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Another Phone Company Flop: Disconnecting CenturyLink Stream After Less Than One Year

Phillip Dampier February 21, 2018 CenturyLink, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

CenturyLink Stream, the phone company’s planned nationwide alternative to cable television, will shut down its streamed package of nearly 50 channels on March 31.

The phone company had contemplated using CenturyLink Stream to compliment its package of phone and broadband service to budget-conscious customers. But Multichannel News reports subscribers were notified this week CenturyLink was pulling the plug on the service and its companion $89.99 Android TV set-top box that interfaced between a customer’s broadband connection and their television.

“Thank you to all who have streamed with us and provided feedback,” the company noted on its website. As compensation, customers are getting free on-demand rentals of movies on the service until it shuts down.

CenturyLink Stream’s “Ultimate” package sold for $45 per month, with a $5 discount if a CenturyLink customer bundled the company’s broadband service. It included a 50-hour cloud DVR service and access in some markets to local stations and regional sports channels.

CenturyLink’s Prism TV continues.

The company has stayed silent on exactly why it is pulling the plug on the service, which had been beta testing over the past year. Independent telephone companies beyond AT&T and Verizon have struggled to deliver credible triple play packages of fast broadband, phone service, and a lineup of cable television programming. Frontier Communications has avoided expanding its FiOS TV package outside of service areas acquired from AT&T and Verizon. Windstream recently announced a deal with AT&T to resell its DirecTV and DirecTV Now video packages, which could spell trouble for Windstream’s Kinetic TV platform, which has only slowly expanded since being announced in 2015.

Analysts say it is increasingly difficult for smaller companies to profitably sell video programming because of generous volume discounts on wholesale rates offered to the country’s biggest satellite TV, cable, and telco TV providers. AT&T itself acquired DirecTV to get better video pricing for its U-verse TV customers. Smaller phone companies cannot afford similar acquisitions. Instead, some companies have partnered with third-party providers already in the video business.

The National Cable TV Cooperative, which offers group pricing to small and medium-sized independent cable companies and municipal providers, have already announced partnerships with sports-oriented fuboTV and PlayStation Vue, which both sell packages of cable TV programming streamed over the internet.

That is the likely direction CenturyLink will head in, if it continues its interest in selling a television package.

“[W]e are open to looking at other options,” Glen Post, CenturyLink’s CEO, said last August on the company’s Q2 earnings call, noted Multichannel News. “Matter of fact, we continually talk with some of these other providers, look at the best ways we can bring that service and also other ways in working with them to reduce our content cost…It does not have to be our product.”

Sinclair Offers to Sell WPIX, WGN to Win Approval of Tribune Station Deal

Phillip Dampier February 21, 2018 Competition, Online Video, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Sinclair Broadcast Group has told the Federal Communications Commission it is willing to sell two well-recognized TV stations in Chicago and New York owned by Tribune Media if it will help win approval of its $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune-owned stations by the Justice Department and FCC.

The move is a sign Sinclair may be concerned its blockbuster acquisition might not get approved if the deal remains mired in the regulatory review process.

The filing is effectively a new application because it fundamentally changes the structure of the deal and its impact on several TV markets where Sinclair could own multiple stations in a single city.

Few expected Sinclair would offer to divest WGN-TV Chicago and WPIX-TV in New York, which are major market stations with major advertising revenue. Sinclair also offered to sell off KSWB-TV, San Diego’s FOX affiliate, to keep Sinclair under the FCC’s theoretical 39% nationwide audience cap, which was watered down in 2017 by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to count UHF stations at only 50% of their actual viewing audiences — a direct benefit to Sinclair, which already owns and controls an enormous station group that had been constrained from getting much larger.

As part of the revised proposal, Sinclair will sell one or more stations in the following markets, with FOX often mentioned as a potential buyer:

  1. Seattle, Washington;
  2. St. Louis, Missouri;
  3. Salt Lake City, Utah;
  4. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma;
  5. Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem, North Carolina;
  6. Grand Rapids, Michigan;
  7. Richmond, Virginia;
  8. Des Moines-Ames, Iowa.

But Sinclair is seeking a waiver to continue to own two of the top four stations in Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem, N.C., Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York, Pa., and Indianapolis, Ind.

Selling WPIX and WGN will likely make a significant dent in Sinclair’s acquisition expenses, if the deal is approved.

