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Zoom’s Motorola MB8600 DOCSIS 3.1 Modem Arrives This Month: $159.99

Zoom’s Motorola MB8600

Zoom Telephonics will introduce its first full-featured DOCSIS 3.1 modem for broadband consumers later this month at a price of $159.99.

The Motorola MB8600 includes four GigE LAN ports with support for bonding to allow for delivered speeds of up to 4Gbps and includes Broadcom’s Full-Band Capture (FBC) digital tuning, which supports future IPTV applications.

Zoom licensed the Motorola brand name for broadband-related equipment and is hoping to grab more market share in a field dominated by more familiar brands including Arris, Ubee, and Netgear.

The unit is backwards-compatible with DOCSIS 3.0 and includes support for up to 32×8 DOCSIS 3 channels, which some cable operators are using to provide gigabit speeds.

The full feature set:

  • DOCSIS 3.1 with fallback to 32×8 DOCSIS 3.0
  • Full-band Capture Digital Tuning enhances speed and saves energy
  • Works with any router, Windows or Mac computer, HDTV, or game station that has an Ethernet port
  • This DOCSIS 3.1 modem supports Active Queue Management (AQM), which significantly reduces Internet latency.
  • 4 GigE Ethernet ports with support for port bonding
  • Vertical case saves space and enhances cooling
  • High resistance to lightning and to power surges
  • Future proof, including DOCSIS 3.1, DOCSIS 3.0
  • 2 year warranty
  • IPv6 next generation Internet addressing support
  • Multi Processor Technology with ARM based Application Processor

The box comes pre-branded with Comcast’s XFINITY logo, which means it is a sure bet Comcast will support this modem. Consumers should verify if other cable operators will approve use of this modem before buying. It will be available for retail online sale by Walmart, Amazon.com, Target, Best Buy and MicroCenter as early as late May.

Consolidation: Sinclair Broadcasting Acquires 42 Tribune TV Stations in $3.9 Billion Deal

In one of the largest media consolidation acquisitions in history, Sinclair Broadcast Group has agreed to buy Tribune Media and its 42 TV stations in a $3.9 billion deal.

The transaction, expected to win easy approval by the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission, will virtually guarantee cable and satellite TV subscribers will pay significantly higher prices to watch Sinclair’s local television stations covering more than 70% of the United States.

Sinclair helped lay the foundation for winning approval of the transaction in GOP-dominated D.C. by hiring former Trump spokesman Boris Epshteyn as Sinclair’s chief political analyst, and Sinclair executives mandate that many of its owned stations air pro-Trump conservative political content labeled as “news stories” as part of local newscasts.

Sinclair’s conservative leanings and accusations of hypocrisy are nothing new for the station group, which has been mired in controversy for more than two decades. The “family values” image that Sinclair purports to have in its political commentaries and corporate image ran headlong into the 1996 arrest of its former CEO David Smith, who used the company Mercedes to pick up hookers in Baltimore. He was convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense. Smith cut a deal with a Maryland state’s attorney that would allow him to avoid picking up trash on the highway or cleaning community-owned pools by having his reporters air stories about Baltimore’s drug court instead.

LuAnne Canipe, a reporter who worked on air at Sinclair’s flagship station, WBFF in Baltimore, from 1994 to 1998, told Salon in 2004 she took a phone call one day about the disposition of Smith’s arrest.

“A Baltimore judge called me up,” she recalls. “He wasn’t handling the case, but he called to tell me about the arrangement and asked me if I knew about it. The judge was outraged. He said, ‘How can employees do community service for their boss?’”

To this day, Smith remains the chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, although he relinquished the CEO position last fall.

Canipe said the sexual shenanigans at Sinclair didn’t stop with the CEO either.

“Let’s just say the arrest of the CEO was part of a sexual atmosphere that trickled down to different levels in the company,” Canipe remembered. “There was an improper work environment. I think that because of what he did there was a feeling that everything was fair game.”

Before leaving Sinclair in 1998, she said she once complained to management about another Sinclair employee, who had engaged in audible phone sex inside a station conference room, but that no action was taken against the employee. Canipe passed away in 2016 after battling cancer.

