Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Comcast monster expands its free or low-cost Internet

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 4:01 PM

click to enlarge Internet-Essentials-Logo.png

As Kabletown — I mean, Comcast — seeks to merge with Time Warner Cable and combine two companies its customers hate into one company its customers hate, the monolith that just ate NBCUniversal Media three years ago is playing up its philanthropic spirit for federal regulators, possibly to the actual benefit of actual human beings.

Its Internet Essentials program — which the company was forced to create by FCC regulators in order to earn approval of the NBC deal — will now offer six months of free Internet service to those who apply and qualify between now and Sept. 20.

Also, those with an outstanding bill that is more than a year old may qualify to have the bill forgiven. "If customers’ outstanding bills are less than a year old, however," says Comcast's executive vice president David Cohen, "then we would like them to settle that debt with us before they can be eligible to apply for the program."

Speeds aren't great, but the cost is only $9.95, plus tax, a month, and there's the potential to buy a computer for around $150. Of course, it hasn't been the easiest government-mandated public benefit to join, says the California Emerging Technology Fund, as reported by Ars Technica.

"Comcast makes the sign-up process long and cumbersome," AT quotes CETF as writing. "The application process often takes 2-3 months, far too long for customers who are skeptical about the product in the first place, and have other pressing demands on their budgets. The waiting period between the initial call to Comcast and the CIE [Comcast Internet Essentials] application arriving in the mail can stretch 8-12 weeks, if it comes at all. After submitting the application, another 2-4 weeks elapse before the equipment arrives."

There's also the bigger question: Is this merger going to make consumers' lives suck less or more? Here's the Associated Press' TV writer, Frazier Moore, on the topic.
The deal could indeed result in a company whose even-greater scale makes it better able to serve its customers, as Comcast promises. Unless, instead, it's even more dismissive than the current two competitors may seem to their respective subscribers.

The deal could put Comcast in an improved position to launch new technical innovations and new program content. Or, thanks to its dominant purchasing power in the marketplace, it could halt bold advances in their tracks by rejecting them from its infrastructure or program lineup.

As a souped-up gatekeeper, the combined company could give preferential treatment to its own channels (which include USA, Bravo, MSNBC, E! and many more) and shut out channels that may seem to be competitive with its own portfolio. Or, instead, it might be all the more vigilant in bringing popular channels, whoever owns them, to its customers while granting every channel equal consideration.
Of course, Comcast doesn't exactly see it the same way the people underneath its boot do, as you can see in a quote from the long-suffering Cohen to the Washington Post:

“This makes me sigh,” Cohen says. “You can criticize us for data consumption caps. You can criticize us because cable bills are too high. You can criticize us because the acquisition of Time Warner Cable will make us too big. I can understand that. But every once in a while, even a big company does a good thing for the right reasons.”

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