On May 15, Charter Communications announced the launch of a new internet broadband service during a press conference at the Birmingham Public Library. The program, Spectrum Internet Assist, will provide high-speed internet access for $14.99 a month to eligible families and seniors.
“To be at the Birmingham Public Library is truly tremendous to make this special announcement,” said Birmingham City Councilor Jay Roberson, “to make sure that we can provide internet broadband services with Charter to our citizens in the community — our youth, our young people, and to our seniors.”
Erin Jones, the director for Government and Community Affairs at Charter Communications, said SIA will “set a new standard for the industry” and that individuals that qualify for the program are families with children participating in the National School Lunch Program and senior citizens 65 years and older who receive Supplemental Security Income benefits.
SIA enrollees “cannot have had a Charter/Time Warner Cable/Bright House Network broadband subscription within 30 days of signing up,” according to a press release, which adds that “eligible participants will not need to undergo a credit check but they must clear any outstanding debt with Charter, Time Warner Cable or Bright House Networks.” However, individuals who are currently Charter phone or video customers who meet either of the qualifications for the program are allowed to enroll.
Jones said SIA offers customers broadband services of 30 megabytes per second (MBPS), costs $5 extra per month for Wi-Fi and no extra cost for self-installation. She also added customers will have “no modem fees.”
A 2016 Federal Communication Commission report found that approximately 34 million Americans lack access to high-speed broadband services in their home. Another report published by the Pew Research Center found that five million families in the United States with school-aged children also do not have internet access in their home. “The report also found that 70 percent of teachers nationwide assigned homework that requires internet access to complete,” Roberson added.
Jones said that Charter’s responsibility to the community includes providing high-speed broadband internet to students and adults so they can better pursue all opportunities available to them, whether related to work or school. “Our country has what many perceive as a ‘digital divide of haves and have-nots,’ whether they simply can’t afford broadband service or whether providers are only offering services to targeted areas,” she said.
State Representative Mary Moore recalled a high school student who did not have internet access in his home, “but he had the initiative to ask his teachers [if he could] stay late every day. And a different teacher would stay late with him every day. “He ended up with one of the Bill Gates scholarships that they presented to him through Bright House. So that’s how important it is. And for those children who don’t have it and don’t have the level of initiative that young man had, can you imagine [how] they are not able to compete with their classmates?”
State Senator Linda Coleman-Madison said that it’s important for people of all ages to stay up-to-date with technology, especially when searching for a job. “A long time ago we used to send out the paper résumés and try to interview in person,” she said. “Well, job seekers are now doing everything from right there at home, to really on their cell phones. Everything is on their cell phone or on [an] app. And even when employers look at résumés, they’re going online. Everything is through the internet…so technology changes. And as technology changes we have to change along with it. It is very affordable now and obviously broadband is very important.”
Mayor William Bell agreed on the importance of technological advances in the realm of job searching. Employers, said Bell, are more likely to hire an individual based on their knowledge of how to navigate the internet. “They use the application process as the first culling process. If you don’t have the ability to go online and fill out an application, which most employers require you to do now, that demonstrates that you don’t have the technical skills to be able to understand how to go online and apply for a job. So you are automatically eliminated if you don’t have that ability,” he said.
Moore and Bell also stressed the role access to technology plays in health care. “Most medicine has become digitized. From the records to the services that doctors provide, the monitoring of patients that are in their homes by remote mechanisms — it requires internet connectivity,” Bell said. “The days of having a direct phone line into some of these facilities for monitoring are over. You have to have that ability to get online to be able to monitor the equipment a patient may be attached to [to] give real time feedback to the doctors.
“If we don’t have a system in place that will allow all of our citizens to have access to the internet, then it will impact the delivery of those health services that go out into the community. So…I know from a city standpoint over the past several years we’ve been interested in how can we continue to create that network of internet services for the citizens, not just for shopping or studying, but being able to maintain that lifeline out into the community,” he continued.
At the end of the press conference, Charter awarded the Birmingham Public Library and the City of Birmingham Division of Youth Services $1,500 each in connection with the SIA program.
“Access to broadband is not just advancing one’s career or helping students, it is a lifesaving technology,” Coleman-Madison said. “It is about advancing one’s quality of life and really moving up the ladder [to] a better way of life. As far as those persons who are unemployed, it also enables them to seek better employment. There are so many benefits by offering this through Spectrum for so many of our citizens that are unserved.”
For more information on Spectrum Internet Assist, visit SpectrumInternetAssist.com. Prospective enrollees may also call the Spectrum Internet Assist toll-free helpline at 1-844-525-1574.