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Cox’s Halloween Gift: New Usage Caps, Overlimit Fees for Florida and Georgia Customers

coxAfter gracing Cleveland, Ohio with the dubious honor of being the first Cox service area in the country to be treated to compulsory data caps and overlimit fees, Cox Communications has announced it is expanding its internet overcharging scheme to customers in Florida and Georgia starting Nov. 21.

Stop the Cap! readers in both states shared Cox’s service change notification introducing hard caps in both states next month.

“Cox High Speed Internet packages include 1 TB (1,024 GB) of data,” Cox explains. “Approximately 99% of Cox customers are currently on a data plan that more than adequately meets their monthly household needs.”

That begs the question: if 99% of customers are unaffected by a data cap, then why have a data cap at all?

Cox “Data Plans”

Note: Unused data does not carry over to the next month.

Package Monthly Data Plan Speeds

Download / Upload

Starter 1 TB (1,024 GB) 5 Mbps / 1 Mbps
Essential 1 TB (1,024 GB) 15 Mbps / 2 Mbps
Preferred 1 TB (1,024 GB) 50 Mbps / 5 Mbps
Premier 1 TB (1,024 GB) 100 Mbps / 10 Mbps
Note: 150 Mbps / 20 Mbps in select areas
Ultimate 1 TB (1,024 GB) 200 Mbps / 20 Mbps
Note: 300 Mbps / 30 Mbps in select areas
Gigablast (Where Available) 2 TB (2,048 GB) 1 Gbps / 1 Gbps

Content managed by Cox included in Cox-provided services do not count toward data usage:

  • TV and On Demand content accessed in the Contour app while connected to Cox in-home Wi-Fi
  • Cox Digital Telephone
  • Cox Homelife

Note: Third party content and content identified as internet services on receivers or TVGO in the Contour app may count toward data usage.

Customers in these areas who exceed their allowance will be billed $10 for each 50GB of excess usage. Customers will get a two-month grace period to become accustomed to internet rationing before the overlimit fees are added to customers’ bills.

Cox has not said if or when it will expand the data caps to other markets.

Customers can send Cox a message by calling the company and threatening to take your business to another provider specifically because of data caps and overlimit fees. Affected customers should also file a complaint with the FCC asking the federal agency to ban data caps as unnecessary and discriminatory against competing online video services.

Let the FCC know data caps are a major concern and are unnecessary considering the steep decline in internet provisioning and transit costs and the extremely high price (and profitability) providers already get from offering unlimited broadband service.

FCC Passes New Consumer Privacy Protections for Broadband Customers

Phillip Dampier October 27, 2016 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments
Expect a notice similar to this in a future cable or telephone company bill.

Expect a notice similar to this in a future cable or telephone company bill.

Cable and phone companies will now need your permission before they can market sensitive private information about you to third parties.

In a 3-2 decision (Democrats in favor, Republicans opposed), the Federal Communications Commission today issued new rules that will limit how providers collect and share information about your location, the websites you visit, and the subjects you are interested in based on your online travels. Broadband providers will have to get explicit approval from their customers before they can trade or sell information they have gathered. Providers will still be able to sell your name and address to advertisers, as long as they offer a provision allowing customers to opt-out of shared marketing.

The FCC’s decision has major implications for providers’ future revenue from lucrative targeted advertising. For that reason, and others, providers were angered by the new restrictions, particularly because they don’t apply to content providers like Google, which was largely built on revenue from targeted web advertising. Consumers can avoid using Google and its services, but they cannot avoid their broadband provider, which may be why the FCC targeted the privacy measures on those selling broadband instead of those pushing web content.



“It is the consumer’s information. How it is to be used should be the consumers’ choice, not the choice of some corporate algorithm,” said FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler.

The two Republicans on the Commission immediately attacked the privacy protections as unnecessary, echoing the sentiments of the cable and phone companies.

Commissioner Michael O’Reilly warned broadband providers could still buy the information they would have collected themselves, and as a result, prices will rise for consumers. Commissioner Ajit Pai accused the Democrats on the Commission of “corporate favoritism” towards Google.

Here are the full details about the new privacy policies:

The rules separate the use and sharing of information into three categories and include clear guidance for both ISPs and customers about the transparency, choice and security requirements for customers’ personal information:

  • Opt-in: ISPs are required to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information. The rules specify categories of information that are considered sensitive, which include precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communications.
  • Opt-out: ISPs would be allowed to use and share non-sensitive information unless a customer “opts-out.” All other individually identifiable customer information – for example, email address or service tier information – would be considered non-sensitive and the use and sharing of that information would be subject to opt-out consent, consistent with consumer expectations.
  • Exceptions to consent requirements: Customer consent is inferred for certain purposes specified in the statute, including the provision of broadband service or billing and collection. For the use of this information, no additional customer consent is required beyond the creation of the customer-ISP relationship.

