Broadband

Published — May 28, 2014 Updated — August 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm ET

Comcast-Time Warner deal may hinge on anemic low-cost Internet plan

Allan Holmes/Center for Public Integrity

Merger conditions poor substitute for national strategy

Introduction

As Comcast Corp. tries to convince the federal government to permit it to buy Time Warner Cable Inc. for $45 billion, opponents of the deal will inevitably bring up people like Ed.

Every morning at 8:15, Ed climbs into his red, 1999 Mazda sedan and drives 15 miles down Main Street in Scranton, Pa. He passes mom-and-pop sandwich shops, a shuttered elementary school and a computerized shooting gallery for archery on his way to a friend’s 86-year-old house where coal miners once lived — and where there’s an Internet connection.

Ed, who comes here because he can’t afford the parking fees at a library six miles away, first reads his email and then turns his attention to job sites such as snapjobsearch, glassdoor, Monster and Craigslist. He’s been following this routine for nearly four years, looking for an opening in the hotel or restaurant business where he’s got some experience, but he has yet to land a job. Without the Internet connection, he’d have no hope.

“You can’t walk into a Wal-Mart without filling out an application online first,” said Ed, who doesn’t want to use his last name because he fears employers may avoid hiring him. “The Internet today is like electricity. If you don’t have it, you’re screwed.”

Ed wouldn’t have to rely on the goodwill of friends and make the daily 30-mile round trip if Comcast, the only fast, wired broadband provider in the Scranton area, offered its low-priced Internet service to people like him. But the $9.95-a-month program, called Internet Essentials, is available only to low-income families with school-age children.