Charter Communications announced a new low-cost broadband service for low-income customers that the MSO pledged to offer within six months of the close of its proposed acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.
The service, which will be offered across Charter’s footprint within three years of close, will deliver speeds of up to 30 Mbps downstream and 4 Mbps upstream for $14.99 per month. The speeds happen to exceed FCC’s current definition of wireline “broadband” -- 25 Mbps down by 3 Mbps up.
Other MSOs have launched similar high-speed Internet options for low-income families. Those from Cox Communications (Connect2Compete) and Comcast (Internet Essentials) currently offer max downstream speeds of 10 Mbps, but cost less to homes that qualify -- $9.95 per month. The Cox and Comcast programs also provide free WiFi routers, and Comcast’s provides access to discounted computer equipment (less than $150).
Charter, meanwhile, will hang its hat on faster speeds through its $14.99 per month program, which is targeted to families with students who participate in the National School Lunch Program, and seniors who are 65 years and older who receive Supplemental Security Income program benefits. Additionally, enrollees can’t have had a Charter, TWC, or BHN broadband subscription within 60 days of signing up. Eligible participants won’t need to undergo a credit check, but must clear any bad debt with the three MSOs.
In addition to the 30/4 service and a free modem and self-install kit, Charter’s low-cost option for eligible subs will also be in line to receive “promotional” video and phone service bundle offerings.
"Recognizing the central role broadband plays in our daily lives and the economic challenges faced by many Americans today, we look forward to launching this offering that will provide more consumers a superior broadband service," Tom Rutledge, president and CEO of Charter, said in a statement. "Our industry-leading low-cost broadband service is just one of the many benefits these transactions will bring to our customers. We look forward to providing this superior broadband service to underserved families and seniors throughout Charter's footprint."
Charter’s plan drew praise from Public Knowledge, a group that is scrutinizing the proposed deals.
"Although we still have significant concerns about Charter's proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, we also recognize that some of the commitments that Charter has made could serve as a model for the rest of the cable and broadband industry,” said John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney with Public Knowledge, in a statement. “For example, its commitment not to impose data caps on its users. Similarly, Charter's effort to make it easier for low-income seniors and families with children to access broadband service has many good attributes, including fast broadband speeds. In conjunction with a modernized Lifeline program, Charter's proposal can help the nation achieve universal affordable access."
In its announcement, Charter rallied support from leaders with several organizations, including the National Urban League, National Action Network, League of United Latin American Citizens, The National Hispanic Media Coalition, California School Boards Association, Connected Nation, Digital Divide Partners LLC, NOBEL Women’s Initiative, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and the Los Angeles Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC).