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Editorial: Powerful Comcast gives something back

It’s the least Comcast could do.

First Published Aug 22 2014 04:12 pm • Last Updated Aug 22 2014 04:12 pm

It is called Comcast Internet Essentials because it is. The Internet, that is. Not Comcast.

The cable and online giant, though, is inching closer every day to becoming synonymous with the Internet itself.

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Company officials try to reassure the public and relevant public officials by noting that, even if its proposed merger with another cable and Internet giant, Time Warner Cable, is approved, the resulting firm will still serve less than 30 percent of the nation’s cable customers.

That certainly is a coverage footprint that leaves Comcast far short of the national monopoly status that government should always be wary of. Except, of course, for the fact that, in both Comcast and Time Warner markets, the two companies are, and the merged corporation would continue to be, by far the biggest dogs in cable and Internet services.

Thirty percent of a national market is enough power to have a lot of influence with television programmers — including NBC, which Comcast bought in 2011 — and Internet-based services, all of which live and die by the access they have to millions of American homes.

One very positive sign of Comcast’s existing sense of noblesse oblige, its wealth and its need to score brownie points with regulators and the general public is its Internet Essentials offering.

As outlined by corporate top cats in a visit to Salt Lake City’s Glendale Community Center Tuesday, it is a way for low-income families with children in school to afford both a modern computer (sold for $150) and relatively fast Internet service ($9.95 a month).

The program has grown rapidly since first being offered in 2011, as a partial payback to the FCC for allowing the NBC deal, and now serves more than 350,000 families across the nation and more than 6,000 in Utah.

That’s all good. Internet access has long since ceased to be a bauble for showing off tech savvy or playing games. Teachers have come to expect students and their families to have online access, not just for homework but for updating grades and otherwise keeping parents in the loop. No school should be tempted to throttle back on using the power of the Internet out of concern that some, or many, students will be left behind. Comcast’s offering helps avoid that dilemma.

It also increases the company’s power and reach, even as publicly owned alternatives such as Utah’s UTOPIA project struggle for survival. Being resigned to that fact recalls the sage advice from Mark Twain: "Put all your eggs in one basket. And watch that basket!"

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