In addition, the rules include:

  • Transparency requirements that require ISPs to provide customers with clear, conspicuous and persistent notice about the information they collect, how it may be used and with whom it may be shared, as well as how customers can change their privacy preferences;
  • A requirement that broadband providers engage in reasonable data security practices and guidelines on steps ISPs should consider taking, such as implementing relevant industry best practices, providing appropriate oversight of security practices, implementing robust customer authentication tools, and proper disposal of data consistent with FTC best practices and the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.
  • Common-sense data breach notification requirements to encourage ISPs to protect the confidentiality of customer data, and to give consumers and law enforcement notice of failures to protect such information.

AT&T: We Know What You Did Last Summer and We Profited Selling It

Phillip Dampier October 26, 2016 AT&T, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

knowwhatyoudidAT&T made a fortune spying on average Americans and sold what they learned to law enforcement agencies who only needed a paid account to access the data, not a subpoena signed by a judge.

The newest revelations of AT&T’s Project Atmosphere by the Daily Beast sucked the oxygen out of the room from collective gasps of those learning the enormity of private information AT&T is selling to any government agency willing to pay. The first news story about the program came in a 2013 New York Times report. But new evidence suggests AT&T’s project may represent the most extensive private surveillance program ever uncovered.

“The for-profit spying program that these documents detail is more terrifying than the illegal NSA surveillance programs that Edward Snowden exposed… If companies are allowed to operate in this manner without repercussions, our democracy has no future,” Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future, told Newsweek.

AT&T stores details for every call, text message, Skype chat, or any other form of communication that passes through its infrastructure, and has kept that data as far back as 1987, according to the Times 2013 Hemisphere report. The scope and length of the collection has accumulated trillions of records and is believed to be larger than any phone record database collected by the NSA under the Patriot Act.

AT&T’s Hemisphere program operates in the shadows and does not require compliance with the kinds of federal privacy laws and constitutional protections required to be honored by the nation’s law enforcement agencies. AT&T’s database allows anyone with a procedural administrative warrant (no judge’s signature required) to search through trillions of call records and obtain precise cellular location data to discover where a person is located, who he speaks to, and often why.

A suspect claiming to be in one location at the time of a crime can be challenged when AT&T’s data reveals a subject’s cell phone was actually located somewhere else. If a prosecutor wants to know who a suspect has called for the last five years, he can order a report from AT&T showing every call, every number dialed, how long the call lasted, and details about the person called (and who they, in turn, called).

Privacy advocates call the revelations “chilling” and claim AT&T goes well beyond the kind of surveillance practiced by federal government agencies revealed by Edward Snowden.

AT&T customers have it worst, because the company has direct access to any type of communication made over AT&T’s network. But customers of other telecommunications companies are also affected because communications regularly travel over networks owned and operated by AT&T. The spying program involves cell phone lines, landlines, and internet connections.

The secretive project also turns out to be extremely profitable for AT&T.


Spying is profitable.

“AT&T customers are outraged but this affects everyone,” Greer told Newsweek. “AT&T went far beyond complying with legal government requests and actually built a powerful data mining product to sell our private information to as many government agencies and police departments as they could.”

Taxpayers cover almost all the costs because AT&T Hemisphere clients are government agencies. Small rural police departments pay at least $100,000 for access to AT&T’s data, but significant-sized suburbs and cities can pay AT&T well into the millions.

The 2013 Times report mischaracterized AT&T’s effort as a “partnership” between AT&T and the U.S. government. The Obama Administration’s Justice Department defended AT&T’s efforts calling Hemisphere “an essential, and prudently deployed, counter-narcotics tool.”

But the Justice Department may have been smoking some of the contraband they seized when they made that claim, because this week’s revelations show the program was used for far more than fighting the War on Drugs. Law enforcement agencies have accessed AT&T’s database as part of investigations of everything from Medicaid fraud to homicide.

AT&T’s pay-per-spy program was developed independent of law enforcement agencies and was designed, packaged, and marketed to make AT&T a fortune from American taxpayers. It has raked in millions of dollars annually, according to the Daily Beast.

No pesky warrants are required, only a solemn promise to keep Hemisphere a secret if an investigation that uses the data ever becomes public. AT&T specifically engineered an “end run” that may ultimately prove illegal because law enforcement agencies may have created phony or misleading evidence to cover up for AT&T:

“The Government agency agrees not to use the data as evidence in any judicial or administrative proceedings unless there is no other available and admissible probative evidence,” it says.

