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Math Problem: The Telecom Industry’s Bias Against Fiber-to-the-Home Service

Phillip "Spending $6k per cable customer is obviously a much better deal than paying half that to build a fiber to the home network" Dampier

Phillip “Spending $6k per cable customer is obviously a much better deal than paying half that to build a fiber to the home network” Dampier

Math was never my strong subject, but even I can calculate the groupthink of American cable and telephone companies and their friends on Wall Street just doesn’t add up.

This week, we learned that cable companies like Bright House Networks, Suddenlink, and Charter Communications are already lining up for a chance to acquire three million cable customers Comcast intends to sell if it wins approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable. Wall Street has already predicted Comcast will fetch as much as $18 billion for those customers and pegged the value of each at approximately $6,000.

But for less than half that price any company could build a brand new fiber to the home system capable of delivering 1,000Mbps broadband and state-of-the-art phone and television service and start banking profits long before paying off the debt from buying an inferior coaxial cable system. Yet we are told time and time again that the economics of fiber to the home service simply don’t make any sense and deploying the technology is a waste of money.

Let’s review:

Google Fiber was called a boondoggle by many of its competitors. The folks at Bernstein Research, routinely friendly to the cable business model, seemed appalled at the economics of Google’s fiber project in Kansas City. Bernstein’s Carlos Kirjner and Ram Parameswaran said Google would throw $84 million into the first phase of its fiber network, connecting 149,000 homes at a cost between $500-674 per home. The Wall Street analyst firm warned investors of the costs Google would incur reaching 20 million customers nationwide — $11 billion.

“We remain skeptical that Google will find a scalable and economically feasible model to extend its build out to a large portion of the U.S., as costs would be substantial, regulatory and competitive barriers material, and in the end the effort would have limited impact on the global trajectory of the business,” Bernstein wrote to its investor clients.

dealSo Google spending $11 billion to reach 20 million new homes is business malpractice while spending $18 billion for three million Time Warner Cable customers is confirmation of the cable industry’s robust health and valuation?

Bernstein’s firm never thought highly of Verizon FiOS either.

“If I were an auto dealer and I wanted to give people a Maserati for the price of a Volkswagen, I’d have some seriously happy customers,” Craig Moffett from Bernstein said back in 2008. “My problem would be whether I could earn a decent return doing it.”

Back then, Moffett estimated the average cost to Verizon per FiOS home passed was $3,897, a figure based on wiring up every neighborhood, but not getting every homeowner to buy the service. Costs for fiber have dropped dramatically since 2008. Dave Burstein from DSL Prime reported by the summer of 2012 Verizon told shareholders costs fell below $700/home passed and headed to $600. The total cost of running fiber, installing it in a customer’s home and providing equipment meant Verizon had to spend about $1,500 per customer when all was said and done.

Moffett concluded Verizon was throwing money away spending that much on improving service. He wasn’t impressed by AT&T U-verse either, which only ran fiber into the neighborhood, not to each home. Moffett predicted AT&T was spending $2,200 per home on U-verse back in 2008, although those costs have dropped dramatically as well.

Moffett

Moffett

Moffett’s solution for both Verizon and AT&T? Do nothing to upgrade, because the price wasn’t worth the amount of revenue returns either company could expect in the short-term.

It was a much different story if Comcast wanted to spend $45 billion to acquire Time Warner Cable however, a deal Moffett called “transformational.”

“What we’re talking about is an industry that is becoming more capital intensive,” Todd Mitchell, an analyst at Brean Capital LLC in New York told Bloomberg News. “What happens to mature, capital-intensive companies — they consolidate. So, yes, I think the cable industry is ripe for consolidation.”

Other investors agreed.

“This is definitely a bet on a positive future for high-speed access, cable and other services in an economic recovery,” said Bill Smead, chief investment officer at Smead Capital Management, whose fund owns Comcast shares.

ftth councilBut Forbes’ Peter Cohan called Google’s much less investment into fiber broadband a colossal waste of money.

“Larry Page should nip this bad idea in the bud,” Cohan wrote.

Cohan warned investors should throw water on the enthusiasm for fiber before serious money got spent.

“FTTH authority, Neal Lachman, wrote in SeekingAlpha, that it would cost as much as $500 billion and could take a decade to connect all the houses and commercial buildings in the U.S. to fiber,” Cohan added.

Cohan was concerned Google’s initial investment would take much too long to be recovered, which apparently is not an issue for buyers willing to spend $18 billion for three million disaffected Time Warner Cable customers desperately seeking alternatives.

An investment for the future, not for short term profits.

An investment for the future, not short term profits.

Municipal broadband providers have often chosen to deploy fiber to the home service because the technology offers plenty of capacity, ongoing maintenance costs are low and the networks can be upgraded at little cost indefinitely. But such broadband efforts, especially when they are owned by local government, represent a threat for cable and phone companies relying on a business model that sells less for more.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funded by Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, Verizon, and other large telecom companies is at the forefront of helping friendly state legislators ban community fiber networks. Their excuse is that the fiber networks cost too much and, inexplicably, can reduce competition.

“A growing number of municipalities are [...] building their own networks and offering broadband services to their citizens,” ALEC writes on its website. “ALEC disagrees with their answer due to the negative impacts it has on free markets and limited government.  In addition, such projects could erode consumer choice by making markets less attractive to competition because of the government’s expanded role as a service provider.”

The Fiber-to-the-Home Council obviously disagrees.

“Believe it or not, there are already more than a thousand telecom network operators and service providers across North America that have upgraded to fiber to the home,” says the Council. “The vast majority of these are local incumbent telephone companies that are looking to transform themselves from voice and DSL providers into 21st century broadband companies that can deliver ultra high-speed Internet and robust video services, as well as be able to deliver other high-bandwidth digital applications and services to homes and businesses in the years ahead.”

Stephenson

Stephenson

In fact, a good many of those efforts are undertaken by member-owned co-ops and municipally owned providers that answer to local residents, not to shareholders looking for quick returns.

The only time large companies like AT&T move towards fiber to the home service is when a competitor threatens to do it themselves. That is precisely what happened in Austin. The day Google announced it was launching fiber service in Austin, AT&T suddenly announced its intention to do the same.

“In Austin we’re deploying fiber very aggressively,” said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. “The cost dynamics of deploying fiber have dramatically changed. The interfaces at the homes, the wiring requirements, how you get a wiring drop to a pole, and the way you splice it has totally changed the cost dynamics of deploying fiber.”

Prior to that announcement, AT&T justified its decision not to deploy fiber all the way to the home by saying it was unnecessary and too costly. With Google headed to town, that talking point is no longer operative.

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Time Warner Cable Releases Video Showing Broadband Upgrades Underway in LA, NYC

twcmaxDespite its pending merger with Comcast, Time Warner Cable is still promising to boost broadband speeds by the end of this year in New York City and Los Angeles.

The TWC Maxx program was announced before the merger, but Time Warner says it is still going ahead with upgrades and produced a video showing some of the behind-the-scenes work in Los Angeles.

Although the video doesn’t show much more than people pointing at equipment displays and maintaining equipment racks, it does include an interview about what Time Warner is doing to prepare for infrastructure upgrades serious enough to need a bigger air conditioner for the building.

Time Warner does warn customers they may experience brief service interruptions as a result of the work.

When complete, Time Warner Cable customers in both cities will have all-digital television service and major broadband speed upgrades:

 

Current Mbps Speeds Up to

New Mbps Speeds Up to

Everyday Low Price   Customers

2/1

3/1

Basic Customers

3/1

10/1

Standard Customers

15/1

50/5

Turbo Customers

20/2

100/10

Extreme Customers

30/5

200/20

Ultimate Customers

50/5

300/20

These upgrades may be modified if/when Comcast takes over, and Time Warner has not disclosed which cities will get the upgrades next.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TWC Behind The Scenes at a Los Angeles Hub Time Warner Cable 3-26-14.flv

Jay Gormley, a former reporter for KTVT in Dallas now working for Time Warner Cable takes customers on a tour of a Los Angeles Time Warner Cable hub slated to get service upgrades. (2:01)

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Comcast Says Customer-Owned Cable Modem Equipment Restriction Was Part of an Old Memo

Phillip Dampier March 26, 2014 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 1 Comment
Comcast's gateway is optional after all.

Comcast’s gateway is optional after all.

Yesterday, Stop the Cap! reported Comcast was informing some customers with 105Mbps service they would have to give up their customer-owned cable modems and go back to renting Comcast’s gateway device for $7 a month. Customers were told the policy was elaborated on in a memo, obtained by Stop the Cap!

This afternoon, Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas responded to our inquiry about this with some good news for customers: they can keep using the equipment they purchased to avoid the modem rental fee.

Douglas explains the memo “is apparently an old document from 2010 when we first launched Extreme 105.”

“At that time, there weren’t any modems for sale at retail that could handle that speed,” Douglas added. “Four years later here we are and there are plenty of modems customers can buy. The document is wrong and old and we’re fixing it and sorry for any confusion it may have caused. It’s not acceptable. If you want to pass those customers you’ve heard from on to us, we will be happy to follow up with them and apologize and make sure their service and modem is running properly.”

“The short of it is Extreme 105Mbps customers can choose to either buy their own modem or rent one from us. Here is our approved devices list, which is updated regularly: http://mydeviceinfo.comcast.net/

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CenturyLink to Idaho Residents: You Don’t Need 1Gbps, DSL is Good Enough for You

centurylinkCenturyLink’s philosophy about offering gigabit fiber broadband speeds in Idaho can be summed up simply as “for business-use only.”

Jim Schmit, Idaho CenturyLink’s vice president and general manager, believes super fast broadband connections are overkill for homes and most businesses in the state.

“It’s like having a fancy sports car,” Schmit told the Idaho Statesman. “It might go 200 miles per hour, but what good does that do if the speed limit is 60?”

Schmitt’s attitude of broadband a-plenty is nothing new. In 2007, he told attendees of the Emerging Directions in Economic Development conference in Boise that “virtually all” Idahoans already had access to high-speed broadband. That was news to the audience, with about a quarter of the economic development professionals attending stating they represented a community that didn’t have it yet. Most of the questions related to how their communities could get the access they’d been told wasn’t available.

Seven years later, the Statesman reports more than a few homes and businesses in the region still rely on slow DSL, satellite and even dial-up access because faster options are just not available.

idahoIdaho could find itself a bystander in the growing movement to deploy gigabit fiber to the premise broadband, despite the fact CenturyLink already has fiber infrastructure available nearby.

“We’re getting to the point where, for businesses in most places, we’re within last-mile connections for most locations,” Schmit says.

CenturyLink is willing to extend its fiber, but only if that fiber line reaches businesses needing gigabit speeds. Residential customers need not apply.

Fiber optics can be found in several office buildings in downtown Boise, which has been good news for established tech companies that need more bandwidth. Three data centers are operational in the city and would likely not be there without fiber.

But for home-based entrepreneurs of future Internet startups, most will be forced to choose between CenturyLink DSL or cable broadband from providers like Cable ONE, which offer slower speeds.

Smaller broadband providers have begun to fill the gap left open by the lack of interest from cable and phone companies. While Google is showing interest in building fiber networks in a handful of U.S. cities, many more communities are realizing they will not get gigabit speeds anytime soon unless they build a publicly owned broadband network themselves or rely on much smaller-scale projects under development in the private sector.

Patrick Lawless, founder and CEO of Boise voice recognition software developer Voxbright Technologies Inc., sees opportunity providing a limited fiber network in Boise. Lawless has plans to build a 2.6-mile fiber-optic loop and deliver television, phone and broadband service to apartment and office buildings in a manner similar to Google’s. It’s a small early effort, limited to a handful of businesses and new residential buildings — mostly apartments and renovated former office buildings or hotels. He plans to charge $99 a month for a package including television, 100Mbps broadband, and phone service.

With the project’s small scope and uncertain cost, CenturyLink says it isn’t too worried about the competition. For now they will continue to bank on offering only the broadband speed they believe customers actually need, and it will be up to a competitor to prove them wrong.

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Charter’s Rebranded “Spectrum” Service Arrives in Fort Worth; New Name, New Reputation?

Phillip Dampier March 25, 2014 Broadband Speed, Charter, Competition, Consumer News, Video 1 Comment

charter spectrum logoCharter Communications’ latest attempt to rehabilitate its reputation with customers in Fort Worth, Tex. arrived this week in area mailboxes, as Charter reintroduced itself as “Charter Spectrum.”

Fort Worth is the first major city to get Charter’s broad-based service upgrade that began more than a year ago with a switch to all digital television service.

The newly available bandwidth no longer needed to support analog television has allowed Charter to expand its video service to more than 200 HD channels, up from fewer than 100.

