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Comcast’s Home Security System Empties Customers’ Wallets; Chicago-Area Man Out $1,000

Phillip Dampier September 25, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News No Comments
Comcast's XFINITY Home won't help if the thieves are already inside your house.

Comcast’s XFINITY Home won’t help if the thieves are already inside your house.

Gary O’Reilly and his family moved into their new Libertyville, Ill. home last year and took advantage of a Comcast promotion offering the family a deluxe package of Internet, cable television, and XFINITY Home, Comcast’s home security and automation system. It was a costly mistake that would eventually threaten to leave the family out $1,000, their credit rating destroyed, and hours wasted fighting to get Comcast to live up to its service commitments.

O’Reilly was attracted to Comcast’s security system to protect his family — his wife was pregnant with their second child and they were moving to a new address. In March 2013, two Comcast technicians spent more than eight hours installing four exterior door alarm sensors and two digital thermostats.

Within hours, the family realized something had gone wrong. In the middle of the night, one of the thermostats began beeping relentlessly, indicating a problem.

“It was defective, and because the thermostat was digital, I could not control the temperature in that half of my house,” O’Reilly told the Chicago Tribune’s problem solver. “My pregnant wife and 2-year-old son were freezing in their own home.”

Comcast decided scheduling a service call several days in the future was acceptable under the circumstances, but O’Reilly learned patience isn’t a virtue at Comcast.

Comcast assumes any service call is a potentially billable event, regardless of who is at fault, and O’Reilly discovered they not only charged him for the service call, they also billed him for the replacement thermostat, requiring 8-10 hours of live chats and phone calls to eventually find someone willing to remove the charges from his bill.

The replacement thermostat managed to work for less than a month before it also failed, requiring yet another service call and replacement. Yes, Comcast billed him again for both, requiring another telethon-length session arguing with Comcast’s overseas call centers and live chat employees to remove the charges from his bill yet again.

As you might have guessed, the third replacement began acting up almost immediately, completely draining its AA batteries every 24-36 hours.

That’s your problem, responded Comcast, who would not schedule a return visit to explore the issue further. O’Reilly bought “a ton of batteries over the next few weeks.” The unappreciative third thermostat died anyway.

In mid-June, Comcast returned with thermostat number four, which lasted just a few weeks before it joined the earlier three in thermostat heaven.

Comcast's idea of compromise is a shotgun wedding: Agree to resume your service and we won't take you to court.

Comcast’s idea of compromise is a shotgun wedding: Agree to resume your service and we won’t take you to court.

Shockingly, O’Reilly decided against a fifth replacement and called to cancel his XFINITY Home service. The Comcast representative literally chuckled to O’Reilly after processing his cancellation to “keep an eye out for the termination charges.”

Comcast’s penalty for early cancellation of service: $1,000, conveniently billed on his next invoice.

After literally months of chats and phone calls, Comcast steadfastly refused to waive the charges, reserving the right to charge interest and impose other penalties if O’Reilly didn’t pay.

O’Reilly argues he owed Comcast nothing because the company never lived up to its end of the agreement by supplying reliable service. Nonsense, responds Comcast. After all, they were willing to replace his broken equipment each and every time, all five times.

Comcast wielded everything at its disposal to get paid. The cable company trashed O’Reilly’s over 800 credit score to below 650, preventing him from refinancing his mortgage. The collection calls have also been relentless, and increasingly threatening. On his last call with a Comcast collection agent he was told to pay them in full or they will see him in court.

Even with the venerable Chicago Tribune intervening and willing to serve as a referee, Comcast stubbornly refused to relent, although it offered O’Reilly its definition of a fair compromise.

Comcast spokesman Joe Trost claimed they had reached a settlement with the O’Reilly family.

“Together, [we] talked about the possibility of restarting services with Comcast with the agreement to waive the installation fees and (early termination fees) from the previous account, as well as clearing him from collections and the credit bureaus,” Trost said in an email. “We’re providing Mr. O’Reilly with different package options and composing a letter to overnight to Mr. O’Reilly with the information we discussed over the phone.”

Trost said O’Reilly and Comcast will “move forward together.”

