Ars Technica Comcast/TWC merger should require free Internet for the poor, pols say by Jon Brodkin
New York politicians say Comcast shouldn't be allowed to buy Time Warner Cable unless it provides free Internet service to all residents of public housing.
In a letter to the state Public Service Commission Wednesday, New York City Public AdvocateLetitia James and 21 other officials asked for the free Internet promise and numerous other provisions, including a commitment to offer at least gigabit speeds to paying customers. The commission recently delayed its vote on the merger until November 13 after state officials found "deficiencies" in Comcast's customer service and the merger application.
James' letter asked Comcast to "guarantee that they will expand broadband to and provide free access, training, and equipment to their broadband services for all public housing residents of the New York City Housing Authority, and establish training and access centers for every housing complex within the merged entity’s service area." The same should be done for "[a]ll senior, youth, and community centers, and public parks. As well as all homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters (with anonymous browsing capability), congregate care facilities, supportive housing facilities, mental health group homes," the letter continued. Besides that, Comcast was urged to "[e]stablish free Wi-Fi service in all New York City Public Parks."
Comcast already provides $10-per-month Internet access to poor families as a result of a condition on its 2011 purchase of NBCUniversal. Comcast proposed to extend this "Internet Essentials" program to Time Warner Cable customers, and the company argues that it has offered enough.
“Comcast looks forward to bringing the many public interest benefits of our transaction with Time Warner Cable to New York City and the rest of the state," the company said in a statement provided to Ars. "We continue to work closely with the NY State PSC on the regulatory review. We believe we have successfully demonstrated the benefits our investment will bring to residential and commercial customers across New York, from faster Internet speeds to next-generation TV, more robust Wi-Fi, low-cost Internet through our acclaimed Internet Essentials program, and the ability to better serve business customers big and small with innovative products. Comcast will work constructively with other interested parties as the review process moves forward.”
James' letter asked Comcast to expand eligibility for Internet Essentials. Separately, Comcast should have to "[u]pgrade New York City’s Hybrid Fiber-Coax plant in the merged entity’s service areas to provide at least gigabit network speeds, thus establishing New York City as a global leader in broadband access," the letter said. Comcast should also be more transparent about pricing increases and service changes, while working to reduce customer complaints, it said.
Besides James, the letter was signed by five state legislators, 15 city council members, and the Manhattan Borough president.
"The proposed merger would give Comcast overwhelming market power in the areas of access, content, and pricing to customers in New York. Comcast would have de facto monopolistic control. As such, a merger that does not guarantee universal broadband, consumer protections, and robust infrastructure commitments would not be in the 'public interest,'" they wrote.
New York is served by Time Warner Cable today, but the licenses would be transferred to Comcast if the merger is approved. In addition to state governments, Comcast's purchase of TWC is being evaluated by the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department.