Internet service providers have waived late fees and overage charges for customers to help ease the economical impact of covid-19, and some have even gone so far as to offer free internet for homes with students. But Charter, parent company of Spectrum, has loaded its free internet offer for K-12 and college students with so many caveats as to make most people ineligible.
If you’re an existing or former Spectrum customer, or if you have outstanding internet bills from years ago, you’re SOL. A Charter spokesperson confirmed as much to Business Insider, saying “the company’s offer of free Spectrum internet does not apply to existing customers—including those with outstanding balances on old bills.” In Charter’s original press release on March 13, it does mention that the offer is for “households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription,” but nothing in it mentions past-due bills or customers being denied the free service if they were previous Spectrum customers.
One mother from Queens said she was ineligible for free Spectrum internet because of an unpaid $285 bill from 2015. A teacher from Madison, Wis., whose school serves students from several low-income neighborhoods, said she received calls from parents saying their children could not attend class online; they too were ineligible for free Spectrum internet because of old, unpaid bills. Another woman from Jewett, Ohio, who had previously cancelled her Charter internet plan because it was too expensive, was told she couldn’t receive the company’s student internet offer because she was an “existing customer.”
For low-income households with students, this is problematic for several reasons. Not only are those student unable to continue their classes online, and may opt out of online classes altogether if they do not have access to hotspots, but these families might have few or no other internet provider choices where they live. According to the National Broadband Map, the only cable internet provider in Madison, Wis., is Charter Spectrum. Small pockets of the city have fiber, and while DSL is broadly available, those options aren’t free for students.
Even if people are able to sign up for free, 60-day internet from Spectrum, those customers will be billed once that time period ends. That might make some low-income families hesitant to sign up in the first place, or continue to go without internet all together.
Charter just can’t seem to stop screwing up as coronavirus spreads throughout the U.S. There were reports of the company not taking proper precautions to keep its employees safe from covid-19. Not only have employees not been allowed to work from home, but they have also not been provided with proper protection and cleaning materials to help stop or prevent a spread of the virus at the call centers where they work. Charter was also criticized for giving its technicians $25 restaurant gift cards instead of protective equipment for entering homes.