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Video: How to Swap Out Your Leased Time Warner Cable Modem and Avoid $3.95/Mo Fee

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Post-Standard Time Warner Cable Modem Lease Fee 1-30-13.flv

A reporter from the Syracuse Post-Standard is featured in this video explaining how to swap out your leased Time Warner cable modem for one you can buy yourself. It will save you $3.95 a month. One piece of advice: If the coaxial cable you plan to use has a push-on style connector, toss it for one that screws on. The push-on connectors are not recommended, even if your cable modem comes with one. You can also use the cable Time Warner originally supplied if it has a superior screw-on connector. Time Warner does not need the cables returned with the cable modem or the original box. Just return the cable modem and power cord to any Time Warner Cable store location and make sure they print, and you keep, the returned equipment receipt. (4 minutes)


Northeastern Time Warner Cable Internet Customers Will Pay $3.95/Month Modem Fee Nov. 1

All Time Warner Cable broadband customers in upstate New York, New England, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas will begin paying $3.95 a month to rent the cable modem required to make your $54.99/month Time Warner Cable Internet service work.

The cable company confirmed the charge will apply to all customers in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Binghamton, and beyond effective Nov. 1, joining New York City already paying the modem rental fee as of this week. The fee is gradually being introduced in all Time Warner Cable service areas nationwide.

Signature Home customers and those participating in the company’s trial of discounted Internet for the disadvantaged are exempted.

The new fee represents a 7% rate increase for Internet service, unless customers pay for their own modem.

Time Warner Cable mailed notification postcards to all affected areas this week, so they should begin arriving in mailboxes as soon as today. Southern states including Texas may see the new modem fee in their area as early as December.

“It is strictly a fee for customers who choose to lease their Internet modem from us,” Joli Plucknette-Farmen, the communications manager for Time Warner Cable’s western New York division told the Buffalo News. “As we continue to deploy more and more cable modems, many of these modems need servicing or replacing, get damaged and some are not returned. The monthly lease charge will allow us to service or replace the equipment, provide a better user experience and further enhance our Internet services.”

Stop the Cap! notes Time Warner Cable already assesses a fee ranging from $24-150 for unreturned or damaged cable modem equipment, however.

Phone subscribers who do not have Internet service will escape the fee as long as they avoid signing up for broadband.

Many of the models on the company’s approved modem list are now out of stock at the handful of retailers selling them. Other sellers, particularly on eBay and Amazon Marketplace, have doubled prices to as much as $200 on some popular DOCSIS 3 modems to capitalize on the cable operator’s new fees.


Turbo, Extreme and Ultimate Service Plans

Vendor Model
Motorola SBG6580
Motorola SB6141

Lite, Basic and Standard Service Plans

Vendor Model
Motorola SB5101
Motorola SB5101U
Motorola SBG901

Time Warner’s $3.95 Cable Modem Fee Fiasco Continues: Killer Hold Times, Long Lines

Shelly, a Time Warner Cable customer in New York City, ended up with a modem not on the company’s “approved for purchase” list, based on the recommendation of… Time Warner Cable.

Jon Weinberg has devoted more than six hours of his life trying to navigate around Time Warner Cable’s forthcoming $3.95 monthly modem rental fee, with no end in sight.

The 15-year Time Warner Cable customer is just about fed up and has started shopping around for another provider. The Staten Island resident tells Stop the Cap! asking for an additional $3.95 a month for a five year old cable modem is probably the last straw.

Time Warner’s easy-to-miss postcard probably cost the company around 80 cents to print and mail, but their investment is going to cost them more than $1,500 a year they will shortly no longer be getting from me,” Weinberg said.

Weinberg, along with dozens of other Time Warner Cable customers in the Big Apple have been sharing their stories with Stop the Cap! since they learned the cable company was back for more of their hard-earned dough.

“This is simply ridiculous, because they have gotten enough money from me several times over to have paid for their modem,” Weinberg says. “I could understand if they wanted to charge new customers extra for a new modem ($2.50 a month), but demanding current customers pay $3.95 for equipment that is several years old is out of line.”

Many Time Warner Cable customers are choosing to purchase their own cable modems to avoid the fee, but the cable operator is making that as hard as possible. Customers are complaining about the very limited selection of “approved modems,” incredibly long hold times and delays activating new equipment, and impossibly long lines at the company’s store to return old equipment.

“I called seven times last week, always being left on hold for more than 30 minutes, trying to get my new Motorola 6141 modem activated,” Weinberg says. “When someone finally answers, it sounds like they are working out of a home and don’t understand what I am asking.”

Weinberg and several other readers, including your editor, also endured extended hold times and problems activating customer-owned modems. A supervisor earlier told Stop the Cap! a change to their billing system made it difficult to provision customer-owned modems last week. That problem appeared to be resolved by Saturday, but long hold times of 15-60 are not unusual after telling Time Warner’s automated  attendant you need to activate new equipment.

Time Warner uses the same relentless hold music with a not-so-subtle prompt to use their online chat function, which connects you to India, Guatemala, or maybe the Philippines, with all of the frustrating results you can expect,” Weinberg says. “I tried that route while waiting on hold for 40 minutes and they told me I should call in because they could not handle my request.”


Gary Krakow, senior technology correspondent for TheStreet, suspects this cable modem fee could turn out to be a giant nightmare for customers. Some customers, including Krakow, are initially being told it will take several days to provision customer-owned equipment:

After 5 interactive minutes [with Time Warner's automated call attendant] I was transferred to Lina (that’s what it sounded like when she spoke into her headset). She’s one of Time Warner’s national advisers. I told her exactly what I wanted to do. She listened attentively and took down a lot of information. She then gave me a “case number” and told me to hold on to speak with someone on the Time Warner Provisioning Team.