WPIX and WGNhave been owned by Tribune since both stations first signed on in 1948.

AT&T Announces High-Speed Wireless 5G for Atlanta, Dallas, and Waco, Tex.

AT&T is rolling out mobile 5G service for its wireless smartphone and tablet customers in a dozen U.S. cities by year’s end, starting in parts of Atlanta, Ga., and portions of Dallas and Waco, Tex.

“After significantly contributing to the first phase of 5G standards, conducting multi-city trials, and literally transforming our network for the future, we’re planning to be the first carrier to deliver standards-based mobile 5G – and do it much sooner than most people thought possible,” said Igal Elbaz, senior vice president, wireless network architecture and design. “Our mobile 5G firsts will put our customers in the middle of it all.”

AT&T’s mobile 5G will work differently from the fixed wireless home broadband service Verizon is launching this year using small small cell neighborhood antennas. But like Verizon, AT&T is taking a gradual, incremental approach to the next generation of wireless technology.

In 2017, AT&T announced what it calls “5G Evolution” service in almost two dozen cities, although this branding was derided as “fake 5G” in the tech press because, in reality, it is just an improvement of today’s widely deployed 4G LTE service. Similar technology is also in place at T-Mobile. In the fall of 2017, AT&T introduced 4G LTE-Licensed Assisted Access (LTE-LAA) technology in Indianapolis and parts of Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. This network lays the foundation to offer gigabit speed wireless service, and is especially useful in areas where AT&T’s spectrum holdings are tight.

AT&T’s initial 5G rollout will serve parts of:
A – Atlanta, Ga.
B – Waco, Tex.
C – Dallas, Tex.

AT&T is preparing its existing wireless network to permit gradual migration to the completed 5G wireless standard over both existing and new spectrum.

This year, AT&T plans to launch some 5G service using millimeter wave spectrum, which is very line-of-sight and offers a more limited service area. But the technology will support very fast wireless speeds and offer plenty of bandwidth. AT&T could deploy this technology initially in dense population areas and places like stadiums, malls, and convention centers.

“Ultimately, we expect to reach theoretical peak speeds of multiple gigabits per second on devices through mobile 5G,” AT&T wrote in a press release. “While speed is important, we also expect to see much lower latency rates. With higher speeds and lower latency rates, our mobile 5G network will eventually unlock a number of new, exciting experiences for our customers.”

If past precedent means anything, AT&T will likely only initially offer 5G service in selected parts of each city. It needn’t hurry, because equipment designed to work with the new spectrum isn’t expected to become widely available until 2019. A gradual transition will also please shareholders by keeping network upgrade costs predictable over the next 3-5 years.

AT&T isn’t expected to use 5G technology anytime soon as part of its taxpayer-funded, rural wireless broadband deployment. AT&T currently uses its 4G LTE technology to power its fixed wireless rural broadband service. AT&T claims this service was designed to assure download speeds of at least 10 Mbps, although customers using it report speeds are often lower, although sometimes higher. AT&T does not offer and network performance guarantees, stating, “service performance may be affected by your proximity to a cell site, the capacity of the cell site, the number of other users connected to the same cell site, the surrounding terrain, radio frequency interference, applicable network management practices, and the applications you use.” That will also be true of AT&T’s forthcoming 5G network.

Trump’s FTC Nominees Signal Agency Will Take More Relaxed Approach to Consumer Protection

At a hearing Wednesday to question President Donald Trump’s nominees for the Federal Trade Commission, Democrats expressed concern about some signals from the three Republican and one Democratic nominees that they intend to enforce consumer protection laws as long as there is evidence they have the indisputable authority to act.

What happens when corporate interests and special interest groups insist the FTC’s regulatory powers are uncertain, limited by precedent, blocked by court opinions, or contrary to the wishes of Congress remained uncertain after the hearing.

The Senate Commerce Committee is facing some urgency to approve the nominations to fill a large number of vacancies at the FTC, which currently prevents the agency from taking votes on actions. If all four nominees are approved, the FTC will still have a single open commissioner’s seat on the Democratic side.