But those charged with a crime are entitled to know the evidence against them come trial. Adam Schwartz, staff attorney for activist group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that means AT&T may leave investigators no choice but to construct a false investigative narrative to hide how they use Hemisphere if they plan to prosecute anyone.

Once AT&T provides a lead through Hemisphere, then investigators use routine police work, like getting a court order for a wiretap or following a suspect around, to provide the same evidence for the purpose of prosecution. This is known as “parallel construction.”

“This document here is striking,” Schwartz told The Daily Beast. “I’ve seen documents produced by the government regarding Hemisphere, but this is the first time I’ve seen an AT&T document which requires parallel construction in a service to government. It’s very troubling and not the way law enforcement should work in this country.”

The federal government reimburses municipalities for the expense of Hemisphere through the same grant program that is blamed for police militarization by paying for military gear like Bearcat vehicles.

“At a minimum there is a very serious question whether they should be doing it without a warrant. A benefit to the parallel construction is they never have to face that crucible. Then the judge, the defendant, the general public, the media, and elected officials never know that AT&T and police across America funded by the White House are using the world’s largest metadata database to surveil people,” Schwartz said.

AT&T isn’t feeling threatened by this week’s revelations or their implications, releasing a lukewarm statement implying Hemisphere is just a way for AT&T to efficiently respond to law enforcement subpoenas:

“Like other communications companies, if a government agency seeks customer call records through a subpoena, court order or other mandatory legal process, we are required by law to provide this non-content information, such as the phone numbers and the date and time of calls.”

AT&T is being misleading, according to ACLU technology policy analyst Christopher Soghoian.

“They say they only cooperate with law enforcement as required, and frankly, that’s offensive when they are mining the data of millions of innocent people, and really built a business and services around the needs of law enforcement,” Soghoian told the Daily Beast.

Google Fiber’s CEO Out of a Job; Fiber Expansion on Hold Indefinitely in Many Cities

Down the rabbit hole

Down the rabbit hole

Google has quietly announced an indefinite suspension of further fiber expansion as it prepares to downsize fiber division employees and re-evaluate its fiber business model.

In a blog post tonight from Craig Barratt, senior vice president of Alphabet and CEO of Google’s Access division, it becomes clear Google is rethinking its entire fiber strategy and is likely moving towards fixed wireless technology going forward:

Now, just as any competitive business must, we have to continue not only to grow, but also stay ahead of the curve — pushing the boundaries of technology, business, and policy — to remain a leader in delivering superfast Internet. We have refined our plan going forward to achieve these objectives. It entails us making changes to focus our business and product strategy. Importantly, the plan enhances our focus on new technology and deployment methods to make superfast Internet more abundant than it is today.

Barratt outlines the immediate implications of Google’s dramatic shift:

  • In the cities where we’ve launched or are under construction, our work will continue;
  • For most of our “potential Fiber cities” — those where we’ve been in exploratory discussions — we’re going to pause our operations and offices while we refine our approaches. In this handful of cities that are still in an exploratory stage, and in certain related areas of our supporting operations, we’ll be reducing our employee base.


Barratt himself is jumping ship (or was pushed). He announced in his blog entry he is “stepping away” from his CEO role, but will remain as an “adviser.”

Observing Google’s recent fiber efforts and acquisitions, it seems clear Google no longer thinks fiber-to-the-home service is an economically viable solution in light of competitors like AT&T rolling out increasing amounts of fiber and the cable industry is on the cusp of launching DOCSIS 3.1, which will dramatically boost internet speeds without a substantial capital investment.

Google’s investors have been lukewarm about the company’s economic commitments relating to its fiber broadband networks. Often built from the ground up, Google’s fiber construction complexities also include trying to navigate costly roadblocks established by their competitors (notably Comcast and AT&T), dealing with bureaucracies and red tape even in states where near-total-deregulation was supposed to make competition easy. Google Fiber has also not proved to be a runaway economic success, and now faces more challenges in light of upgrades from their competitors. Cable companies have slashed prices for customers threatening to cancel and have added free services or upgrades to persuade customers to stay, and Google’s proposition of selling consumers $70 gigabit access has proved tougher than expected.

It is highly likely the future of Google’s Access business will be deploying wireless broadband solutions powered by Webpass, a company Google acquired earlier this year. Webpass uses a high-speed point to point wireless transmission system the company claims can deliver gigabit broadband access to customers in multi-dwelling buildings and other urban areas. Webpass sells access for $60 a month (discounted to $550/yr if paid in advance) for 100Mbps-1,000Mbps speed depending on network density and capacity in the customer’s building. So far, Webpass has not been able to guarantee speed levels, and some customers report significant variability depending on their location and network demand.