In reality it was a 21st century digital version of a shotgun wedding.

Comcast first offered to remove him from collections, erase the $1,000 early termination fee and clear up his credit history, but only if he agreed to re-establish all of his previous services, including XFNITY Home.

O’Reilly held fast, saying he had no desire to have XFINITY Home back.

With a follow-up story looming in the newspaper, Comcast finally agreed to waive the fees and clean up his credit if he reconnected his Internet service with a higher-speed, more costly Internet tier. O’Reilly said yes.

Another satisfied Comcast customer. It only took 13 months, days of calling and chatting, and a last desperate plea to the Tribune to clear things up.

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Alaska’s GCI Boosts Speeds But Leaves Its Caps and Overlimit Fees Intact

redAlaska-based GCI has rolled out a free upgrade for customers in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Mat-Su Valley, and Sitka that delivers broadband speeds up to 250/10Mbps.

GCI’s re:D broadband used to max out at 200Mbps, but thanks to channel bonding on the cable system, download speeds will be upgraded to 250Mbps in re:D service areas by the end of this year.

But getting 250Mbps broadband is not cheap in Alaska. The service is priced at $174.99 a month when part of a service bundle. Broadband-only customers also pay a $11.99 monthly access fee. Both come with 24-month contracts at that price. Customers who don’t want to be tied down can choose month-to-month service for $5 more per month.

At those prices, one might hope GCI would drop its usage cap, but customers can forget it. A 500GB monthly usage cap applies, with overlimit fees up to $30/GB on some plans.

GCI also announced it would deliver 1Gbps next year over a fiber to the home network under construction in Anchorage, promising “no limits with what you can do with broadband” without mentioning whether it planned usage limits for its fiber service as well.

GCI is asking customers to vote support for their neighborhoods getting fiber upgrades. The more red this map of Anchorage shows, the more customers who have shown support for fiber broadband.

GCI is asking customers to vote support for their neighborhoods getting fiber upgrades. The more red sections of this map of Anchorage shows, the more customers who have shown support for fiber broadband.

For most GCI customers, however, broadband will continue to arrive over the company’s HFC coaxial cable network. To better manage speeds, the company’s DOCSIS 3 platform is bonding eight cable channels, but in re:D areas the company bonds up to 24 cable channels, with plans to increase to 32 channels.

acs logoThe speed increases come after its competitor Alaska Communications announced speed increases of its own. ACS sells unlimited access broadband service at speeds up to 50Mbps. ACS has beefed up its copper infrastructure to support faster Internet speeds, starting with 15Mbps introduced across the state in May. Now customers in Anchorage can subscribe to faster tiers including 30 and 50Mbps.

“Alaskans asked for faster Home Internet, and we’ve responded with these increased speeds, delivered with great customer service and without overage charges,” said ACS president and CEO Anand Vadapalli. “In addition to faster download speeds, customers choosing our product get the highest upload speeds that are so important for sharing videos and gaming.”

ACS has found its unlimited broadband offering attractive to customers who don’t want to worry about GCI’s overlimit fees. ACS also claims its customers get broadband over a dedicated line, not shared infrastructure like GCI, resulting in no speed slowdowns at peak usage times.

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Are You Connected to a Rogue Cell Tower? New Research Finds You Could Be

Phillip Dampier September 23, 2014 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Wireless Broadband No Comments
These unidentified rogue cell towers were identified operating in and around Washington, D.C. and an unknown number of cell phone customers are likely unknowingly connected to them even now.

These unidentified rogue cell towers were identified operating in and around Washington, D.C. and a number of cell phone customers are unknowingly connected to them even now. (Image: ESD America)

Security engineers have discovered more than a dozen rogue cell towers across the United States silently intercepting cell phone calls and wireless data traffic and potentially passing them on to unknown individuals, law enforcement and national security agencies, or even foreign governments.

ESD America, the makers of the highly secure CryptoPhone, has discovered a growing number of unauthorized interceptors operating as cell towers, and warn the problem is probably much worse than its first survey shows, and does not account for an even larger number of privately owned mobile repeaters and base stations operating across the country.

