BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — When the Covid-19 crisis forced the closure of schools this past March, Charter Communications (Spectrum) stepped-up and offered two months of free internet for new customers with students at home. The idea was intended to help students stay connected to the internet and their schools.
However, those who signed up early in the program are now being sent letters reminding them the free period of internet will be expiring. The letters are being sent in advance of the customer's third month. Those customers will either have to select an internet plan from Spectrum or disconnect.
Charter Communications (Spectrum) sent the following explanation:
"As part of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have committed not to disconnect or charge late fees through June 30, for customers who tell us they are having trouble paying their bills due to COVID-19-related economic hardship.https://www.fcc.gov/document/broadband-telephone-providers-extend-keep-americans-connected-pledge [fcc.gov]
We are sending letters to every customer who signed up for the free offer — in advance of their third month — to remind them that their free offer will expire and of the monthly price of the internet plan they chose after the 60-day free period. Customers with questions about their options for Spectrum Internet should call the toll-free number on their letter to speak with a representative.
If customers want to stay connected, we want to work with them to find a plan that fits their needs. For those who don’t want to continue, Spectrum has no contracts and they can disconnect if they choose to do so."
Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen said he applauded the company for helping so many. However, he wishes the free internet period could have coincided with the end of the Buffalo School year, on June 25th, so parents who signed-up early would not be in a situation where they had to make decisions about internet service with weeks of school still left.
"We are in a pandemic. We have layoffs. We have people still waiting for unemployment. So, the cost of internet for some families is astronomical," said Pridgen.
Spectrum does have a special 'Internet Assist Program' through Buffalo Public Schools which offers reduced rates and free equipment for families that qualify for free or reduced school lunch programs. More information about the Spectrum Internet Assist Program can be found here.
The National Grid Foundation is also doing its part to help students stay connected. The foundation gave $10,000 to Buffalo Public Schools to buy 100 mobile internet hotspots The hotspots are loaned to parents who don't have access to the internet. More information about the program and how to apply for an internet hotspot can be found here.
Salamanca City schools took a more scientific approach to making sure students and teachers in rural areas were not left out because of a 'digital divide.' The school district used high-tech GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technology, maps, and cell tower data to pinpoint internet 'dead zones.' Special 4G WiFi hotspots and buses equipped as WiFi hotspots were used to make sure students, and some teachers, in internet-poor areas could download assignments and upload homework.
The program has worked so well that Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mark Beehler said Salamanca City Central School District is planning on increasing the number of summer programs it offers online to help students catch up.
"The access to the internet will be just as critical in July and August as it was in March and April," said Dr. Beehler.