Comcast’s broken promises detailed in letter to FCC

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

“Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”

The California Emerging Technology Fund and a long list of affiliated groups want the FCC to force Comcast to live up its own commitments, if the proposed merger with Time-Warner Cable and the market swaps with Charter Communications are approved. In a letter to the commissioners and supporting documents, CETF blasts the way Comcast has handled a program – called Internet Essentials – it claimed would give $10 per month Internet service to low income families with children…

In 3 years, Comcast has signed up only 11% of the eligible households in California and the nation. That is 35,205 households in California out of more than 313,000 eligible families. At that rate, it would take another decade for Comcast to reach just half of the currently-eligible population…

In the first 3 years, the program has been riddled with problems, including 8–12 week waits before getting service, credit checks on customers in violation of advertised program rules, a non-working online sign-up system, and customer representatives who give out wrong or inconsistent information.

Sleazy practices include signing up only the eldest child in a household, so eligibility will end years sooner, upselling poor families into more expensive packages, and telling callers – erroneously – that they can’t get Internet Essentials unless they have a social security number and are willing to hand it over to Comcast.

The poor performance of Comcast CSRs should come as no surprise to anyone who listened to the audio recording posted last week of the customer service phone call from hell. The flood of comments and condemnations that followed it made it clear that it was Comcast’s smash mouth customer service policy that was at fault, not some hapless employee.

Internet Essentials is a good program, in theory. It was originally offered as a way to grease the skids for Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal, and then extended when the Time-Warner was announced. Its failure to run the program in good faith, as documented by CETF, points to the futility of relying on Comcast’s promises, though. I’m glad CETF is asking the FCC to include stricter oversight as a condition of any merger, but a better question is whether Comcast is fit to control 80% of California’s cable market. There’s no point to offering a second chance.