After a minute or so I was speaking with Monica, who called herself a Customer Service agent. She began asking me to repeat all my information again, but I insisted that she could find all of that by searching the case number from Lina. After a minute or two (we all had to wait for Lina to exit the file) Monica had all the info she needed and began typing in a new  computer file.

In a minute or so she was done. She gave me a confirmation number (different from the case number) and told me that I’ll get a return call when they were ready. It turns out it will take as much as three days for a technician to make the change.

“But wait!” I exclaimed. “Your postcard had me go to your Web site, where I followed the instructions – installed the new modem – and called you to turn it on.”

Monica’s response: “Put back the old modem”.

Krakow is annoyed Time Warner gave New York-area customers just two weeks’ notice of the forthcoming fee and has so far dropped the ball helping out customers trying to avoid it.

“I can’t describe how pissed off I am with the cable company right now,” says Shelly, a Stop the Cap! reader from Manhattan. “I almost threw out their postcard because it looked like it was printed by someone on their personal ink jet printer. Time Warner has been totally unprofessional and unhelpful.”

Shelly ended up getting conflicting information from Time Warner about what modem to buy. A call center representative recommended modems from the company’s rental list, not the approved for purchase list.

“I bought and received the exact same modem Time Warner gave me a year ago for my service and then they told me they cannot activate it because it is not on their list,” Shelly says. “It’s the exact same modem so it must work, but they absolutely refused to help me and now I am out a 15% restocking fee and return postage to send this thing back.”

A supervisor offered her a $5 courtesy credit for the misunderstanding. Shelly was not impressed.

“It will cost me $15 in restock and shipping fees to deal with the problem they created with their money-grubbing.”

Verizon FiOS is not yet in her neighborhood, but Shelly says she will remember the modem fee when Verizon knocks on her door.

“This is an excellent example of how Time Warner treats customers,” she says. “They are in a real hurry to charge us more but can’t be bothered when customers want to avoid their crap.”

Weinberg finally managed to get his modem activated on Sunday, after another 45 minutes on hold. But his aggravation is not over.

“I decided to drop off my old equipment at the cable store and was told there would be at least a 90 minute wait with 20 people in line ahead of me, several with their own cable modems to return,” Weinberg reports. “They had two people working the desk while two others seemed to be doing paperwork. I left.”

Krakow ran into the same problem at the Time Warner Cable store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“The line was out the door,” Krakow said. “I was told there was a one hour wait to ‘get a number and wait some more.'”

One strange side effect of the modem rental fee is that Time Warner Cable will allow you to keep your current cable (eMTA) modem if it is also used to support the company’s phone service. If you purchase your own cable modem, the company will deactivate the cable modem ports on the modem/eMTA they supplied and will not charge you a modem rental fee, even though you are still using their equipment.


Update #2: Time Warner Cable Will Begin Charging Virtually All Customers $3.95 Cable Modem Rental Fee

Most Time Warner Cable broadband customers across the country will soon pay a $3.95 a month cable-modem lease fee in an effort by the cable operator to boost revenue by as much as $300 million annually.

New York City-area customers will be the first to see the modem rental charge, and customers began receiving postcards this week informing them of the new fee, which begins Oct. 15.

“It’s an outrage considering how much Time Warner Cable is already charging for broadband service,” says Stop the Cap! reader B.J., who received notification in yesterday’s mail. “My Ubee cable modem is four years old and they want to charge almost $50 a year for something that costs $40 retail brand new? Not a chance. I am calling Verizon. Goodbye Time Warner.”

A Time Warner Cable spokesperson said the company is busily printing notification cards that will arrive in customer mailboxes across the country in the next two months.

“Customers have the choice to purchase a modem from a third-party retailer to avoid paying the $3.95 per month,” according to the cable company.

Last year, Time Warner began gradually rolling out a $2.50 modem rental fee for new customers, but exempted current ones. Now the cable operator has increased the rental fee and intends to impose it on everyone except Starter Internet, Connected Learning, SignatureHome and certain IntelligentHome customers.

The cable operator may get resistance from customers, but Wall Street analysts state other cable operators, including Comcast, already charge up to $7 a month for modem leases.

Many customers will elect to buy their own cable modem, but the cable company has severely limited its approved device list in many areas to just a single manufacturer: Motorola Mobility, despite still leasing out often less-costly models from seven other manufacturers.

“It’s convenient how they will lease out inexpensive Ubee cable modems made in China but they won’t let you buy one,” says B.J. “There is nothing wrong with Motorola modems, but it reduces customer choice.”

Time Warner Cable (and Stop the Cap!) recommends all customers who plan to buy modems choose a DOCSIS 3 model for future compatibility. The company has switched out cable modems for customers at least twice over the decade plus history of cable broadband service. If history holds, the estimated useful life for a DOCSIS 2 cable modem will probably be five years or less before future standards make them obsolete. DOCSIS 2 modems are not capable of supporting the fastest broadband speeds, while DOCSIS 3 modems often cost just a little more.

Time Warner Cable’s Approved Modem List in the Northeastern U.S. And Our Reviews (all prices approximate, from Amazon.com — consult Time Warner Cable’s website for specific modems approved in your area):


Recommended Motorola SurfBoard SB6141 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem ($100): The SB6141 is now on the approved list for most TWC service areas and has gotten excellent reviews. It is an upgrade from the 6121, now off the list of approved devices. The 6121 could only support four-channel bonding for upstream and downstream, while the 6141 supports up to eight downstream channels and four upstream channels increasing data rates to over 300Mbps for received data and over 100Mbps when sending data. The only downside is that it is harder to find in stock for purchase.

Motorola SURFboard Gateway SBG6580 DOCSIS 3.0 Wireless Cable Modem ($117): The 6580 includes built-in gigabit Ethernet and a Wireless-N router, so it theoretically could replace your home router. My personal experience with cable modem-router combinations has been less than glowing, however. Consider this only if you do not already have a Wireless-N router. This model gets overall good, but not excellent reviews.