Sinclair stations were required to air political commentary during local newscasts that favored the Bush Administration.

By 2004, the majority of Sinclair’s then-62 stations were living with corporate interference in the local newsroom. Sinclair mandates that most of their owned stations air corporate-produced political segments that are routinely called “to the [political] right of Fox News” by detractors. That year, many local newsrooms at Sinclair stations bristled over the mandatory airing of a daily televised commentary called The Point, hosted by Mark Hyman, then Sinclair’s vice president for corporate relations. The Point could be compared as Sean Hannity’s talking points delivered with the bombastic panache of Bill O’Reilly. As the 2004 election neared, Hyman’s push for George W. Bush’s re-election went into overdrive. Hyman was a fierce advocate for the Bush Administration’s intervention in Iraq and referred to the French critics of President Bush’s war strategy as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”

While Hyman force-fed conservative political commentaries to Sinclair stations, he did not extend that same right to others, banning Sinclair’s ABC-affiliated stations from airing an edition of Nightline that showed host Ted Koppel reading the names of U.S. troops killed in Iraq, claiming the idea was inappropriate and “motivated by a political agenda.” Concerns about political agendas were short-lived, however, because Hyman later mandated that 40 of Sinclair’s 62 stations air “Stolen Honor,” a much-criticized and highly controversial political documentary attacking Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s war record. The stations aired a revised version of the documentary days before the 2004 presidential election.

When management at some of Sinclair’s local stations balked at the required airing, Hyman accused them of “acting like Holocaust deniers.”

Just prior to the 2012 election, WSYX was forced to air a Sinclair-produced “special” pre-empting ABC’s 6:30pm national news and Nightline that heavily criticized President Obama, then up for re-election, and accused him of lying about the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The special also pre-empted programming on other Sinclair stations, including WPEC in West Palm Beach.

The implied quid pro quo with the Bush Administration was particularly important for Sinclair as it continued acquiring TV stations, a process that required the approval of the then-Republican controlled FCC. A 2004 Salon article quoted journalist Paul Alexander, who produced a widely acclaimed documentary about Kerry as “insulting to the news-gathering process. That’s not how you gather news; that’s how you blackmail people.”

But news gathering was never the point, according to former Sinclair reporter Canipe. “David Smith doesn’t care about journalism,” she said.

Smith doubled-down on his cozy relationship with the Bush Administration by allowing conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to produce unfettered extended media segments for Sinclair stations. What Smith claims he did not know was that Williams accepted a $240,000 payoff from Bush officials to promote the Administration’s education agenda in the media. Williams brazenly interviewed then Education Secretary Rod Paige, the same man who authorized Williams’ payoff.

The result of the interview, according to the 2005 Rolling Stone piece:

Even before the payoffs became public, the news staff at Sinclair was horrified. The producer who edited the interview Williams did with Paige calls it “the worst piece of TV I’ve ever been associated with. You’ve seen softballs from Larry King? Well, this was softer. I told my boss it didn’t even deserve to be broadcast, but they kept pushing me to put more of it on tape. In retrospect, it was so clearly propaganda.”

When things became politically difficult for the president during the second term of the Bush Administration, Sinclair again came to the rescue, forcing its stations to air headquarter-produced news stories highlighting “good news” about the war in Iraq. Sinclair executives also demanded each of its 62 stations air a pledge of support for President Bush.

Rolling Stone:

But within the company, current and former employees have long known that there is a fine line between ideology and coercion. Jon Leiberman, once Sinclair’s Washington bureau chief, says Smith and other executives were intent on airing “propaganda meant to sway the election.” An ex-producer says he was ordered not to report “any bad news out of Iraq — no dead servicemen, no reports on how much we’re spending, nothing.” And a producer Sinclair sent to Iraq to report on the war calls the resulting coverage “pro-Bush.”

“You weren’t reporting news,” says the producer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “You were reporting a political agenda that came down to you from the top of the food chain.”

At the time, Smith told visitors to his Baltimore headquarters: “There are two companies doing truly balanced news today: Sinclair and Fox.”