Webpass’ wireless infrastructure costs a fraction of what Google has coped with building fiber to the home networks, and the installation of point-to-point wireless antennas on participating buildings has been less of a regulatory nightmare than digging up streets and yards to lay optical fiber.

webpassBut despite Webpass’ claim its performance is comparable to fiber, its inability to guarantee customers a certain speed level and its tremendous performance variability from 100 to 1,000Mbps exposes one of the weaknesses of fixed wireless networks. At a time when capacity is king, only fiber optic networks have shown a consistent ability to deliver synchronous broadband speeds that do not suffer the variability of shared networks, poor antenna placement/signal levels, or harmful interference.

There is room for wireless technology to grow and develop, as evidenced by the wireless industry’s excitement surrounding future 5G networks and their ability to offer a home broadband replacement. The emergence of 5G competition is almost certainly also a factor in Google’s decision. But even AT&T and Verizon acknowledge a robust 5G network will require a robust fiber backhaul network to support both speed and user demand. The more users sharing a network, the slower the speed for all users. No doubt Webpass has made the same assumption that cable operators did in the early days of DOCSIS 1 — current internet applications won’t tax a network enough to create a traffic logjam that would be noticed by most customers. The phone companies also learned a similar lesson trying to serve too many DSL customers from inadequate middle mile networks or traffic concentration points. (Some phone companies are still learning.)

Whether it was yesterday’s peer-to-peer file sharing or today’s online video, capacity matters. That is why fiber broadband remains the gold standard of broadband technology. Fiber is infinitely upgradable, reliable, and robust. Wireless is not, at least not yet. But technology arguments rarely matter at publicly-traded corporations that answer to Wall Street and investors, and it appears Google’s backers have had enough of Google Fiber.

Stop the Cap!’s View

tollAt Stop the Cap!, we believe these developments further the argument broadband is an essential utility best administered for the public good and not solely as a profit-motivated venture. The path to fiber to the home service in rural, suburban, and urban communities has and will continue to come from a mix of private and public utilities, just as local public and private gas and electric companies have served this country for the last century. Where there is a business model for fiber to the home service that investors support, there is a for-profit fiber provider. Where there isn’t, now there is often no service at all. So far, the FCC in conjunction with Congress has seen fit to solve broadband availability problems by bribing private providers into offering service (usually low-speed DSL that does not even meet the FCC’s definition of broadband) with cash subsidies, tax write-offs, or occasional tax abatement schemes. Imagine if we followed that model with the nation’s public roads and highways. We would today be paying tolls or a subscription to travel down roads built and owned by a private company often financed by tax dollars.

Not every product or service needs to earn Wall Street-sized profits. Nobody needs to get rich selling water, gas, and electricity… or broadband. Public broadband networks can and should be established wherever they are needed, and they should be priced to recover their costs as well as expenses that come from support, billing, and ongoing upgrades. Naysayers like to claim municipal broadband is socialism run wild or an instant economic failure, yet the same model has provided Americans with reliable and affordable gas, electricity, and clean water for over 100 years.

Maine was made for municipal broadband.

Maine was made for municipal broadband.

In New York, publicly owned/municipal utilities often charge a fraction of the price charged by investor-owned utilities. In Rochester, where Stop the Cap! is headquartered, one need only ask a utility customer if they would prefer to pay the prices charged by for-profit Rochester Gas & Electric or live in a suburb where a municipal provider like Fairport Electric or Spencerport Electric offers service. RG&E has charged customers well over 10¢ a kilowatt-hour when demand peaks (along with a minimum connection charge of over $21/mo and a “bill issuance charge” of 72¢/mo). Spencerport Electric charges 2.9¢ a kilowatt-hour and a connection charge of $2.66 a month, and they issue their bills for free. There is a reason real estate listings entice potential buyers by promoting the availability of municipal utility service. The same has proven true with fiber-to-the-home broadband service.

The economic arguments predicting doom and gloom are far more wrong than right. Municipal utilities are often best positioned to offer broadband because they already have experience providing reliable service and billing and answer to the needs of their local communities. Incompetence is not an option when providing reliable clean water or electricity to millions of homes and customers have rated their public utilities far superior to private phone or cable companies.

Google’s wireless future may prove a success, but probably only in densely populated urban areas where a point-to-point wireless network can run efficiently and profitably. It offers no solution to suburban, exurban, or rural Americans still waiting for passable internet access. Clearly, Google is not the “free market” solution to America’s pervasive rural broadband problem. It’s time to redouble our efforts for public broadband solutions that don’t need a seal of approval from J.P. Morgan or Goldman Sachs.

