A Case Where Internet Regulation Might Actually Help



One of the problems facing our march toward a more equitable version of the online world is the simple fact that not everyone has the same means to be online. Of course, another simple fact is that those who are too poor to have access to the Internet are not usually the folks that online marketers would like to target because they don’t have the money to spend on their products. Let’s just say it’s not a good situation overall and leave it at that.

One could argue that if people could get online they might have a better chance of moving up out of the ranks of the impoverished. Of course, there is no guarantee that being online would actually improve someone’s lot in life since there is just as much of a chance that someone would get caught up in the crappy side of the online world thus bringing them (or just keeping them) down. That’s a matter of free will.

What is important is making sure that people at least have a chance to use the Internet no matter what their situation. That would require some magnanimous action on the part of service providers and that kind of corporate action is usually in short supply.

Well, in a rare case of me agreeing with some regulation that occurred, Comcast is following a mandate given to them that was a condition of their purchase of NBC Universal. It said that in order for this union to be OK’d Comcast had to provide opportunities for lower income people to get online. Here’s how it looks according to NPR’s website.

Under the initiative, families will get literacy training and Internet service for $9.95 a month (plus taxes). Hispanic and African-American communities are expected to benefit the most, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen says.

“When we look around the country, we see the disparities that exist,” he says. “Quite frankly, people in lower-income communities, mostly people of color, have such limited access to broadband than people in wealthier communities.”

The program is open to students in grades K-12. Texas, California, and Florida have the highest eligibility rates.

There is also a program for families to get computers for $149.

Now what is interesting is that Comcast is promoting this as their great gesture to make the Internet fair for all. Nice try.

If anything it’s important that we all know that if it weren’t for a piece of regulation that can actually do some good it’s not likely we would be writing about this program at all. I wonder if Comcast is making that point known when it promotes their great sense of making the world better for all?

Of course, in classic service provider style there is a stipulation that if the applicant for the program has been a Comcast Internet service customer in the last 90 days they are ineligible for the program. I guess we shouldn’t expect TOO much from Comcast now, should we?