Update, 19 March 2020: AT&T announced today that the first two months of its Internet package for low income homes – Access from AT&T – is free to new subscribers.
The four major cable companies in California are offering free Internet access for a limited amount of time to low income households during the corona virus emergency, but not the two big telcos.
Charter, Comcast, Cox and Suddenlink seem to have figured out that what amounts to a one or two month promotional offer is a good way to attract new subscribers. Charter’s offer applies to any of their Internet access packages, while the others are limited to their low income-only plans. Unless a customer jumps through the hoops to disconnect, they’ll be billed for ongoing service after the free period ends.
AT&T and Frontier have discounted packages for qualifying low income households, but no free offer. A summary of the offers and contact information is below.
All six companies have also signed on to the Federal Communications Commission’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge, which calls for them to open up their WiFi hotspots to everyone, not disconnect customers who don’t pay and waive late frees.
Local independent Internet service providers are stepping up too. In Santa Cruz County, Cruzio is offering free service for three months to customers who qualify for its low income service, which otherwise costs $14.95 per month.
A major difference between cable and telephone companies is the availability of video service. Cable companies can – and typically do – try to up sell people who enquire about discounted Internet service into pricey video bundles. That’ll be a particularly attractive pitch to people who are stuck in their homes for the duration. Frontier and AT&T have some video service available, but only in limited parts of their service territory.
Access from AT&T
$10 per month for qualifying low income households.
Spectrum Internet Assist
$17.99 per month ($22.99 with WiFi capability) for qualifying low income households. During the corona virus emergency, the first 60 days is free for all plans in areas where schools are closed.
$9.95 per month for qualifying low income households. Until April 30,2020 the first 60 days is free.
$9.95 per month, During the corona virus emergency, the first 30 days is free.
$19.99 per month for qualifying low income households. No free service is available
Altice Advantage Internet
$14.95 per month for qualifying low income households. During the corona virus emergency, the first 60 days is free.
The cable industry is continuing its assault on low cost broadband designed for people who live in publicly subsidised housing. Cox Communications is the latest company to ask the California Public Utilities Commission to nullify broadband improvement grants given to public housing operators in their territory. The cable companies object because they also sell broadband service, along with very profitable television packages, to some of these communities.
The problem, though, is that residents aren’t subscribing to those services. The California Emerging Technology Fund also jumped into the dispute, challenging Charter Communications’ and, now, Cox’s false claim that the grants are illegal.
The real problem, according to the CETF brief, is that on average only about a quarter of public housing residents can afford market rate broadband service offered by cable companies and that the discount programs for low income households that they brag about are in fact designed to fail. Cable companies have such a poor track in public housing because, according to CETF…
(1) residents cannot afford the market price, typically $30-$65 in the state; (2) discounted Internet programs have narrow eligibility, such as Comcast Internet Essentials, which is primarily offered only to low-income families with K-12 aged children in the free or reduced national free lunch program; (3) the application process is difficult for low-income families to navigate to qualify for low–cost broadband offers, establish eligibility, and actually hook up the necessary equipment to provide the service; (4) low-income households often cannot afford the lack of equipment such as a computing device, printer or wireless router; and (5) distrust of corporate broadband providers by [public housing] residents, who are concerned about being upsold plans they cannot afford.
The Internet access enabled by the subsidies, which only pay for installation of facilities and not the service itself, is generally slower and more problematic than cable modem service. In other words, residents are being offered a distinctly different choice. Which is what infuriates the California cable industry: it doesn’t want low income people to have any choice at all.
Backlash from Cox Communications is slowing down Google Fiber’s march on Arizona. Phoenix and surrounding towns are considered by Google to be “potential” fiber cities, and although no final decision has been made the company is taking the necessary steps to get permission to operate. Not just the standard deal, though. Everywhere it’s gone, Google has asked for particular terms regarding things like master leases for public property, permit processing and, in Arizona, local licenses, similar to cable television franchises in California.
The City of Tempe created a whole new type of license for Google, giving it particular privileges as a video services provider, instead of reckoning it as a garden variety cable company. Cox filed a complaint in federal court, saying it was being treated unfairly by a “discriminatory regulatory framework”…
The City’s regulatory framework imposes substantial statutory and regulatory obligations on providers of video services that the City deems to be cable operators (such as Cox). The City exempts from such rules and obligations providers of video services that the City deems not to be cable operators (such as Google Fiber). Legally, however, Google Fiber’s proposed video offering is indistinguishable from Cox’s cable service offering. The City therefore has no authority or discretion under federal law to exempt Google from franchising and other obligations applicable to cable operators.
The threat of being sued has slowed down the City of Scottsdale, which is delaying a vote on a similar deal. Cox didn’t sue Phoenix when it approved special license terms for Google. One difference might be that Phoenix, like San Antonio, made a point of saying it would consider similar accommodations for incumbents.
…will start with new residential construction projects and new and existing neighborhoods in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Omaha. In all Cox locations, the company will begin market-wide deployment of gigabit speeds by the end of 2016.
It’s no coincidence. A clear pattern is emerging: in markets where Google or one major incumbent says it’s deploying FTTH (OK, fiber-to-the-something that’ll deliver a gigabit, honest), another telephone or cable company will also stake a claim. So far, Google has only led into markets, and we’ve yet to see one where Google and both incumbents have dangled the promise of a gig.
Undoubtedly, that’s partly because the dominant U.S. cable company – Comcast – has shied away from gigabit promises, but it’s also because of fear of becoming embroiled in a three-way competition. Duopoly works because existing broadband demand can support two winners, but add another and you risk ending up with three losers.
It’s a fractal game of hopscotch. One player tosses a marker onto the map and jumps to it. Another follows. Once there, they’ll repeat the process, neighborhood by neighborhood, development by development and, perhaps soon, street by street.
The number of people that can actually get a gigabit is still diminishingly small compared to the total U.S. market, but competition is forcing incumbents into pushing existing plant into the hundreds of megabits range, which is a significant – and arguably sufficient – improvement for residential service. Those upgrades – whether by Google or AT&T or others – are still limited to cherry picked homes on the high potential side of the divide, but the game is only a couple of years old.