption and training, and work with experienced community-based organizations.
- Connect and/or bring Internet infrastructure to K-12 schools and public libraries in unserved and underserved areas in the same proportion as it provides high-speed access to households.
In these pages, some Comcast supporters have recently written that the company should be rewarded with a merger approval for what it has done in the past, including Internet Essentials.
Comcast officials have said that they do not like most of the conditions, and expect to negotiate with the CPUC.
The firsthand experience of MEDA and other nonprofits is that Comcast has a slow and cumbersome sign-up process that discourages many families from participating in the discount program.
It's no surprise to us that after nearly four years, by the company's own accounting, just 17 percent of eligible families in San Francisco have signed up.
Clearly, the CPUC judge thinks Comcast has the capability do a much better job than it has -- especially if it expects approval of a merger that will give it a service footprint that covers 84 percent of all California households, including 87 percent of all children on free- and reduced-lunch in the entire state.
I have spent all my life fighting for equal opportunity for everyone, including access for all children to the highest quality education.
An opportunity like this rarely comes along, and it will go a very long way to finally close the Digital Divide in California and set an important threshold for regulators across the country.
Please join me in urging the CPUC commissioners to take the courageous action of approving -- and even strengthening -- these conditions. They can be true trailblazers in standing up for the public interest and transforming lives and entire communities.
Raquel Donoso is director of the Mission Promise Neighborhood (Comunidad Promesa de la Mission) at the Mission Economic Development Agency.