Charter Communications will begin offering high-speed internet to more rural customers following a preliminary deal announced Friday between the company and New York State regulators. The deal, if granted final approval by the state Public Service Commission, would settle allegations that Charter — which does business under the brand name Spectrum — has not adequately expanded its rural broadband network.
But how does this affect current Spectrum subscribers? And who will get these new connections? Below, find answers to the most pressing questions about Friday’s agreement.
What did Spectrum promise under the preliminary deal?
Under the terms of this new deal, Spectrum needs to do two things: expand its high-speed broadband service to an additional 80,173 upstate homes and businesses by Sept. 30, 2021, and pay $12 million to help extend broadband to underserved areas.
Spectrum had previously agreed to extend service to 145,000 new addresses by May 2018 as a condition of its merger with Time Warner Cable. Spectrum has laid almost 65,000 new connections thus far, the deal says, leaving 80,000 for future installation.
Where are these new connections going?
Of those 80,000 new connections, Spectrum can install up to 3,500 total in Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, Schenectady, Mount Vernon and Syracuse. But the bulk of the installs must occur outside those cities, in upstate areas that lack internet infrastructure capable of providing download speeds of 100 megabits per second or more. Locally, that means only rural communities such as Somerset, Hartland and Concord.
It’s less clear who will benefit from the $12 million Spectrum must also pay toward two separate “incremental build” funds. That money will be used to develop broadband networks in places chosen by the Department of Public Service, according to the agreement.
Will the deal do anything about Western New York’s “digital deserts”?
Not the worst ones, no. A December 2018 Census report showed that more than half of all households lack internet service in some Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Lockport neighborhoods. But experts say those low connectivity rates are related to cost, not availability. In fact, FCC records show that the vast majority of Erie and Niagara Counties are wired for 100-mbps broadband already.
That said, there are pockets of Wilson, Royalton, Lewiston and Collins, in addition to the towns named above, that do lack that level of broadband service. They may be contenders for the new connections.
Will this improve service for existing Spectrum customers?
Probably not. Under the terms of the agreement, Spectrum can’t count network upgrades toward its 80,000-connection requirement. But Spectrum says it has significantly enhanced service in New York since its 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable. (Speed-testing services still rank Spectrum among the country’s slowest providers on average, however.)
What other efforts are underway to get broadband to underserved areas?
Since its launch in 2015, the statewide New NY Broadband Program has invested $820,000 to expand access in Erie and Niagara counties, largely through satellite internet. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has also promoted a $20-million plan to build out a high-speed, county-owned fiber “backbone” stretching from Grand Island to Sardinia.
What happens next?
This plan faces a 60-day public comment period and a final review by the Public Service Commission. After that, Spectrum will start laying cable: Its first interim deadline is Sept. 30.