AT&T Launching 100+ Channel Cable-TV Streaming Alternative: DirecTV Now ($35/Mo)

att directvAT&T will launch its anticipated DirecTV Now all-streaming cable television alternative next month at an unprecedented price of $35 a month for more than 100 channels, viewable for free without counting against your AT&T smartphone or tablet usage allowance.

Targeting cord-cutters, the new service will not require a satellite dish or expensive equipment — just a reasonably fast internet connection.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson used the announcement at a Wall Street Journal-sponsored event to claim the new service was an example of how AT&T won’t increase prices as a result of its proposed merger with Time Warner, Inc.

“That’s not a medium for raising prices,” Stephenson said, referring to AT&T’s new service. “Anybody who characterizes this as a means to raise prices is ignoring the basic premise of what we’re trying to do here.”

AT&T and Time Warner’s respective CEOs appeared together at the event as part of a week-long press blitz to promote their $85.4 billion merger deal, which is getting considerable blowback from politicians, consumer groups, and Wall Street.

Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes claim they are re-inventing the cable television business model and forcing innovation.

“If there was ever an environment that was begging for innovation, it was this environment,” Stephenson said. Bewkes added: “We would say and we’ve been saying it since 1995, every channel in the country should look like HBO or Netflix—there’s no reason we can’t.”

AT&T defends its $35 price point, which is half the price many cable companies charge for cable television, claiming it can afford to charge those prices by doing away with service calls, equipment, satellites, and infrastructure that traditional cable operators have to cover. DirecTV Now will rely on smartphone and desktop apps, and presumably third-party set-top boxes like Roku and Apple TV to provide its lineup.

AT&T hasn’t announced an official channel list for the service, but AT&T has been in serious negotiations with most of the major content conglomerates, so the lineup is likely to cover all the major cable networks, presumably local stations, and include an on-demand library. Customers may not get some of the secondary cable networks most cable systems bury on three or four digit channel numbers in Channel Siberia, but few viewers are expected to miss channels that attract fewer than 50,000 viewers nationwide.

Stephenson promised that future programming cost increases would be offset by developing “new ad models” that will cover most of the price increases.

One impediment to AT&T and Time Warner’s grand plan is the pervasive issue of data caps and usage-based billing, which could prove a lethal deterrent to customers ditching traditional cable TV in favor of online alternatives. AT&T itself imposes data caps on its DSL service, and has an unenforced cap on U-verse. Comcast continues to charge overlimit fees for customers exceeding 1TB of usage per month and smaller cable operators often include even smaller usage allowances.

Customers are highly skeptical of DirecTV Now because AT&T is involved. David Hill shared his prediction:

Undoubtedly you will get a $35 rate… for 6 months.  Then because you have been a good, paying customer, they will raise it to $75 a month.  But of course, new customers, can still get the $35 deal plus a $400 Amazon gift card.

When you call customer support (if you can actually get through to a living person) and ask for the same $35 rate the new guys get, why you will be told that you cannot get that rate because, well, you already ARE a customer.  So eat dirt.

Then when you work your way via the endless menu items to cancel the service about 2 weeks later and for years after you will be flooded with endless postcards and letters BEGGING you to come back.  You were a GREAT customer and WE want YOU BACK.  Right now!

Is this a stupid marketing policy or not?  In my MBA classes we were somehow mislead into believing exiting customers were your top A, number one priority.  Yet these internet companies cannot be bothered with keeping you.  Jerks, plain and simple.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the company’s deal with Time Warner will result in a new TV service that will offer more than 100 premium channels for $35 per month. He sat down with Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes and WSJ’s Rebecca Blumenstein at the WSJDLive conference in Laguna Beach, Calif. (5:05)

New Video Player Launched on Stop the Cap! + Other Technical Issues

Phillip Dampier October 25, 2016 Editorial & Site News No Comments
Phillip Dampier

Phillip Dampier

We are launching a new video player today on Stop the Cap! as we finally move away from Flash-embedded videos going forward. This player is in beta at this time. You can use the comments section to report any problems for investigation.

We are also aware of speed and responsiveness issues here (slow page loading times, HTTP Error 500 Internal server errors, etc.) and are investigating those as well.

After eight years looking largely the same, Stop the Cap! will also undergo a theme change to modernize our look and feel by the end of this year. Change isn’t always good when you do it for the sake of change, so we’ll be looking to retain simplicity and readability as much as possible to minimize your need to navigate.


