CETF and Partners Call on Comcast to Join Effective Public-Private Partnership to Get All Californians High-Speed Internet at Home
CPUC Proposed Decision would expand who qualifies for Comcast affordable Internet service, hold Comcast publicly accountable for new subscription goals
San Francisco, CA and Los Angeles, CA – March 12, 2015 – Comcast, whose merger with Time Warner Cable is currently under review by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), this week released new numbers citing growth in subscriptions for its affordable $9.95 a month Internet Essentials home service offered to low-income families with school children.
The California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) and its partners have first-hand experience with Comcast Internet Essentials program. For nearly four years, we have been actively engaged helping guide low-income families through the cumbersome and time-intensive sign-up process for the program, which has been rife with well-documented problems that Comcast has been slow to fix. At the current subscription rate cited by Comcast, it would take the company another 9 years to reach all of the California families that are currently eligible for Internet Essentials in its pre-merger territory. If the merger is approved, 87% of all school children on free-or-reduced lunch in California (more than 1 million students in Los Angeles County alone) will reside in Comcast territory.
Comcast announced March 10 that Internet Essentials has reached 20% of eligible families in California. CETF research based on California Department of Education data shows that 496,521 California households with students on free-or-reduced lunch are currently eligible for Comcast Internet Essentials in its current territory. Based on Comcast’s announcement that it has signed up 61,596 California households in nearly four years, that leaves 434,925 eligible households, meaning the company has reached 12.5% of currently-eligible families.
CETF has helped fund community organizations, including 2-1-1 California, Latino Community Foundation, Chicana Latina Foundation, Office of Community and Economic Development CSU Fresno, YMCA Long Beach, and Eden Housing among others, that work in the trenches with the most disadvantaged populations to help them understand the value of the technology, learn how to use it, and sign up for Internet service. These trusted messengers also provide critical opportunities for these families to access very low-cost or free computers and Digital Literacy training, which is required for sustainable adoptions. Comcast makes much smaller donations or pays membership fees to organizations that largely do not work in the field of Internet adoption. Underscoring the commitment and patience required to sign up a household, experienced community organizations report that it takes 6 to 7 interactions to help a family address all the questions and concerns to overcome the barriers to subscribing to high-speed Internet service.
Much of the adoption work provided by community based-organizations is supported by CETF grants, and these partners also bring match funding from other entities with a related purpose, including federal government grants. United Ways of California, for example, has integrated its broadband adoption work with its information referral service, a strategy that was developed by United Ways of California and CETF to gain federal funding in the wake of a successful CETF pilot project with LA 2-1-1.
The undercounting of eligible families and claimed penetration rate by Comcast underscores why the company should meet the requirements in the Proposed Decision issued last month by the CPUC Administrative Law Judge, if the CPUC is to approve its merger with Time Warner Cable and trade service territories with Charter Communications. Specifically, the judge has proposed conditions for merger approval that would require Comcast to reach 45% of all eligible low-income households in its newly combined California service territory. The conditions also require Comcast to spend $275 per household on outreach, Digital Literacy training, and assisting eligible households to enroll for the Internet Essentials program.
Comcast has told the CPUC that these requirements are “unrealistic” but the experience of CETF and its partners show it is achievable with a sincere public-private partnership. CETF has submitted legal documents to the CPUC stating that the performance goal of 45% is doable if: (a) Comcast resolves the problems with the Internet Essentials sign-up process and advertises effectively to reach the target populations; (b) Comcast participates as a sincere partner with advertising and a well trained call center; and (c) Comcast contributes $275 per household to an independently-managed statewide fund for affordable adoption programs.
“The Proposed Decision is a significant and tangible public benefit for Californians. Fortunately, the CPUC has an established tradition of forging sound public policy to close the Digital Divide and we urge the CPUC to seize the opportunity by the proposed corporate consolidation to refine and adopt the requirements in the Proposed Decision when they are scheduled to vote on the merger on March 26,” CETF President and CEO Sunne Wright McPeak said.
