One of the more dubious arguments that Comcast has made in selling us on its merger with Time Warner Cable has been that the deal will be particularly good for low-income Americans. Why would giving Comcast what it wants help poor people, you ask? According to Comcast, they’ll benefit from the expansion of its Internet Essentials program that’s designed to make broadband services more affordable to people who don’t have a lot of money. However, some new numbers crunched by the Center for Public Integrity shows that Comcast’s program has had little to no impact on closing the digital divide.
First, the Center for Public Integrity found that only 36.1% of low-income people who live in Comcast’s service areas are actually eligible to take part in the Internet Essentials program. And of those eligible to participate, a measly 300,000 have actually signed up since the program first launched back in 2011.
And this isn’t an issue that simply has to do with lack of demand, either. A Washington Post report from earlier this month documents how many people who have tried to take part in the program have found it difficult to sign up for. Among other things, Comcast is telling low-income customers who are already Comcast subscribers that the plan is for new subscribers only and it’s rejecting customers from participating in the program if they’ve ever had any unpaid bills with the company, even if they’re “as little as $53 from a decade ago.”
In other words, it looks like Comcast’s Internet Essentials program isn’t quite the boon to blue-collar America that Comcast is making it out to be. Try to act surprised.