Phillip M. Dampier
Editor, Stop the Cap!

Charter Raising Prices for Time Warner Cable Customers: New and Higher Fees

Phillip Dampier October 25, 2016 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable/Spectrum No Comments

twc logoCharter Communications has announced price changes and new fees for existing Time Warner Cable customers that will take effect Dec. 15, 2016:

  • Late payment fee increases from $8.50 to $8.95
  • If a live agent assists you with making a payment over the phone, there is a new fee of $5 for each transaction. Paying with an automated attendant should still be free.
  • Damaged/unreturned equipment charges are changed (some fees increasing, others decreasing): Traditional Set top box: $123, Wi-Fi Modem/Extender/Router/Gateway: $78, Access Point: $172

Another Mega Merger: AT&T Acquires Time Warner (Entertainment) for $85.4 Billion

att-twIt was a busy weekend for AT&T’s Randall Stephenson and Time Warner (Entertainment)’s Jeff Bewkes, culminating in an announcement from AT&T it was acquiring Time Warner in a deal worth $85.4 billion.

AT&T CEO Stephenson will remain as CEO while Bewkes stays temporarily to help oversee the transition of the merged company.

The deal has sparked confusion among some consumers who associate Time Warner with Time Warner Cable, but in fact the two entities are independent companies. Time Warner, Inc., is the entertainment and content provider that owns HBO, Warner Bros., CNN, TNT, and other networks. Time Warner Cable was spun-off in 2009 as an independent cable operator that was purchased by Charter Communications earlier this year.

AT&T’s interest in Time Warner is entirely about its video content. By owning Time Warner, AT&T can win deals to place its video programming on U-verse, DirecTV, and AT&T wireless smartphones and tablets without running into heated contract renewal negotiations, spiraling prices, and restrictions on how that content is viewed.

AT&T is hoping its acquisition will generate more revenue to make up for stalled wireless revenue growth. AT&T customers already can view DirecTV content on their smartphones without it counting against one’s usage allowance. AT&T could offer a similar usage cap exemption for Time Warner-owned programming, although it would raise the ire of consumer groups fighting for Net Neutrality, which prohibits preferential treatment of internet content.



Stephenson hopes the addition of Time Warner to the AT&T family will strengthen his existing plan to compete nationwide with cable television providers, offering a streamed bundle of cable channels under the DirecTV brand starting as early as this winter.

Stephenson has talked to Bewkes about a merger of the two companies since August, but Time Warner has always proved an elusive seller, having earlier rebuffed a buyout attempt from 21st Century Fox. Stephenson was talking to a man who pushed Time Warner Cable out of its corporate family nest back in 2009, and the reasons for doing so were ironic considering this weekend’s acquisition announcement:

Time Warner’s management believed that the separation was the right step for Time Warner based on the changes in Time Warner Cable’s business over time. […] Time Warner’s management believed that there were a number of potential benefits from the separation transaction:

  • Time Warner would become a more streamlined portfolio of businesses focused on creating, packaging and distributing branded content.
  • Time Warner and Time Warner Cable would each have greater strategic flexibility and each would have a capital structure that better suits their respective needs.
  • The separation would provide investors with greater choice in deciding whether to own shares of Time Warner or Time Warner Cable or both companies based on their separate portfolios of businesses and assets.

What regulators ultimately think about the deal will probably take at least a year to learn, but reaction from Wall Street and both political parties was decidedly negative. AT&T’s decision to pay half the purchase price in cash worries investors more than the remainder of the cost paid in stock. AT&T’s stock price is falling, upsetting investors concerned about AT&T’s dividend, and the market may be signaling concern the merger might be a mistake of epic proportions similar to the disastrous $164 billion AOL-Time Warner merger in 2000.



Tom Eagan, an analyst with Telsey Advisory Group, said owning Time Warner for its content didn’t make much financial sense when it could license it for considerably less, as it does now.

“Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?” Eagan wrote his clients.

Many analysts are wondering what changed Bewkes’ thinking that led to him spinning off Time Warner Cable in 2009, with his decision to sell in 2016. Time Warner got rid of its video distribution business because consumers were increasingly looking for alternatives to cable television. In 2000, that came primarily from satellite providers. Today it’s cord cutting.

Combining AT&T and Time Warner would create a mega-corporation that would own or control many of the largest cable networks and a major Hollywood studio and allow AT&T to maintain absolute control over how that content was distributed. Shareholders were concerned about the price tag of the deal, driving shares down in both companies. Combining AT&T’s existing debt with Time Warner will leave the combined company saddled with $175 billion in debt — a massive amount of money that may not be financed at near zero percent interest for long, if the Federal Reserve boosts interest rates. Moody’s has put AT&T’s credit ratings up for review for a possible downgrade as a result.

