In December, the cable giant and the nonprofit educational website announced a multimillion-dollar partnership that they say could help narrow the gap between Americans who have access to technology and online educational materials and those that lack it. Over the next three years, Comcast will give Khan Academy a large donation and pay for thousands of public service announcements promoting its free online educational videos and services. And it will use the partnership to promote Internet Essentials, Comcast’s three-year-old program that offers low-income families broadband service for $9.95 a month along with vouchers for discounted computers.
But before you get excited, it’s worth considering the motives and potential impact of this agreement: The partnership raises questions about whether “discount” programs like Internet Essentials actually address the digital divide issue and concerns about how Internet service providers might someday be able to pick favorites in the digital education market.
The Comcast-Khan Academy partnership certainly has potential, but a little healthy scrutiny is also in order. And hopefully providers like Comcast will take steps to ensure that the proliferation of free online educational resources is accompanied by faster and more affordable broadband service for all U.S. consumers—not just the expansion of limited programs like Internet Essentials.