Home broadband adoption has “plateaued,” according to the Pew Research Center, and nearly one-third of all Americans still do not have broadband at home. In 2013, 70% of the nation’s population had a home high-speed Internet connection; today only 67% do, a shift Pew calls “a small but statistically significant difference.” That shift is particularly present in African American (54%), low-income (41%), and rural (55%) communities. While Pew reports that the majority of Americans (69%) believe “that not having a home high-speed internet connection would be a major disadvantage to finding a job, getting health information or accessing other key information,” among those without a home broadband connection, 33% – a plurality of those surveyed – “cite the monthly cost of service as the main reason they lack broadband at home.”
In light of these findings and the importance of broadband to active participation in our society, Charter Communications’ planned rollout of a nationwide low-cost broadband service should come as welcome news. Earlier this year, Charter announced its intention to merge with Time Warner Cable and acquire Bright House Networks, making it the second largest provider of cable and Internet access service in the country. To coincide with the merger, if approved, the new Charter will roll out a low-cost high-speed broadband offering to low-income seniors and families. At a cost of $14.99 for 30/4 Mbps speeds, “the new service will deliver the highest speeds of any comparable offering and be the first to offer fast broadband to low-income seniors in addition to low-income families, providing substantial benefits to these underserved populations and setting a new standard for low-cost broadband,” according to Justin Venech, a Charter spokesman.
In response to this first-in-class offering, several leaders from prominent organizations across the country have echoed their support for this program. “The National Hispanic Media Coalition applauds the announcement of Charter Communications that the new company will offer a low-cost truly fast broadband service targeting low-income families and seniors,” said Alex Nogales, President & CEO, National Hispanic Media Coalition. “Access to high speed broadband today is critical in order for families to succeed in school, secure employment and to maintain a level of news and information that provides safety and security. By providing this level of service, Charter is enabling millions of people of color, including future video programmers and tech innovators, to maintain a level of competitiveness that helps our entire nation succeed.”
“The broadband adoption gap is the single most important challenge that policymakers face today. We are optimistic that the low-income broadband adoption program proposed by Charter could help to make broadband more affordable for thousands of families and have considerable public interest benefits,” said Thomas Koutsky, Chief Policy Counsel for Connected Nation, a public-private partnership to map and expand broadband adoption opportunities across the country.
Charter’s offering would make it “the only low-cost Internet service for low-income populations that meets – and even exceeds – the FCC’s definition of high-speed broadband.” The closest current competitive offering is 10 Mbps. Eligibility is limited to seniors 65 and older who receive SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits and families with students who participate in the National School Lunch Program. There are no credit checks associated with eligibility, but potential customers must not have had a subscription with Charter, Time Warner Cable, or Bright House within 60 days of enrolling in this program and they must clear any old debt they may have had with any of these providers previously.
Charter will begin implementing this program within six months of closing on the merger transaction, and it will apply nationally across Charter’s footprint within three years of the deal closing. As noted by Tom Rutledge, President and CEO of Charter Communications, the company recognizes “the central role broadband plays in our daily lives and the economic challenges faced by many Americans today. [They] look forward to launching this offering that will provide more consumers a superior broadband service…to underserved families and seniors throughout Charter’s footprint.