Group Sponsored By Comcast Gives An Award To Comcast

Sometimes you have to pat yourself on the back after a job well done. But if you’re a company for whom accolades may be in short supply, it helps to sponsor (and have one of your executives be in charge of) a professional organization that is willing to give you an attaboy when you need one.

Presumably still sore from having its Romeo and Juliet romance with Time Warner Cable torn asunder by those pesky federal regulators at the FCC and Justice Dept., Comcast got a nice little ego boost today with the announcement that it had won the Signature Accolade Award for public service from the Women In Cable Telecommunications (WICT).

The cable and Internet giant won the award for its Internet Essentials program that is intended to give low-income Americans affordable online access.

Hmmm. This is the same program that’s been roundly criticized as mere window-dressing, offering slow Internet speeds (less than 1/5 the current FCC definition of broadband), and employing enrollment restrictions that prevent many low-income consumers from becoming or remaining part of the program.

Like the fact that the only way to enroll is to have one school-age child who is eligible for the national school lunch discount program. That means that families with very small children, children who have left school, or who simply don’t have children can’t take part.

California regulators recently dared to suggest to Comcast that it make improvements to Essentials — increasing the download speeds, and revising eligibility to include all low-income consumers in the Comcast footprint. The company balked.

Additionally, while Comcast like to throw around numbers like claiming that it’s connected 1.8 million Americans through Essentials, graphs like the following may be misleading:

A quick glance at this chart might lead you to think that each of those bars represents the number of people who signed up during the corresponding time period. Instead, each bar represents the sum total of all customers who have ever signed up for the Essentials program. Since it’s cumulative, that graph will always be trending upward so long as they continue to add anyone to the program.

Using the same data to figure out how many new Essentials customers were being added proves to be much more informative:

Here you can see that Comcast is adding anywhere from 7,500 to 12,500 households a month. That is a number one could use as part of a process to determine whether the program is having an impact.

But there’s a bigger problem with these numbers. They only represent those who have joined. Comcast refuses to publicize the number of Essentials customers who have left the program or who have been kicked out because they are no longer eligible.

Comcast is transparent in its quarterly earnings reports about the number of cable and Internet customers it gains and loses because that information is incredibly important to investors. But this same company only tells half the story when it comes to its Essentials program.

So what is WICT seeing in Essentials that others aren’t? In the group’s press release announcing its latest slate of award winners, the group makes no special mention of anything the program does, other than to point out that three-fourths of Essentials applicants are women.

Interestingly, WICT announced the award for Essentials — a program that Comcast brought up a lot during its failed attempt to acquire Time Warner Cable — shortly before that merger fell apart.

Of even more interest is this list of Strategic Sponsors right there on the WICT home page:

While we’re at it, let’s check out that link for the WICT Board of Directors. How about that — the Chair of the WICT board just coincidentally happens to be a Senior VP at Comcast. And three of the group’s Directors-At-Large either work directly for Comcast or for Comcast-owned properties like USA Network and TV One.

None of this is to say that WICT didn’t genuinely, in its heart of hearts, truly, honestly believe that the frequently criticized Essentials program was deserving of this honor. But when a company’s history shows that some of its biggest fans also benefited from its beneficence, sometimes to the tune of more than $184,000, it raises a few eyebrows.

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