She added, “CETF and our partners call on Comcast to join an effective public-private partnership to close the Digital Divide in California, and we stand ready to work with Comcast and all interested community-based organizations. There is no substitute for the innovation and efficiency of the private sector when engaged as sincere partners motivated to achieve explicit goals. Effective public-private partnerships can significantly leverage public benefit resources for a higher return on investment to taxpayers and ratepayers.”
For more information, please visit www.InternetForAllNow.org
For a list of the more than 120 organizations supporting recommendations for closing the Digital Divide, please visit bit.ly/1EAL2Xj
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.
California Public Utilities Commission Judge Recommends Approval of Comcast-TWC Merger and Requires Major Expansion of Low-Cost Internet Program
Proposed CPUC decision requires Comcast to offer affordable Internet service to all low-income households, enroll 45% of eligible households in 2 years
San Francisco, CA – February 16, 2015 – The presiding Administrative Law Judge at the California Public Utilities Commission on Friday issued a proposed decision for approval of the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Inc. but requiring significant public interest conditions that were requested by the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), a non-profit organization dedicated to bridging the Digital Divide in California. CETF urges the full Commission to approve the proposed decision with a yes vote on Thursday, March 26, 2015, after comments are received on the decision by parties. Among the highlights:
- Comcast shall expand eligibility for its $9.95 a month Internet Essentials service to all households in its post merger service area with incomes equal to 150% of the federal poverty level or less. This program is currently limited to households where there is a K-12 schoolchild on the free or reduced lunch program. The minimum broadband speeds offered shall be 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload, and Comcast shall provide a free Wi-Fi router to all program enrollees, so more than one device can access the Internet, especially tablets that are provided at low or no cost by numerous California school districts.
- Comcast shall enroll at least 45% of eligible households in the Internet Essentials program within two years of the merger date, subject to some an exception in areas where the general broadband penetration rate is lower than 45%. Comcast shall submit an Internet Essentials plan to the CPUC in 90 days after the merger and for 5 years annually thereafter, with specific cost details (with minimum amount of $275 allocated per eligible household for adoption), process improvements to speed program enrollment and reduce wait times, and Wi-Fi options for multiple users in a household.
- Comcast is encouraged to cooperate with the California Emerging Technology Fund and other community-based organizations with significant experience in marketing and outreach to low income communities in California.
- Within four years, Comcast shall connect and/or Internet infrastructure for K-12 schools and public libraries in unserved and underserved areas in the post merger service territory in the same proportion as it provides high speed access to households in the service territory. These school infrastructure plans including expenditures shall be developed with the CPUC, California K-12 High Speed Network, the state Department of Education and State Board of Education, and must be submitted to the CPUC for approval, and an annual report filed.
- Within two years of the merger, Comcast shall upgrade facilities to make broadband services available to all California households where the merger applicants currently provide only video service, and such services must be at speeds of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. Within five years, Comcast shall make broadband services available throughout its service territory at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, to confirm with the new definition of minimum broadband speeds set by the FCC last month.
- For five years, Comcast shall offer all customers of the merged companies stand-alone broadband service, at a speeds, prices and terms at least comparable to the price charged by Time Warner Cable prior the merger’s closing.
- No later than three years following the merger, Comcast shall build at least ten new broadband facilities that are adjacent to or near areas that Comcast currently serves by broadband in California. A plan for these new infrastructure builds shall be submitted to the CPUC within 90 days of the merger.
"Historically, the CPUC has been the leader among state regulatory commissions in addressing the Digital Divide and promoting broadband infrastructure and adoption throughout our diverse state,” said CETF President and CEO Sunne Wright McPeak. “We urge the five CPUC Commissioners to approve the proposed decision without weakening the conditions -- as Comcast has indicated it will lobby the Commission to do -- and with adding the expertise and knowledge that each Commissioner brings to close the Digital Divide.”
She added, “The input from the California Public Utilities Commission will be valued by the FCC. We encourage the FCC to seize this opportunity to immediately use its merger review process to assure a widely-available affordable broadband rate for all low-income households. A similar FCC decision will be regarded as a watershed decision that transforms the ability of all persons - not just those who can afford it -- to participate in the Digital Age.”
For more information, please visit www.InternetForAllNow.org