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Comcast, Frontier: It’s Too ‘Hilly and Woodsy’ to Bring Broadband to Rural Connecticut

no signalAn aversion of open, hilly landscapes and trees is apparently responsible for keeping residents of rural Connecticut from getting broadband service from the state’s two dominant providers — Comcast and Frontier Communications.

In the Litchfield Hills of northwestern Connecticut, you can visit some of the state’s finest antique shops and Revolutionary War-era inns, tour vineyards and even establish roots in the Upper Naugatuck Valley in towns like Barkhamsted, Colebrook, Goshen, Hartland, Harwinton, Litchfield, Morris, New Hartford, Norfolk, Torrington, and Winchester. Just leave your cellphone, tablet, and personal computer behind because chances are good you will find yourself in a wireless dead spot and Internet-free zone.

Obtaining even a smidgen of cell phone service often means leaning out a second story window or worse, climbing the nearest church steeple. The wealthiest residents, often second-homeowners from New York or California, can afford to spend several thousand dollars to entice the cable company to extend a coaxial cable their way or buy commercial broadband service at eye-popping prices from Frontier Communications, which acquired AT&T’s wireline network in the state. But for many, dial-up Internet remains the only affordable or available option.

Despite the area’s significant number of high income residents ready and willing to pay for service, Comcast and Frontier blame hilly terrain and dense woods for staying away. Those excuses get little regard from residents who suggest it is all about the money, not the landscape.

Northwest Connecticut region is shown in green and the Litchfield Hills region in blue.

Broadband-challenged areas in northwest Connecticut are shown in green and the often “No signal” and “No Internet” Litchfield Hills region is shown in blue.

Despite the need for service, deregulation largely allows cable and phone companies to decide where to offer broadband service, and arguments about fulfilling a public need and performing a community service don’t get far with Wall Street and shareholders that constantly pressure companies to deliver profits, not expensive investments that may never pay off.

State Rep. Roberta Willis (D-Salisbury) told the Register Citizen News the status quo is not acceptable — telecommunications companies are not doing enough to build out their networks.

“You just can’t say it’s the topography and walk away,” she told the newspaper. “If electricity companies were deregulated like this there would be no electricity in my district.”

Comcast spokeswoman Laura Brubaker Crisco claims the company extended cable service nearly 62 miles in northwest Connecticut since 2005 (ten years ago) and completed nearly 100 projects extending fiber more than 10 miles in the past two years. But many of those projects overhauled Comcast’s existing middle-mile network and extended cable service to profitable new markets serving commercial customers, especially office parks and commercial storefronts. Comcast’s other priority was to reach new high-income residential developments being built as the area continues to grow. Rural customers who could not meet Comcast’s Return On Investment formula in 2005 are still unlikely to have service in 2015 unless population density increases in their immediate area.

Connecticut's effort to extend gigabit fiber statewide is dismissed as a waste of money by incumbent cable operators.

Connecticut’s effort to extend gigabit fiber statewide is dismissed as a waste of money by incumbent cable operators.

Crisco admits Comcast does not wire low density areas and isn’t surprised other providers won’t either.

Frontier prefers to blame the area’s topography for keeping broadband out.

David Snyder, vice president for engineering for the east region of Frontier Communications, told the newspaper “it’s just natural the investment and the time become more challenging.”

Frontier does say it has expanded broadband to 40,000 additional households in Connecticut since taking over for AT&T a year ago. But nobody seems to know exactly who can get broadband in the state and who cannot. The have-nots are the most likely to complain, and those businesses that serve visitors are in peril of losing business without offering reasonable Wi-Fi or Internet access. Rural families with school-age children are also at risk from having their kids fall behind those that can get broadband.

Wireless Internet Service Providers, which offer long-range wireless broadband in rural areas, complain the federal government is wasting money on studies instead of helping to underwrite solutions that can quickly bring Internet access to the rural masses.

Others believe talking to Frontier and Comcast is futile. They prefer to follow the lead of western Massachusetts, where 24 small communities across the region have joined forces to build a public fiber to the home broadband network. One estimate suggests 22 Connecticut towns covering 200,000 residents could be reached with a bond-financed fiber network completed by 2018. That network would likely reach more unserved customers than Frontier or Comcast will elect to serve over the next three years combined.