DOCSIS 2 – Consider a DOCSIS 3 modem to guarantee future compatibility.

Motorola Surfboard SB5101 Cable Modem ($50): This workhorse DOCSIS 2 cable modem has been around since 2003 and is popular with cable companies and customers, with a proven track record of performance. But it is not DOCSIS 3-capable, which means its useful life may be shortened as cable broadband standards continue to evolve.

Motorola Surfboard SB5101U Cable Modem ($53): Functionally equivalent to the 5101, the 5101U was introduced in tandem with Motorola’s cheaper 5101N model that omitted the USB port and driver CD. Choose the 5101 or 5101U based on which model is currently selling at the lowest price.

Not recommended Motorola SURFboard Gateway SBG901 DOCSIS 2.0 Wireless Cable Modem ($84): Overpriced and mixed reviews plague this aging Motorola DOCSIS 2 modem with built-in wireless G support. You would do better buying a Wireless N router yourself, or consider the SBG6580 if you absolutely need built-in Wi-Fi.

Updated 4:54pm ET: Readers report the SB6141 now has the best chance of being on TWC’s list of approved equipment, so we’re deleting the 6121 and replacing it with the 6141. If you happened to place an order for the 6121, make sure you verify whether it is on your area’s approved list. If not, cancel the order.

Update #2 10:00am ET 10/17/12: After publishing, Time Warner Cable overhauled their entire website. We have updated the link for the current approved list. None of the models have changed as far as I can see. I have also deleted the model 6121 entirely from the story — it is not on any approved list I’ve seen. As of today, the gouging continues on eBay with the 6141, still selling for up to $200. Amazon.com sellers have also jacked up the price to take advantage of current demand, though not as much.

Do NOT pay eBay sellers $200 for the 6141, which normally sells for $99. It only encourages the bottom-feeding speculators. If you want the 6141, I recommend you wait until prices drop to between $99-125. Do not pay more.

Some readers are finding used/refurbished cable modems that work perfectly fine on Craigslist and eBay. There is generally nothing wrong with these, unless they happen to be stolen or unreturned modems that really belong to Time Warner Cable, which will in turn not activate them. Be careful.


Time Warner Cable Maxx Provides Superior, Cheaper Broadband Than Comcast (+ No Caps!)


Despite claims from Comcast that it will improve broadband speeds for Time Warner Cable customers, Time Warner has managed to do that without any help from Comcast. Through its TWC Maxx upgrade program, Time Warner now delivers faster broadband speeds than most Comcast customers receive, at a lower price, and without the threat of usage caps.[1]

twcmaxResidents in parts of New York City are already getting more than triple the broadband speeds they used to receive without any additional charges. A customer in Queens that used to pay $57.99 a month for 15Mbps broadband service now receives 50Mbps from Time Warner. In contrast, Comcast’s Performance plan delivers half that speed and costs $66.95 a month.[2]

Time Warner’s 300Mbps service now costs $107.99. For $114.95, Comcast customers only get 150Mbps.

The public interest is not served replacing Time Warner Cable’s broadband with Comcast’s Internet which charges higher prices and delivers less speed and brings the extremely high likelihood of usage limits on broadband service in the near future.

Time Warner Cable has already announced eight new cities targeted for Maxx upgrades with plans to accelerate upgrades across their service areas over the next two years.[3] It appears to be well worth the wait.

After selecting your broadband plan, customers of both Comcast and Time Warner Cable are confronted with modem rental fees. The vast majority of customers of both companies still pay to rent their cable broadband modem.[4] They pay less renting it from Time Warner Cable at $5.99 a month.[5] Comcast customers pay one of the highest equipment lease rates in the country – $8 a month.[6]


Time Warner Cable Maxx brings these broadband speed upgrades when it reaches your area.

[2]All Comcast and Time Warner Cable broadband prices reflect regular retail rates (not promo rates) obtained from: http://www.comcast.com/internet-service.html (Comcast) and http://www.timewarnercable.com/en/support/account-and-billing/topics/retail-rates.html (Time Warner Cable).

New York City Comptroller Unimpressed With Comcast/Time Warner Cable Merger

one mbps

“Hey look, is that the Verizon FiOS truck?”

New York City comptroller Scott Stringer is lukewarm at best about the idea of Comcast taking over for Time Warner Cable. In a letter to the New York Public Service Commission released today, Stringer says the deal needs major changes before it comes close to serving the public interest.

“As New York City residents know all too well, our city is stuck in an Internet stone age, at least when compared to other municipalities across the country and around the world,” Stringer wrote. “According to a study by the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, New Yorkers not only endure slower Internet service than similar cities in other parts of the world, but they also pay higher prices for that substandard service. Tokyo residents enjoy speeds that are eight times faster than New York City’s, for a lower price. And Hong Kong residents enjoy speeds that are 20 times faster, for the equivalent price.”

Stringer should visit upstate New York some time. While the Big Apple is moving to a Verizon FiOS and Time Warner Cable Maxx or Cablevision/Optimum future, upstate New York is, in comparison, Raquel Welch-prehistoric, especially if your only choice is Verizon “No, We Won’t Expand DSL to Your House,” or Frontier “3.1Mbps is Plenty” Communications. If New York City’s speeds are slow, upstate New York speeds are glacial.

“The latest data from the FCC shows that, as of June 30, 2013, over 40 percent of connections in New York State are below 3Mbps,” Springer added.

Come for the Finger Lakes, but don’t stay for the broadband.

