Editor’s Corner—Why is Charter cutting down trees to tell me I should be paying it less for internet service?

Charter Latino promotion
Screenshot of a tree-based promotional offer from Charter Communications.
Daniel Frankel

Three months in, I’ve been pretty happy with my 100 Mbps Spectrum internet service. At $49.99 a month, at least promotionally speaking, it’s 20 bucks cheaper than what I was paying for 75 Mbps AT&T landline service. The Wi-Fi works well, and there have been no service interruptions that I can recall. 

I guess the relationship is working so well for Charter that they’re trying to recruit me all over again. I get mailers—sometimes several a month—advertising a $60-a-month price for a triple-play bundle that also includes 100 Mbps broadband service. The mailer I received in early August was for the “Spectrum Mi Plan Latino,” a 12-month promotional package customized for the heavily Hispanic West Adams section of Los Angeles where I live. 

For $10 more a month, I could get a video package with more than 130 channels and DVR, as well as unlimited calling to Mexico and Puerto Rico. 

No contract is required. Charter is willing to throw in $500 to help any interested customer get out of any current services contract. 

Charter was sending out these mailers as it offered potential customers in other regions a double-play promotion that combined $29.99-a-month, 130-plus channel video and $29.99-a-month, 100 Mbps internet. (As StopTheCap noted, this advertised price didn’t include $5.99 for the set-top, and there was no landline phone component.) 

RELATED: Charter quietly hoists $60 double-play promo

Not being in the target market for the “Mi Plan Latino” ad, and already a Spectrum customer, I wondered how much money Charter was spending on postage and marketing collateral to advertise its services to customers it already has. It make sense to segment the market and offer different promotional rates to different demographic groups. But you want that information controlled. 

I also wondered about the deleterious effects on the consumer experience. I know I’m paying more than other Spectrum customers with the same service. I don’t need a bi-monthly reminder in my mailbox. In fact, I now perceive the service to be less valuable to me. I feel less loyalty to Charter. When AT&T offers me an unlimited 5G wireless internet deal down the road, I’m more likely to jump at it. 

I reached out to Charter last week to gain a better understanding of why this kind of redundant, wasteful marketing happens. I got crickets.

I wondered if the cable company’s investors are concerned about such wasteful marketing expenditures. I reached out to MoffettNathanson principal analyst Craig Moffett. He said his firm has never conducted any research on the impact of such blind advertising.

Charter, of course, isn’t the only telecom company that does this. When I was a DirecTV customer a few years ago, I regularly received mailers for deals better than my own. I reached out to AT&T, Comcast and Altice USA to get their take—no responses.

How hard is it to design systems that cross-reference marketing lists to lists of existing customers? I mean, in the age of targeted advertising—when even a broad-reaching medium like TV is capable of narrowing dog-food ads to dog owners—why are we cutting down so many trees and alienating so many customers unnecessarily?

CSG, one of the leading vendors of back-office software and service solutions for the cable and broader pay-TV industries, said this was not a capability its software tools currently support. 

Notably, however, software company Brite:Bill, which was acquired by telecom backend software and services giant Amdocs last year, does have this cross-referencing capability. 

“Our platform has the capability to send to cohorts, or, alternatively to not send to certain customers also,” said Orla Power, spokeswoman for Dublin-based Brite:Bill. “The capability was added for controlling what customers get what bill inserts/promos.”

Amdocs paid $260 million to acquire Brite:Bill exactly a year ago. The 100-person software company was christened a “cool vendor” by research company Gartner in 2014 for its ability to help institutions like large banks and communications companies communicate with their customers in a more effective, personalized way. 

Certainly, the technology exists for cable operators to do direct mail a lot better. I’ll be watching over the coming months to see if this happens.