Internet service provider Charter, better known by its brand name Spectrum, has decided to discontinue its home security service — taking with it all the security devices owners have purchased and installed in their homes. Customers won’t be getting refunds, and many of their devices can’t be taken to another service, meaning effectively, they will be useless.
Ars Technica reported on the situation today, playing a back-and-forth with Charter to figure out exactly what this news means for users. The devices sold through Charter’s service were built on the Zigbee open standard, so intuitively you’d think they could be set up again on another hub that supports Zigbee.
What they found, however, is that security-specific devices like cameras and window alarms won’t function elsewhere.
It's killing off the most important devices — According to Ars, Charter probably, “hard-coded these devices to only work with its security services." Other companies like ADT apparently do the same thing — if you have all these gadgets that will only work with Charter or ADT you’ll likely keep paying them for service. Frankly this shouldn't be legal, but here we are.
Fortunately, “lifestyle” products including lights and thermostats will continue to work on other services with a factory reset, according to Charter.
Charter has tried to make things right by working with Amazon’s Ring and Abode to offer a free starter kit with the purchase of a year’s subscription to their respective services. But as Ars notes, those starter packages are small, and some Charter security customers spent hundreds and even thousands wiring up their homes with gadgets.
Software-as-a-service gadgets — This is the fundamental problem with investing in hardware products that are totally reliant on a single company’s ongoing operations to function. If the company goes under, or simply ends a service they no longer want to operate, your investment goes with it. We've seen this happen with other hardware gadgets, like the Zeo sleep monitor. If the hardware can function without a specific company’s services, however, that investment is much more long-lasting.
Charter’s primary business is service, however, so they’re not incentivized to sell you hardware that can work elsewhere. They want you locked in and paying for their service. Until they don’t.