The nominated FTC commissioners are:

Simons

Joseph J. Simons, nominated for chairman for the FTC, is a Republican antitrust lawyer who has taken a few trips through Washington’s revolving door, serving as chief of the FTC’s Competition Bureau, investigating mergers and anticompetitive conduct from 2001 to 2003 under President George W. Bush. During his tenure, the FTC mostly pursued high-profile cases that brought clear evidence of antitrust harm. Under Simons, the FTC blocked Libbey, Inc. from acquiring its chief glassware rival Anchor Hocking. Vlasic Foods International and Claussen Pickle found an unreceptive FTC for their merger, eventually also blocked. Simons was noted for investigating pharmaceutical companies that applied for misleading drug patents designed to delay the entry of cheaper generic versions of brand name pharmaceutical products. After his tenure at the FTC, Simons accepted a lucrative $1.9 million partnership at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, which handles corporate mergers and acquisitions for corporate clients.

Wilson

Christine S. Wilson, a Delta Air Lines executive, is also a frequent flyer through D.C.’s revolving door. During the George W. Bush administration, she was chief of staff for then-FTC chairman Tim Muris. She also held three other significant corporate-public policy positions that advised companies and the U.S. government about antitrust matters. In 2011, Wilson accepted a high paying partnership at Kirkland and Ellis, a firm well-regarded for helping corporations successfully complete antitrust reviews of their mergers and acquisitions. Wilson’s latest employer was Delta Air Lines, which offered her an executive position in August 2016 as the company’s senior vice president for legal, regulatory, and international affairs. In addition to the $521,000 in distributions Wilson earned from her partnership at Kirkland and Ellis, Wilson accepted an undisclosed cash signing bonus, $136,000 in bonuses in 2017 from a management incentive plan, and a regular salary of $390,000. Wilson retains various amounts of unvested Delta stock and stock options that would normally be lost after leaving the company, but Delta apparently wanted to part with Wilson on the friendliest of terms, granting her pro rata compensation for the stock and waiving the usual requirement that an employee leaving so quickly after being hired should pay back 50% of their signing bonus.

Phillips

Noah Joshua Phillips served as chief counsel for Republican Sen. John Cornyn at the Senate Judiciary Committee. Before coming to Capitol Hill, Phillips was an associate at Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington and at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York. He focused on civil litigation.

Consumer Federation of America senior fellow Rohit Chopra is a Democrat and the only nominee with a long record of representing consumer interests and pushing for increased consumer protection and better oversight of financial services and products targeting consumers. Chopra was previously assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he oversaw the agency’s agenda on students and young consumers. He specialized in targeting the student loan industry for abusive practices and secured hundreds of millions of dollars in relief for student loan borrowers.

Chopra

Because of the unprecedented number of vacancies at the Commission, President Trump’s nominees could have an enormous impact on the direction of the FTC over the next several years. Traditionally, three of the commissioners belong to the current president’s political party and two belong to the other party.

Observers suggest the nominees are not atypical for a Republican president to nominate and some have served at the FTC before. None have attracted the kind of controversy that followed Makan Delrahim, Trump’s pick for head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. Most expect the Republican majority-led FTC will bend towards the interests of businesses unless there is clear and convincing evidence of significant consumer harm, especially in cases of mergers and acquisitions.

“Traditionally, Republican commissioners tend to be more lenient in merger enforcement on the marginal case, and we haven’t seen any evidence to indicate that [Simons] would depart from the traditional Republican posture,” said Mary Lehner, a partner with Freshfields and a former FTC attorney who also served as an adviser to two chairmen of the agency.

A major concern for some Democrats is that the FTC is now being tasked with protecting what remains of net neutrality, the open internet protocol that was swept away by the Republican majority at the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC reclassified internet service providers once again as “information services,” under Title 1 of the Communications Act. That transfers oversight back to the FTC — an agency not known for careful oversight of internet providers’ business practices.

At the hearing, Simons equivocated on how the FTC will deal with allegations of ISP abuse and signaled his concern that a Ninth Circuit court ruling found that telecommunications companies that also serve as common carriers (ie. telephone companies) are completely exempt from FTC authority.

Some Democrats interpreted Simons’ remarks as suggesting he could adopt a “my hands are tied” approach to ISP oversight, claiming that the FTC lacks the authority to keep an eye out for industry abuses.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) seized on such comments, asking Simons to confirm if he believes the FTC specifically “lacks rulemaking authority” on net neutrality while the FCC, directly responsible for transferring net neutrality enforcement away from itself, “does have rulemaking authority to prevent blocking, throttling and paid prioritization by ISPs.”

Simons prevaricated in his answer, telling Markey, “We both have rulemaking, and they’re different types of rulemaking.”