A separate effort to establish gigabit fiber broadband across the state — the CT Gig Project — promptly ran into a buzzsaw of opposition, primarily from incumbent telecommunications companies that refuse to offer that service now. With a threat to current profitable business models, it was not unexpected to hear opposition from Paul Cianelli, CEO of the New England Cable & Telecom Association — a cable company lobbying group.

He called public broadband unnecessary and “potentially disastrous.” He wants assurances no government subsidies or loan guarantees are given to the project. He also said providing gigabit service was unnecessary and faster Internet speeds were not important to the majority of customers in the state. Public broadband proponents respond Cianelli should tell that to the residents of Litchfield Hills and other unserved and underserved communities.

Time Warner Cable Hired Sexual Predator as Technician; Guilty Plea After Attacking Female Customers

Malave (Image: Bergen County Sheriff's Office)

Malave (Image: Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office)

If Time Warner Cable bothered to Google Jonathan Malave, they might have never hired him as a cable installer/technician.

Previously charged and convicted as a sexual predator, Malave, 32, of Montvale, N.J., already had a criminal history after assaulting a female Cablevision customer on his last job during a service call in 2012. But Time Warner Cable hired him anyway, despite the fact the high-profile case drew significant media attention (including Stop the Cap! We covered the story in April, 2012).

In July 2014 at his new job working for Time Warner, Malave sexually assaulted a 60-year old Ridgefield Park woman during a service call, while wearing proper Time Warner Cable credentials. One month later, he raped a 73-year old Fairview customer after she let him inside to repair her service. After being arrested by the local authorities’ Special Victims Unit, Malave was charged in both incidents. In September 2015, Malave pled guilty in Bergen County court and is awaiting sentencing.

The Fairview woman, who lives alone, was left deeply traumatized by the event according to her attorney Rosemarie Arnold. She is suing Malave and Time Warner Cable for unspecified damages alleging the cable company should have known Malave was dangerous.

“All they had to do was Google him,’’ Arnold told The Record. “This is negligent hiring. You’re hiring a sexual predator and sending them to women’s homes.’’

“Defendant Jonathan Malave had a history of sexual harassment and/or sexual abuse and/or inappropriate sexual behavior which defendant was aware or should have been aware of,’’ the lawsuit claims. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, punitive damages, legal fees and costs.

Time Warner Cable had no comment except to say it conducts background checks on its employees and would continue to work with local law enforcement on these types of cases.

WABC-TV in New York reported last fall Malave had assaulted three female customers in their homes while working for two different cable companies. Time Warner terminated his employment after the third incident. (2:31)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren Calls Out Bought-and-Paid-For Research; One Paid Author Resigns

Phillip Dampier October 6, 2015 Editorial & Site News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Sen. Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has sent a shockwave across the D.C. Beltway and academia after complaining a Brookings Institution scholar co-authored a research report that was paid for by a corporation that used it to lobby Congress to reject consumer protections for retirees.

Warren’s encounter with paid research is nothing new for Stop the Cap! readers. We have been documenting Big Telecom’s “Phoney” research advocating against consumer protections for broadband and for usage caps and usage-based billing since 2009.

In our view, it is nothing short of unethical for a researcher to accept funding for a corporate-backed research study, bury that fact in a footnote, and leave out the dollar amounts involved. But with tens of thousands of dollars ready for the taking per “study,” a cottage industry of academia and “independent” researchers has sprung up to supply customized findings that “coincidentally” mirror that company’s public policy agenda.

Warren followed the money after reviewing a report written by Robert Litan and co-authored by Hal Singer, who often writes about broadband issues for the Progressive Policy Institute, which itself receives significant funding from Big Telecom companies.

Hire your own economist to write you a research report. Economists, Inc.'s "selected client list" is a Who's Who of America's top corporations.

Hire your own economist to write you a research report. Economists, Inc.’s “selected client list” is a Who’s Who of America’s top corporations.