Customers also start their Spectrum experience with a free broadband speed bump — from 30Mbps to 60/4Mbps (with a barely enforced monthly usage cap of 250GB), and an improved cable telephone service with nationwide calling.

Charter Spectrum's mailer is now arriving in Ft. Worth mailboxes. (Courtesy: TheTechGuru)

Charter Spectrum’s mailer is now arriving in Ft. Worth mailboxes. (Courtesy: TheTechGuru)

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge openly admitted last year Charter had an inferior product compared against the competition. Upgrading Charter’s cable systems was designed to correct that and the company hopes its rebranding will deliver a marketplace reset, but some Charter customers remain skeptical.

“Same pig, fresh lipstick,” wrote one Charter customer in Missouri.

Others complain Charter’s upload speeds remain anemic at just 4Mbps.

Charter’s new pricing promotions were designed to simplify the shopping experience. There are now just three heavily promoted Spectrum triple play packages:

spectrum packages

A customer taking advantage of the Triple Play Gold promotion will pay a one-year promotional price of $129.97 a month. (Customers can also select individual services or build their own double-play bundle). The fine print mentions the price rises to $149.97 the second year and then reverts to an undisclosed “standard rate” after that. TV set-top boxes are required on every cable-connected television ($7 a month each – not included in the price). The Internet modem carries no additional charge. Phone taxes, fees and surcharges are also covered, but other taxes, fees, and surcharges are not.

Offers are valid for new customers only, and those who have not subscribed within the last 30 days and have no outstanding debt obligation to Charter.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WLOS Asheville Charter Going Digital 11-11-13.flv

Charter Spectrum arrives only after your local Charter system moves to all-digital television service. That happened last fall in Asheville, N.C., where customers were told they needed a digital set-top box on every television in the home. WLOS-TV covered the story back on Nov. 11, 2013. (1:44)

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UPDATED: Comcast Wants Some Broadband Customers to Rent Comcast-Issued Cable Modems

Phillip Dampier March 25, 2014 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 15 Comments
Comcast's gateway

Comcast’s gateway

Some customers are angry and frustrated to learn Comcast has stopped “officially” allowing the use of customer-owned cable modems for its 105Mbps “Extreme” service, insisting subscribers rent a company-supplied gateway for $8 a month.

“Only Comcast issued equipment ensures that the specifications are always met and are not altered intentionally or unintentionally,” reads a technical bulletin issued by the cable company issued Feb. 26.

The new policy was discovered by a Comcast customer in Virginia having trouble with his broadband service. He was using his customer-owned Zoom 5341J — equipment on Comcast’s approved modem list.

“[A Comcast executive customer service representative] insisted that list is incorrect and I must rent a modem from them to receive the correct speeds on [the] Extreme 105 package,” writes ExoticFish on the Broadband Reports’ Comcast forum.

The bulletin, identified as ID TLK1043 and intended for the use of Comcast employees, explains:

Document ID TLK1043; Published February 26, 2014

Overview

Extreme 105 is the latest Comcast DOCSIS 3.0 XFINITY speed product, which provides extreme and unbelievable Internet speeds for customers. The product provides:

  • 105Mbps download speed
  • 20Mbps upload speed

Affected Areas

National.

Some of the Talking Points are not applicable for the Central Division.

Comcast-LogoImpact to Comcast

The Premium Installation fee for Extreme 105 is $249. Extreme 105 is installed by 105Mbps trained technicians. The Comcast Technician will:

  • Conduct an in-depth analysis of the customer network.
  • Ensure that the customer’s home and equipment are prepared to support the speeds included in the Extreme 105 service.
  • Perform a node health check on the day of installation and also on a daily basis after installation.

Impact to Customer

Extreme 105 targets:

  • Hard-core gamers
  • Users with several computers in their house
  • Users who upload and share multimedia files

Media Inquiries

Any media inquiries should be directed to the local market media team.

Q&A

Some of the Frequently Asked Questions and their responses are as below:

Why do I need to use Comcast issued equipment?
Only certified Comcast equipment delivers the ensured service speed attached to the customer’s account.

Comcast allows customers to use their own equipment for all your other Internet packages, why not Extreme 105?
Generally customers can use their own equipment and configure it as they see fit. But for Extreme 105, the configuration must be done and maintained at certain specifications. Only Comcast issued equipment ensures that the specifications are always met and are not altered intentionally or unintentionally.

