It shouldn’t take a merger for low-income Americans to get cheap broadband

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[Commentary] Comcast is extending its $10-a-month broadband program for low-income Americans.

The discounted service, known as Internet Essentials, was set to expire three years after Comcast's merger with NBC-Universal in 2011. But now the cable company says it's making the program available to eligible people "indefinitely." The Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger must still be approved by the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, and analysts say Comcast's latest moves are part of a charm offensive designed to win over skeptical regulators.

Comcast's motives aside, giving poorer Americans the same access to broadband that wealthier people enjoy has been a longtime goal of the Obama Administration. Internet Essentials makes a dent by connecting some 300,000 households to broadband -- the equivalent of 1.2 million individuals, according to Comcast.

Other cable providers have since followed suit, working with the FCC in a program called Connect to Compete that also aims to provide a similar discount. Making sure everyone, rich or poor, gets adequate access to the Web is something businesses should be doing of their own volition -- which brings us back to Comcast. Industry watchers say Comcast's compliance with the FCC's previous requirements, along with the changes that would result from a merger with Time Warner Cable, might encourage regulators to ask for more concessions this time around. Thing is, it probably shouldn't take a merger to produce them.

It shouldn’t take a merger for low-income Americans to get cheap broadband