Litan’s report advocated against a proposed rule written by the Labor Department that would prohibit retirement plan brokers from receiving financial commissions, bonuses and other quiet incentives from giant investment banks that could potentially influence the advice brokers give consumers. During the housing bust of the Great Recession, similar financial conflicts of interest occurred when realtors and loan officers were accused of steering consumers into loan/mortgage products that paid substantial commissions to both, despite the fact those products may not have been in the best interests of homebuyers.

Litan concluded the new rule would “be too costly” to manage, a claim dismissed as ridiculous by Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America.

What could have made an economist with ties to the prestigious Brookings Institution reach a conclusion that would, in the words of Roper, leave “millions of working families and retirees without meaningful protections when they turn to financial professionals for retirement investment advice?”

It might be the $85,000 paid by the study’s sponsor — the Capital Group, a leading mutual fund manager with an obvious interest in the outcome.

Brookings promotes "quality, independence, and impact."

Brookings promotes “quality, independence, and impact.”

Warren’s staff noticed a tiny footnote on the first page of Litan and Singer’s report acknowledging the study was sponsored by the firm, but did not disclose the amount paid or the conditions under which the study was written.

Warren complained the report was little more than a “highly compensated and editorially compromised work on behalf of an industry player seeking a specific conclusion.” Warren also notified both the Brookings Institution and the Obama Administration that using these types of reports to “independently” bolster a corporation’s lobbying was little more than influence peddling, and implied it threatened Brooking’s reputation.

The practice of writing corporate-sponsored research is well-established, usually dependent on the names and reputations of well-respected think tanks and policy institutes to provide cover for the more blatant practice of direct corporate lobbying. Most corporations avoid drawing attention to their direct financial relationship with study authors. Litan’s money connection was revealed in follow-up written questions from Warren. The answers conflicted with the study authors’ original claims they were “solely responsible” for the study’s conclusions, finally revealing Capital Group had paid $85,000 for the study, and Litan’s share was $38,800.

Recognize that logo? Your retirement fund may already be handled by a Capital Group subsidiary like American Funds.

Recognize that logo? Your retirement fund may already be handled by a Capital Group subsidiary like American Funds.

Tom Joyce, a spokesman for the Capital Group, said his company was following standard practice. “It is typical for organizations to sponsor academic studies,” Joyce said, noting that in this case, “no preconditions or predetermined conclusions were imposed.”

Few D.C. insiders believe Joyce, noting they have never seen a corporate-sponsored report that concluded anything markedly different from the corporate sponsors’ own positions.

In the end, Litan resigned his “non-resident scholar” position at the Brookings Institution, not because of his association with corporate-sponsored research, but rather his violation of a new think-tank rule prohibiting researchers from citing their affiliation with Brookings when testifying before Congress.

After that, the D.C. establishment and a threatened coterie of fellow pay-for-research writers went on the warpath, realizing a lucrative revenue stream was at risk if the public knew the independence of corporate-funded research is often suspect.

“This is McCarthyism of the left,” Hal Singer, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and co-author of the research Warren criticized told Politico. “What Warren is doing is suppressing scholars [who] speak independently through her threats.”

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal accused Warren of launching an inquisition against ideas and used the names of several former officials in the Clinton Administration to defend the bipartisan practice of corporate writing on spec.

The National Review (seeing a trend yet?) also blistered Warren for having a double standard in a piece Bloomberg News dismissed as “interesting though a bit breathless.” The fact pro-regulation lobbying group Better Markets often agrees with Sen. Warren’s political views was enough for the conservative magazine to indict her for essentially doing the same thing Litan did. Only Bloomberg concluded Warren was more of a bystander than a participant.

[The National Review piece] accuses Better Markets of “failing to adequately disclose its relationship” with its hedge-fund-manager founder Michael Masters, even though that relationship seems to be fully disclosed, and it insinuates that Masters was shorting Prudential and MetLife while Better Markets was arguing to have them regulated as “systemically important,” even though the only evidence for that is that Masters [had] long call options on Pru and Met.

Warren has made a point of publicly exposing the cozy relationships corporations have with lobbyists, paid consultants, and academia in her one-woman war to protect consumer interests and punish big banks and corporations for anti-consumer behavior. Her practice of tearing the lid off D.C.’s revolving door of lobbying and public service has made Democrats and Republicans nervous, and more than few are looking for revenge.