But I have a DOCSIS 3.0 Modem and N Router, why do I need your versions?
Comcast installs equipment which have gone through extensive network certification process of Comcast and which have been proven in both laboratory and live network tests. This ensures that the equipment performs consistently and delivers the subscribed speed and services.

Does the $249 installation fee include installation of a wireless router?
Yes, the installation fee includes the installation of Comcast owned wireless router.

Why is there a premium installation fee for Extreme 105?
Extreme 105 is a premier Internet product by Comcast and the premium installation fee guarantees a speed of 105Mbps. A Comcast Certified Installation Technician performs additional tests which are not performed during installation of other premier internet service.

Is the premium installation fee refundable if I disconnect the service in 30, 60, 90 days?
The installation fee is non-refundable.

With Comcast reportedly preparing to boost speeds for its customers in the near future, those signed up for Comcast’s 50Mbps “Blast” tier could soon see speed upgrades to 105Mbps. That might expose those customers to the same mandatory rental charge.

The Virginia customer never realized Comcast changed its policies until he had service problems. It was then that a senior representative insisted the customer switch to Comcast’s rented gateway device if he wanted his service fixed. Other customers still using customer-owned equipment and subscribed to 105Mbps service may continue to fly under the radar for some time and there does not seem to be any national effort to contact customers about their equipment.

Some speculate Comcast’s new policy might also relate to the company’s intention to expand its Wi-Fi network relying on Comcast customers with gateway devices to serve as hotspots. That would likely require the use of Comcast’s own gateway to be successful.

Updated: 3/26/14 — 12:17pm ET — Karl Bode at Broadband Reports got an answer back to his inquiry about this issue and a Comcast rep tells him the service tech handing out the above-referenced memo is not correct:

The painful spelling and grammar errors in the last bit of the supposed company memo seemed a little off, so I reached out to Comcast for comment. The long and short of it is: no, this is not official company policy.

“We’re going to have someone try to reach out to the forum poster to follow up, but the short of it is there is no policy change,” Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas tells me. “Customers can buy or rent modems. Here is our approved devices list.”

Karl adds: “I’m still trying to ferret out why exactly this install technician was trying to push strange and unofficial company policy, and how and why he was using an incorrect and grammatically mangled memo to justify the behavior.”

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Cable Industry Has Charts to Prove Your Broadband is Screaming Fast

Tracking Cable’s Top Internet Speeds
NCTA-Charts_2_tracking broadband speeds

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) offers this infographic to suggest the deregulated cable broadband industry works well without any interference from meddling politicians.

Their claim: “Ongoing investments have enabled cable providers to continue boosting broadband speeds with top tiers increasing 50% every year.”

The reality: Cable’s broadband speed comes at a very high cost. The majority of Americans cannot buy 505Mbps residential broadband service from Comcast and even if you could, the price tag hovers around $300 a month, with a nearly-$1,000 early contract termination penalty, a $250 installation and $250 activation fee. Customers at other cable providers often find their maximum speed is just 50Mbps and/or their Internet usage is limited by a usage cap.

Google Fiber and some other gigabit fiber to the home providers are offering unlimited 1,000Mbps service for $70 a month with no installation or activation fee if a customer agrees to stick around.

Verdict: The cable industry could do better for much less.

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Denial of Service Attack on One Mass. Customer Brings Verizon FiOS to Its Knees for Many

Phillip Dampier March 24, 2014 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Verizon 3 Comments
A denial of service attack often directs compromised computers to join in the attack, bringing an enormous amount of simultaneous traffic to a single, targeted user. The result is usually very slow or no Internet service.

A denial of service attack often directs compromised computers to join in the attack, bringing an enormous amount of simultaneous traffic to a single, targeted user. The result is usually very slow or no Internet service. (Image courtesy: Cisco)

For nearly a month, Verizon FiOS customers in Westborough and Northborough, Mass. have experienced frequent slowdowns and outages of their Internet and telephone service that Verizon now admits have been traced to a denial-of-service attack on a single residential customer in Westborough.

“Someone deliberately flooded that customer with an overwhelming amount of traffic that rendered their Internet service inoperable,” Verizon spokesman Philip G. Santoro told The Telegram. “When that happened, it caused Internet service to periodically slow down for other customers in Westborough,” he wrote. “We are working to restore service to normal as soon as possible. DOS attacks are all too common today among customers of all Internet providers. It’s important to remind Internet users to keep their firewalls operating and to keep their security software current.”