Should the merger be approved, Comcast would be obligated to comply with the existing franchise agreement between Time Warner Cable and the City of New York. However, in order for the proposed merger to truly be in the public interest, Comcast must have a more detailed plan to address these ongoing challenges and to further close the digital divide that leaves so many low-income New Yorkers cut off from the information superhighway. To date, Comcast’s efforts to close the digital divide have focused on its “Internet Essentials” program, which was launched in 2012.iii The program offers a 5 megabit/second connection for $9.95/month (plus tax) to families matching all of the following criteria:

• Located within an area where Comcast offers Internet service
• Have at least one child eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program
• Have not subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days
• Does not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment

While the aim of the program is laudatory, its slow speed, limited eligibility, and inadequate outreach have kept high-quality connectivity beyond the reach of millions of low-income Americans. Not only are the eligibility rules for Internet Essentials far too narrow, but the company has done a poor job of signing up those who do meet the criteria. In fact, only 300,000 (12 percent) of eligible households nationwide have actually signed up since the program was launched in 2011.

It is critical that the PSC not only press Comcast to significantly expand the reach of Internet Essentials, but also that it engage in appropriate oversight to ensure that the company is meeting its commitments to low-income residents of the Empire State.

Phillip "Comcast isn't the answer to the problem, it's the problem itself" Dampier

Phillip “Comcast isn’t the answer, it’s the problem” Dampier

In fact, the best way New York can protect its low-income residents is to keep Comcast out of the state. Time Warner Cable offers everyday $14.99 Internet access to anyone who wants it as long as they want it. No complicated pre-qualification conditions, annoying forms, or gotcha terms and conditions.

When a representative from the PSC asked a Comcast representative if the company would keep Time Warner’s discount Internet offer, a non-answer answer was the response. That usually means the answer is no.

“We have seen how telecommunications companies will promise to expand access as a condition of a merger, only to shirk their commitments once the merger has been approved,” Springer complained. “For instance, as part of its 2006 purchase of BellSouth, AT&T told Congress that it would work to provide customers ‘greater access and more choices for broadband, no matter where they live or work.’ However, later reports found that the FCC relied on the companies themselves to report their own merger compliance and did not conduct independent audits to verify their claims.”

Big Telecom promises are like getting commitments from a cheating spouse. Never trust… do verify or throw them out. Comcast still has not met all the conditions it promised to meet after its recent merger with NBCUniversal, according to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).

Stringer also blasted Comcast for its Net Neutrality roughhousing:

While the FCC has not declared internet providers to be “common carriers”, state law has effectively done so within the Empire State. Under 16 NYCRR Part 605, a common carrier is defined as “a corporation that holds itself out to provide service to the public for hire to provide conduit services including voice, data, or video by electrical, electronic, electromagnetic or photonic means.”

Importantly, the law requires these carriers to “provide publicly offered conduit services on demand to any similarly situated user on substantially similar terms, subject to the availability of facilities and capacity.”

In recent months, Comcast has shown that it is willing to sacrifice net neutrality in order to squeeze additional payment out of content providers, such as Netflix. As shown in the chart below, Netflix download speeds on the Comcast network deteriorated rapidly prior to an agreement whereby Netflix now pays Comcast for preferential access.

speed changes

concast careConsumers have a legitimate fear that if access to fiber-optic networks is eventually for sale to the highest bidder, then not only will it stifle the entrepreneurial energy unleashed by the democratizing forces of the Internet, but will also potentially lead to higher prices for consumers in accessing content. Under that scenario, consumers are hit twice—first by paying for Internet access to their home and second by paying for certain content providers’ preferred access.

Internet neutrality has been a core principle of the web since its founding and the PSC must examine whether Comcast’s recent deal with Netflix is a sign that the company is eroding this principle in a manner that conflicts with the public interest.

Stringer may not realize Comcast also has an end run around Net Neutrality in the form of usage caps that will deter customers from accessing competitors’ content if it could put them over their monthly usage allowance and subject to penalty rates. Comcast could voluntarily agree to Net Neutrality and still win by slapping usage limits on all of their broadband customers. Either causes great harm for competitors like Netflix.

“I urge the Commission to hold Comcast to that burden and to ensure that the merger is in the best interest of the approximately 2.6 million Time Warner Cable subscribers in New York State and many more for whom quality, affordable Internet access remains unavailable,” Stringer writes. “And I urge Comcast to view this as an opportunity to do the right thing by introducing itself to the New York market as a company that values equitable access and understands that its product—the fourth utility of the modern age—must be available to all New Yorkers.”

If Comcast’s existing enormous customer base has already voted them the Worst Company in America, it is unlikely Comcast will turn on a dime for the benefit of New York.

The best way to ensure quality, affordable Internet access in New York is to keep Comcast out of New York.

No cable company has ever resolved the rural broadband problem. Their for-profit business model depends on a Return on Investment formula that prohibits expanding service into unprofitable service areas.

These rural service problems remain pervasive in Comcast areas as well, and always have since the company took over for AT&T Cable in the early 2000s. Little has changed over the last dozen years and little will change in the next dozen if we depend entirely on companies like Comcast to handle the rural broadband problem.

A more thoughtful solution is encouraging the development of community co-ops and similar broadband enterprises that need not answer to shareholders and strict ROI formulas.

In the meantime, for the good of all New York, let’s keep Comcast south (and north) of the border, thank you very much.



Even Glenn Beck Isn’t Impressed with the Time Warner Cable-Comcast Merger

Phillip Dampier February 24, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Time Warner Cable 9 Comments


Glenn Beck and his independent network TheBlaze are not happy about Time Warner Cable and Comcast merging operations and think it will concentrate too much power in the hands of a single entity that already ignores independent voices seeking a spot on the cable dial.

Beck left Fox News Channel to help start a new network — TheBlaze — that began as GBTV, an online streaming video operation. In the fall of 2012, the network, which airs more than 40 hours a week of new programming, secured exclusive carriage on Dish, the satellite television provider. Now that the exclusivity agreement has expired, TheBlaze management and viewers have launched a very vocal campaign to get the channel on cable systems across the country. The venture has been modestly successful with smaller cable operators like Buckeye Cablevision in Ohio and ETC Communications in Michigan. Beck’s network can also be seen on Cablevision’s lineup in the suburbs of New York City. But for most of the country, the only way to watch is to stream it online for $9.95 a month/$99.95 a year. Large cable systems have so far shown little interest in picking up the network.