Network World reports these unauthorized cell towers represent an enormous security risk if they are run by a malicious actor. Connecting to a rogue tower allows its operator to eavesdrop on your calls and text messages, as well as deliver malicious data payloads such as spyware or tracking software direct to an unsuspecting user’s smartphone.

In fact, with consumer-grade wireless devices programmed to automatically and quietly connect to any technically compatible cell tower, federal law at 47 U.S.C. 302a prohibits the use of interceptors except by the government of the United States and authorized law enforcement agencies.

While legitimate manufacturers of interceptors insist on proper credentials before selling the equipment, manufacturers in the Far East that have run a brisk business selling cell phone jammers on eBay illegal to use in the United States have found new revenue selling unsecure cell tower extenders and interceptor devices that could allow even a non-technical person to run his own rogue cell tower operation.

Les Goldsmith, the CEO of ESD America, told Popular Science he was surprised to find many of the identified interceptors “on top of U.S. military bases.”

“So we begin to wonder – are some of them U.S. government interceptors,” pondered Goldsmith. “Or are some of them Chinese interceptors? Whose interceptor is it? Who are they, that’s listening to calls around military bases? Is it just the U.S. military, or are they foreign governments doing it? The point is: we don’t really know whose they are.”

Those are questions members of Congress now want answers to, and they want those answers from the Federal Communications Commission, which promises a task force will combat the unauthorized interceptor devices.

The FCC may want to step it up, because this week, Goldsmith and Aaron Turner, president of IntegriCell took a road tour around Washington, D.C. and quickly identified 15 rogue cell towers up and running in the nation’s capital, including three on Pennsylvania Avenue alone. They used the very costly CryptoPhone as their guide.

Security experts believe the FCC is poorly equipped to deal with the rogue tower issue and have warned businesses that cell phone conversations are subject to eavesdropping and are not a secure form of communications. They also don’t believe cell phone companies are in a hurry to lock down their networks either.

“Unfortunately, right now, the carriers are focused on revenue and availability,” said Turner. “With all technology decisions, you always have to balance between integrity, availability, and confidentiality, and in this case the carriers have defaulted to availability. The solution is, people are going to have to protect themselves, the government’s not going to come and protect you. They may, in some strange, crazy and massive breach situation, but the everyday enterprise, for the everyday high-value individual, this is something where they’re going to have to be self-sufficient and protect themselves.”

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UN: U.S. Broadband Ranking Slips Again; Now 19th Place in Penetration, 24th in Wired Connections

All of the top-10 broadband rankings for accessibility, affordability, speed, and subscription rates have been awarded to countries in Europe and Asia, while the United States continues to fall further behind.

This week, the UN Broadband Commission issued its annual report on broadband and had little to say about developments in North America, where providers have maintained the status quo of delaying upgrades, raising prices, and limiting usage. As a result, other countries are rapidly outpacing North America, preparing the infrastructure to support the 21st century digital economy while officials in the U.S.A. and Canada cater primarily to the interests of large incumbent cable and telephone companies.

The United States has fallen from 20th to 24th place in wired broadband subscriptions, per capita. Virtually every country in western Europe now beats the United States, as does Hong Kong, Belarus, and New Zealand. Canada scored better, taking 14th place.

fixed broadband penetration 2013

Only managing a meager 19th place, only 84.2% of Americans are online. Iceland has 96.5% of their population on the Internet, closely followed by the other northern European nations of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Also scoring superior to the United States: Andorra, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Canada did better than its southern neighbor as well, coming in at number 16.

percentage using the internet

With big profits to be made in wireless, large wireless phone companies like Verizon Wireless and AT&T helped the U.S. achieve its best rating — 10th place in wireless. But the countries that exceeded the United States did much better (Canada was not rated this year.)

With the arguable exception of wireless, the United States is no longer a world leader in broadband and continues a slow but steady decline in rankings as other countries leapfrog over the U.S.

