'Free' Appeals to Charter High-Speed Customers


Charter Communications Corp. customers targeted in a free two-month high-speed Internet trial voiced overwhelming support for the service after their initial tests ran out.

"The numbers are so good, they're suspect," Charter corporate vice president of product marketing and advertising Rick Lang said late last month of the initial data collected by the MSO.

Last November and December, a system in Charter's Gulf Coast division tested a targeted direct-mail promotion that offered 60 days of high-speed service at no cost to the customer. Once the offer was over, those customers were free to go back to dial-up or stay on board with Charter as paying high-speed subscribers.

Of the 1,258 customers who signed up for the free service, 1,257 were still on the books several weeks after the trial ended and the bills had been mailed out, Lang said.

For the promotion, Charter targeted consumers who had already been online at least a year because they were more likely to have favorite Web sites and could understand the value of a faster, broadband connection. Those with less experience online might not have had the chance to become dissatisfied with dial-up yet, Lang added.

"Because this was just a test, we didn't want to broadcast it to everyone," Lang said, noting that a broader consumer offer would have undoubtedly led to higher churn rates after the initial trial ended.

The initial direct mailing was followed by a telemarketing call offering Charter Pipeline risk-free. Customers who accepted the offer were encouraged to agree to be added to the billing list and instructed to call back later if they decided to cancel.

Because Charter wasn't allowed to offer the negative option of having Pipeline transitioned to a paid service without a customer's okay, the MSO was concerned that some customers would not be immediately available when customer service representatives called to say their trials were about to run out.

"You don't want to interrupt a customer's service" if you can avoid it, Lang said.

Once Pipeline customers become paying subscribers, they can choose from one of three levels of service, at prices ranging from $29.95 to $39.95 per month, plus the cost of the cable-modem rental.

"Very few go for the middle level of service," Lang said. He added that some look to Pipeline as a dial-up replacement to save the cost of a second phone line, while others are looking for the fastest speeds possible.

If the initial sales data holds up, Charter plans to offer free trials across all its systems. The company also plans to test whether a 30-day free trial would give consumers enough time to get acquainted with all the benefits of a high-speed service.