New Orleans The cynicism that surrounds the claims of cable companies and the FCC around lowering the “digital divide” continues to move from cloudy skies to deepest fog with absolutely no action from the FCC to solve the problem, enforce its own order, or prevent embarrassment from its own prior, public announcements. The FCC has ceased to be an effective corporate regulator, and moved to a position akin to a hand puppet.
In a top level meeting in recent weeks between the directors of our coalition ally, ACTION United, in Philadelphia with Comcast officials that direct the Internet access program, the company frankly and flatly conceded that “yes” they were up selling to poor people who were unable to navigate access to the company for their low-cost Internet access system. ACTION United, Local 100 United Labor Unions, ACORN International and other organizations had sent one complaint after another to the FCC about exactly this practice and in tests with our members have duplicated it time after time as a continuing and ongoing policy of Comcast. All of this directly contradicts the FCC order in Comcast’s acquisition of NBC/Universal that they provide such access to lower income families. Despite the company’s concession, the Comcast executives gave no assurances that the policy would change.
The FCC has failed now to respond to any complaints filed from Houston, Little Rock, Shreveport, or Philadelphia. In Philadelphia there is some indication that the FCC simply turned the formally filed complaints over to the company for action (inaction?!?), which indicates how captive the agency is to the companies it regulates.
Despite huge publicity and announcements in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal by the head of the FCC that there was a “voluntary” agreement by Cox and Time-Warner to provide similar service in the spring, there has been no announcement whatsoever that such a program has been prepared or exists. Correspondence to Cox and Times-Warner in Louisiana and Texas from Local 100 United Labor Unions interested in enrolling our members and the Head Start families that we represent has not been answered. The companies are hoping that poor and working families have as little knowledge of their promises as they have of the Internet, and probably aided and abetted by the FCC, felt confident that they didn’t really need to do anything anyway.
What an interesting set of government policies and corporate implementations this is. There is no need to do little more than pretend, since performance means nothing and only marketing has meaning. Meanwhile the divide gets wider and wider between the top and the bottom.