A Pennsylvania advocacy group that fights for economic justice for low income and working families says that Comcast’s new, federally-mandated digital access program has too many barriers to entry.
Action United, the group which was formed in the state by former members of PA ACORN, cited in an email an informal survey intended to measure the application process of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program:
Applicants found a lengthy application process and disqualification for a number of reasons not clear at the outset. ACTION United’s survey of the program rolled out in Philadelphia in August of this year found either 1 or none of the roughly 150 parents polled have had success in accessing the program, despite initial press by Comcast estimating that 150,000 Philadelphia Children and 2.5 million nationally would be eligible.
Internet Essentials provides Internet access at $9.95 per month to families that qualify for the National School Lunch Program, as part of an agreement with the Federal Communications Commission to provide affordable Internet options, a mandate that resulted from Comcast’s deal to acquire NBC. We covered the launch of that program, which also provides affordable hardware and training opportunities, this September.
According to Action United program coordinator Elly Porter-Webb, of a phone survey of 100 parents in Philadelphia who met basic eligibility for the program, 62 percent had not heard about the program though 73 percent were interested in signing up.
Porter-Webb said that in one example, a parent who was eligible for the program had signed up for Comcast’s Internet service, but didn’t know about Internet Essentials. Porter-Webb suggested that the parent should have been screened by Comcast for the more affordable offering.
“It was an informal survey, but it demonstrates the problem,” Porter-Webb says.
Action United had planned a holiday caroling rally at the Comcast Center this morning to raise awareness about the issue, but has since canceled the rally after Comcast scheduled a meeting last night with the organization for January, Elly Porter-Webb says.
“We’re glad that Comcast is willing to sit down with some parents to hear why it’s not working the way they want it to,” she says.
Another point of contention seems to be the program’s billing history eligibility requirement. Comcast customers applying for the program must have no back-due bills and must have no unreturned equipment.
Comcast says that its following industry standards, pointing to the FCC’s Connect to Compete program which has the same requirements on billing and equipment return.
Comcast spokesperson Charlie Douglas tells us that it’s too early to assess data that is being collected by Comcast about the program, since it launched a little more than three months ago in September. He says Comcast will remain committed to the program for at least three school years and will adapt the program as more is learned.
“In Philadelphia, approximately 150,000 low-income students are eligible to participate in this program. Comcast is partnering with scores of organizations to raise awareness, level the playing field and get those students and their families connected,” Douglas said in a statement.
He encouraged interested citizens to contact 1-855-8-INTERNET to learn more about the program.