NY Pols Want Free Broadband For Public Housing, WiFi For Parks If Comcast Deal Approved

Usually by this point in the review process of a mega-merger like the one pending between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, there are discussions about things the parties are willing to do or give up in order to make the deal more palatable to critics. But because Comcast and TWC proactively offered to spin off some 3 million customers, and because Comcast already made a bunch of promises and concessions when it acquired NBC back in 2010, there hasn’t been much chatter. But some folks in New York are making known their demands for signing off on the deal.

Earlier this week, the NY Times reported [via DSLreports] that a group of city lawmakers and leaders, with NYC public advocate Letitia James at the helm, are pushing for a commitment from Comcast to provide free broadband to the city’s public housing and to extend its low-cost Internet Essentials plan (which was created as a condition of the NBC deal).

While New York City might be the center of finance and commerce in the U.S., about 1/3 of households don’t have an Internet connection, highlighting the huge “digital divide” between the city’s wealthy residents and those who can’t afford broadband service.

In addition to the free service for public housing, the group wants gratis access at shelters for the city’s homeless and its victims of domestic violence.

While they’re at it, the pols are also calling for free WiFi in city parks, along with promises of faster connections.

And much like a group of U.S. Senators recently requested, the New York folks are asking Comcast to extend its current obligation to abide by the 2010 net neutrality rules, even though they were gutted earlier this year by a federal appeals court, and even though the FCC is currently working on more relaxed rules.

“We need our city to remain competitive in the 21st century,” explained James.

What right do these city and state politicians have to make these demands on Comcast? After all, they are not members of the FCC or the Justice Dept., the two federal regulators that are currently weighing the pros and cons of the merger.

Well, these folks have a lot of pull with the New York state Public Service Commission, which was informed of these requests on Wednesday.

The Commission could seek to block the merger in New York, which would effectively take away Comcast’s main reason for acquiring TWC — so that it can have a virtually continuous monopoly on broadband and cable from D.C. to Boston.

While Comcast would probably win in a legal battle with the Commission, it would be a delay and an expense the company doesn’t want. The company’s path of least resistance might be to give into some demands so it can acquire the customers and the geographic continuity it desires.

A rep for Comcast told the Times that it has been working closely with the Commission.

Meanwhile, in honor of Halloween, our colleagues at Consumers Union took out the below full-page ad this week, calling attention to the huge potential problems of the merger — higher prices, poor customer service — whether or not there are any concessions made:

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