Both Republicans and Democrats reacted with unease about the prospect of creating another Comcast/NBCUniversal-sized entertainment company. Almost all were skeptical about the benefits to consumers. AT&T’s competitors seemed even more chilled, fearing AT&T’s control of both the content and the means to distribute it would give the juggernaut an unfair advantage. For example, AT&T could give itself a discount to carry Time Warner programming on U-verse and DirecTV that would be unavailable to competitors. It might also take a harder line on competing providers at contract renewal time.

Some regulators and politicians believe bigger has not proved better for consumers in the telecom space, particularly after seeing the results of Comcast merging with NBCUniversal. Critics contend Comcast has never taken the deal’s approving consent decree seriously, and have dragged their feet on adhering to the deal’s many conditions. Consumers have gotten almost nothing from the merger except higher cable bills.


Analysts predict AT&T will do everything possible to minimize regulator review of its deal. The first step will be to eliminate the FCC from the deal review process, which is a very real possibility considering Time Warner and AT&T have few deal-related FCC-issued licenses beyond a single independent television station in Georgia owned by Time Warner. That station could be sold or transferred to a separate entity within months. The deal will get a mandatory review by the Justice Department, looking for evidence of antitrust. AT&T plans to claim the merger combines two entirely different companies and won’t have any implications on competition.

Critics of the deal think otherwise, pointing to the potential of favoring AT&T over cable companies with lower programming rates. Net Neutrality proponents are also concerned about AT&T’s practice of zero rating its own content, which gives AT&T a competitive advantage in the wireless space.

Candidate Clinton’s Potential FCC Nominees Are All Establishment ‘Friends of Billary’

Phillip Dampier October 19, 2016 Editorial & Site News, Public Policy & Gov't 3 Comments

Sources close to the Clinton campaign told Politico three names are emerging as potential FCC nominees in a presumed Clinton Administration, and all three are close friends of Bill and Hillary Clinton, all have spent time traveling through the revolving door of D.C. politics and the private sector or lobbying, and one served as a FCC commissioner before under Bill Clinton’s presidency.

All three are classic D.C. Establishment types, so there should be no surprises or rebellion from within the Democratic ranks.



Susan Ness: A former FCC commissioner, Ness today serves as a top Clinton fundraiser. Prior to her FCC appointment, Ness was a senior lender to communications companies as a group head and vice president of a regional financial institution. She served as Assistant Counsel to the Committee on Banking, Currency and Housing of the U.S. House of Representatives, and she founded and directed the Judicial Appointments Project of the National Women’s Political Caucus. Ness is a member of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ Committee on Communications, the Federal Communications Bar Association, and Leadership Washington (Class of 1988). Before she joined the FCC, she served in many civic leadership roles, including chair of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Charter Review Commission; vice chair of the Montgomery County Task Force on Community Access Television; and president of the Montgomery County Commission for Women.

In her favor, Ness didn’t end her service with the FCC and become a paid lobbyist, preferring to spend her years outside of public service in the private sector. However, she was a director for Adelphia, America’s first criminally convicted cable company (the principal owners, the Rigas family, went to prison for a variety of white-collar crimes). Ness was also an apologist for the disastrous telecom deregulation policies of the Clinton Administration, which backfired and created mass corporate consolidation and higher bills for consumers.

In a speech in January 1999, Ness promised good times were ahead because of Clinton Administration’s support for deregulation:

It takes good business planning, raising capital, provisioning, and investment before the fruits of competition can be harvested. And sometimes companies succeed and sometimes they fail. That’s the marketplace at work.

That’s why I’ve been somewhat surprised at the impatience with which some pundits have viewed the level of local competition under the ’96 Act.

On the first anniversary, folks were asking “where’s the competition?” I observed then that this was like piling the family into the car for a long trip, and, before you’ve reached the end of the driveway, there is a plaintive voice from the back seat, “Are we there yet?”

No, we’re not there yet — even now, two years further into the journey.



Unfortunately for Americans, we’re still not there more than 15 years later. The marketplace and regulatory agencies have rigged the game into a comfortable duopoly where competition benefits exist primarily for new customers getting a sign-up promotion. Once expired, high prices predominate. Ness promised competition. We got consolidation and more deregulation instead, and Americans are paying some of the highest broadband and wireless prices in the world as a result. We’re uncertain if she has learned her lesson.