As far as we’re concerned, Warren’s isn’t the issue. The problem rests with those that willingly choose to risk their credibility for cash, writing reports with glaring conflicts of interest.

Get Your Share of a $576+ Million Settlement for 10+ Years of CRT Monitor Price Fixing

Phillip Dampier October 6, 2015 Consumer News, Video No Comments
These old CRT monitors probably sitting in your garage or basement are still worth something after all.

These old CRT monitors probably sitting in your garage or basement are still worth something after all.

If you purchased a boat-anchor-weight CRT monitor for your personal computer or a television set between March 1, 1995 and November 25, 2007, you may be owed a significant settlement from the $576 million dollar fund various manufacturers have set aside to pay class action damage claims.

The settlements, to be divided by consumers and businesses who overpaid for a TV or computer monitor as a result of alleged price-fixing, is likely to result in many households qualified to receive a check for $100 or more, even after the lawyers get their share. For now, only residents in certain states are qualified for settlement payments, but additional lawsuits are moving forward, so if your state isn’t qualified now, it might be later.

You have until December 7, 2015 to file your claim online or by mail for this settlement round. It takes only a few minutes to complete the form.

Individuals and businesses qualify for money from this settlement if they purchased a CRT or product containing a CRT, such as a TV or computer monitor, in the following states for their own use and not resale. You do not have to live in these states to qualify, if you purchased your television or monitor from a retailer (online/brick and mortar) with a presence in these states:

  • Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin or the District of Columbia between March 1, 1995 and November 25, 2007
  • Hawaii between June 25, 2002 and November 25, 2007
  • Nebraska between July 20, 2002 and November 25, 2007
  • Nevada between February 4, 1999 and November 25, 2007

settleThe huge class action case has been in the works for years and alleges that defendants and co-conspirators conspired to raise and fix prices for CRT monitors (the ones you probably used before you bought your first flat panel LCD monitor). The alleged scam ran for more than a decade and several manufacturers have agreed to settle to make the case go away without admitting guilt.

The collective law firms involved in the case have asked for no more than one-third of the settlement, a reasonable amount in light of many other class action cases that leave consumers with nothing more than a low value coupon or “spare change” reimbursement checks. Because the alleged price-fixing lasted over a decade, many households will be able to claim settlement reimbursement for multiple televisions and computer monitors.

CPT, Philips, Panasonic, LG, Toshiba, Hitachi, Samsung SDI, and Thomson/TDA have agreed to settlements, and these manufacturers made the cathode ray tubes for several third-party brands. The largest manufacturer not a part of this lawsuit is Sony, and those monitors and televisions are excluded from this settlement.

Because these purchases occurred so long ago, you are not expected to have the receipt, the computer monitor, or television still in your possession. Any reasonable claim will be accepted without documentation. If your home or business is claiming what we estimate to be more than a combined five televisions and computer monitors, it will probably be audited and some form of reasonable documentation (picture, receipt, owner’s manual, credit card statement, etc.) will be required to prove your claim.

Here are the television and computer monitor brands involved in this round of settlements:

Chunghwa, LG, Philips, Panasonic, Hitachi, Toshiba, Samsung, Thomson and TDA.

Updated 7:00pm EDT — This article was considerably rewritten shortly after publication because it initially addressed a different settlement affecting “direct purchasers” who bought monitors direct from manufacturers. The updated details seen above reflect a settlement involving “indirect purchasers,” defined as those who bought monitors from a third-party retailer, such as Best Buy, Amazon.com, your local computer store, etc. The “indirect purchasers” settlement will reach a larger number of consumers and businesses who read Stop the Cap!, so we updated the article. If you already filed a claim using the original link seen in the earlier article, you will need to re-file using the corrected links seen above. The worst that can happen is the settlement administrator will request a clarification. It will not affect your eligibility. We apologize for any confusion this caused.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Cathode Ray Tube CRT Indirect Purchaser Class Action.mp4

Learn more about the CRT Settlement Fund and how you can collect a substantial settlement for your old computer monitor or television set. (37 seconds)

California Company Will Help You Cancel Comcast Service for $5 Or We’ll Help You for Free

The Don't Care Bears

The Don’t Care Bears

Americans seem to hate dealing with their cable company so much, they are willing to pay someone else to do it for them.