“Comcast is one of the bigger pains in the neck for TheBlaze,” Beck told his radio listeners.

“Since launching the GetTheBlaze campaign, 50 small, midsized and major cable systems have begun carrying our network,” said TheBlaze CEO Chris Balfe. “These are the cable systems that must be responsive to their customers to survive. Monopoly type [multichannel video programming distributors] like Comcast and Time Warner Cable do not have a good history of listening to customers or supporting independent programmers whose content is in demand like TheBlaze. While we are skeptical that giving Comcast even more market power will benefit consumers, promote competition or lead to more diversity of voices, we will continue our successful campaign because eventually, even giants have to listen to what their customers want.”

theblaze_logo_2x“Look, the amount of decision makers, which is so surprisingly small in the industry in general, is potentially getting smaller,” Steve Krakauer, TheBlaze’s vice president of digital content told POLITICO. “Keeping up the fight is so important.”

Cable industry observers agree that life can be difficult for an unaffiliated independent cable network. Ovation found itself thrown off Time Warner Cable’s lineup for nearly a year because of a lack of original programming and miniscule ratings. But networks owned by studios like Universal or large broadcasting entities like Viacom stay, despite similar viewer response. Ovation had no leverage to compel continued carriage. Networks owned by larger companies often do, because they are packaged and sold to cable operators in a bundle. A cable company refusing to carry one low-rated cable network could be threatened with a much more expensive rate for the channels it does want or even face the loss of larger, must-have channels owned by the same company.



Beck isn’t alone being concerned.

The American Cable Association, a trade group that represents small and medium-sized cable operators, said it is carefully considering the potential impact of the merger on the cost of video programming sold to smaller operators.

“ACA has long acknowledged many problems in the pay-TV market, including the soaring cost of retransmission consent and sports networks and the record-setting number of broadcaster-imposed TV signal blackouts,” CEO Matthew Polka said in a statement. “ACA will be looking closely to see whether this transaction makes matters worse for small and medium-sized cable operators and their customers.”


Sticker Shock for Time Warner Customers: A Review of Comcast’s Rates & Packages

comcast twcShould a deal to merge Time Warner Cable with Comcast be approved by regulators, Time Warner Cable customers can expect a number of changes to their cable, Internet, and phone service because of Comcast’s much more involved rate plans¹.

Customers should expect to pay significantly higher prices for a package comparable to what Time Warner Cable offers today, especially for cable television.

Broadband speeds will be faster with Comcast, but also likely usage-capped at 300GB a month, with overlimit fees applied to “heavy users.”

A sample Comcast bill

A sample Comcast bill

Customers may also be surprised to discover Comcast levies a number of ancillary fees that Time Warner does not, especially for various tasks completed by a Comcast customer service representative.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable have very different operating philosophies. Comcast is quickly moving customers to all-digital cable television service, so those Time Warner customers without set-top boxes or CableCARDs should be ready for a rapid transition to all-digital TV. Time Warner Cable, in comparison, has moved slowly towards digital service and uses a stop-gap technology that delivers some digital channels to neighborhoods only when being watched as a bandwidth conservation measure. Comcast will likely scrap that technology in favor of an all-out drive to switch to digital service.

Comcast’s television packages are very different from what TWC customers are used to buying. Time Warner customers can expect significant channel losses with Comcast’s nearest equivalent basic cable service. If you enjoy a lot of sports or old movies, Comcast will make you spend nearly $20 more on a higher-cost tier to get back the networks that Time Warner used to bundle as part of their basic cable service. But Comcast makes adding “whole home” DVR service look a lot more affordable than the $30+ unbundled fee Time Warner Cable has traditionally charged for the equipment and service.

In general Time Warner Cable customers should expect a higher bill for cable television, unless they want to downgrade service (for which Comcast also charges a service fee).

Broadband service from Comcast is also very different from what Time Warner Cable has offered. Most TWC customers now get 15/1Mbps service. Most Comcast customers get 25/5 or 50/15Mbps service. However, TWC doesn’t force usage caps on customers and Comcast is systematically reimposing them on theirs city by city, usually 300GB a month. The tradeoff with Comcast is faster advertised speed that comes usage-limited vs. slower speeds you can use as much as you want. Comcast also charges the highest modem rental fees in the country — now $8 a month in most places. Customers can and should buy their own modems. Those Time Warner Cable customers who already have better double-check to make certain Comcast will still support that equipment.

Phone service isn’t much different between the two companies, so we’re not covering it here.

Television Packages

Comcast offers a bigger variety of television packages than Time Warner Cable. Comcast likes to bundle premium channels into some of their higher end packages. Time Warner Cable’s prefers an a-la-carte approach with HBO and other similar networks.

tvComcast customers start with Limited Basic service, comparable to Time Warner Cable’s Broadcast Basic package. It primarily features over the air local television stations and often runs under $10 a month. Effective this year, there is also a $1.50/month Broadcast TV surcharge applicable to all cable TV customers.

A new concept for Time Warner Cable customers is Comcast’s Digital Economy package that includes Limited Basic, Digital Economy channels, and a standard definition cable box and remote. Consider this barely promoted tier the economy bare bones basic cable package. In addition to local channels, Digital Economy offers a lineup of home shopping channels, CNN, HSN, Cartoon Network, Lifetime, History, A&E, E!, Comedy Central, Spike TV, USA Network, Fox News Channel, The Weather Channel, Food Network, Animal Planet, TLN, BET, TV Guide Network, Discovery Channel, Comcast Network, CSPAN, EWTN, Jewelry Television, and Music Choice. This package is $40 a month, although promotions may cut the cost. For some, this may be more than enough.

