West Side Spirit Bridging the Broadband Gap by Michael Garofalo
Low-income seniors and families now have access to high-speed internet service for less than 15 dollars per month through a new program available to customers of Charter Communications, the cable giant that acquired Time Warner Cable last year and offers broadband service in New York through its Spectrum brand.
“Over a million New Yorkers will have access to low-cost broadband” through the Spectrum Internet Assist program, City Council Member Ben Kallos said at an event announcing the initiative at Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center on East 93rd Street last week.
“This new service will ensure internet access is no longer a luxury that goes to the few, but is rather treated as a basic necessity in the 21st Century,” said New York City Public Advocate Letitia James.
Nearly 20 percent of Manhattan households did not have a broadband subscription in 2015, according to U.S. Census data.
Under the Spectrum Internet Assist program, qualified customers can purchase high speed internet service at the reduced rate of $14.99 per month at speeds of up to 30 megabits per second for downloads and four megabits per second for uploads. By comparison, the company’s currently offers stand-alone internet for new customers at $44.99 for 100-megabit service. Federal Communications Commission benchmarks for broadband speed are downloads at 25 megabits per second and uploads at 3 megabits per second.
Whether Charter customers actually receive internet service at the speed that’s promised is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit brought against the company by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in February. The complaint claims that Charter deliberately misled customers, advertising service at speeds the company knew it couldn’t provide. The alleged misconduct began prior to Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable in 2016, but Schneiderman said in a statement announcing that lawsuit that the problem is ongoing. “Even now, Spectrum-Time Warner Cable continues to offer Internet speeds that we found they cannot reliably deliver,” he said.
A Charter spokesman said in a statement that the company is “disappointed” that Schneiderman’s office filed the lawsuit and that the behavior in question took place prior to Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable. “Charter has already made substantial investments in the interest of upgrading the Time Warner Cable systems and delivering the best possible experience to customers,” the spokesman said. “We will continue to invest in our business and deliver the highest quality services to our customers while we defend against these allegations involving Time Warner Cable practices.”
Qualifying customers for the Spectrum Internet Assist program include families with students in the National School Lunch Program and seniors 65 or older who receive Supplemental Security Income benefits. Customers who currently subscribe to broadband service from Spectrum are ineligible.
The offer does not include Wi-Fi service, which may be purchased from Charter for an additional $5.00 per month. The monthly rate for qualified customers will remain at $14.99 for the first three years of the program.
James and Kallos advocated for affordable broadband service during Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable, and said that they hope similar agreements can be forged with other telecommunications providers in the future. “I would hope that going forward we try to use the franchise to include that they provide low-cost internet access and that it be legally required,” James said.
Clayton Banks, a broadband access advocate and co-founder of the tech venture Silicon Harlem, said that he is encouraged by the city’s efforts to negotiate with providers for affordable service. “It’s overdue to ensure that low-income and fixed-income people are able to access broadband, and it should go beyond how it’s been defined by the FCC,” Banks said. “They have a need for high-speed broadband as they look to improve their skills and education and create mobility in employment.”
“In the long run,” Banks added, “the best way to ensure that all people are connected with a robust connection is that we have more competition in the market.”