Comcast Internet Essentials Earns Mixed Report Card


There’s some reason to have mixed feelings about Comcast’s Internet  Essentials.  the Philadelphia- based communications giant’s   bargain  $9.95 internet service available to low-income families. But can we please keep it real?

 Executive v.p . David L Cohen swears this no- or low-profit project was high on his “to-do” list  long before Comcast wrote it into an agreement of concessions with the Federal Communications Commission, making kosher Comcast’s  2011 takeover of NBC Universal.  On the other hand, Cohen acknowledges that once attuned (addicted?) to  the web delivery service, student  users are likely to continue as subscribe and improve on the package  (now down-streaming at 3 Mbps; used to be 1)  when they have the financial wherewithal.

But I do think the NY Times coverage today of Internet Essentials' launch in Chicago  is misguided in  criticism of  Comcast’s marketing of the bargain web-access,  available to any family with students who qualify for a subsidized school lunch. What right does Comcast have, groused  critics,  to hand out leaflets for the service (and companion $150 netbooks  and now desktop computers, too) at school functions? And how dare they  involve non-profit community groups and volunteers to do the public relations work and even sign up IE subscribers for the mega-corp?

This fuss reminds me of the old philosophical debate point “Does a tree in the forest really fall, if you’re not there to hear it?”

  If you don’t have Internet service now, don’t have Comcast cable (which advertises IE on some channels) and don’t read news about the bargain offering  in print or on-line, how are you to know it exists?

 Cohen related in a recent visit  that there’s a school district just outside of Philadelphia where the superintendent banned the distribution of Internet Essentials promotional literature, on the grounds that  it would seem to be “playing favorites” with the service provider versus competitors.  This stance strikes me as utter stupidity.  If a Verizon FiOS or DISH Network wanted to sell subsidized Internet service to deserving families, too, as some Comcast competitors (like Time Warner) are beginning to do under an umbrella  program Connect2Compete,  Mr. School Superintendent can then share that info with his students and parents, as well.

Even in Philadelphia, where the School District and community groups are ostensibly working with Comcast to spread the word about IE, the message doesn’t always filter down. I learned this a few months ago at an Apple store, where one of the resident “Geeks” helping me out  shared that he was  also an  elementary school teacher,  working in a North Philadelphia school. When I then asked about how well the Internet Essentials program was going over at his school, this computer-advocate  admitted he knew NOTHING about it.  And he’s one who should be beating the drum, loudly. Comcast should be able to get the word out on this computer-literarcy project, please and thank you, anyway it can.