AirPaper, a Bay Area company, is now offering to help rid you of Comcast for a one-time charge of $5.

You supply them with your name, e-mail, address, phone number and Comcast account number/any security verification information required to cancel your account and they will send Comcast a letter requesting your account be closed.

For now, media reports are vague about the duo’s success rate. Because the request to cancel will arrive in writing, nothing precludes Comcast from having a retention specialist contact you by phone and still attempt to save your business. Comcast is also notorious for not being especially responsive to written requests for anything and its Executive Customer Service department also draws complaints.

Of course, nothing precludes you from keeping the $5 in your wallet and using our recommended methods of dealing with Comcast, which come for free.

You can write your own letter to Comcast requesting a no-negotiation cancellation of your service by sending a letter with your name, address, phone number, account number and e-mail to:

Office of the President
Comcast Headquarters
Comcast Center
1701 JFK Blvd.
Philadelphia, PA 19103

(215) 286-1700
(215) 981-7790 (fax)

Even better, you can follow Comcast’s usual cancellation procedure using 1-800-XFINITY (1-800-934-6489) and tell the agent you are canceling service for any of these reasons, and you will be spared customer retention hardball:

  • You are moving in with an existing Comcast customer and do not need two accounts at the same address;
  • You are relocating to a senior care or assisted living facility that already has service for all residents;
  • Tell them you are moving to a non-Comcast service area. Need an address? Tell them an apartment on Elmwood Ave., Rochester, NY 14618. It’s well outside of Comcast’s service area and they won’t try and offer you Time Warner Cable service if you remind them the complex already provides service to every renter;
  • Tell them you are converting your home into a seasonal residence and you wish to disconnect service with no reconnect date available;
  • Inform them your home succumbed to a fire, flood, killer bees, or whatever other natural disaster will make your home uninhabitable indefinitely. What they will care about the most is if their equipment survived the calamity. When you tell them yes and you are returning it, they won’t bug you any further;
  • You are relocating overseas for a job, volunteer work, or military service with no known return date.

If you use any of these excuses, you will be off the phone 10 minutes after speaking to someone.

Got a Call from 1-800-922-0204? Careful. The Verizon Wireless “Refund” Scam is Back

Phillip Dampier October 5, 2015 Consumer News, Verizon, Wireless Broadband No Comments

scamScammers are once again spoofing Verizon Wireless’ 1-800-922-0204 customer service number shown on a customer’s Caller ID in calls offering “refunds” ranging from $30-60 in return for personal information needed to “process a refund check or service credit.”

Verizon Wireless customers (including myself) have started receiving recent unsolicited calls from Verizon Wireless claiming an earlier billing error resulted in an overcharge to their wireless account. The amount of the credit varies, but is significant enough to get the attention of unwitting customers. The caller is asked to verify their Verizon Wireless “account password,” which is a critical piece of information not to be shared with unsolicited callers. Once exposed, anyone can call Verizon Wireless and make changes to your account.

Variations on this scam have been around since 2014. Last fall, callers were instructed to “apply for a refund” at phony websites run by the crooks, almost always detectable because the scammers registered web addresses close to Verizon’s legitimate address, but with two extra numbers attached. (eg. http://28verizon.com/, 27verizon.com, 48verizon.com, etc.) Most of these sites were shut down by early 2015.

Consumers usually believe the calls are genuine because their Caller ID reports the calling number originates with Verizon Wireless customer service. But such caller ID information can now be easily manipulated or faked, making it harder than ever to truly know who is calling.

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svgComplicating matters are Verizon’s own marketing calls to customers originating from the same 800 number, which are legitimate. In an effort to combat the scammers, customers can call Verizon Wireless back at 1-800-922-0204 and the automated call attendant will confirm any recent legitimate customer service calls (often for an “account review” or to tell you about a past due balance) made to your number recently.

The best way to avoid this fraud is to not answer unsolicited calls from unfamiliar numbers and refuse to share any personal information with an incoming caller you don’t know. That includes giving out your full name, address, any part of an account password or Social Security number, credit card number, bank account information, etc.

