Does your cable company participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program?

Friday, February 11, 2022

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 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of February 7-11, 2022

Grace Tepper
Tepper

As 2021 turned into 2022, the Federal Communications Commission transformed the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program into the Affordable Connectivity Program. Congress created the Affordable Connectivity Program through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and provided the FCC $14.2 billion to subsidize broadband service for low-income households. Broadband providers will receive up to $30/month (or up to $75/month if the household is on Tribal Land) for providing service to low-income households. But since participation in the new program is voluntary, will broadband providers show up to offer service? This is the first in a series of articles looking at which providers are opting into the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Big Cable Companies Opt In

The Leichtman Research Group tracks broadband subscribership in the U.S. by provider. According to Leichtman, just 16 broadband companies provide service to about 96 percent of all subscribers in the U.S.; the largest cable companies have more than twice as many broadband subscribers as the largest wireline telephone companies.

The largest cable operators, Comcast, Charter/Spectrum, Cox Communications, Altice/Optimum, Mediacom, Astound, CableOne/Sparklight, Atlantic Broadband/Breezeline, and WideOpenWest (WOW), are all participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program. 

In the Infrastructure Act, Congress mandated that Affordable Connectivity Program broadband providers allow low-income consumers to apply their subsidy to any monthly plan. Since low-income consumers are so price sensitive, we looked to see which cable companies are offering plans that would end up costing Affordable Connectivity Program consumers nothing or up to about $20/month (the upper limit of affordability for low-income households).

Kevin Taglang
Taglang

Established in 2011 as a condition of Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal, Internet Essentials is a program targeted at low-income consumers. Comcast participates in the Affordable Connectivity Program and offers free broadband service through Internet Essentials. Through Internet Essentials, Comcast offers speeds of up to 100 Megabits download and 10 upload, and qualifying consumers can pay as little as $15/month. Low-income consumers do have a couple of options outside of Internet Essentials. Comcast’s “Connect” service is available for $25/month at 50/10 speeds. And Comcast’s “Superfast” plan is $50/month at 600/20 Mbps speeds. Consumers cannot purchase a low-cost device through Comcast. The company is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program in 39 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Comcast is also participating in Washington, DC.    

Charter’s Spectrum is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, offering two plans that cost less than $50/month. Spectrum’s Internet Assist program offers 30/4 Mbps service for $19.99/month to low-income consumers enrolled in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the NSLP, or the Supplemental Security Income Program (For Applicants 65+ Years of Age). Spectrum’s basic internet tier offers 200/10 Mbps service for $49.99/month, which returns to its standard rate of $59.99/month after 12 months. Spectrum does not offer low-cost devices. The company is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Cox Communications is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program and offers five plans that are $50/month or less. For qualifying low-income families with K-12 students, Cox offers 50/3 Mbps service for $9.95/month under the Connect2Compete program. For any individuals currently participating in income-based government assistance programs, Cox offers its ConnectAssist Package for $30/month with 50/3 Mbps service. The company also offers its StraightUp Internet pay-as-you-go program for $50/month, providing 50/3 Mbps service with no contract. The company offers its standard programs “Starter 25” and “Essential 50” for $29.99/month and $39.99/month, respectively, offering 25/3 and 50/3 Mbps services. Cox offers the purchase of a low-cost refurbished device to low-income households in partnership with PCs for People. Cox participates in the Affordable Connectivity Program in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

Altice’s Optimum is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, offering five plans that cost less than $50/month. Optimum’s Advantage Internet plan for qualifying low-income consumers offers 50/5 Mbps service for $14.99/month. The “Optimum 100” plan offers 100/5 Mbps service for $24.99/month. The “Optimum 300” plan offers 300/20 Mbps for $34.99/month. The “Optimum 500” plan offers 500/20 Mbps for $44.99/month, and Optimum’s “1 Gig” plan offers 940/35 Mbps for $54.99/month. Promotional prices on Optimum’s site reflect a $5 discount for these four plans if the consumer signs up for automated payment. Consumers cannot purchase a low-cost device through Optimum. Optimum is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Mediacom is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program. The company offers five plans that cost $50/month or less. For low-income families with K-12 students, Mediacom offers two tiers of service under the program Mediacom Connect2Compete. Under Connect2Compete, qualifying families can access 25/3 Mbps service for $9.95/month or 50/3 Mbps service for $30/month. The “Access Internet 60” plan offers 60/5 Mbps service for $19.99/month for 12 months, with the cost jumping to $29.99 after. The “Internet 100” plan offers 100/10 Mbps service for $39.99/month—the cost jumps to $79.99 after 12 months. The “Internet 300” plan is offering 300/30 Mbps service for $49.99/month—the cost jumps to $99.99 after 12 months. Consumers cannot purchase a low-cost device through Mediacom. Mediacom is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program in Alabama, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Astound Broadband (consisting of RCN, Grande, and Wave) is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program in California, Washington (DC), Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, and Washington. RCN, Grande and Wave all offer 50/4 service for $9.95 to qualifying low-income consumers through Astound’s Internet First. Separately, RCN, Grande and Wave offer a variety of service plans under $50/month depending on the area of service:

