Charter CEO says customer broadband data use skyrocketing

Thomas Rutledge, the chief executive of Charter Communications, appears in an undated photograph. (Photo: Charter/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)
Thomas Rutledge, the chief executive of Charter Communications, appears in an undated photograph. (Photo: Charter/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

Charter’s average broadband Internet customer is using around 600 gigabytes (GB) of data per month, a trend that is increasing with time, the company’s chief executive said in an interview on Friday.

Appearing on business news channel CNBC, Charter CEO Tom Rutledge said the amount of data customers are using is significantly higher than it was before the ongoing coronavirus health pandemic, which forced many of its consumers to abandon offices and classrooms for remote working and schooling from home through the Internet.

But even before the pandemic, Charter — which offers residential and business services under the Spectrum brand name — was seeing a spike in data use among its customers.

“It’s gone back down a little bit as people have gone back to work, but it’s still 20 percent greater than it was prior to the pandemic,” he said.

Rutledge said an explosion in bandwidth-hungry video streaming services like Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime coupled with an increasing amount of Internet-connected devices in American homes is largely the reason for the explosive use of broadband services, a trend that is accelerating with each passing month.

“Our networks are capable of providing for that growth, both on a demand, per-customer basis but also for access to the network itself,” Rutledge said.

Some companies, including rivals AT&T and Comcast, have responded to a similar trend among its customers by imposing a soft limit on the amount of broadband data a subscriber is allowed to use in a billing cycle. These limits, known as broadband data caps within the industry, are often touted by Internet providers as necessary to ensure the stability of their network and prevent some customers from hogging resources that could result in a degradation of service for others. (Technology experts dispute this is the case, saying the data caps are revenue generators that do nothing to preserve the stability of a network.)

Charter does not impose a data cap on its customers — it promised federal regulators two years ago that it wouldn’t until at least 2023 if they allowed the company to merge with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. But the company recently asked those same regulators to wave the pre-merger condition so it could impose data caps earlier if it felt it was necessary.

If regulators approve, Charter would have a hard time explaining to its Spectrum customers and others why the data caps are necessary, especially after Rutledge told CNBC that the company was well-positioned to meet the increasing use of broadband data consumption now and in the future.

“Our networks are capable of providing for that growth, both on a demand, per-customer basis but also for access to the network itself,” he said.

Editor’s note: The current version of this article corrects an earlier one that erroneously said Charter had merged with Spectrum. The company merged with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.