Telecommunications | Viewpoint

A Modest Proposal for Comcast

With apologies to Jonathan Swift, I approve the telecom giant's acquisition of Time Warner Cable — with one big condition.

This article appears in THE Journal's March 2014 digital edition.

Christopher PiehlerEver since cable giant Comcast announced its intention of buying fellow media monolith Time Warner for $45 billion, industry watchers have pointed out how the merger has the potential to harm customers. Senator Al Franken wrote a letter to the FCC saying that Comcast “has a history of breaching its legal obligations to consumers.” Some rough numbers also suggest that the merger would violate antitrust law.
On the other hand, Comcast appears to be making an effort to be a good corporate citizen. In February, in addition to renewing its vow to maintain Net neutrality, the company voluntarily extended its Internet Essentials program, which offers $9.95-a-month Internet service to families that qualify for free and reduced lunch.
That’s a nice gesture, but if you ask me, it’s not enough. With more and more students learning on ever-cheaper mobile devices, bandwidth is poised to be the biggest equity issue in education, and Comcast’s bid for Time Warner is an opportunity to resolve that issue in one fell swoop.
So if I were a member of the FCC team reviewing this merger (and let’s all take a moment to be thankful that I’m not), I would resort to some good, old-fashioned blackmail. I would decree that Comcast can buy Time Warner if and only if the combined company pledges to provide free home Internet service to every family that qualifies for free and reduced lunch — oh, and free connectivity to every public K-12 school in the country.

Is this a lot to ask? Yup. Is requiring a company to give away its services ethical? Probably not. But is it ideal to give one company control of Internet access to what some experts say would be 60 percent of American homes? Definitely not. But I believe that free bandwidth for education would be worth all the risks that this deal entails. I’d love to hear what you think.

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.