When the newspaper first reached Santoro for comment, he claimed there wwere no widespread outages reported, but angry customers disagreed on the community’s Facebook page and six filed complaints with the state’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.

The outages have been a problem as far back as Feb. 26, growing more frequent in number since March 3. Business customers were also affected.

“It happened around 3 o’clock, every day,” said Allen Falcon, chief executive officer for Cumulus Global, a cloud computing company in Westborough. “Sometimes it was a few minutes, sometimes 45 minutes to an hour.” A few times, the interruptions occurred in the morning, just after 9 a.m., he said.

westboroughWhen the attacks began, they not only affected the company’s Internet connection, but also its business phone service.

Verizon’s first solution was to replace FiOS routers, which proved ineffective.

Customer Steve Winer from Westborough told the newspaper sending Verizon crews out with new equipment was a waste of time and money.

“I am just wondering how much time and money was wasted on this,” he wrote the newspaper in an email. “I know I spent at least a couple of hours on the phone, and others shared similar stories. But, if you add up all the shipped routers and unnecessary service calls, along with the time both of us customers and (Verizon) personnel, I am sure it really adds up, and could have been avoided if someone had simply put two and two together and posted a chronic outage which began in February.”

Verizon's wired success story

Last week, Verizon finally identified the specific customer targeted by the cyber-attack and terminated his FiOS account, which also put an end to the service-disrupting attacks.

Some customers are wondering whether Verizon has an effective plan to deal with future cyber attacks.

“It seems FiOS is very vulnerable to these attacks, which not only affects the target’s service, but that of everyone else in town,” wrote Stop the Cap! reader Steve Read, a Northborough resident. “They need a way to quickly isolate these kinds of attacks and keep them from affecting other customers’ service.”

Customers affected by the outages can contact Verizon FiOS customer service and request credit for the outages.

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Cable Customer Service Improvements: Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Phillip "More empty promises from the cable industry" Dampier

Phillip “More empty promises from the cable industry” Dampier

Listening to Time Warner Cable’s “Here today and gone much richer tomorrow” CEO-in-passing Rob Marcus prattle on endlessly about improving “the customer experience” on analyst conference calls, the cable company’s blog, and in various press statements always makes me pinch myself to be certain I am not dreaming.

Time Warner’s Rob Marcus:

I’m focused on ensuring we establish a customer-centric, performance-oriented, values-driven culture defined by four basic tenets:

  • We put our customers first,
  • We are empowered and accountable,
  • We do the right thing, and
  • We are passionate about winning

What does that mean for customers? If we expect customers to trust us to connect them to what matters most, we must put them at the center of everything we do.

How is that working out for you?

Based on consumer surveys, many of Marcus’ customers may have a different sentiment:

  • Time Warner puts what is best for Time Warner first,
  • Time Warner is empowered to raise rates for no clear reason and as a deregulated entity is accountable to no one,
  • Time Warner does the right thing for Time Warner executives and shareholders,
  • Charlie Sheen was also passionate about “winning.”

 

So much for Comcast's customer service improvement project promised back in 2007.

So much for Comcast’s customer service improvement project promised back in 2007. (Source: ACSI)

There is nowhere to go but up when it comes to improving the abusive relationship most Americans have with the local cable or phone company. CNN asked the question, “do you hate your Internet provider,” and within hours more than 600 customers sang “yes!”

Marcus

Marcus

This is hardly a new problem. Karl Bode at Broadband Reports reminds us that Comcast broke its promises for major improvements in customer service more than five years ago. CEO Brian Roberts at the time blamed the troubles on Comcast’s enormity — taking 250 million calls a year handling orders, customer complaints, etc., is a lot for one company to handle.

“With that many calls, you are going to have failures,” Roberts admitted.

With more than 10 million Time Warner Cable customers waiting to move in at Comcast, if what Roberts says is true, things are about to get much worse. In fact, even before the merger was announced Comcast was just as despised as ever, thanks to rate hikes, usage caps, and poor service often delivered from their notorious sub-contractors that appear on the news for falling asleep, murder, digging in the wrong yard or blowing up laptops, dishwashers or homes.