During the most recent election cycle, Sinclair executives made sure audiences knew where they stood, urging voters to reject Hillary Clinton, as the New York Times reported, “because the Democratic Party was historically pro-slavery.”

More recently, Sinclair has defended the Trump Administration, with orders from Sinclair HQ to stations to dig up information about an online ad that seemed to recruit paid protesters for President Trump’s inauguration in January. Various right-wing groups used the ad as evidence of organized efforts to harass the incoming administration. The ad was later determined to be a hoax, wasting reporters’ time.

The national map of Sinclair and Tribune Media’s reach. (Image: New York Times)

The interference in local newsgathering by Sinclair executives has become so pervasive, its station in Seattle – KOMO, has been rebelling by burying mandated stories surrounding commercial breaks, when viewers are most likely to tune them out. But there is little else the station can do, and like with other acquisitions Sinclair has completed, there are fewer news staffers at KOMO to protest. Standard procedure at Sinclair after an acquisition to is dramatically cut back on employees and offer more stories and content produced at Sinclair’s headquarters or at other Sinclair-owned stations.

Sinclair’s latest target — Tribune Media, owns stations familiar to most cable and satellite subscribers around the country. Among the stations in Tribune’s portfolio — WPIX-New York, WPHL-Philadelphia, WGN-TV/WGN America-Chicago, KDVR/KWGN-Denver, and KTLA-Los Angeles.

“It’s an incredible amount of power in one company’s hands,” said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press.

Tribune Media owns some of the largest local TV stations in the country.

Former FCC commissioner Michael Copps doesn’t much like the deal either, noting it is “another blow to the diversity of journalism that we should have. It’s symptomatic of what is happening in this market, which is fewer and fewer organizations controlling more and more of the information on which our democracy rests.”

Copps

With all the recent turmoil at Fox News Channel, including the cancellation of Bill O’Reilly’s show, Sinclair could use its Tribune Media acquisition to launch a new conservative national news and opinion network that could rival Fox. WGN America, which no longer has anything to do with WGN-TV — a former “superstation”, could dump the current reruns it airs and be repurposed as a new home for exiled conservative commentators like O’Reilly.

Regardless of your political persuasion, you will likely be paying a lot more for Sinclair TV stations on the cable or satellite dial. Sinclair is among the most aggressive station owners boosting prices for carriage agreements. Cable operators will continue to pass most, if not all of these fees on to subscribers in the form of higher rates or through “Broadcast TV” surcharges that are rarely mentioned by cable companies in their advertised rates.

In Utah, cable operators are already very familiar with Sinclair’s retransmission rate increases. The revenue has grown so significant, some station owner groups are buying up small independent TV stations just to cash in on the growing revenue they get from cable systems and subscribers.

CentraCom, a cable operator in Utah, reports it now pays over $10 as month for local stations, per subscriber, double what it paid in 2008, and they are prepared to see rates much higher than that in the future. Sinclair will also be motivated to force bundle its cable network Tennis Channel with its local stations when it negotiates with cable companies, whether they want the tennis network or not.

CBS All Access Offers Showtime Add-On for Existing Customers

Phillip Dampier May 11, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

CBS is now offering CBS All Access and Showtime’s standalone service customers a bundled package of both services for up to $2 off.

Starting now, current customers who visit their account page on either service will have the option of adding either CBS All Access or Showtime to their account. CBS will expand the service to new subscribers at a later point, so if you have neither service today, you cannot get this offer yet.

Prices reflect a bundling discount. Showtime itself normally costs $10.99/month. CBS All Access costs $5.99 a month with commercials, $9.99 without.

  • Showtime with CBS All Access Limited Commercial Plan: $14.99 (save $1)
  • Showtime with CBS All Access No Commercial Plan: $18.99 (save $2)

CBS CEO Les Moonves has promised a bundled offer since last year, and now it has arrived.

Once subscribed, customers can access both services on desktop computers, mobile devices, tablets, and streaming video boxes like Roku.

