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Verizon Tells FCC Revealing Big Telecom Merger Details Irrelevant to Net Neutrality Proceeding

Verizon has told the Federal Communications Commission it should reject a bid from a consumer group to release confidential corporate merger information to the public so it can learn what economic incentives, if any, exist to begin charging content providers extra fees for internet fast lanes and zero rating.

Incompas, which advocates for increased competition in the wireless industry, asked the Commission in July to publicly disclose details of recent telecom mergers obtained in confidence from the companies involved to “interested commenters” in the Net Neutrality proceeding allowing consumers can obtain valuable insight into the “economic incentives and abilities of incumbent broadband providers to curb competition, including through their control of residential broadband connections.”

The group specifically called out AT&T’s merger with DirecTV, Comcast’s failed merger with Time Warner Cable, and Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. All of the entities involved either operate wireless networks themselves or partner with a provider that does. Incompas believes a document release will show increased concentration and market power and the marked impact that can have on what consumers pay for service and how those companies plan to treat competing traffic.

The information disclosure sought by the group was vehemently opposed by Verizon, which doesn’t want its business secrets revealed to the public.

“There is no legal justification or sound policy basis to justify making this highly sensitive business information available in the Restoring Internet Freedom proceeding,” Verizon countered in its filing. The phone company does not want to publicly release details about its connection agreements with other companies or exactly how many customers it serves. “[N]othing has changed since the adoption of these protective orders that warrants the Commission weakening these protections by allowing this sensitive business information to be disclosed to potentially millions of ‘interested commenters’ in the Restoring Internet Freedom proceeding.”

While some Net Neutrality critics have sought to dismiss the more than 13 million comments received so far by the FCC on Net Neutrality as confused ranting, Verizon takes an opposite position saying the Commission is already bogged down with quality comments on Net Neutrality and does not need more, claiming it would only add to a flood of analysis on Net Neutrality. Verizon claimed among the submissions received by the FCC are “millions of comments, thousands of pages of expert testimony and declarations and hundreds of substantive analyses and submissions with detailed economic, legal and policy arguments.”

Charter Communications did not appreciate the proposal either, claiming it was unfair.

“Such an outcome would eviscerate the core protection of the commission’s protective orders, thereby unfairly punishing Charter’s past compliance and threatening the commission’s ability to obtain sensitive information from private parties in the future,” Charter officials wrote.

Altice Returns: Patrick Drahi Wants Charter/Spectrum to Be His, Preparing an Offer

Patrick Drahi, Altice, and his friends at Goldman Sachs are depicted as working together to make Altice’s acquisition dreams come true.

Patrick Drahi rarely gives up on his dreams. His latest is to be America’s biggest cable magnate, and there are signs he is laying the groundwork to make that dream come true.

CNBC and some French media outlets report Drahi’s Altice NV and Altice USA are assembling their European and North American financiers, attorneys, and dealmakers to potentially make an offer to acquire Charter Communications. If successful, Altice would leapfrog to the largest cable operator in the United States after combining its Cablevision and Suddenlink systems with Charter’s own legacy systems and those it acquired from Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

Any succcessful deal would likely require an offer of $500 a share for Charter stock, which would make the company worth about $200 billion. Because Altice is dwarfed by Charter, it is unlikely Drahi will be able to raise enough cash on his own to make a deal, and Altice is already mired in debt from its ongoing aggressive acquisitions. Drahi’s biggest competitor for Charter is expected to be Japan’s SoftBank, which has shown an interest in acquiring the cable operator to combine with its wireless carrier Sprint.

Altice isn’t likely to encounter the regulatory hurdles that have caused other colossal cable deals like Comcast’s attempt to buy Time Warner Cable to collapse over regulator opposition.  Drahi’s involvement in U.S. cable has been limited to acquisitions of two smaller players – Cablevision and Suddenlink.

