Haverhill Councilors Worry Comcast Shut-Offs Deprive Students of Learning; Vargas Works Accord

Haverhill City Councilor John A. Michitson. (Courtesy photograph.)

The Haverhill City Council wants Comcast to provide free internet for anyone who needs it during the coronavirus pandemic.

Councilor John A. Michitson introduced the idea at Tuesday night’s city council meeting after pointing out the biggest problem facing schools in this era of remote learning is students who do not have WiFi access, effectively cutting them out of the educational process.

“I also did an online survey with parents, students and teachers over the weekend which indicated that some customers had their service cut off because they were unable to pay their bill. Further, while many have been getting good broadband service, many others have been struggling to keep their connection stable during the lessons,” he said.

Michitson did note that Comcast has offered 60 days of free internet service through June 30 to low income households as well as providing free WiFi hotspots. While he acknowledged that these were excellent gestures on the part of the internet giant, he believed they should make the internet free to all during this crisis, a call that was echoed by fellow councilor William J. Macek

Haverhill City Councilor William J. Macek. (WHAV News file photograph by Jay Saulnier.)

“I would hope that Comcast would extend free service to anybody who would qualify as not being capable of paying for regular service because, I think, if they really want to be a good neighbor to the community, now is the time for them to step up,” Macek said,

Another suggestion by Michitson was the city should consider helping to pay for citizens’ delinquent accounts, saying those funds would be reimbursed by the federal government after the crisis passes. However, also on hand for that meeting, state Rep. Andy X. Vargas said that reimbursement was not yet guaranteed. He did have some good news though, reporting he had been in touch with Comcast about the situation of delinquent accounts.

“We were in touch with Comcast’s government affairs team to ask about these situations where people with past due payments were being denied WiFi access and, I’m told, that they’re going to waive the past debt owed requirement until June 30. So any families that do have a debt owed to Comcast, that should not prevent them from getting internet access. They should still be able to do so,” Vargas told councilors.

In the end, by a vote of 8-0, with councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien absent for that portion of the meeting as she works as a nurse, the Council voted to ask the mayor to work with Comcast to ensure all students have a access to the internet while remote learning is still in effect.

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