At least 140 countries now have a National Broadband Plan in place, most maintaining stronger oversight over telecommunications infrastructure than the largely unregulated U.S. broadband marketplace. After reviewing broadband performance across most UN member states, the Broadband Commission for Digital Development recognized several traits common in countries where broadband has been particularly successful:

Competition is essential to promote enhanced broadband. A monopoly or duopoly (usually a telephone company and cable or wireless operator) is not enough to promote healthy broadband advancements. At least three, near-equal competitors are required to achieve the best upgrades and price competition. The presence of smaller competitors or those charging considerably different pricing had little effect on competition.

Countries with the best speeds have national policies promoting the installation of fiber optic technology, at least in multi-dwelling units and new developments. Although the cost of fiber and its installation can amount to as much as 80% of a broadband expansion project, many countries have been successful compelling competing providers to share a single fiber optic network (and its costs) to make the investment more affordable. In terms of ultra-high-speed broadband, there are still not many consumer apps and services that need Gigabit speeds, but such services are on their way. Experience shows that technology typically moves faster than most people anticipate – so countries and operators need to start planning now for the imminent broadband world.

technology cost

A coherent regulatory foundation that emphasizes competition over regulation was the most effective policy. But regulatory frameworks must guarantee a level playing field among competitors and strong oversight to make sure competitors play fair. Regulation is not keeping pace with the changes in the market – Internet players offering equivalent voice and messaging services are, by and large, subject to relatively limited requirements (including consumer protection, privacy, interoperability, security, emergency calls, lawful intercept of customer data, universal service). Asymmetric regulation has resulted in an uneven competitive landscape for services. Governments and policy-makers need to review and update their regulatory frameworks to take into account evolving models of regulation.

Telecommunication and broadband access providers need to explore business arrangements with Internet content providers that will accelerate global investment in broadband infrastructure, to the mutual benefit of all, including end-consumers. Internet companies and Internet content providers need to contribute to investment in broadband infrastructure by debating interconnection issues and agreeing fees/revenue shares with other operators and broadband providers.

That last issue is now being hotly debated in the United States, where providers are seeking compensation from streaming video providers like Netflix, which now account for a substantial amount of Internet traffic.

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Singapore’s Cutthroat Gigabit Broadband Price War Shows Real Competition Saves Consumers $

bnr_reg_1gbpsThree competing telephone companies in Singapore have launched an all-out price war on gigabit fiber to the home Internet access that shows what real competition can do for broadband pricing.

Last week, M1 took a butcher knife to its monthly rate for 1Gbps service that used to cost $101.75 a month. Today, anyone can order service price-locked for 24 months at a promotional price of $38.65 a month — less than what most cable companies in the United States charge for 10Mbps service. It is the cheapest gigabit plan in Singapore and when the promotion ends, the price may or may not increase to $78 a month. Competitive pressure in Singapore may make M1’s post-promotional price untenable.

Competition is the reason M1 may not be able to raise prices. MyRepublic slashed the price for gigabit service to just under $40 a month in January.

SingaporeSingapore’s largest phone company, SingTel, has its own unlimited gigabit offering for $55.13 a month, a price the company is now re-evaluating.

“We’re happy to see Singapore move towards the 1Gbps standard,” a MyRepublic spokesman said, noting it has no immediate plans to further lower its rates. But it has sweetened its offer by throwing in a free smartphone for every customer signing up for 1Gbps service.

With broadband prices so low, providers are now switching to beefing up extras to entice customers. SingTel promises customers they will never encounter traffic shaping that might cut their broadband speeds when networks get congested. It also offers a 25 percent discount on a virtual private network (VPN) add-on, a common feature used in Singapore to get past geographical restrictions on video streaming. VPN users in Singapore rely on the service to reach Hulu, Netflix and other North American video services that only allow domestic audiences to watch.

A fourth competitor – StarHub – is late to the gigabit battle and is presently working on a revamped offer to be introduced by October. StarHub’s original gigabit broadband offer was expensive at more than $400 a month. That plan has been discontinued.

Wall Street and other trading centers are not happy that falling prices have sliced into telecom profits. Average revenue per user (ARPU) collected by Singapore’s ISPs have dropped 15-20 percent since MyRepublic launched the price war. Investors are being warned that profits will be affected by the robust competition. In Singapore, broadband prices are falling, but so are the costs to provide the service. In North America, it is a much different picture, where a lack of competition has allowed providers to increase prices, constrict usage, and avoid dramatic speed upgrades, even though wholesale broadband costs in North America are among the cheapest in the world.