One benefit of CBS All Access is the option of live-streaming your local CBS station, available in about 90% of U.S. households. CBS is taking steps to broaden online distribution of CBS affiliated stations on other streaming platforms as well, which could make CBS the first network to offer wide access to local stations on emerging live streaming platforms like Hulu TV, YouTube TV, and DirecTV Now.

CBS claims about 1.65 million customers subscribe to Showtime’s online streaming service and almost the same number subscribe to CBS’ All Access Pass. In comparison, HBO Now, available on a standalone basis, has around two million subscribers.

Hulu’s Streaming Live TV Launches; $39.99 for Hulu, 50 Live TV Channels + Cloud DVR Service

Phillip Dampier May 3, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Video 2 Comments

The long anticipated wait for Hulu’s live streaming cable-TV replacement is over with today’s soft launch of Hulu with Live TV, offering 50 cable networks and local affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX in select larger cities.

“Hulu can now be a viewer’s primary source of television,” said Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins. “It’s a natural extension of our business, and an exciting new chapter for Hulu.”

The new service will bundle Hulu’s live/linear TV service with its well-known on-demand package of movies and television shows. The service represents a direct challenge to cable television subscriptions and for Hulu’s owners — Disney, 21st Century Fox, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Time Warner, Inc., is the first major industry effort to keep subscription fees closer to home, and cuts out the cable middleman.

The lineup includes many, but not all, popular cable networks. There are very significant gaps — notably Viacom networks Hulu says it has no plans to add (Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV). Also missing: AMC, Discovery Networks, HBO/Cinemax and Starz. Showtime is available for $8.99 a month.

The lineup:

Fox
Fox Local Station (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago)
Big Ten Network
Fox Business Network
Fox News Channel
Fox regional sports networks
Fox Sports 1
Fox Sports 2
FX
FXX
FXM
National Geographic Channel
National Geographic Wild

Disney
ABC Local Station (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago)
ESPN
ESPN2
ESPNU
ESPNEWS
ESPN-SEC Network
Freeform
Disney Channel
Disney XD
Disney Junior

Comcast/NBCUniversal
NBC Local Station (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago)
Telemundo Local Station (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago)
Comcast RSNs
NECN
USA Network
Bravo
E!
Syfy
MSNBC
CNBC
NBCSN
Golf Channel
Chiller
Oxygen Network
Sprout

A+E Networks
A&E
History
Lifetime
Viceland
Lifetime Movie Network (LMN)
FYI

Scripps Networks Interactive
Food Network
HGTV
Travel Channel

Turner Broadcasting
CNN
HLN
CNN International
TBS
TNT
TruTV
TCM
Turner Classic Movies
Cartoon Network & Adult Swim
Boomerang

CBS
CBS Local Station (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago)
CBS Sports Network
POP
Showtime ($8.99 per month extra)

(Broadcast stations may be available in certain other cities, but not all network affiliates are included.)

Hulu with Live TV is available on Microsoft’s Xbox One, Apple TV (fourth generation), iOS and Android mobile devices, and Google’s Chromecast. Future support for Roku, Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV Stick and Samsung Smart TVs will come later. Oddly, desktop viewing on a Mac or PC is not currently supported.

The new service joins an increasingly crowded marketplace of online cable television replacements, including Dish’s pioneering Sling TV, Sony’s game console-platform PlayStation Vue, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, and YouTube TV — the newest before today.

Hulu’s most formidable competitor in the streaming TV space will likely be AT&T’s DirecTV Now service, which offers a broader range of networks and has become popular for its promotional equipment offers. Hulu plans to counter AT&T with a marketing effort that highlights its existing on-demand service of more than 3,000 TV shows and movies is included with every subscription.

Hulu also comes bundled with its own limited cloud DVR storage service, which will record up to 50 hours of programming. But similar to Google’s YouTube TV, customers will not be able to skip the commercials that are included in the shows they record. In fact, advertisers will be able to dynamically change their advertising spots in recorded shows as long as the customer keeps them in their personal recordings library. Customers will need to upgrade to “Premium DVR” service ($14.99) to enable fast-forwarding through ads. The premium DVR add-on also includes 200 hours of storage, unlimited simultaneous recordings, and the ability to watch recorded shows outside of the home.

