Many Internet Service Providers have stepped up with free or low-cost internet plans during this time of crisis. We very much appreciate their efforts.
Two of the most important emergency plans are those announced by the two largest U.S. cable companies, Comcast and Charter Communications.
Comcast and Charter both have existing discounted service plans for low income customers (Comcast Internet Essentials offers and Charter’s Spectrum Internet Assist) Their recent emergency offers both provide two free months of service to eligible new customers. In Comcast’s case, the two free months are part of Internet Essentials, eligibility requirements are the same, and those who sign up will automatically transition to that program’s $9.95 monthly rate in the third month. In Charter’s case, the two free months are not directly tied to Internet Assist, eligibility for the two Spectrum plans is not identical, and there’s no automatic transition when the two months of free service are over.
While both companies’ “two months free” plans are welcome, and are likely to help many low income households get online to cope with closed schools, closed workplaces, health and financial management and social isolation, NDIA is concerned about aspects of both — especially Charter’s — that will limit their impact. Here are our recommendations for improvement:
Charter is offering free Spectrum internet service for two months to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription, or are new customers in the last 30 days. Current customers adding free internet must have accounts “in good standing”; not valid for current or former customers with bad debt.
Our suggestions to improve Charter’s plan:
- Connect the “two free months” offer to Spectrum Internet Assist, for participants who are eligible. This will allow eligible households to continue having discount internet service after the free two months, and avoid the experience of some callers who have been told they need to commit to a full-price contract to take advantage of the offer.
- Extend eligibility for Charter’s two-month plan as well as Internet Assist to more low income households, similar to Comcast Internet Essentials.
- Increase capacity to take phone calls requesting the free service or institute a call-back system. We are hearing stories of 4 hour long waits on hold. This is a particular problem for people with limited minutes on their phones.
- Allow households with past debt to receive the free service.
Comcast is offering free internet service for two months to new enrollees in their longstanding Internet Essentials plan. This means a wide range of low income households can sign up for the program. The major barrier is Comcast’s requirement that bars enrollment by households that have been regular Comcast Internet customers within the past ninety days.
Our suggestions to improve Comcast’s Free Plan:
- Allow customers who currently have Comcast but qualify for the free service to receive the free service.