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Extortion As a Business Model: Copyright Enforcer Wants to Lock Your Web Browser Until You Pay

logo-rights-corpA for-profit company that believes it can earn billions from web users who illegally download music, movies and television shows wants the power to lock your web browser until you provide a credit card number to settle allegations you illegally download copyrighted content.

Rightscorp strongly believes in its business plan, which demands nuisance settlements from web users caught sharing or downloading copyrighted content. The company believes it has struck gold scaring Bittorrent users with service suspension and the threat of a costly lawsuit unless they agree to pay a $20 “fine” to “settle” the alleged copyright infringement. The fine amounts are seen as low enough to guarantee a quick settlement without involving an attorney.

“Based on the fact that 22% of all Internet traffic is used to distribute copyrighted content without permission or compensation to the creators, Rightscorp is pursuing an estimated $2.3 billion opportunity and has monetized major media titles through relationships with industry leaders,” the company recently told investors.

Using “unique and proprietary patented technology,” Rightscorp says it can identify the infringement of digital content such as music, movies, software, books and games. Rightscorp’s success getting paid depends heavily on the added weight Internet Service Providers can bring when they send on notices that claim those who don’t settle risk having their Internet service shut off. Rightscorp calls their settlement offers “reasonable,” especially when compared with the possible financial consequences of a verdict in favor of the copyright holder as defined in the Digital Millennium Copyrights Act (DMCA), which can be as high as $150,000.

Rightscorp splits any proceeds 50/50 with itself and copyright holders. ISPs get nothing for cooperating.

The company has successfully extracted settlements from more than 100,000 Americans so far as cooperating ISP’s like Charter Communications forward Rightscorp’s legal threats to their broadband customers:

Dear Sir or Madam:

Your ISP has forwarded you this notice.
This is not spam.
Your ISP account has been used to download, upload or offer for upload copyrighted content in a manner that infringes on the rights of the copyright owner.
Your ISP service could be suspended if this matter is not resolved.
You could be liable for up to $150,000 per infringement in civil penalties.

The file 09 – Beyond.mp3 was infringed upon by a computer at IP Address xx.xxx.xxx.xx on 2013-06-24 02:59:08.0 .

We represent the copyright owner.
This notice is an offer of settlement.

If you click on the link below and login to the Rightscorp, Inc. automated settlement system, for $20 per infringement, you will receive a legal release from the copyright owner.

Click on this link or copy and paste into your browser:

https://secure.digitalrightscorp.com/settle/****

Rightscorp, Inc. represents the following ‘copyright owner(s)’ Round Hill Music (‘RHM’).

RHM is the exclusive owners of copyrights for Daft Punk musical compositions, including the musical compositions listed below. It has come to our attention that Charter Communications is the service provider for the IP address listed below, from which unauthorized copying and distribution (downloading, uploading, file serving, file ‘swapping’ or other similar activities) of RHM’s exclusive copyrights listed below is taking place.

This unauthorized copying and/or distribution constitutes copyright infringement under the U.S. Copyright Act. Pursuant to 17 U.S.C. 512(c), this letter serves as actual notice of infringement. We hereby demand you immediately and permanently cease and desist the unauthorized copying and/or distribution (including, but not limited to downloading, uploading, file sharing, file ‘swapping’ or other similar activities) of recordings of Daft Punk compositions, including but not limited to those items listed in this correspondence.

RHM will pursue every available remedy including injunctions and recovery of attorney’s fees, costs and any and all other damages which are incurred by RHM as a result of any action that is commenced against you. Nothing contained or omitted from this letter is, or shall be deemed to be either a full statement of the facts or applicable law, an admission of any fact, or a waiver or limitation of any of RHM’s rights or remedies, all of which are specifically retained and reserved. The information in this notification is accurate.

We have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of herein is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or by operation of law. I swear, under penalty of perjury, that I am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the exclusive rights that have been infringed. While RHM is entitled to monetary damages from the infringing party under 17 U.S.C. Section 504, The RHM believes that it may be expeditious to settle this matter without the need of costly and time-consuming litigation.