Drahi’s strongest arguments to sell investors on the deal are likely to surround his well-known obsession with draconian cost-cutting at his acquired companies. Drahi would certainly offer investors billions in deal synergies and savings, accomplished through dramatic layoffs, scrutinizing costs right down to replacement coffee makers for the break room and copy paper for the office, and sweeping cutbacks on employee and vendor perks. Drahi has also taken a strong stand against Hollywood studios and cable programmers that seek double-digit rate increases for cable programming. In Europe, Drahi is known for terminating costly contracts with programmers and launching alternative channels Altice owns and operates to replace them.

Drahi is also likely to sell regulators on his current plans to transform cable in the United States away from coaxial cable and towards fiber optics straight through to the home. Drahi has already offered to wire all of France with fiber optics and is presently embarking on a fiber upgrade for his Cablevision systems in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. But Drahi’s ambitious fiber plans have been met with suspicion in France where some believe Drahi is all talk and no spending.

He has promised the Macron government he will spend $17.6 billion on building an Altice-owned fiber broadband network in France by 2025 without any taxpayer subsidies. While that sounds laudable, it would mean Altice’s SFR would pull out of the government’s national fiber strategy that depends on different telecom companies building out fiber in different regions of the country.

Drahi is threatening to become a spoiler because before he acquired SFR, the former management cut a deal with Orange – France’s largest telecom company, to jointly build a fiber network for 14 million French households in smaller towns and suburbs. Orange would build and own 80% of the territory, SFR 20%. But because SFR needs access to that fiber network for its own wired and wireless broadband and television services, it will have to pay rental fees to Orange to use the network in most of the territory. Drahi instead wants a 50-50 ownership split to cut costs and Orange has said no. Altice’s plans for its own alternative fiber network would allow it to bypass the Orange-owned network and deliver traffic over its own fiber system. That could mean parts of less-populated France will have two fiber networks to choose from instead of just one.

Drahi

It is an expensive gamble, but investors seem largely unfazed so far, perhaps suspecting Drahi has no intention of actually following through on spending billions on a potentially redundant fiber network in the suburbs and farm country, preferring to believe the threat of doing so will drive Orange back to the negotiating table.

Some American analysts are uncertain whether Drahi can pull off an acquisition deal that would combine Charter, a company many times larger than Altice, with Altice’s much smaller earlier cable acquisitions. Some also suspect he won’t find enough money to attract interest from Charter’s biggest shareholder — John Malone’s Liberty Media and Charter’s current CEO Thomas Rutledge.

But French media has little doubt Drahi can pull it off, especially when he is motivated.

“Patrick Drahi, founder of Altice, has set his limits: he has none,” notes Le Figaro, adding Drahi is a classic industry spoiler, completely happy to blow up cable’s comfortable status quo, even when at risk of attracting the wrath of his competitors.

CNBC reports Altice is preparing a serious offer to acquire Charter Communications. (5:54)

CBS Invades Canada: Launching Its All-Access Pass Service North of the Border in 2018

Phillip Dampier August 8, 2017 Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

CBS All Access is coming to Canada, bringing nearly the entire lineup of CBS shows and features north of the border.

The service will launch in Canada in the first half of 2018, followed shortly thereafter in other countries in “multiple continents” according to CBS. CBS has not yet set prices for the Canadian market, but the price is expected to be comparable to the $5.99 and $9.99 (ad-free) options sold in the United States.

It isn’t known if CBS will also attempt to offer Showtime as an add-on abroad, but the network promises to include most of the 9,000 episodes of CBS and original programming available to Americans without annoying geographic restrictions for those abroad. Canadian viewers will also be able to watch CBSN, the 24/7 streaming news service developed by CBS News specifically for online audiences, as well as on-demand access to certain shows licensed by CBS but not seen on the network.

CBS All Access is available on smartphones, tablets, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Android TV, Fire TV, and most major game consoles.

CBS, CW, Showtime, CBS Sports, and Pop Join DirecTV Now Lineup

Phillip Dampier August 8, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, DirecTV, Online Video No Comments

DirecTV Now customers in 14 major TV markets will soon have live access to their local CBS and CW affiliates through the streaming service, with 30 additional ABC, FOX and NBC affiliates soon to follow in other cities.

