Small Cable Operators Beef Up Broadband to Battle Coronavirus

Mid-sized cable companies offer discounts, free service to help small communities during outbreak
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UPDATED: Small cable operators are answering the call to provide wider access to broadband services as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt lives across the country, offering free service to low-income qualifying homes and beefing up speeds to account for increased traffic as residents increasingly work from home.

While larger companies like Comcast, Charter, Altice USA and others have grabbed headlines with their broadband offerings during the crisis, small cable is stepping up to the plate too, including Mediacom Communications, Shenandoah Telecommunications (Shentel) and TDS Telecom, to name a few.

Related: NCTA: Cable Stepping Up to Confront Coronavirus 

Shentel, which offers service in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky and Ohio, said it will temporarily increase the speed of every eligible small business and residential broadband data customer to a minimum speed tier of 50 Megabits per second with a 750 gigabyte data allowance at no additional charge regardless of their current plan. In addition, Shentel said it will waive all installation fees for new broadband data subscribers and increase data allowances by 250 GB for all customers whose current rate plan includes a monthly data allowance. These changes take effect immediately and will remain in effect through April 30.

“We believe the decision to increase data speeds and allowances is a critical step to help our customers throughout our service area at this time of great uncertainty,” Shentel CEO Christopher French said in a press release. “Shentel has served many of these markets for more than 100 years and cares deeply for the health and wellbeing of our customers. By temporarily increasing the speeds and data allowances at no additional charge for our customers, we hope we are making the situation surrounding COVID-19 a little easier to deal with when they may be forced to work from home, do school work or attend classes virtually.”

Shentel also addressed concerns over whether its broadband service will be able to handle the increased capacity, adding that its core network is designed with geographically redundant equipment and diverse fiber facilities to support maximum uptime. All network devices support secure remote management and monitoring capabilities.

TDS Telecommunications, which offers service to 900 rural, suburban and metropolitan communities in 26 states, said it will be offering broadband access to low-income individuals and/or families with children and college students for 60 days. This offer is for new customers in communities where TDS provides service.

“As a company, our first priority is the health and well-being of our employees, customers and the communities we serve,” TDS SVP of corporate affairs Drew Petersen said in a press release. “During this difficult time, we want to ensure those who cannot afford broadband services have the essential access they need.”

TDS also signed the “Keep America Connected” pledge, and will forego charging late payment penalties for customers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic; suspend disconnects for customers due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic who fail to pay their bills; and open its WiFi hotspots for 60 days.

“We are proud to be associated with this important communications service continuity program and commend the FCC for their proactive attention to public safety during this most difficult time,” Petersen added.

Sparklight (Cable One) is opening  WiFi hotspots across its footprint for public use during the crisis, according to the company. WiFi hotspots can be accessed free of charge in Sparklight local office parking lots. the company announced last week that it is making unlimited data available on all Internet services for the next 30 days, and is offering payment deferrals and waiving late fees for its customers for the next 60 days.

The company said it plans to reassess after 30 days based on the continued impact and evolving nature of the virus. 

“We live and work in the communities we serve and these are our friends and neighbors impacted by effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19), so we want to do our part to help,” CEO Julie Laulis said in a press release. “We understand that our customers rely on their Internet service to stay connected to family, work, school and information, and we are committed to ensuring they receive the assistance they need during this time.”

Later, CableOne said its family of brands (Sparklight, NewWave Communications and Fidelity Communications) are offering a 15 Mbps Internet plan for $10 per month is available for the next 60 days to help low income families, seniors and college students . No documentation will be required to sign up for this plan.

Comporium, the small market cable and telecom company based in xx South Carolina, said it is offering internet to new customers in homes with K-12 and higher education students.

The news comes as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper moved to close all public schools in those states through the end of March.

Comporium is offering 60 days of free Standard HSI service and free installation to new customers in homes where a student lives and meets the following requirements:

  • It is the primary home of a student in kindergarten through high school, in technical school, in college, or in graduate school;
  • Currently without our internet service and that hasn’t had internet service with Comporium for the past 90 days; and
  • Located where Comporium would normally provide internet service.

