Charter joins Verizon, Comcast in offering free internet for ACP participants

Charter Communications rolled out a new fixed internet plan which will effectively offer free service to customers who qualify for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The move follows similar efforts from Verizon, Comcast and Mediacom to make fixed service available at no cost to ACP customers. But the catch is that most ACP subscribers are using the subsidy money for mobile broadband.

The operator’s new Spectrum Internet 100 plan includes access to download speeds of up to 100 Mbps with no data caps as well as a modem, router and in-home Wi-Fi. It costs $29.99, a sum which is entirely offset by the $30 per month subsidy available to most ACP participants. While the ACP subsidy can be applied to any of Charter’s Spectrum Internet plans, users on this tier will be able to tap access that is essentially free.

Charter has not publicly disclosed its number of ACP subscribers. However, during recent earnings calls, executives have said the majority of those who have joined the ACP are existing customers, meaning the program has not been a significant driver of subscriber additions.

The $14 billion ACP launched on December 31, 2021 as a replacement for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program which had previously offered consumers a $50 per month subsidy for broadband service. As of mid-February, the FCC said more than 10 million people had signed up for the ACP and by March 28 that figure was up to more than 11 million.

Charter is following in the footsteps of Verizon, Comcast and Mediacom, which all unveiled custom fixed-line plans for ACP subscribers this year.

Earlier this month, Comcast fleshed out its low-cost offerings with a new $29.95 per month Internet Essentials Plus service, which offers speeds of up to 100 Mbps. Those speeds are double what is available on its original $9.95 per month Internet Essentials plan. Back in January, Mediacom likewise unveiled a $30 per month Connect2Compete Plus tier. That service initially offered speeds of 50 Mbps, but Mediacom doubled that to 100 Mbps this month.

A Mediacom representative told Fierce it currently has over 17,000 customers signed up for the ACP, around 13% of which are subscribed to its Connect2Compete Plus service. The representative added it expects the number of ACP customers to keep growing, especially since it recently upgraded its digital sales platform to create a “more seamless sign-up process.” Comcast has not disclosed its ACP subscriber numbers but a company representative told Fierce signups have met its expectations and it is “aggressively” trying to get more.

Verizon, meanwhile, has taken a slightly different approach, combining the ACP subsidy with a $10 discount through its Fios Forward program to make its $39.99 per month 300 Mbps service tier free for eligible subscribers. The $10 discount can also be applied to its 500 Mbps and 1-gig plans, but those still run $24.99 and $49.99 even with the ACP subsidy tacked on. The operator did not respond to a request for comment about its ACP subscriber tally before this story’s publication deadline, but Fierce will update the text with any information it provides.

Mobile matters

Interestingly, the most recently available data shows nearly two-thirds (65%) of ACP enrollees are actually using the program for mobile broadband service. Around 34.4% are applying it to fixed broadband (fiber, cable or DSL) and 0.6% are putting the subsidy toward fixed wireless or satellite service.

In terms of mobile offerings, Comcast, Charter and Verizon offer a single line of unlimited service for $45 per month, though the cost of Verizon’s entry-level plan can be reduced to $35 per month with paperless billing and auto pay discounts. That means none are free even with the ACP discount applied. Mediacom does not currently offer a mobile service, but is mulling a potential MVNO move.


This story has been updated to reflect that Comcast's Internet Essentials Plus service is $29.95, not $39.95.