Short Steps on Long March to Close Digital Divide: Rogers Breakthrough!

New Orleans  When it comes to creating some form of internet equity so that lower income families have access to the internet and can overcome the digital divide, everyone “gets” it, but no one wants to do what it takes to make it happen.

            President Obama on his way to meet the Chinese Premier in California stopped by North Carolina to visit a school and made the case, yet again, that we needed to expand high speed internet access to all public schools and public libraries in the country.  Amen!   But, when it came to the “how” of it, behind the “what” of it, his proposal was that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should continue or increase the surcharge on consumer telephone bills to pay the freight.

            The FCC is good at collecting money for these programs, but seems lousy still at enforcing its own orders, as I have pointed out numerous times given what they have allowed Comcast to get away with in providing access.  And, the voluntary $10 per month programs they negotiated with Cox Cable and Times-Warner are hardly worth the paper on the press release they put out about them.  We have filed scores of complaints and are still pressing the FCC for action.

            Nonetheless, something is better than nothing, ACORN Canada has moved to spread the campaign for internet access to Canada.  A letter to Rogers Communications produced a call with a key representative who presided over their wireless operations, and in a shocking reversal given the hard-ass resistance from Comcast and other US-based companies, he actually listened, was familiar with the “internet essentials” concept, and surprised us by saying he thought Rogers could do something, and he would get back to us.  Even before the next scheduled session in mid-June, Rogers surprised us even more by announcing unilaterally that they would initiate voluntarily a program of providing internet access to any tenant of public housing in Canada for $10 per month.  Obviously, this is a huge victory and a shot in the arm for a campaign that is only just beginning in Canada.  In fact we are still waiting for responses from the other two major providers in that country, so the focus will shift to them while we see how much real progress we can make with Rogers.

            It’s great that they realize in Canada that this is the right thing to do, but without taking anything away from Rogers Communications quick, positive response, it still makes me think twice.  Not wanting to be stepped on by the hoofs of a gift horse, I can’t escape the conclusion that all of these giant communications companies know that they are sitting on public franchises and spectrum that they are mining for gold, while wittingly creating huge inequalities for lower income families without the ability to pay the charges they are assessing. 

            The companies, be they in Canada, the US, Mexico, or elsewhere are going to continue to pull as much revenue as they can from these public resources, but they must know there is a clock ticking before finally governments are going to foreswear neo-liberalism and put an end to this voluntary baloney and actually regulate the costs and speed of the programs so that all citizens have a fair chance at jobs, information, and the modern world without paying the high tolls that all of these companies are charging on the public internet highway.

Digital Divide & Rogers Audio Blog

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FCC’s Connect2Compete Disconnected at Cox Cable & Payday Embarrasses Chase

New Orleans    Remember the poor…low and moderate income families who will always be with us?  Well, more evidence keeps piling up that when it comes to internet access and a lifeline to the 21st Century, the “volunteer” efforts by the big cable companies are continuing to make the FCC’s claims of lowering the digital divide a tragic joke.

I listened to calls yesterday made by an eligible mother with school age children to Cox Cable.  Cox along with Times-Warner and several other companies supposedly after claiming in late 2011 that they were going to following the flawed promises of the Comcast settlement to provide less than $10 per month internet and a $150 computer, joined the new FCC organized Connect2compete effort to finally implement the program in the fall of 2012.  The Connect2Compete program like much of Comcast’s program has been something of a stealth campaign, but we continue to be committed to seeing if low income families can finally access lower cost internet.

This woman having heard about the program from Local 100, called Cox Cable in New Orleans on the only available number.  Cox had no idea what she was talking about?  Low priced cable?  No way!  Connect2compete?  Huh?  Then she was transferred to a technical person when she persisted in asking how to apply.  The technical person had the same responses which all added up to “no clue.”  The technical person finally transferred her to a Cox manager who after several minutes of hearing the woman describe what she had heard about the program finally replied, “oh, yeah, we tried that program with a couple of schools in the fall, but the program was terminated in January, is there anything else I can help you with?”  That’s it.  Nada!

An earlier member had also called Cox Cable in New Orleans and been told there was no such program but that she would be called back.  Miracles never cease, and she was called back and told to call another number with Connect2compete.  When she called that number, she was not able to get through on her zip code to the automatic system.  The zip code was for the famous 9th ward.  When she called again and entered another zip code, she could get no farther into the system because you had to have an authorization code passed out by one of few schools that were engaged by Cox in the program, I presume.   It hardly matters, since she was stopped there.

Whatever this connect2compete is, it is categorically NOT a program to extend internet access to the poor.  The FCC and their cable company comrades should be shamefaced at the cynicism of these efforts.

Perhaps being publicly shamed by your own con games even works every once in a while!  Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, in a rare retreat from his usual “damn the torpedoes” arrogance, reportedly admitted that their ripping off Chase customers for thousands of dollars as the collectors for payday lending companies was even past the pale for Chase.  He swears that he is going to fix the problem.  I’m not sure which problem he’s going to fix.  The one where Chase is collecting money from their customers in one the states where payday lending is banned or the one where they are allowing their buddies to hit an account with collections multiple times and run up thousands of dollars of overdraft charges to Chase’s own benefit rather than their own.  Let’s hope it’s both, but when it comes to banking and shame, there’s really only so much we can count on.

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