But most Comcast cable TV customers choose the Digital Starter package that also includes Limited Basic, Expanded Basic, MoviePlex, and Music Choice. The lineup includes just over 80 channels. This $69.95 package is still smaller than what Time Warner Cable offers its digital cable customers, leaving out networks including Cloo, CNBC World, Al Jazeera America, Discovery Fit & Health, Disney XD, DIY, a range of ESPN’s extra networks, EWTN, Fine Living, Fox Business News, Great American Country, IFC, Investigation Discovery, Lifetime Real Women, Military Channel, MLB, most of MTV’s extra networks, NBA, National Geographic Channel, NFL Network, NHL Network, most of Nickelodeon’s extra networks, OWN, Oxygen, Sundance, Turner Classic Movies, The Science Channel, and VH1’s extra networks. There are other channels left out of the lineup as well. But Digital Starter customers do get the full lineup of Encore movie channels, for which TWC charges extra. However, sports and old movie fans will be dismayed to find so many sports networks and Turner Classic Movies excluded. Comcast customers have to pay more to get them back in the lineup.

Those who can’t live without sports networks and TCM, among other networks noted above, will have to pay for Comcast’s 150+ channel Digital Preferred package. This tier brings back the cable channels you used to get with Time Warner Cable (plus Encore), but it costs an extra $17.95 a month. Check your current Time Warner Cable TV bill. Compare it against Comcast’s total combined charge of $87.89 a month for a comparable lineup. How much is your cable TV bill going to increase after Comcast takes over?

special reportFor those who want even more, Comcast offers Digital Premier, with more than 190 channels. This package includes Digital Preferred, HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax and Comcast’s Sports Entertainment Package. It adds an extra $57.45 a month on top of the $69.95 Digital Starter package. That is $127.40 a month just for television service.

Time Warner customers looking for a DVR will probably be mystified by the way Comcast charges for DVR service. Comcast markets “whole house” DVR service much more aggressively than TWC. This service, dubbed AnyRoom, lets customers watch recorded shows on any set-top box-equipped television in the home, along with managing recordings. DVR service with Comcast costs an extra $8-10 a month, but Comcast also charges an “HD Technology Fee” of $9.95 a month to enable “whole house” service. Many higher end bundled packages incorporate the DVR service into the package, along with the Technology Fee.

At regular prices, a Comcast triple play customer should expect to pay $141.99 for the most bare bones TV, phone, and broadband package, $154.99 for the most popular package without premium channels, and $164.99 a month for a bundle that brings along a similar lineup to what TWC offers, along with Starz. Comcast’s nearest equivalent to Time Warner Cable’s $200 Signature Home service costs $239.99 a month and offers no better Internet speeds than what “regular” customers get.

Internet Plans

comcast-splash-internetComcast does offer faster Internet service than what Time Warner Cable has sold for the last 3-4 years, but it will likely come with a usage cap of 300GB per month, with overlimit fees applied to those who exceed their allowance. Internet-only customers are going to find higher prices for broadband service than what Time Warner Cable charges. Comcast prefers bundled service customers, and deters cord-cutters with extremely high Internet-only pricing.

Comcast’s Internet Tiers (The first price is for Internet-only service followed by the price, when different, for customers subscribing to more than broadband)

  • Economy: 1.5Mbps/384kb (N/A)
  • Economy Plus: 3Mbps/768kbps ($39.95 $29.95)
  • Performance Starter: 6/1Mbps ($49.95)
  • Performance: 25/5Mbps ($64.95 $51.95)
  • Blast: 50/15Mbps ($74.95 $61.95)
  • Extreme 105: 105/20Mbps ($114.95 $99.95)

Modem fees are extra unless you buy your own equipment.

Other Comcast Fees You Better Know About

fine printComcast charges a number of extra fees and surcharges that raise customer bills without affecting Comcast’s advertised prices. The ones we have not already covered are included below. Among our favorites: Comcast charging $20 to hound you at your front door for a past due payment, charging shipping/handling and other fees for “self-install” kits that save Comcast money not having to dispatch a technician to your home, installation -and- activation fees for extra outlets, and that $249 “go away” service charge for their 105Mbps broadband tier. It is important to note not everyone will pay these fees and promotions often waive some of them. Customer service representatives will also drop some of them when asked, and may remove them from your bill if you complain loudly enough.

Ancillary Service Fees You May Encounter

  • Reactivation fees: Shut off for non-payment or vacation? Comcast charges $5 to reactivate Internet service, $5 to reactivate a phone line, and $1.99 to turn back on your cable television;
  • Field Collection Charge: If Comcast sends someone to your residence to collect a past due balance or pick up unreturned equipment, there is a $20 charge per visit;
  • Returned Payment Fee: $20 per returned payment;
  • Late Fee: 5% of your account balance;
  • Name Change Fee: $1.99;
  • Pay by Phone Convenience Fee: Making a payment by phone with a customer care representative will cost $5.99 per payment;
  • Copy of Bill: For bill statement copy requested by phone or in person, there is a $5 charge per bill;
  • Unreturned/Damaged Equipment: Charged at the suggested manufacturer’s replacement cost.