Comporium is also waiving installation fees and normal security deposit process and plans to keep this opportunity available to new customers through the end of March, after which it will reevaluate the situation.

The company said it is working with customers to ensure their internet service is not disconnected during the COVID-19 outbreak as well as the Lancaster County School District to assist them as they prepared to meet their students’ needs remotely. As more school districts in its service territory prepare to send students and teachers home, the company said it will assist them in any way to make their jobs easier. 

The company also addressed fears that its network won't be able to handle the additional residential internet traffic, adding that it has recently made upgrades to both its core network and field equipment. The company said its broadband network is "more than capable of handling the additional strain of many people working and learning from home," and that its technicians are also monitoring the network continuously to ensure that they detect and address any problems as soon as possible.

MCTV  in Stark, Wayne and seven other counties in Eastern Ohio also will offer free Internet access for families without online service.

“The well-being of our employees, customers and neighbors is our top priority,” said MCTV president Katherine Gessner in a press release. “MCTV is committed to providing the communities we serve reliable access to online resources and information needed to continue education efforts during this time of need.”

MCTV will offer free Internet access for households that do not have an MCTV broadband subscription currently but do have K-12 or college students. Free Internet will be provided for families who have not been a MCTV customer for 90 days. The offer is available now through April 30.

“These are unprecedented times not just for our communities but for the entire world,” Gessner  continued. “The impact of changes we are all experiencing is immense and MCTV will be here to serve our communities so they can stay connected to what matters most at this time – family, friends, education and healthcare resources."

Other smaller operators like Wyandotte Municipal Services in Wyandotte, Michigan; and Abbeville, South Carolina-based West Carolina Telephone are offering similar free service offerings and fee waivers.  

In addition:

  • In Virginia, Illinois, Cass Communications said it will not terminate services to residential or small business customers who cannot pay their bills because of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, adding that it also will waive late fees and will open its WiFi hotspots.
  • Clinton, North Carolina-based Star Communications said it is working to establish 30 drive-up WiFi hotspots at various schools and other public locations in Sampson and Bladen counties in the state, a move toward facilitating learning for students forced away from their classrooms and a public in need of connectivity during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
  • Atlantic Broadband has introduced a special tier for a limited time -- Atlantic Broadband Internet Assist -- for residents in need in its services areas that don’t currently have internet service. The new 15 x 1 Mbps service, normally priced at $9.99 per month plus taxes, will be offered free for 60 days. New Internet Assist customers also will receive free installation and a free modem with the service. The cable operator also has a new tier for business customers that want to supply at home workers with voice and internet service called Atlantic Broadband Business Assist. The Business Assist package includes 50 Mbps High Speed Internet, a modem, a Hosted Voice Seat, and a Polycom Phone (or equivalent). It is being offered on a temporary basis at the discounted rate of $29.99 (a savings of approximately $100/month off standard prices).
  • Service Electric has joined the FCC Keep Americans Connected Pledge, adding it will offer free broadband modems to qualifying customers and a 60-day financial grace period, during the outbreak.
  • Buckeye Broadband has pledged not to disconnect high-speed internet or phone services to customers for non-payment due to economic hardship related to the outbreak. The policy was effective March 17 and is in place for 30 days. Company leaders said they will continue to review the policy “to ensure we are responding to current conditions and meeting our customers’ needs.” Buckeye Broadband also will work with local schools to identify students whose families cannot afford Internet access, and has committed to provide those students with an Internet connection at no charge during that time so that they can continue their studies.
  • Eagle Broadband, Northland Communications and Vyve Broadband have signed the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected pledge. Additionally, customer care teams will offer flexible payment options to help see customers through this period. Eagle, Northland and Vyve are working with local leaders to help keep communities connected and also invite residents in need to use WiFi in the proximity of their local offices.
  • Anchorage, Alaska-based GCI is offering existing broadband customers free upgrades to the next higher tier of service until May 31,  and free internet access to qualifying homes until the same date. 

#coronavirus #COVID-19

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