Customers signed up to the base package will be able to create up to six individual profiles for the household, which allows each user to track and “favorite” TV shows and movies they enjoy the most. The service will provide recommended shows based on each person’s viewing habits. The feature also allows each family member to choose their favorite sports teams and Hulu will automatically record any available game that includes a favorite team.

Base subscribers get up to two simultaneous streams of live and recorded content. An “Unlimited Screens” add-on ($14.99) removes the limit and allows unlimited home streams and up to three concurrent streams outside of the home. Customers who want both Premium DVR and Unlimited Screens can bundle both features together for $20 a month — a $10 savings.

An introduction to Hulu’s new interface and live TV option. (1:55)

Charter Blames Departing Time Warner Cable Customers for Customer Losses

Phillip Dampier May 2, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 5 Comments

Buh, bye Charter!

Despite happy talk from Charter Communications about a “new day” with Spectrum packages and pricing, some former Time Warner Cable customers are voting with their feet and canceling service when their promotional pricing packages end and rates have nowhere to go but up.

More than 100,000 video customers left Charter during the first quarter of 2017, the majority former TWC customers facing repricing and package changes as their bundle pricing and promotions expired. At that point, rates spike dramatically and customers have to choose a Spectrum package many don’t like or leave.

With only 17% of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers nationwide having switched to Spectrum plans and pricing, Charter has a long way to go and a lot of customers to lose because of the company’s unwillingness to negotiate.

“As we’ve implemented consistent retention policies nationwide, we’re managing through higher churn at TWC in the short term,” noted Charter’s chief financial officer Christopher Winfrey. “As we migrate and replace the legacy base through a disciplined approach, legacy TWC churn will improve.”

In plain English, Charter has dramatically curtailed promotional customer retention offers and has refused to negotiate with customers that have been on promotional packages for years. Hardest hit are Time Warner Cable customers, and Charter is willing to let them walk instead of extending lower prices.

“The TWC churn, somebody was given a $10 unlimited video basic package, where can you move them?” asked Winfrey. “And they have an exploding offer. It was promotional offer. Where can you move them that’s a satisfactory place relative to what they were given before.”

This Dexter, Mich. Charter customer delivers a “thumbs-down” to the company’s “terrible service.”

CEO Thomas Rutledge has been harshly critical of Time Warner Cable’s penchant to reach for promotional pricing to keep customers happy. He has instituted “discipline” to get customers away from the idea they can get a lower cable bill just by asking. Rutledge understands most of his customers don’t have a great alternative and are effectively captive to limited competitive options. For Rutledge, by taking away discounted options, customers can be retrained to accept higher prices as a fact of life.

So far, many former Time Warner Cable customers are not willing to be led to a higher bill and as their legacy promotions expire, families are having conversations about dropping service(s) as a result of price and Charter’s intransigence about lowering it.

First quarter results show the first, and widely expected victim of Charter’s “repricing” is Time Warner Cable’s home phone product, which has been offered in bundles for $9.99 a month over at least the last four years. Charter discontinued Time Warner Cable’s popular international calling feature which offered free calling to the European Union, parts of Latin America and Asia. It also raised the promotional price to $19.99 a month, and now limits free long distance calling to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas.

As customers transition to Spectrum plans, they are leaving their voice lines largely behind as a result. During the first quarter of 2017, Charter only picked up 37,000 new Spectrum phone customers signing up for a Spectrum package versus 213,000 last year. Price was the only factor mentioned for the decline.

Decisions about cord-cutting are also being made at many former Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks homes when Spectrum’s new cable television offer is presented to customers. Cindy Sims of Apopka, Fla., summed it up this way: “They are raising prices and doing nothing different.”

Customers with limited budgets or fixed incomes are being priced out of Spectrum.

Sims is former Bright House Networks customer who saw her bill jump from $150 to $175 a month after Charter Communications took over. Since she is a “new customer” of Charter Communications, she hoped to get an introductory offer from the company but Charter no longer considers its acquired customers “new customers,” so she was forced into Spectrum’s regular pricing, which is higher than what she paid before. She is not alone. Charter executives admit customer cancellation/retention call center contacts from former Time Warner Cable customers are 50-60% higher than those of legacy Charter customers that have been with the company for several years.

