Comcast VP and Chairman of Penn Board of Trustees talks "digital divide"

Among other initiatives, Comcast wants to bring internet to low incomes families

· March 19, 2014, 6:12 pm   ·  Updated March 20, 2014, 1:02 am

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Joe Li | DP

Executive Vice President of Comcast David L. Cohen, left, who is also the Chairman of Penn's Board of Trustees, spoke yesterday on campus.


Comcast, Penn's Center City neighbor, is pioneering several corporate responsibility initiatives.

Yesterday , David L. Cohen , Executive Vice President at Comcast and Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Penn, spoke at the Law School. Cohen, a Penn Law graduate, has had an extensive career in both politics and law. Law professor Jerry H. Goldfeder moderated the talk, which focused predominantly on Cohen’s insight into politics and the communications industry.

Cohen wants to see more financial transparency in political campaigns, based on his experiences first as campaign manager and then as chief of staff for former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell during Rendell's Philadelphia mayorship.

“Long-term solutions for the political system as a whole lie in the structure of elections,” Cohen said. He pointed to the “corrosive impacts of super [political action committees]” on elections. 

“I won’t give to a super PAC on a moral level ... and [not giving to super PACs] is a policy at Comcast, as well,” Cohen said.

Cohen talked about the potential upcoming merger of Comcast with Time Warner Cable. The merger has received criticism — in particular, a petition against it by Senator Al Franken — for creating a monopoly.

“He has no case,” Cohen said. “Absolutely no competition exists between Comcast and Time Warner Cable.”

The merger has also been criticized for being a "gatekeeper against innovation on the internet," according to Cohen. But he maintains that Comcast has “no market incentive to throttle innovation, as broadband is our largest cash flow .” 

Cohen argued that the merger would also not hurt consumer prices.

One point Cohen was particularly passionate about was the digital divide. “Broadband is the civil rights issue of the modern era,” he said, echoing civil rights activist John Lewis. 

“The internet has the transformative potential to equalize access to health care, education, news and entertainment," Cohen said. "However, currently the Internet is exacerbating differences rather than leveling the playing field. We should all be embarrassed about that.” 

Comcast's Internet Essentials program is intended to close the digital divide. “Internet Essentials is the largest comprehensive broadband program for low-income [citizens],” Cohen said. The program attacks the three main causes of the digital divide — “absence of understanding of the internet, cost of equipment and cost of services."

Those eligible are families with children who qualify for the National School Lunch Program — which, according to Cohen, is 80 percent of students in the Philadelphia area. Internet Essentials offers those families a lower rate for their Internet usage, subsidizes equipment and gives digital literacy classes. Ninety-four percent of Internet Essentials participants, about 1.6 million Americans , have seen academic improvement in their children.

“We will do everything in our power to close this digital divide. If we don’t take this issue on, then no other company will,” Cohen added. 

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