Any legitimate overpayment or overcharge would be automatically credited back by Verizon on your next bill or mailed to the last address on file if you are a former customer.

“I normally never answer a call with a Caller ID number I don’t recognize, but I was fooled because the number reported was Verizon Wireless customer service’s own number,” said Dylan, a Stop the Cap! reader who now admits he gave away too much information. “I foolishly gave them my account password, address, and phone numbers and only got suspicious when they asked for my Social Security number. That is when I knew and I hung up and called Verizon and changed my account password before the scammers did.”

“I learned my lesson.”

AT&T Charges Customers $40 More for Gigabit Service In Cities Where Google Doesn’t Compete

In Bexar County, Texas Public Radio found only a small number of customers qualify for AT&T GigaPower service. (Image: TPR)

In Bexar County, Texas Public Radio found only a few customers (shown in green) qualify for AT&T GigaPower service. (Image: TPR)

AT&T charges customers $40 a month/$480 a year more for its U-verse with GigaPower gigabit broadband service in cities where it does not face direct competition with Google Fiber.

AT&T has announced six new cities will eventually get gigabit speed service, including Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville, Orlando, Miami and San Antonio. Whether customers will pay $70 or $110 for the same service depends entirely on one factor: Google Fiber.

The Consumerist notes communities with forthcoming competition from the search engine giant will pay $40 less for gigabit service from AT&T than communities without Google Fiber.

In San Antonio, Nashville, and Atlanta — all forthcoming Google Fiber cities, customers will pay AT&T $70 a month. In Google Fiberless Orlando, Chicago, and Miami, customers will pay $80 for a 300Mbps tier or $110 for 1,000Mbps service.

Although AT&T is usually the first to market 1,000Mbps service in its service areas, actually qualifying to buy the service is another hurdle customers have to overcome. In San Antonio, most customers will have to wait.

In an informal survey conducted by Texas Public Radio on social media, about 60 Bexar County residents checked to see if their home addresses could connect to AT&T’s GigaPower. Only 11 could, most in far west Bexar County beyond Leon Valley. Other limited service areas south of Live Oak also qualified. Most of the rest of metro San Antonio does not qualify for GigaPower and AT&T will not say when customers can get the service.

AT&T later admitted gigabit service was available in “parts” of San Antonio, Leon Valley, Live Oak, Selma, Schertz, Cibolo, as well as portions of New Braunfels, Medina, and unincorporated Bexar County.

u-verse gigapowerThe Consumerist writes AT&T is proving the importance of robust broadband competition. Communities that have it pay less and get quicker upgrades for faster Internet speeds. Those without pay AT&T a premium or are long way down on the upgrade list.

In the northeastern United States, now a no-go for Google Fiber, broadband is often a feast or famine proposition. Those served by Verizon FiOS in New York City also have the competing options of network-upgraded Cablevision or Time Warner Cable Maxx. Those in New York not served by FiOS have a much poorer choice of Time Warner Cable (up to 50/5Mbps) or <10Mbps DSL service from Verizon, Frontier, Windstream, and other phone companies. In Northern New England, Comcast routinely outclasses DSL service from FairPoint Communications, but significant parts of Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and western Massachusetts often have no broadband options at all.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KSAT San Antonio GigaPower Internet coming to San Antonio 9-21-15.mp4

KSAT-TV in San Antonio covered AT&T’s launch of U-verse with GigaPower in San Antonio. As elsewhere, AT&T routinely invites city officials to share the good news with local residents. But it may take a year or more for the service to become available to everyone in the area. Even when it is, a snap poll conducted by KSAT found just over half of its viewers had no interest in getting gigabit service from AT&T. (1:51)

Time Warner Cable’s “Improved Customer Service” Campaign Includes “On Hold Hits”

Time Warner Cable is turning lemons into lemonade with full-page ads in select newspapers promoting the company’s “improved customer service,” including a YouTube selection of their best hold music.

improved cs

If looks could kill...

If looks could kill… you’d already be dead.

Time Warner’s website expands on the list of improvements, including not trapping you on hold for more than 90 seconds, 24/7 online and phone support hours, scheduling a time for a customer service representative to call you back, and commitments for same day or next day in-home service calls with as little as one-hour window appointments, promising no more all-day waits for the cable repair guy to arrive. An app even tells you an estimated time the technician will arrive at your home.