Judging from the enormous negative reaction customers of both Time Warner Cable and Comcast had to the news the two were combining, it’s clear this merger isn’t the exciting opportunity Marcus and Roberts would have you believe.

‘If you despise Comcast today, your hate will know no bounds tomorrow as Comcast spends the next two years distracted with digesting Time Warner Cable,’ suggested one customer.

Another asked whether Americans have resigned themselves to a trap of low expectations, seeking out one abusive telecom company relationship after another.

highlights“After twenty years of Time Warner’s broken promises, service you can’t count on, and price hikes you can, I made the fatal mistake of running away from one bad relationship into the arms of another with the Bernie Madoff of broadband: AT&T,” wrote another. “Slower service, an unnecessary allowance on broadband usage, and one rate increase too many is hardly the improvement we were promised in the shiny brochure. But we have nowhere else to go.”

Being stuck with an independent phone company with no cable provider nearby can mean even worse service.

“I live in Seattle, and the only option in my neighborhood is CenturyLink DSL,” wrote Jen Wilson.

CenturyLink’s top speed in Wilson’s neighborhood? 1Mbps. At night, speeds drop to 122kbps — just twice the speed of dial-up Internet.

CNN’s Frida Ghitis observed the current state of broadband in the United States is alarmingly bad, and allowing Comcast and Time Warner Cable to merge won’t fix it:

Americans are divided on many issues, but resentment against these telecom giants is so pervasive that it may just be the most heartwarming symbol of national unity. And that’s as it should be. Except that the resentment should extend to politicians who have made this disastrous system possible and allow political contributions to prevent them from fixing it. The problem is not just one of dismal customer service. Instead, it is a growing threat to the country’s economic and strategic position.

If you travel overseas, you will quickly notice that Web access in much of the developed world is light years ahead of America’s. You may also be irritated to discover that far better Internet is much, much cheaper in other countries.

Time Warner's notorious modem rental fee was just a hidden rate hike, according to the ex-CEO.

Time Warner’s notorious modem rental fee was just a hidden rate hike, according to the ex-CEO.

Thus far, Time Warner’s remedy to improve service is yet another rate increase. Broadband prices are rising an average of $3 a month — $36 a year, with no speed enhancements on the horizon except in New York, Los Angeles, and cities where Google Fiber is threatening to kick the cable company in the pants. That means Time Warner’s 11.1 million broadband customers will deliver as much as $33.3 million more in revenue each month for broadband service alone. What will you get in return? In most cases, nothing.

Television customers will be pick-pocketed for the newly-”enhanced” on-screen guide many still loathe, which carries a new surcharge applied to the cost of set-top boxes and DVRs. This “enhancement” alone will cost most customers with two boxes an extra $30 a year. It will provide Time Warner with more than $170 million each year in revenue enhancement.

The cable company that fought a battle with CBS last summer “on behalf of customers” faced with paying extortionist pricing for CBS-owned cable networks and local stations will instead send their extortion payment direct to Time Warner, thanks to a new $2.25/mo “Broadcast TV Fee” imposed this spring by the cable company.

But Time Warner is unlikely to hang on to that money for long.

If it wanted to discourage programmers from demanding double-digit percentage rate increases, the plan is likely to backfire once the networks smell the money — more than $25 million a month, $300 million a year — Time Warner claims to be collecting on their behalf.

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  • Dave Hancock: Soon the rest of the cable companies will follow Verizon's lead and start limiting the input bandwidth to their systems (ex: Netflix) to discourage su...
  • Milan in Austin: Cable TV is an obsolete product! I suggest everyone seriously consider dropping cable television. I cut the cord in August of 2013, and don't miss ca...
  • gsuburban: I have to agree that Verizon is not interested in providing its customers with a "clear pipe" due to the politics of peer-to-peer data sharing or what...
  • Scott: Not good, that takes away all your leverage in the situation. If you're holding the money you can work through the BBB or try and negotiate with the ...
  • Hudson Mohawk Press: We knew it couldn't last forever. Starting this month Time Warner Cable of NYC is charging Earthlink Internet customers a $5.99 modem lease fee. The w...
  • Eric: Frontier still sucks..Their service still sucks..they are still a ripofff...
  • punki: Thanks Scott, unfortunately mine is already paid......
  • Scott: Personally I'd refuse to pay, there's no way that's actual usage....

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