“This is another key milestone in bringing DirecTV Now users access to their favorite entertainment, news and sports from all the major broadcast networks,” said Daniel York, senior executive vice president and chief content officer – AT&T Entertainment Group.

In “the coming weeks” DirecTV Now will also add on-demand access to CBS and CW programming for the benefit of those who live outside of a city where a live station stream will be available. The agreement with CBS includes Showtime ($8 per month), CBS Sports Network (available on packages starting with ‘Go Big’), and Pop (added to packages starting with ‘Just Right’). Customers who subscribe to Showtime on DirecTV Now can also use Showtime Anytime for on-the-go access.

Live streaming CBS and CW stations will initially be available to customers within these markets:

  • New York
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • Philadelphia
  • Dallas – Ft. Worth
  • San FranciscoOaklandSan Jose
  • Boston
  • Detroit
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul
  • Miami-Ft. Lauderdale
  • Denver
  • SacramentoStocktonModesto, CA
  • Pittsburgh
  • Baltimore

Spectrum Starts $65 Broadband/125 Channel TV Promotion to Win Customers

Phillip Dampier August 3, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 2 Comments

After losing another 90,000 residential cable television customers during the second quarter, Charter Communications is beefing up its customer promotions to win back customers and respond to competing offers.

Starting this month, Spectrum is pitching a double play bundle for new customers using its familiar formula of $29.99 for each service, only this time they actually came close to meaning it.

Customers who want a 60Mbps (100Mbps in some markets) broadband package with Spectrum Select TV package can now get each service for around $30 a month, but will still have to pay around $6 for a ‘required’ cable box and another $7.50 a month for Spectrum’s Broadcast TV surcharge. To sweeten the deal, Spectrum is including a free year of Showtime.

Prior to this promotion, Spectrum’s double play promotion charged $59.99 for the TV bundle and $29.99 for internet access, one penny more a month than its triple play bundle which also includes a phone line.

The newest double play promotion offers about $24 in savings a month over the old one, which usually included one set-top box for free.

The double play promotion, which omits a phone line, is likely to continue a decline of Charter’s residential home phone customers, many canceling landline service as their aggressively priced Time Warner Cable phone promotion expires. Charter’s broadband growth has slowed as well. The company added 231,000 customers during the quarter compared with 308,000 during the same quarter last year. Charter’s pricing and promotions proved not as attractive as some of their competitors.

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  • Bob: Shame it's not in Lynchburg, va. I just dumped Verizon's fixed location service called Homefusion (lte installed). It was $90 a month for a 20 gigs of...
  • Lori Palmer: I just called time warner/spectrum and was specifically told $69.99 is the lowest tier package available. I live in NYS. They did confirm you only nee...
  • L Nova: Verizon is waiting for Frontier to recover from the bungled CTF acquisition to sell off the remaining unwanted wireline in the remaining states the te...
  • Paul Houle: Upstate NY has cities that are too far apart for everyone to be covered, but close enough that the stations argue over who has what turf. Utica is l...
  • Willie: Yep. I was just thinking. Thanks Google, for screwing over Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester. The other streaming services seemed to be ignoring upstate...
  • FredH: So - what's the matter with New York state?...
  • xnappo: Man. Really starting to wish we hadn't complained about Comcast buying TWC. Charter/Spectrum are so so so much worse....
  • L. Nova: That's the point. Verizon & AT&T want OUT of the landline business by 2020. That's why they are waiting for Frontier to recover from the mass...
  • BobInIllinois: This incident goes to show that even Manhattan hipsters cannot get Verizon to care about fixing POTS/DSL/Copper problems....
  • L Nova: Frontier's stock has remained stable the last few weeks since their 15-to-1 reverse stock split. I see another wireline buyout from Verizon coming in ...
  • Shaun: I think it is more like, "Are they going to expand Fios?" Here, they just plainly flat out refused to do it, so, velocity said, if they won't, we will...
  • Phillip Dampier: From the looks of it, they vastly oversell their broadband service and lack adequate capacity to support their advertised speeds. So you buy 150Mbps w...

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