Policy

Spectrum is forcing full-price plans on people seeking FCC benefit

Spectrum is requiring people to opt in to continue service at full price in order to enroll in the FCC's Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

The FCC is looking into Spectrum's discount-broadband offering.

The FCC is looking into Spectrum's discount-broadband offering.

Photoillustration: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Spectrum is forcing customers who are eligible for a new federal subsidy for internet service to opt in to full-price plans once the subsidy runs out. The policy appears to skirt rules set forth by the Federal Communications Commission, which is running the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

The $3.2 billion emergency broadband benefit, which launched earlier this month, gives people up to $50 off of their monthly internet bill. The stopgap funding was allocated in response to the pandemic and is expected to run out within the year. To protect people from being automatically enrolled in more expensive plans once the money runs out, the FCC required internet service providers to give consumers notice that the program is about to end and get customers' explicit consent before continuing their service at a higher price.

Spectrum, however, appears to be doing the inverse. Rather than giving potential applicants the option to continue their coverage at full-price, it's requiring them to do so in order to receive the benefit at all.

"Yes, customers opt in at the time of enrollment to continue receiving service once the program ends," Charter spokesperson Rich Ruggiero told Protocol on Tuesday. "Customers will receive notice 30 days before the program ends, and can make a decision about keeping or terminating their service."

Paloma Perez, a spokesperson for the FCC, said internet service providers "must collect that opt-in affirmation to continue providing the broadband service after the program ends, but they may do so at the time of EBB enrollment." But it's unclear whether a forced opt-in complies with the FCC's rules.

"If participating [Emergency Broadband Benefit] providers are making it harder for consumers to receive the support they need to get online, they need to knock it off," acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel told Protocol. "I urge consumers who have faced this issue to come to us and share their experience at consumercomplaints.fcc.gov. It's one of the swiftest ways we can get to the bottom of what is going on and address it."

Requiring people to opt in in order to even enroll in the benefit program opens the possibility that people could forget to cancel their plans and be hit with higher monthly fees, which is what the FCC hoped to avoid with these rules. The Emergency Broadband Benefit is intended for low-income Americans, people living on tribal lands and people whose income was impacted by the pandemic.

In a frequently asked questions section of the Spectrum website, which lays out facts about the Emergency Broadband Benefit, Spectrum warns customers that when the emergency broadband benefit program ends, enrollees in that program will "continue to receive Spectrum Internet service at the undiscounted monthly rate of the plan you selected, subject to Spectrum's terms and conditions, which includes the right to terminate anytime without penalty."

As of Tuesday, two weeks into the program's implementation and after more than 1 million people had enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit, Spectrum's FAQs made no mention of the opt-in requirement. Instead, the FAQ says, "We'll alert you of the last date or billing cycle that will include this benefit program. We'll also tell you if you qualify for a partial month benefit and the cost of your service after the program ends."

The FCC's Perez told Protocol that the commission is in contact with Charter "to ensure its webpage more accurately represents the FCC rules regarding the need for consumers to affirmatively opt in to continuing to receive internet service from Charter once the Emergency Broadband Benefit program concludes."

Digital equity advocates have been on the lookout for ISPs trying to impose hidden costs, fees and requirements on enrollees in the program. Last week, The Washington Post reported that Verizon was requiring existing customers to sign up for sometimes more expensive plans in order to receive the emergency funding.

"I'm sure we're going to hear more stories like this," Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, said about the Post's reporting at the time.

Siefer said that a key part of convincing people to sign up for the program is helping them understand the protections the FCC has put in place for consumers, including the opt-in requirement.

Update: This story has been updated to include additional comment from Charter and the FCC acting chair

Workplace

Most Google employees have left Russia

Google's Russian subsidiary will file for bankruptcy.

Google's Russian subsidiary will reportedly file for bankruptcy, and most employees have left the country.

Photo: Michael Parulava/Unsplash

Google has reportedly pulled out of Russia, and many employees there have moved to Dubai.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that most of Google’s Russia-based employees had chosen to leave the country, and that the company will soon have no workforce presence in Russia amid the country’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Sponsored Content

Foursquare data story: leveraging location data for site selection

We take a closer look at points of interest and foot traffic patterns to demonstrate how location data can be leveraged to inform better site selecti­on strategies.

Imagine: You’re the leader of a real estate team at a restaurant brand looking to open a new location in Manhattan. You have two options you’re evaluating: one site in SoHo, and another site in the Flatiron neighborhood. Which do you choose?

Keep Reading Show less
Enterprise

The limits of AI and automation for digital accessibility

AI and automated software that promises to make the web more accessible abounds, but people with disabilities and those who regularly test for digital accessibility problems say it can only go so far.

The everyday obstacles blocking people with disabilities from a satisfying digital experience are immense.

Image: alexsl/Getty Images

“It’s a lot to listen to a robot all day long,” said Tina Pinedo, communications director at Disability Rights Oregon, a group that works to promote and defend the rights of people with disabilities.

But listening to a machine is exactly what many people with visual impairments do while using screen reading tools to accomplish everyday online tasks such as paying bills or ordering groceries from an ecommerce site.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Fintech

The crypto crash's violence shocked Circle's CEO

Jeremy Allaire remains upbeat about stablecoins despite the UST wipeout, he told Protocol in an interview.

Allaire said what really caught him by surprise was “how fast the death spiral happened and how violent of a value destruction it was.”

Photo: Heidi Gutman/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire said he saw the UST meltdown coming about six months ago, long before the stablecoin crash rocked the crypto world.

“This was a house of cards,” he told Protocol. “It was very clear that it was unsustainable and that there would be a very high risk of a death spiral.”

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

A DTC baby formula startup is caught in the center of a supply chain crisis

After weeks of “unprecedented growth,” Bobbie co-founder Laura Modi made a hard decision: to not accept any more new customers.

Parents unable to track down formula in stores have been turning to Facebook groups, homemade formula recipes and Bobbie, a 4-year-old subscription baby formula company.

Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The ongoing baby formula shortage has taken a toll on parents throughout the U.S. Laura Modi, co-founder of formula startup Bobbie, said she’s been “wearing the hat of a mom way more than that of a CEO” in recent weeks.

“It's scary to be a parent right now, with the uncertainty of knowing you can’t find your formula,” Modi told Protocol.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Latest Stories
Bulletins