Karen Kornbluh: Her middle initials should be “D.C.” because she’s been there for so long. Kornbluh is the Democratic Party establishment through and through, with a record of public service dating back to the 1980s. From 1991-1994, she was a legislative aide for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) She spent two years at the Treasury Department, then spent three years as a Tech Fellow at the New America Foundation think tank. She served as a policy director for Barack Obama when he was a senator from Illinois and was appointed as ambassador to the OECD in 2009, which means she is at least aware of how poorly the U.S. compares in broadband speeds to the rest of the world. Kornbluh will not rock the boat as a FCC commissioner, but should be a reliable vote for all of a presumed President Clinton’s telecom initiatives.

Phil Verveer serves as a senior counselor to current FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler, which may offer some continuity for Chairman Wheeler’s policies under the Obama Administration in a presumed Clinton Administration. Verveer is a longtime friend of the Clintons. He also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and US Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy with Ambassadorial rank from 2009 to 2013.



Verveer has practiced communications and antitrust law in the government and in private law firms for more than 40 years.  From 1969 to 1981, he practiced as a trial attorney in the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, as a supervisory attorney in the Bureau of Competition of the Federal Trade Commission, and as the Chief of the Cable Television Bureau, and the Common Carrier Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission.  Between 1973 and 1977, he served at the Antitrust Division’s first lead counsel in the investigation and prosecution of United States v. American Tel. & Tel. Co., the case that eventuated in the divestiture of the Bell System.  As a bureau Chief at the FCC, Verveer participated in a series of decisions that enabled increased competition in video and telephone services, introduced asymmetric telecommunications regulation, and limited regulation of information services. But he was also a telecom lobbyist or counsel for Willkie, Farr and Gallagher (1999-2005) and Jenner & Block (2006-2009).

With those three names now out in the public view, Big Telecom lobbyists are reportedly “coalescing around those perceived to be frontrunners for a commission spot,” reports Politico.

“Nearly everyone on the list is part of the Clinton campaign’s network of tech advisers, which helped draft the Democratic nominee’s tech policy platform,” Politico adds, which means it is likely what Secretary Clinton has promised in her campaign documents about future telecom policy will likely move forward under the stewardship of her potential appointees who helped write it.

New Update/Upgrade Scam Hits Cable Customers; Beware of Phishing E-Mails

Phillip Dampier October 19, 2016 Consumer News, Cox, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

scamSeveral Arizona residents have reported receiving e-mail allegedly from Cox Communications requiring customers to update or upgrade their account, but in reality, the e-mail comes from a group of fraudsters trying to commit identity theft. The Pima County Sheriff’s Office has sent an open warning alerting cable customers in Arizona and beyond that if you receive an e-mail claiming you need to update or upgrade your account, disregard it, especially if it carries a deadline that warns your service will be disconnected if you don’t respond within a matter of days.

Customers who click on a link in the email will be taken to a phony Cox Communications website, where you will be prompted to provide your username, password and birth date. The sheriff’s office warns providing this information could start a series of criminal events that will not end well:

Why does this company need your birthdate? They want to steal from you. Do not provide any information to the purveyors of this scam.

Two vital pieces of information the fraudsters are always looking for are your date of birth and Social Security number. Anytime you are asked for this information over the phone in a call you did not initiate, or in an email from an unknown source, stop and ask, “Why?” Who wants to use this information?

If you receive requests that you have not initiated or you have not placed the call — a red flag should appear. Do not provide this information unless you know for a fact to whom you are speaking.

Your date of birth and/or Social Security number give the fraudsters have all the information they need to begin identity theft. The scammers can now open accounts in your name, make high-volume charges and ruin your credit. They are capable of doing this without your knowledge.

If they were to attack your established accounts first, your bank or credit card company may notify you of possible unauthorized activity. However, we have knowledge of unauthorized accounts operating for long periods of time while making large-dollar purchases. The scammers make minimal payments until the account is maxed out. Since the statement comes to a phony address established by them, the credit card company has to make a concerted effort to locate you because you no longer are making payments on this “zombie” account. When the company finally calls you, you are in shock! You had no knowledge of this account.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Office recommends consumers obtain a free credit report every four months by staggering requests for a free annual credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies. This will identify any new accounts you might be unaware of and prevent identity thieves from causing catastrophic damage to your credit score and reputation.

  • EQUIFAX: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA. 30371, 1-888-766-0008.
  • EXPERIAN: 701 Experian Pkwy. Allen, TX. 75013 1-888 EXPERIAN (397-3742)
  • TRANSUNION: Fraud Victim Assistance Div., P.O. Box 679, Fullerton, CA. 92834-6790. 1-800-680-7289.

A yearly report including credit reports from all three agencies is also obtainable at no cost by calling 1-877-322-8228 or visiting

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