Despite the commitments for better service, Time Warner’s tongue-in-cheek pokes at its own past performance fell flat with some customers.

A bizarre five-minute video offered customers who miss spending 30 minutes on hold a chance to listen to Time Warner’s best on-hold hits.

Sometimes, it’s too soon for jokes.

If Time Warner is really putting marathon-length hold times behind it, why not wait to prove it before lampooning it? Otherwise, depicting a humorless Time Warner customer dancing to hold music only reminds us of our own collective customer service agony, like calling to complain about a service outage and being walked through resetting a cable modem or web browser instead.

Nurse Ratched arrives just in time with medication for your unsatisfying customer service experience.

Nurse Ratched

The customer’s dead, staring eyes and near-motionless face were all clear signs of BCS: Bad Customer Service. The disturbing video left us waiting for Nurse Ratched to appear with a small paper cup containing medication. Message: Time Warner mentally tortured its own customers and has now finally promised to stop. (Tip: Next time, hire Seth “Family Guy” MacFarlane to manage your attempts at humorous irony. He would have gone over the top and turned Big Cable’s record for lousy service into an animated Broadway song and dance number that would have brought the house down.)

There are other problems as well:

  • Recent tests of the “convenient call back” feature have not always worked as intended, leaving customers waiting for hours for a callback. Others never got one at all;
  • The “Ask TWC” virtual attendant could handle simple queries, but was otherwise as satisfying as talking to a Moroccan call center. She delivered a lot of non-answers to more complicated questions, just like regular customer service. We asked if Time Warner Cable had usage caps. She had no idea. We asked why a certain channel cannot be found on our lineup. She offered a channel guide we already have (no help there) or a tutorial on how to use a remote control (ditto);
  • capsTWC’s TechTracker is going nationwide by the end of this year and promises to let you manage appointment reminders from the app and display a photo of the technician en route. That could be useful to show the authorities if the tech goes missing.

Customers in Cleveland who saw the ad in their local newspaper tell The Plain Dealer they are skeptical.

Michelle tweeted, “I’ll believe it when I see it. Otherwise, it’s just lip service.”

The company has a long way to go to change the perceptions of Wolf7: “TWC is the worst company in the entire history of everything.”

Customers report discontent with Time Warner’s product (slow Internet access, too many TV channels), its cost, and the quality of customer service — notably missed appointments, incorrect bills, and unresolved service problems.

Still, some of Time Warner’s improvements do seem to be making a difference in some areas, especially the possibility of in-home, same-day service calls (including weekends and evenings), and early detection of significant service outages. Time Warner needs to make sure its customer callback system is audited for performance and its TechTracker app should include some type of limited GPS tracking that automatically alerts customers the tech is really on the way, showing their progress as they drive to the customer’s address.

Time Warner’s potential buyer — Charter Communications — has a service and satisfaction record comparable to Time Warner, so customers should understand these changes remain a “work in progress.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TWC Hold Music -- Reduced Wait Time 10-5-15.mp4

Time Warner Cable’s new ad promising reduced hold times for customers. (30 seconds)

Comcast Dragged Into Upgrade for Santa Cruz After Public Broadband Initiative Announced

Before and after competition

Before and after competition

The best way to guarantee service upgrades from Comcast is to threaten to launch your own competing service provider, which is precisely what worked for the community of Santa Cruz, Calif., where Comcast suddenly found the resources to upgrade the local cable system to support speeds faster than 25Mbps.

For more than two years, customers and local governments across Santa Cruz County have been begging Comcast to upgrade the cable system that would have been state-of-the-art if it was still 1997. Customers could not exceed speeds of 25-28Mbps, but Comcast continued advertising its “Performance” tier (50Mbps), Blast! (105Mbps) and even Extreme option (150Mbps), collecting dozens of extra dollars a month from customers while their broadband speeds maxed out below 30Mbps.

The cable system is so antiquated, it could not officially support consistent service above 25Mbps, and many locals complain their speeds were slower than that.

