Tag Archives: low-income families

Is this Only PR for Comcast or About Internet for the Poor?

New Orleans      The FCC made a big, big deal a few weeks ago about the fact that Cox Cable and Time-Warner Cable had both voluntarily agreed to provide low cost internet access to low income families.  The basics were $9.95 per month and a $150 refurbished computer.  The agreement they were trumpeting was based on a “model” program developed by Comcast was part of a quid pro quo for the FCC’s go ahead on the Comcast’s acquisition of NBC/Universal.

I’m delighted:  what a win!  A real bridge being built for crossing the digital divide with affordable internet access for the poor!   Let’s get all of our members, head start clients, free lunch eligible folks in our schools, and people in the community signed up and ready to go, first on Comcast, then on Cox, Times-Warner, and get the rest on board, too!

It turned out we had Local 100 members in Comcast service areas throughout Houston and Harris County, Little Rock, and Shreveport.  Even better we also represented workers in the Head Start programs in all three of those locations and throughout the schools in Houston.   Funny thing though, no one seemed to have heard of the program hardly.  It was virtually impossible to go through the maze of the system and get an application.  When our people asked for applications some were asked to pay for credit checks, which were not part of the program.  One of our members was asked to pay a deposit to be able to qualify.  If you didn’t call the right number, Comcast tried to “up sell” over the $9.95.  It would take two to four weeks to get an application, if one arrived at all.  If you were a tenant you had to prove that you were not someone who rented the apartment years ago and to do so, you had to go downtown to only one place, despite more than a dozen Comcast offices in the city in the case of Houston.  This was not a bridge over the digital divide; this was a false front on a new and higher wall blocking access to the poor.  Oh, and it turned out this really wasn’t about the poor or the unemployed or seniors or any of these groups, but only for families with school age or Head Start children who qualified for free school lunches.  Sigh.

Comcast is big in Philly.  An internet search on the program showed a lot of smiling faces and well known folks touting the importance of this Comcast initiative.  Calling friends and organizers in Philadelphia though produced the same head scratching response.  On first blush they had not heard of the program either.  Action United, a membership organization of low and moderate income families, had trouble finding any members or staff that knew much about this Comcast special on the internet.  They did a phone survey of 500 people and their worst fears were confirmed.  Few knew.  Even fewer had gotten on.   We found the same story in Little Rock.  One of our organizers knew about the program, because some of his children were solicited in their school, but not all of his children.

We reached out for Comcast.  No response in most places.  We reached out for the FCC, and most of the response was to forward the correspondence to Washington, D.C. and more recently to ask if they could forward our concerns to Comcast itself.

Action United, representing our entire coalition of organizations, including A Community Voice in Louisiana and Arkansas Community Organizations in Little Rock, met with the company.

  • How many were enrolled?   No answer.  Not sure they knew.
  • What are the goals for enrollment?  None and we don’t know yet was the answer.
  • What is the real outreach?  They printed more than a million flyers and mailers touting the program.  Where did they go?  How were they supervised?  What were the results?  Anything more active?  Pretty much a lot of shrugging and excuses and whatevers.
  • How about the problems around the country?  Hmmm.  No answers here either, though they seemed to say, it was all right to “up sell,” if someone called the “regular” Comcast numbers rather than the “special” “Internet Essentials” number.  Was this a “bait and switch?”

It was a dog-and-pony show rather than a really serious meeting about delivering internet access to lower income families.  They did promise to get back to us later in January, so perhaps they will begin to really commit to delivering access.

In Little Rock this week members of United Labor Unions Local 100 and Arkansas Community Organizations raised the issue with Comcast, but, weirdly, the head of Comcast tried to deny he had even received the certified letter.  Hardly matters, the problem remain the same.  He agreed to meet with us in Little Rock.  We’ll see if he follows through.