Common Equipment Fees

  • Signal Amplifier: $35/each
  • Self-Install Kit Convenience Fee: $40
  • Self-Install Kit Shipping & Handling: $9.95 (Standard Delivery)
  • Self-Install Kit Shipping & Handling: $29.95 (Priority Mail)
  • Remote Control Replacement by Mail (Separate Shipping): $5.95/each
  • other chargesVoice/Data Modem (Used for customers with phone and Internet service): $8/mo²
  • Wireless Gateway (Provides Wi-Fi service): $8/mo²
  • Cienna 3931 Modem & Netgear Wireless Router: $19.95/mo
  • Wireless Adapter (each, one-time charge): $30.00
  • Limited Basic Only Service Converter: $1/mo
  • Digital Converter: $2.50/mo
  • Remote Control: $0.18/mo
  • HD Digital Converter (Limited Basic Only): $2.20/mo
  • Digital Adapter (Limited Basic Only): $0.50/mo each
  • CableCARD: 1st card is free, each additional is $1/mo
  • Customer-Owned Video Equipment Credit: $2.50/mo

Installation and Service Calls (May vary with promotions)

  • Installation fee for one product: $32
  • Installation fee for two products: $80
  • Installation fee for three products: $90
  • In-Home Service Call: $32.10
  • Service Charge for Custom Installation Work: $33.20/hr
  • Installation fee for additional outlets: $13.35/ea at time of new customer visit, $32.15/ea for existing customers
  • Activation fee for additional outlets: $5.60/ea for new customers, $22.05/ea for existing customers
  • Relocation fee for additional outlets: $13.60/ea for new customers, $28.55/ea for existing customers
  • VCR/DVD Connection Charge: $7.90 for new customers, $16.35 for existing customers
  • Upgrade/Downgrade Service Fee (no in-home visit required): $1.99 per instance
  • Upgrade/Downgrade Service Fee (in-home visit required): $26.30 per instance of an upgrade, $12.05 per instance of a downgrade
  • payment centerUpgrade Standard Definition DVR or HD DVR Service: $26.30

Broadband-Specific Installation/Service Charges

  • Additional IP Address (first): $4.95/mo
  • Additional IP Addresses (second and/or third) $9.00/mo each
  • Professional Internet Installation: $99.95
  • Wireless Networking On-Site Professional Set-up (up to 4 devices per trip): $49.95
  • Wireless Networking On-Site Professional Set-Up (extra trips): $99.95/ea
  • Wireless Networking On-Site Professional Set-Up (each additional device over 4): $29.95/ea
  • Broadband-related In-Home Service Visit: $40/per trip
  • Extreme 105Mbps Broadband Professional Installation/Activation Surcharge: $249.00

¹The rates and services quoted in this piece were taken from Comcast’s current rate card for Cambridge, Mass. Rates and services may vary slightly in other markets. The rate card was effective June 2013.
²Comcast charges $7 a month for their modem rental in certain other markets.


Time Warner Cable’s Halloween Nightmare: 3% of Customers Left This Summer, With More to Follow

pumpkinTime Warner Cable’s summer was “horrible,” to quote one analyst, after three percent of customers left over programming disputes and increasing prices for broadband and telephone service, with more likely to follow as price promotions expire and rates increase further.

Cable analysts were shocked Time Warner Cable lost 308,000 customers in the last three months, most leaving over interruptions of CBS and Showtime over a contract dispute. But customers were also ready to leave over increasing modem rental fees, rate increases, and the company’s growing pullback on promotional pricing. Time Warner Cable’s poor results have ironically caused its stock price to increase this morning, but only because investors suspect a shareholder value-boosting merger with Charter Communications could come within months.

“Just horrible,” MoffetNathanson analyst Craig Moffett wrote in a note to investor clients this morning. “The CBS dispute apparently took a much larger toll than anyone would have imagined, and this colored all the results.”

Sources have told Reuters that cable billionaire John Malone has approached Time Warner Cable about a full takeover by Charter Communications, but has been rebuffed by Britt so far. But with Britt exiting and Time Warner Cable’s underperformance, shareholder pressure for a deal with Charter will only increase.

“This enhances Malone’s appeal to Time Warner Cable shareholders that they would be better off with another management team,” Brean Capital analyst Todd Mitchell told Reuters.

When promotional prices end, a growing percentage of TWC customers drop services or take their business elsewhere.

When promotional prices end, a growing percentage of TWC customers drop services or take their business elsewhere.

The subscriber losses pushed profits down 34 percent at the cable company, to $532 million. The triple play tragedy saw subscriber losses for all the company’s residential services. At a time when other cable companies cannot process High Speed Internet sign ups fast enough, at least 24,000 Time Warner Cable broadband customers left over rate hikes and equipment fees. Analysts had expected the company to pick up more than 46,000 broadband customers during the last three months, not lose them. The company’s phone service is also in decline. Only rate increases and customers upgrading to higher speed tiers delivered a slight revenue boost.

Outgoing CEO Glenn Britt set the stage for the current forced retreat on its revenue forecast for the year:

  • Time Warner Cable executives made the decision at the end of 2012 to stop heavily discounting service and cut back on promotions. Their theory was the company would attract a larger base of stable customers willing to pay non-promotional rates and tolerate rate increases;
  • Executives announced as Time Warner’s phone service was brought “in-house,” the company would stop aggressively pricing triple play bundles that included phone service. That turned out to be a bad decision for growth because customers, already prone to landline cord-cutting, downgraded their bundle or left when promotions expired and ditched the phone line;
  • A year of broadband price increases and the introduction of a modem rental fee rubbed customers the wrong way. “We have raised prices recently in the form of modem rental fees, but it’s really just broadband price increase,” again admitted Britt this morning. Future rate increases on modem rentals will give broadband customers another push to shop around for a better deal. At least 24,000 did that over the summer and left, mostly for AT&T U-verse in the midwest and Verizon FiOS in the east.

The lengthy dispute between Time Warner and CBS did the most damage and not just to customers directly affected by channel losses. A major increase in call volumes from alienated customers overwhelmed national call centers, creating long hold times for everyone calling in.

Time Warner expects 40 percent of the cable company’s service area will be overlapped by major competitors AT&T U-verse (now 27%) and Verizon FiOS (now 13%). That represents one million more homes than last year.

Bye Bye: Time Warner Cable lost residential customers for all of its services during the third quarter.

Bye Bye: Time Warner Cable lost residential customers for all of its services during the third quarter.

