Updated: May 25, 2021 06:14 PM
Created: May 25, 2021 04:52 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — There has been a lot of talk about connecting low-income families to cheap, reliable internet. The federal government is funding a temporary program to help cover monthly costs, and providers will soon be under state mandate to offer $15 per month plans to those who qualify. But several local families say they’re already having to jump through hoops to access current programs for low-income internet benefits, and they worry these new plans will be no different.
Ellen Lunts' family needs reliable internet service.
“I have three school-aged children, two with severe disabilities,” she tells News10NBC.
In addition to schooling needs, the Luntses also rely heavily on telemedicine. For years, the family has had the most basic internet service offered by Spectrum for $20 per month, but technically, they qualify for what’s called Spectrum Assist — a $14.99 per month plan for low-income families. Every penny counts, so Lunts called to get the offer.
"They said no, that issue is supposed to be answered by this department, and this department says you have to talk to somebody else," Lunts said. "Well then, tell me exactly what department of the customer service I need to talk to."
After an hour on the phone, Lunts said, “They told me I wasn’t eligible for this plan because I’m an existing customer.”
This is a problem News10NBC first highlighted at the height of the pandemic when the Copeland family of Rochester was told the same thing.
"When my wife called, she was told that basically since we were able to pay that we should be able to keep paying, and we weren't able to get on the Internet Assist," Leverett Copeland told News10NBC at the time. "The only way we could do that is to get off of it, get rid of the internet for a month, and then try to reapply, which would cause my daughter and my granddaughter to fall behind in school."
A spokeswoman for Spectrum tells News10NBC, “The Spectrum Internet Assist program is available to new customers ($14.99/month, no data caps, free internet modem, no contracts). Legacy customers cannot transition to Spectrum Internet Assist. Our customer service representatives are best equipped to answer questions regarding the specifics of a customer account.”
When News10NBC questioned why the program isn’t available to current customers who meet the qualifying income terms. The same spokeswoman responded, “Spectrum Internet Assist has always been a low-cost broadband plan for qualifying new customers.”
She went on to suggest that Spectrum offers several plans available for households eligible for the temporary $50/month federal subsidy.
Lunts and Copeland worry if the current Internet Assist program offered by Spectrum is limited to new customers, the governor’s new mandate may be, too.
"Many families don't have the language proficiency, access to technology even to place the call, or technical knowledge to do it," Lunts said. "So it's going to be even harder for them to get through the hoops."
To that end, Spectrum says, “We are in the process of implementing the new law by its effective date of June 15th at which point eligible customers will be able to take advantage of the legally required offering.”
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