The FCC also called Houston, Philly, and Little Rock asking if they could forward our letters to them about problems with Comcast’s internet access program.  I’m not sure if this is a form of the FCC washing their hands of the problem or a signal to Comcast to live up to its promises, rather than its public relations?

Seems clear that thus far this program is mainly window dressing and feel-good-PR, so we seem to have little choice but to help families who are trying to get access to this program to file FCC complaints that so far it is nothing but deceptive advertising.  We have the Xeroxes burning in all of the cities that are part of this collaboration now so as we find more families denied or unable to apply or eligible and caught in the Comcast maze and bureaucracy, they can fill out an FCC complaint and move this up the chain.

Depending on the response, we will begin talking to local city officials about the questionable conduct of Comcast on this vital program.

Overnight we reached other potential partners in Knoxville, Tennessee and Springfield, Massachusetts where Comcast is also the cable company and internet provider.  Looks like we should start making a longer list of where Comcast operates to see if it is really following through anywhere.

We need to start talking to Cox and Time-Warner in other cities to make sure they understand what we have learned in the last several months.

Comcast has one heckuva advertising department, but when it comes to internet access to the poor, they may have run a game on the FCC, because this is NOT a model program.

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Stand Together with Planned Parenthood

Me126852xico City At a distance I had crossed my fingers and hoped that the latest scheming right-wing video-scam on the pimp-prostitute theme that had brought down ACORN in the end, would only scuff up Planned Parenthood, be a one-day wonder in the press cycle, and go its way into the dustbin of history. Writing about this when it first broke, I was afraid it was stage managing for a Congressional defunding assault, given the hardcore opposition by some of the anti-abortion anti-women caucus in Congress, but I was still shocked to read Erik Eckholm, a good reporter on the Times on-line and see how far this assault has managed to move.

Not surprisingly, Cecile Richards, a talented organizer with huge political skills, as head of Planned Parenthood has mounted what seems to be an aggressive counterattack to hold their support in the U.S. Senate, and that’s the job that needs to be done to weather this storm, but it’s not enough, because they should not be left to wage the fight to defend themselves alone. That’s one of the indisputable lessons of the ACORN take down. If the right is allowed to isolate the target of the attack or ghettoize it within its own network and support system, the death knell is already sounding. We need to all be Planned Parenthood and all stand up and stand together in support.

This should not be hard to figure out at this point. If you attack the largest organization of low income families and cripple its service arms, like the ACORN Housing Corporation and the other independent affiliates and corporations within its family on funding denials, then maybe you are able to push them into the abyss. Arguably, Planned Parenthood with a $1.1 Billion budget and $75 M in federal funds to protect low-income women is the legacy of the power of the women’s movement and its largest and deepest service delivery arm for women nationally and in the states. The right is counting on the fact that poor people didn’t have enough political power – or allies – to protect ACORN and they are betting that the women’s movement is also dissipated, diluted, and divided and doesn’t have enough political and grassroots strength to protect Planned Parenthood, especially for services to lower income women.

Given the success of maintaining an unconstitutional bill of attainder against ACORN in the courts thus far, the right is talking with impunity of amending any funding bills to specifically deny federal monies to Planned Parenthood and its affiliates. Friends and foes liked to blame ACORN for bringing its own problems on itself in a classic “blaming the victim” maneuver. No organization is perfect, especially not a large organization. Perfection cannot be allowed to be the standard for political life and resource support. Planned Parenthood is not perfect either. Who cares? No one should. If there are mistakes, they will be corrected. We have bad police, but we don’t eliminate police forces. We have bad soldiers, but we don’t disband our armies. We have bad politicians but we don’t abandon democracy, we reform the process, debate in the open, and vote.

There are a million issues desperately grabbing at our attention these days, so Planned Parenthood will have trouble competing for the attention that it deserves, but we have to finally draw the line here and all stand together, men and women with whatever we have and in anyway possible to support Planned Parenthood. This strategy and its tactics have to be stopped!

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