Incoming CEO Robert Marcus said he was dissatisfied with subscriber results from current promotions and rates. New Time Warner Cable customers, Marcus noted, are paying higher prices for fewer or less robust services as part of current promotional packages. Although that has driven a “dramatic improvement in recurring revenue” among customers actually signing up, many choose the lower-priced competition instead.

Marcus also noted customers are taking fewer services and are resistant to upgrading to double or triple play packages, reducing the potential average revenue per customer (ARPU).

“To a great extent, these are expected outcomes of our pricing and packaging strategy and the trade-off between ARPU and volume, but I’m confident we can do better on volume without giving up the ARPU benefits we’ve been achieving,” Marcus told analysts on a morning conference call.

Instead of getting more aggressive on pricing, the company plans to trot out free gifts and pitch discounted slow speed Internet to attract price-resistant DSL customers.

“Next week, we’ll launch our holiday offer, which includes a free Samsung tablet loaded with all of our apps, including TWC TV, with the purchase of higher-end packages,” Marcus said. “I think this will generate lots of interest and really highlight TWC TV and the value it adds to our service offerings.”

Marcus called it inconceivable and unacceptable that at least 4.5 million people are still subscribed to telephone company DSL in Time Warner Cable service areas. The company plans an advertising blitz to steal customers away from companies like AT&T, Verizon, Frontier, CenturyLink, Windstream and FairPoint.

At the center of that effort is the recently announced 2/1Mbps Lite package, which will sell at the everyday price of $14.95 a month. Marcus wants at least 500,000 DSL customers switched to Time Warner over the next 18 months.

“Over time, as these customers’ speed and capacity needs increase, we’ll be well positioned to sell them higher-end product,” Marcus said.

Or they will switch back to the phone company if Time Warner increases the price.


Time Warner Cable Hints At More Price Hikes for Broadband

timewarner twcTime Warner Cable believes it has room to raise broadband prices and get away with it without much customer backlash.

The cable company’s chief financial officer, Arthur Minson, raised the prospect of more price hikes at Tuesday’s Goldman Sachs 22nd Annual Communacopia Conference.

“Look, the modem [fee] was really just a form of a High Speed Data rate increase,” Minson said, referring to the company’s introduction of a $4 cable modem rental fee last fall and a later increase to around $6 a month introduced this summer. “I do see an ability for us to continue to have ARPU increases on that product.”

“ARPU” refers to the Average Revenue Per User — a term that reflects what companies earn in revenue divided by the number of customers. In most cases, an ARPU increase comes from price hikes or customers subscribing to additional value-added services.



Minson suggested that the company’s gradual rollout of optional usage-based pricing tiers provides an alternative for price-sensitive customers that cannot afford rate increases on flat-rate service or are seeking a price reduction.

“I think we’re very pleased with where we are in the usage-based pricing front and I think that’s something we will continue,” Minson concluded. “I think over time it will be interesting to see how many people ultimately take the usage-based pricing, or will people say I just want to have unlimited and I think the market will speak on that.”

Time Warner Cable has focused investment on several fronts this year, and plans continued investments to expand offerings in these key areas:

  1. Business broadband expansion. Some of the company’s biggest investments target wiring businesses and office parks for cable service, primarily to expand commercial broadband. “Commercial services is success-based capital that we see real meaningful returns on,” Minson said.
  2. Wi-Fi expansion. Time Warner Cable will continue expanding Wi-Fi hotspots in select cities. Customers with Standard (15/1Mbps) service or above can use the service for free. Minson said that the company was very happy to offer customers subscribed to unlimited use tiers free access to Wi-Fi. Not so for those choosing usage-based pricing plans. They will have to upgrade to an unlimited plan to get free access. “That’s a real incentive to drive people into the higher tiers,” Minson noted.
  3. DOCSIS 3.1. Time Warner plans to adopt and invest in DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem technology when it is officially released. DOCSIS 3.1 will offer more efficient broadband transport and will let companies offer even faster speeds. Minson noted that broadband is increasingly the company’s anchor product, so it will continue investments accordingly.

Customers looking for aggressive pricing won’t find much at Time Warner Cable. Minson noted the company will continue its year-long pullback on low-priced promotions.

“We have a $79 bundle out in the marketplace and you would say okay, that sounds similar to the offer in the marketplace last year,” Minson said. “It may be similar but in terms of what you get for that $79 it is very different from what we gave a year ago and what we have now is the ability to meaningfully up sell the customers from the beacon price.”

A year ago, Time Warner Cable didn’t have a modem rental fee and typically bundled its Standard tier Internet service in its promotional packages. A traditional triple-play package of phone, cable TV and Internet service starts at $89 today, but only includes 3Mbps broadband, doesn’t bundle DVR service, and doesn’t include a mandatory set-top box which now costs a minimum of $8.99 a month each. Combining the modem fee with the mandatory box charge raises the promotional price to $104.97 a month.

  • Upgrading to Standard 15/1Mbps service costs an extra $10 a month.
  • Adding a DVR? That costs an additional $21.94 a month.
  • The “whole house” DVR package is now priced at $37.47 a month.
  • Time Warner Cable has also recently increased the price of premium movie channels to a uniform $15.95 each for HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz.

twc pricesTaking into account these popular upsold add-ons, the promotional price of $79-89 might be seen as bait and switch by some customers. The true cost for most choosing a triple play package including cable TV with DVR service, one set-top box, a Time Warner-supplied cable modem, and a speed upgrade to 15/1Mbps service is $127.92 a month before taxes and fees.

Customers unhappy with their cable bill who call to complain are now routed to specially trained retention operators, Minson said.

“We’ve taken about a 1,000 dedicated employees and focused them on retention and even within those centers there are areas of expertise,” Minson said. “For our Spanish language customers we have retention centers set-up to help them when they call in. For people who are coming off a promotional offer, we have dedicated reps who can deal with that group of customers. So it’s having a deeper set of expertise in those areas and the returns so far are well within our expectations and we are really pleased with how it’s going.”


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