“The most popular speed in this county is 16/2Mbps, which is the fastest one Comcast will actually give you what you paid for,” said Stop the Cap! reader Jim, who lives in Santa Cruz. “It’s so bad, people are actually envious of Charter, which services customers to the south.”

comcastOokla’s Net Speed Index rated the community of 62,000 447th fastest out of 505 California broadband-enabled cities.

Comcast’s performance was so bad, a frustrated employee began leaking internal company documents exposing the fact the cable system could not deliver speeds above 29Mbps, despite marketing and advertising campaigns selling customers more expensive, faster broadband local employees knew it could not deliver.

“We’ve been complaining to the company in Philadelphia for years, asking them to stop promising something they weren’t delivering,” a Comcast  technician told GoodTimes, a community newspaper. “But they ignored us.”

When customers complained, they were told their equipment was at fault or their cable modems needed to be replaced. In fact, the cable system’s local infrastructure needed to be upgraded, something Comcast has not done until recently.

santa cruzThis summer, the City of Santa Cruz joined forces with Cruzio, a California-based independent Internet Service Provider, to plan a new fiber to the home network within the city.

Under the terms of the partnership, the city will own the network, and Cruzio will act as the developer during engineering and construction and as the operator when the network is complete. Financing for the development of the network will be through city-backed municipal revenue bonds, repaid through the revenue from the sale of network services (and not by the taxpayers). The project will be financially self-sustaining and 100% of the profit generated will stay in the City of Santa Cruz.

Much of that money is likely to flow away from Comcast and into the community fiber provider, which will support speeds up to 1 gigabit. The announcement of impending competition inspired Comcast to upgrade its local cable infrastructure and the cable company suddenly announced service upgrades less than two months after the city announced their fiber project. In August, Comcast added 30 new channels, raised the speeds of two of its residential Xfinity Internet tiers at no additional cost to customers, and introduced four new tiers of Internet service for commercial business customers.

cruzio-logoThe Performance tier speed jumped overnight from 16/2Mbps to 75/5Mbps. Blast! speed increased from 25/4Mbps to 150/10Mbps.

For many local residents, it is too little, too late.

“Comcast can kiss me goodbye when Cruzio rolls into my neighborhood,” said Jim. “They ignored and overbilled us for years and the only time things changed is when competition was announced. Cruzio keeps their money here, Comcast sends it off to Philadelphia. If I have a problem, I know I’m going to get better service in person than dealing with Comcast’s customer service which has no idea where Santa Cruz even is.”

For Comcast customers who paid extra for Internet speeds they never received, company officials suggested they write a letter and ask for a refund, something Comcast will consider on a case-by-case basis.

“Comcast is a fundamentally deceitful company, at the leadership level,” responded local resident Charles Vaske. “They can not be trusted to stick to their word, and they certainly should not be trusted with infrastructure as vital as Internet access. A mere refund for this type of deceit is not appropriate, there should be severe penalties for such intentional crime.”

DirecTV Lampoons Big Cable Mergers in New Ad

Phillip Dampier October 1, 2015 Competition, Consumer News, Video No Comments
cable world

Fred Willard appears as a cable executive in this new DirecTV ad.

DirecTV, itself recently acquired by AT&T, is having fun with the recent spate of cable mergers and acquisitions.

A new ad from the satellite provider lampoons a merger between Cable Corp and CableWorld, likely stand-ins for Charter Communications, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable.

“That company stinks,” complains a board member of “Cable Corp,” the target of the buyout. “And I mean they smell. I used to work there. I had to breathe through my mouth all the time.”

To those in the know, the ad is more accurate than funny.

“We all know that DirecTV’s better at this whole TV thing, so to beat ‘em, we’re going to get bigger, we’re going to merge with CableWorld,” says Jeffrey Tambor, who plays Cable Corp’s CEO.

AT&T bought DirecTV to combine the satellite provider’s much larger customer base with AT&T U-verse to win better volume discounts for cable programming.

Consumers will get a higher bill regardless and Fred Willard is on hand to deliver the pink slips.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/DirecTV Cable Corp Merges with CableWorld 10-1-15.mp4

Fred Willard and Jeffrey Tambor appear as CEOs of rival cable companies merging in this new ad from DirecTV. (30 seconds)

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