Low-income people can get free Internet service through Comcast and a government program, but sometimes signing up is more difficult than it should be due to confusion in Comcast’s customer service department.
Massachusetts resident Tonia Williams has qualified for the US government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which offers $30 monthly rebates, and Comcast’s Internet Essentials Plus, a $30 monthly service for people low-income which is essentially free when combined with the ACP rebate. But when she tried to use the ACP discount with Comcast’s low-income service, Comcast incorrectly told her she wasn’t eligible because she was already a Comcast customer.
Williams, a certified practical nurse who was not working when she spoke to Ars, was finally able to get free home internet service for her family. But she faced several hassles and said she would have given up if it hadn’t been for David Isenberg, a Falmouth resident who helps low-income people in his town navigate the process. Isenberg knew Williams because she was previously a home health aide caring for Isenberg’s wife’s uncle.
“I would have given up if David hadn’t pushed me,” Williams told Ars in a November phone interview. “It’s such a race, and you have to sit and wait. A lot of people don’t have time to sit on the phone that long and then they’re told, ‘Well, you’re not eligible. If you don’t really know what the service is or how to get it, I would have just believed them, that I didn’t qualify.”
Three candidates wrongly rejected at first
Isenberg contacted Ars in late October after helping Williams and two others get the discount. All three were wrongly told they weren’t qualified when they first tried to enroll, Isenberg said.
The confusion relates to a Comcast rule that makes low-income customers ineligible for Internet Essentials service if they have been a Comcast subscriber in the previous 90 days. This rule and another relating to unpaid invoices are not intended to apply to persons who are also eligible for the federal CPA program.
“If a customer qualifies and enrolls in CPA with Comcast, the 90-day eligibility and outstanding debt restrictions do not apply for the duration of the CPA,” a Comcast FAQ states. .
But with the first three people helped by Isenberg, “Comcast first told those existing customers that existing customers are not eligible,” he said.
Not all applicants face the same problem, as Isenberg later helped enroll a man who was not wrongly rejected. He also heard of another candidate who entered the program with no problem.
Comcast agents ‘totally untrained’
But confusion among some Comcast customer service representatives suggests the company hasn’t fully trained its employees on the rules of low-income programs.
“They are absolutely untrained,” Isenberg said. He also said that the registration process is difficult even when there are no major errors.
“This problem is pretty much invisible. You can’t see it if you’re not actually active, helping people,” Isenberg said. “There’s a very serious class and/or privilege issue here that keeps this really under the radar…if you don’t sit down with someone who’s poor and apply with them, you don’t know.”
With one of the applicants who was wrongly rejected at first, Isenberg told Ars that the registration “took about three hours over three days, which is quite a burden if you are a poor person and you working two jobs and trying to support a family.”
Contacted by Ars, a Comcast spokesperson said what Isenberg and Williams described is not the “typical experience” for Comcast customers who receive the ACP discount. But the spokesperson said Comcast is “redoubled” on training to prevent others from being wrongfully dismissed.
“Engaging consumers with the ACP is a top priority for us,” Comcast told Ars in a statement. “We continue to educate our employees about the benefit, train our employees on the program and refine our processes so enrollment is easy. It’s a continually improving process and we’re committed to doing it right. We are sorry for any problem. these customers have lived and will strive to prevent it from happening again.”
Comcast has been offering low-income plans since 2011
Although the government-funded monthly rebate only began during the pandemic, Comcast has provided low-cost service to eligible low-income households through Internet Essentials since 2011. The program was initially required under the merger terms imposed on the Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal, and Comcast continues to offer Internet Essentials even though the merger condition expired in 2014. Comcast says the program “has connected a cumulative total of more than 10 million Americans” since 2011.
While the ACP discount can be applied to any level of Comcast Internet service, it makes sense for eligible users to opt for the relatively new Internet Essentials Plus plan. The Plus tier “includes 100 Mbps download speeds, cable modem and Wi-Fi router, and is free after government ACP credit is applied,” Comcast said when announcing the new tier in March. . The plan has download speeds of 20 Mbps.
Comcast also still sells the basic Internet Essentials tier with 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload speeds for $10 a month. Comcast data caps are not applied to Internet Essentials users.
Comcast was one of 20 ISPs that agreed to make $30 plans available to ACP-eligible Americans earlier this year.
comedy of errors
Williams was previously eligible for the federal ACP rebate and used it on a Comcast plan that cost $75, so her monthly bill was about $45 with the rebate applied. Once she learned she could cut her bill to zero by using ACP with $30 Internet Essentials Plus instead, she called Comcast to switch to the plan in mid-October.
Williams put the call on speakerphone so Isenberg could listen. The Comcast customer rep who told Williams she wasn’t eligible for Internet Essentials Plus “said what I would have to do is cancel my Internet account for 90 days and then I could reapply for Internet Essential Plus,” she said.
Isenberg recalled that he prompted Williams to tell the Comcast agent “it is official Comcast policy that existing customers are eligible. And she told them and the woman said, ‘Oh, let me look at something. And she put us on hold, came back and said, ‘Yeah, I think there’s a way to qualify you.’ “
But that phone call was cut off, “so we called back and we got someone else, and there was no record of the transaction between me and that other person,” Williams said. After an hour-long phone call, “Finally someone said, ‘OK, well, I see you have ACP,'” Williams said.
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Comcast agents mistakenly reject some poor people who qualify for free internet – CNET – ApparelGeek
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