A CYC 2.0-led coalition of libraries, community colleges, nonprofit community agencies and the City of Milwaukee has asked the Federal Communications Commission to protect existing affordable Internet options, and require cable providers to make specific commitments to increase home access for lower-income households, as part of any decision that would allow Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable and then sell off pieces of the resulting cable Internet giant to Charter Communications and a new spinoff company called “SpinCo”.
The Coalition for Broadband Equity (CBE) made the requests in comments filed with the FCC today by CYC 2.0 Director Bill Callahan.
The CBE, organized by CYC 2.0 over the past two months, represents Comcast and Time Warner communities that will to be handed off to Charter or SpinCo if the deal now pending before the FCC is approved. CBE members include Cuyahoga and Lorain County Community Colleges; the Cuyahoga County and Youngstown-Mahoning County Public Libraries; the Akron Urban League; the City and Housing Authority of Milwaukee; nonprofit broadband provider OneCommunity; and eight community-based nonprofits that provide computer and Internet training for low-income residents in Cleveland and Detroit.
CBE’s comments neither support or oppose the overall Comcast-TWC-Charter proposal. Instead, the Coalition points to three major public interest issues related to the Charter and SpinCo provisions of the plan:
- Thousands of low-income families in Detroit and other communities slated for transfer from Comcast to SpinCo will lose access to Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which offers $10 monthly broadband access for families with children who are eligible for free or reduced price school lunches.
- Residents of communities currently served by Time Warner will apparently lose access to a $15-per-month Internet service option offered under the “Everyday Low Price” label. Charter Communications has no comparable affordable rate plan.
- The companies’ Applications include no plans for Charter or SpinCo to address the critical issue of persistently low overall home broadband adoption in the central cities they propose to acquire. CBE’s comments include an analysis of June 2013 data published by the FCC in July 2014, which indicates that the proportion of households with cable or DSL Internet access in lower-income neighborhoods could be as low as 18% in Cleveland, 21% in Detroit and Youngstown, 25% in Milwaukee, 30% in Akron and 33% in Lorain.
The Coalition asks the FCC, as a condition of any action to allow the Charter/SpinCo acquisitions, to:
1) Require SpinCo to continue to offer Internet Essentials or its equivalent to low-income families in Detroit and other communities it acquires from Comcast;
2) Require Charter to continue the current “Everyday Low Price” tier or a similar low-cost residential broadband option in communities it acquires from Time Warner; and
3) Require both companies to “provide specific, measurable, accountable plans for substantially increasing the percentage of all households, including households in lower-income neighborhoods, who are served by cable modem Internet connections.”