New York Times Free Broadband for Public Housing in New York Sought as Condition in Comcast Deal by Emily Steel

New York Times
New York Times
Free Broadband for Public Housing in New York Sought as Condition in Comcast Deal
Emily Steel
10/28/2014

A group of New York politicians is lobbying Comcast to provide free broadband to all city public housing residents and expand other low-cost Internet offerings as a condition for the cable operator’s proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable.

Led by New York City’s public advocate, Letitia James, and City Councilman Ben Kallos, the group of state and local politicians is calling on Comcast to help bridge the so-called digital divide between people who have access to broadband connections and those who do not. About a third of New York City families do not have broadband, according to the Knight Foundation.

“With every second we wait, the digital divide is widening,” Mr. Kallos said. “What we have with the Internet is literally a portal to the world’s knowledge. One third of our city can’t get on the Internet and can’t learn whatever, whenever they want.”

The group also is asking that Comcast provide free broadband access at senior, youth and community centers as well as in homeless and domestic violence shelters. Also on the list of conditions is free Wi-Fi service in all city public parks and commitments to provide faster speeds. It also is seeking agreements from Comcast to operate under net neutrality, the idea that all Internet content should be treated equally as it flows from content providers to consumers and back.

“We need our city to remain competitive in the 21st century,” said Ms. James, who noted that during her term on the City Council she had heard a significant number of complaints from constituents about cable and Internet service.

The politicians outlined the conditions in a letter they planned to send on Wednesday to the New York Public Service Commission, one of the state and local authorities across the nation reviewing the deal. The commission, which is considering whether the deal is in the public interest, has the power to reject the transaction in the state and is scheduled to vote on the matter next month. The commission has said that it is considering several issues including the affordability of broadband, service quality and infrastructure investment.

Several of the conditions go beyond what Comcast has offered up for its takeover of Time Warner Cable, which would combine the two largest cable operators in the country and reshape the country’s video and broadband infrastructure. The tie-up would give Comcast control of about a third of pay television subscribers in the country and 35 percent of the fixed high-speed Internet markets. In New York State, Comcast would gain about 2.5 million customers if the deal is approved.

Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman, said that the company was working closely with the New York Public Service Commission. The company has argued that a combination with Time Warner Cable would deliver better video, voice and Internet service for customers. It also has pledged to support net neutrality and extend its Internet Essentials program, which provides $9.95 broadband to low-income homes. Several New York businesses, community groups and politicians have expressed support for the deal.

“We believe we have successfully demonstrated the benefits our investment will bring to residential and commercial customers across New York,” Ms. Fitzmaurice said in a statement.

Announced in February, the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal is under review by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. The deal has received more than 90 percent of state and local approvals needed, with New York and California the two major exceptions. Comcast has said that it expects the deal to close in early 2015.

Craig Moffett, an analyst with MoffettNathanson Research, said that it was unlikely that the deal would be blocked because of the local reviews, but that certain conditions could be added to the merger.

Should those conditions prove too burdensome, there is a small chance that Comcast would abandon its plans to acquire the New York market and focus on other markets where the regulatory environment is more favorable, he said.

Some critics of the deal said that it should be blocked and that they are wary of any conditions because merged companies often do not follow through on them and regulators do not enforce them.

A version of this article appears in print on October 29, 2014, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Free Services Are Sought as Condition in Cable Deal.

 

Issue: 
Technology