  • RCN offers five plans costing under $50/month for the first 12 months. The company offers 50/10 Mbps service for $19.99—the cost jumps to $107.99 after 12 months. For its 110/15 Mbps service, RCN charges $29.99/month for the first 12 months and $107.99 after. RCN offers 400/20 Mbps service for $39.99/month, which jumps to $145.99 after 12 months. The company offers both its 800/20 and 940/20 Mbps service tiers for $44.99/month for the first 12 months. After 12 months, these move to $153.99/month and $155.99/month, respectively. Prices and service offerings for RCN services vary by location. This price comparison was taken from the Chicago (IL) service area.
  • Grande offers three tiers of service that are less than $50/month for the first 12 months. Grande offers 50/0 Mbps service for $24.99/month, which raises to $61.99 after 12 months. The company’s 300/20 Mbps service is priced at $30.99/month for the first 12 months—this service jumps to $77.99/month after. And Grande’s 600/35 Mbps service is offered at $44.99/month for the first 12 months, moving to $90.99 after that promotional period. Prices vary slightly for these tiers in Grande’s Texas service areas. This price comparison was taken from the Waco (TX) service area.
  • Wave offers two plans that cost less than $50/month. Wave offers 100/15 Mbps service for $29.95/month for the first 12 months. The company also offers 250/15 Mbps service for $39.95/month for the first 12 months. Promotional prices are taken from the Seattle (WA) service area. Astound does not provide the non-promotional prices of Wave services on its site, so actual prices vary.

WideOpenWest (WOW) is participating in the program in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The company has four plans under $50/month for the first year of service. “Internet 100” offers 100/10 Mbps service for $19.99/month ($39.99/month after the first year). “Internet 200” is 200/10 Mbps service for $29.99/month ($44.99 after the first year). “Internet 500” is 500/50 Mbps service at $44.99/month ($54.99 after the first year). And consumers can get 1 gig download/50 Mbps upload service also for $44.99/month in the “Internet 1 Gig” plan. (This plan climbs to $74.99 after the first 12 months).

CableOne’s Sparklight is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, offering two plans that cost less than $50/month. The “Starter 100 Plus” plan offers 100/10 Mbps service for $39.99/month for three months—the cost jumps to $55/month afterward. The “Streamer & Gamer 200 Plus” plan costs $45/month for 200/20 Mbps service. Consumers cannot purchase a low-cost device through CableOne. Sparklight is participating in the program in Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. 

Breezeline, formerly Atlantic Broadband, is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program in Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. The company offers three plans costing less than $50/month. The “Basic” plan offers 100/10 Mbps service for $34.99/month for the first 12 months, bumping up to $59.99 after. The “Fast” plan offers 200/20 Mbps service for $39.99/month, moving to $79.99 after 12 months. Breezeline’s “UltraFast” plan provides 500/50 Mbps service for $39.99/month, costing $99.99 after 12 months.

How Easy is it for Low-Income Customers to Find Information about the Affordable Connectivity Program?

Customers will find information about companies’ Affordable Connectivity Program participation with varying levels of ease, depending on the provider. All of the major cable companies listed here have website pages dedicated to the Affordable Connectivity Program. Furthermore, each page has Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the program, including specifically the transition from the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to the Affordable Connectivity Program. And, importantly, each provider’s page includes links to the Federal Communications Commission or the Universal Service Administrative Company’s detailed information on the Affordable Connectivity Program. While all the companies had a wealth of information on their designated web pages, not all of them made those pages easy to find.

Comcast, Charter’s Spectrum, Cox, Altice’s Optimum, Sparklight and Breezeline all do fairly well in informing customers of their Affordable Connectivity Program participation from the get-go. These companies feature prominent links and notices about the program directly on their homepages where it is easy for consumers to see. Spectrum, Cox and Optimum, in particular, feature Affordable Connectivity Program information at the top of their websites, making it near impossible to miss. Comcast, Sparklight and Breezline include the information on their home sites, but it is at the bottom of their pages, making the program information easier to overlook. Still, these companies do far better than others who make their Affordable Connectivity Program participation much harder to find.

Mediacom, Astound and WOW do not display any direct information about the Affordable Connectivity Program on their home pages. Some make the information incredibly difficult to find on their websites, like Mediacom. The company’s Affordable Connectivity Program site does not connect to its homepage; if a consumer wants to know if Mediacom participates in the Affordable Connectivity Program, their best bet is to exit the website and directly search for the information via a search engine. What Mediacom does include on its homepage is a link to the company’s COVID-19 response, which provides information on their low-income plans through Connect2Compete. Astound, on the other hand, does have a link to its Affordable Connectivity Program page. However, it is displayed as a blog titled “Keeping Americans Connected,” with no explicit mention of the Affordable Connectivity Program, the company’s participation, or how consumers can check for eligibility. WOW, like Mediacom, provides zero mention of the Affordable Connectivity Program on its website home page. The first place the consumer sees WOW mention the program is on its internet-specific page, where the company offers information on the program midway down the page. Ultimately, any consumers visiting these companies’ sites directly will have a hard time finding information on the Affordable Connectivity Program unless they seek it directly. Even then, with companies like Mediacom, it is a challenge.

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