Markey

“I’d want to talk to the general counsel’s office before I gave a specific answer to that, but I’m not entirely clear,” Simons said in response to a followup question pressing the issue.

“We are going to take the [statutory] authority we have and use it as best we can,” Simons told senators at the Senate Commerce Committee hearing. “I don’t know exactly what types of anti-competitive or deceptive and unfair practices may come up. If something comes up that we can’t reach under our statute, then I would certainly talk to you about a federal legislative fix.”

But observers note such a fix could take years, and the FTC often takes a year or more to complete investigations of alleged wrongdoing before starting to act.

Chopra, the lone Democratic nominee, agreed with Democrats that he also feared the FTC’s authority to act is uncertain, and that lack of certainty is likely to delay any enforcement actions. Chopra comments suggested the telecom industry is likely to use the Ninth Circuit court ruling to their advantage.

“I share a lot of the skepticism and concerns,” Chopra told the committee. “The FTC may face an unlevel playing field where some major market participants are exempt from the commission’s authority while others are subject to it.”

Blumenthal

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that single Ninth Circuit court ruling could provide the telecom industry with a ready-made loophole to escape the FTC’s jurisdiction altogether. An ISP could acquire “a minor side business” like a small rural telephone company subject to common carrier rules and win blanket corporate immunity from FTC oversight. Although Simons said he would support striking the common carrier exemption from the Federal Trade Commission Act which defines the FTC’s authority, such a change could take several years to get through Congress and a well-funded telecom industry lobbying effort.

Phillips seemed impatient about the net neutrality debate which occupied a significant part of the hearing, characterizing it as a side issue worth sidestepping to focus on broader issues.

“We can’t allow contentious issues to distract us from the bread and butter of the agency […] looking out for children, veterans, the elderly and Americans generally,” Phillips said.

Aside from the net neutrality debate, the Republican nominees signaled their interest in the possibility of investigating large tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook for antitrust activities. Republicans have been especially critical of Google, and some conservatives believe Twitter and Facebook exhibit political bias against them. The president has also frequently attacked Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos. Bezos owns the Washington Post, one of the many news outlets Trump said has been unfair to him. Trump has also accused Amazon of stiffing the government on sales taxes.

“Oftentimes companies get big because they are successful with the consumer, they offer a good service at a low price,” Simons said. “And that’s a good thing, and we don’t want to interfere with that. On the other hand, companies that are already big and influential can sometimes use inappropriate means — anticompetitive means — to get big or to stay big. And if that’s the case then we should be vigorously enforcing the antitrust laws.”

Another issue the FTC nominees promised to prioritize: online security/data breaches which expose consumers’ private information.

New Verizon FiOS Triple Play Customers Get Free Netflix for a Year

Phillip Dampier February 14, 2018 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Verizon No Comments

To celebrate the addition of Netflix to Verizon FiOS’ set top boxes, Verizon is giving new customers signing up online a free year of Netflix.

The lowest priced promotional package that includes the Netflix offer combines Verizon’s Custom TV package, 150/150 Mbps broadband, and Unlimited Nationwide Calling phone service for $79.99 a month. The free Netflix offer still applies if a customer chooses to upgrade certain elements of their package at a higher price. A 2-year contact applies with an early termination fee. Consult the Verizon website for more details.

Verizon FiOS TV customers can watch Netflix by tuning to channel 838 and authenticating their Netflix subscription by logging in. Once signed in, FiOS customers can access Netflix without having to use a streaming device or Smart TV.

The deal is valid for both new and existing Netflix customers, and is a savings of $10.99 a month for 12 months.

Verizon does offer some fine print, however:

Offer avail. 1/18 – 4/18. Valid for 12 mos. of Netflix service on the $10.99/mo. “2 Screen Streaming Plan” (total value of $131.88). New or existing Netflix subscription & compatible device req’d. and must maintain qualifying FiOS services for 60 days after installation, with no past-due balance. A one-time bill credit of $131.88 will be applied directly to customer’s Netflix account. Must be redeemed by 8/31/18. Not redeemable or refundable for cash. Value may be applied to a different Netflix streaming plan; exchanges in this manner may alter the duration of the offer. Netflix Service price plans subject to change. Not available to subscribers billed through iTunes or Google play unless subscriber begins a new subscription billed via alternate payment provider or via Netflix.com.

 

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