From Ars Technica:
“A California nonprofit says that a Comcast Internet service program for poor people is too difficult to sign up for, resulting in just 11 percent of eligible households in the state getting service.
Comcast had to create the $10-per-month Internet Essentials program in order to secure approval of its acquisition of NBCUniversal in 2011. About 300,000 households containing 1.2 million people nationwide have gotten cheap Internet service as a result, but the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) complains that the signup process is riddled with problems, a charge Comcast denies. (…)
“Comcast makes the sign-up process long and cumbersome,” CETF claimed. “The application process often takes 2-3 months, far too long for customers who are skeptical about the product in the first place, and have other pressing demands on their budgets. The waiting period between the initial call to Comcast and the CIE [Comcast Internet Essentials] application arriving in the mail can stretch 8-12 weeks, if it comes at all. After submitting the application, another 2-4 weeks elapse before the equipment arrives. Many low-income residents do not have Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and are required to travel long distances to verify their identities because Comcast has closed many of its regional offices. Recently, some potential subscribers with SSNs were rejected over the phone and told they had to visit a Comcast office. Comcast has a pilot effort in Florida that should be expanded to allow customers to fax or e-mail photocopied IDs as proof of identification.
“This is false, Comcast spokesperson Charlie Douglas told Ars today. “Once we receive a fully executed application we can provision service in about three to five days,” he said. CETF has “brought us customers in the past, and we diligently look through every single one and try to resolve it to the best of our ability and will continue to do that if there are additional customers they haven’t brought to our attention,” Douglas said.
CETF also wrote that Comcast has violated program rules by conducting credit checks. “Comcast conducts credit checks for some customers, contrary to CIE rules,” the CETF filing said. “Dozens of clients are receiving letters from Comcast saying that they have failed a credit check. Comcast specifically states and advertises no credit check is needed for CIE. This has repercussions beyond obtaining broadband service. The act of performing a credit check can negatively impact the consumer’s credit worthiness. Initially, some CIE service representatives told customers they could pay $150 deposit to avoid a credit check, also contrary to program rules.”
Douglas acknowledged that problem, chalking it up to a “technical error” in which a credit check was incorrectly triggered by an automated process. “That was an error we made, and we have tried to make right with any customer who was impacted,” Douglas said. “We have reached out and apologized to customers and tried to resolve the problem in each and every instance.” In cases when a credit check was performed by mistake, “we worked with the credit reporting agencies to have it removed from the applicant’s record, and we worked with the partner organization to communicate that back to the applicant.””