The last straw for many is the fact customers often find they have to upgrade to the most expensive TV package to keep the channels they had before.

“They are kicking the old customers in the butt,” she added, noting that some Charter representatives handling customers threatening to leave have gotten downright nasty and rude on the phone.

Given no good alternative, some customers decide the time is right to cut cable-TV for good, and TWC’s video net loss was 129,000 worse than last year. The company claims over 90% of the losses were from budget-priced, limited-basic TV disconnects. Charter prefers to sell customers large bundles of channels for considerably more, while Time Warner Cable offered local channels and a small selection of cable networks for as little as $10 a month to certain internet-only customers.

The customer losses are expected to continue for up to a year as the other 83% of customers still on a legacy Time Warner Cable or Bright House Networks package see their prices jump as promotions end. For now, Charter won’t force customers to move to a Spectrum package, but by refusing to negotiate lower prices for legacy packages, the rate increases that happen after regular rates return are enough to push many customers to make a decision to switch or cancel service.

How much of a rate jump? Consider one Time Warner Cable triple-play package with Whole House DVR service, phone and 50/5Mbps internet access reset from $129 a month to $180 after the year-long promotion expired. A comparable package from Spectrum is still $30-40 higher than what Time Warner Cable used to charge.

The impact of the transition to Charter’s Spectrum plans and pricing is also dragging down growth of its internet service. Customers signed up for less expensive and slower tiers with Time Warner Cable are being priced out of the market by Charter’s single-advertised offer – 60 or 100Mbps for approximately $65 a month ($45 for new customers), depending on the area. Higher speed tiers are available if customers call in, if only to give them the bad news a $199 upgrade fee typically also applies.

As a result, residential internet growth among customers signing up for a Spectrum plan was 428,000 during the quarter versus 520,000 last year.

Despite the concerning numbers, Rutledge declared victory and claimed Charter would continue full-speed ahead.

“As we near the first anniversary of the close of our transformative transactions in May of last year, the execution of our integration and operating plan remains on track,” Rutledge said in a statement. “We have now launched our Spectrum pricing and packaging to nearly all of the homes we pass in our new footprint. We are already seeing the benefits of our customer-focused strategy in those markets, including greater connect volumes and the sales of higher quality products, all of which will lead to higher customer satisfaction, lower churn, and faster customer and financial growth in future quarters.”

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Recent Comments:

  • Mike D.: And for those who are planning to "cut the cord" after a promotion expires, be aware that Charter is lobbying the new administration and FCC chairman ...
  • Dylan: Huh, that's interesting regarding that Spectrum only saves 3/10 of its customers. Maybe there is something going on. And regarding my own promotion -...
  • Phillip Dampier: You were not on a promotion before which is why you got one this time. One year from now when your bill spikes and you call and complain, they will te...
  • Dylan: It's not that hard to get new customer pricing from Spectrum. I used to be a TWC customer paying $65/mo for 50 Mbps down internet. Once Spectrum came...
  • NM: Phillip, You may be interested in today's online story in Syracuse.com about what Spectrum's customers in CNY think about the merged company: http://...
  • Jim J: Dial tone is dial tone....
  • Julia: Even in life after TWC, if customer complaints remain the same or if a customer service rep claimed to have fixed a problem, but really didn't, you ca...
  • DPNY: As soon as Spectrum took over, my bill went up (a couple of dollars, but still)! I pay almost $250 a month as it is now for the package! I can think...
  • Yuji Saeki: Affordable Broadband unfortunately means "is it affordable for the Cable Companies?"...
  • ScottIn SoCal: PO WNC, I wish you luck! I've been in the same city residence for over 23 years and have not gotten fiberoptic lines here (Verizon FIOS) and based ...
  • Sara: For those saying that broadband access isn't a necessity the only internet many people where I live have access to is subject to data caps (saletellit...
  • ScottIn SoCal: Wanahart12: I'm connected to my router the same way and it's STILL slow! Not to mention the wireless devices. I was still using my Verizon-issued r...

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