Take a hike: Amid record profits, Spectrum’s rate hikes questioned by former workers and customers

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Take a hike.

Spectrum customers may have come across an unwanted surprise in their latest bill. The cable company, which is owned by Charter Communications, quietly raised monthly rates for subscribers at the end of January.

The increases encompass many of Spectrum’s offerings: its mandatory broadcast TV surcharge is increasing from $23.20 to $25.75 a month, its monthly HD Box rental fee is increasing from $10.99 to $12.50, the Advanced WiFi charge is increasing from $5 to $7 a month, and Spectrum TV Essentials, its live-streaming service, is increasing from $24.99 to $29.99 a month.

Notably, Charter raised rates by an eye-popping 25% for Spectrum Internet Assist, the company’s entry-level affordable internet program for low-income customers. The costs jumped from $19.99 to $24.99 a month.

This marks the second time the company has hiked prices in less than six months. Last July, Charter raised rates for phone, cable, and Internet customers by as much as $5. 

Charter has argued that it has no choice in light of a challenging environment for cable providers. At an investor conference last year, CFO Jessica Fischer cited increased programming fees as justification for raising rates on consumers.

“Programmer rate increases generally continue to challenge the video space overall. It’s a vicious cycle: They push their price, we are no longer capable of doing anything other than pushing those price increases through to consumers,” Fischer said.

It remains to be seen if customers around the state are willing to absorb these increases. But some former Spectrum workers are already crying foul, especially over the strain on low-income customers. 

“Charter posted a $21 billion profit last year – but they’re raising costs on people who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Troy Walcott, a former Spectrum technician who left the company to found a worker-run internet service provider, People’s Choice Communications. “At a time when we need more affordable cable and broadband options for New Yorkers, these rate increases take us in the wrong direction.”

Escalating prices are just one of the reasons many New Yorkers are choosing to cut the cord rather than continuing to pay for cable services. Last fall, Spectrum subscribers were forced to endure a 10-day blackout of channels including ESPN and ABC amid a carriage dispute with Disney, which disrupted live coverage of the US Open. 

The disruption prompted Governor Kathy Hochul to demand Charter provide rebates to the more than 1.5 million customers across the state who were affected. In the aftermath, Charter revealed that it had lost more than 300,000 residential video subscribers in the third quarter of last year – its worst single-quarter loss of cable customers to date.

The trend is being felt across the industry: According to an analysis last year conducted by Price Waterhouse Cooper, the number of households in the U.S. with a cable TV subscription is expected to hit 49.9 million – down from 100 million as recently as 2016.

This story is sponsored by New Yorkers for Better Broadband: www.nyforbetterbroadband.com