Communications is opening a second front in the battle to boost broadband
adoption. Last week, the company said it is launching a two-year program, in
tandem with One Economy, to provide free broadband service, training and
equipment to 1,000 low-income residents of its hometown of St. Louis, Mo.
It is already a partner in the cable industry's Adoption-Plus initiative to
provide half-price service to homes with middle-school kids, but that
initiative is contingent on government-funded education programs, while
Charter's free service will be ready to roll in weeks. Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton spoke with
Charter chief marketing officer Ted Schremp about the project.
MCN: Why offer free broadband?
Ted Schremp: There
has been lots of discussion about the broadband-stimulus program over the past
year. We had various discussions with the Federal Communications Commission and
One Economy, and decided to take the same approach that we take in our overall
We like to do trials and pilots and execute on something
informed with the best available information as to what is going to work, try
it, see if it works, and then we could potentially expand it.
MCN: What is going to be the criteria for
being one of the lucky 1,000?
TS: One Economy
is bringing the education and training pieces to the table, as well as jointly
with community partners looking to solve the hardware availability issues.
There is a recruiting and training process with local partners like Habitat for
Humanity. It is generally tuned toward low-income, though not necessarily
age-based as are some of the other programs.
MCN: How will you measure success?
TS: We like to
execute, measure and evaluate. One Economy will do a set of analysis before and
after on penetration levels, awareness levels, and as we execute the program,
we will see if we made an impact. That will be shared across the industry and
with the FCC.
MCN: Is all the funding coming from Charter?
TS: Yes. There
will be multiple paths, including loans and grants.
MCN: How long will the service be free?
TS: For two
MCN: And how much will this cost?
TS: The total
value of the program, if we were to charge market rates for the broadband, is
about $700,000 over two years.
MCN: Will this just be broadband service,
rather than the whole bundle?
TS: Yes, just
broadband, though some of the folks that are participating in the program may
very well have video services from us today. We're certainly interested in the
general marketplace in creating relationships. We obviously love the
triple-play bundle (voice, video and Internet) and love bundles generally, but
are certainly happy to solve folks' broadband needs.
MCN: When do you hope to have everyone hooked
TS: We expect it
to take on the order of three or four months to get folks through the training
program and up and running. There is obviously a level of awareness that we
need to generate in the target market and then get folks through the training
MCN: Will you expand the program?
TS: I think it depends on the outcome of this pilot. If
we see some early success we may broaden it in terms of participation here in St. Louis or geographically. But, as you said, we are involved
in the A-Plus program and over the next couple of weeks we will see where that
takes us. But we expect to get some early learnings that will help all of those