In order to help you avoid further legal action from RHM, we have been authorized to offer a settlement solution that we believe is reasonable for everyone.

To access this settlement offer, please copy and paste the URL below into a browser and follow the instructions for the settlement offer:

https://secure.digitalrightscorp.com/settle/****

Very truly yours,

Christopher Sabec
CEO
Rightscorp, Inc. 3100 Donald Douglas Loop, North, Santa Monica, CA 90405 Telephone: (310) 751-7510

After initially scaring a consumer with an infringement notification, the settlement web page that appears after the customer reaches for a major credit card is more soothing:

Liability Release & Settlement Receipt

IMPORTANT: Please print and retain this document for your records. It releases you from liability for the below mentioned infringement and serves as official notice of settlement.


Reference # TC-bb4f723e-****
Title Beyond
Filename 09 – Beyond.mp3
Timestamp 2013-06-24 02:59:08.0
Infringement Source Torrent
Infringers IP Address 68.190.**.***
Infringers Port 51413

Round Hill Music for itself, for its past, present and future directors, shareholders, members, managers, officers, employees, agents, attorneys, representatives, partners, trustees, beneficiaries, family members, heirs, subsidiaries and affiliates, and for its and their predecessors, successors and assigns (collectively the “Releasor”);

Hereby finally, unconditionally, irrevocably and absolutely releases, acquits, remises and forever discharges Joe Smith, 123 Main Street Anytown USA and such person’s family members and heirs (collectively the “Releasee”);

From any and all manner of actions, suits, debts, sums of money, interest owed, charges, damages, judgments, executions, obligations, costs, expenses, fees (including attorneys’ fees and court costs), claims, demands, causes of action and liabilities, that arise under the United States Copyright Act, in each case whether known or unknown, absolute or contingent, matured or unmatured, presently existing or hereafter discovered, at law, in equity or otherwise, that the Releasor may now have or that might subsequently accrue against the Releasee arising out of or connected with (directly or indirectly) the specific Infringement of musical composition(s) referenced above;

Provided however, that this release shall not, and shall not be deemed to, constitute a release with respect to any other past, present or future infringements by Releasee other than the specific Infringement of musical composition(s) referenced above.

Settlement Date 2013-07-29 00:00:00.0
Transaction Id 54205*****
Settlement Amount 20

noticeRightscorp does not appear to be spending its limited resources actually pursuing suspected violators in court. The threat of further action alone appears to have been enough for many to voluntarily pay the firm after receiving their first violation notice. Little, if anything, has happened to those who ignore Rightscorp’s settlement messages unless their ISP suspends access.

As long as payments roll in, there is money to be made in the enforcement business.

Rightscorp now wants to further automate its copyright enforcement process by asking cooperating ISPs to lock customers’ web browsers until payment to Rightscorp has been made.

Rightscorp CEO Christopher Sabec said the company is working with more than 70 ISPs, including five in the top 10, but industry observers believe “working with” more likely means those ISPs are forwarding Rightscorp’s infringement notices to their subscribers, nothing more. Charter Communications leaves the infringement notices intact, including the settlement offer. Comcast reportedly heavily redacts the notices and strips out the settlement offer and links, eliminating the prospect of Rightscorp winning a quick and near-effortless financial settlement.

Sabec believes ISPs don’t have a choice not to work with Rightscorp because of technology that Sabec claims offers reasonable certainty of infringement, even if the offender changes IP addresses. With that standard met, Sabec says ISPs are legally compelled to take action, including cutting off Internet access at Rightscorp’s request if they do not want to become a co-defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit.

“We’re showing the ISPs that they have this potential liability,” said Rightscorp chief operating officer Robert Steele. “Their shield for liability is contingent on terminating repeat infringers. Prior to our company, there was no way to hold them accountable.”

solution

Steele told Ars Technica the days of Rightscorp having the power to instantly cut off your Internet access may not be too far off:

In the future, the company hopes to get more ISPs to comply—and it will expect more of those that are already cooperating, said Steele. Ultimately, Rightscorp is hoping for a scenario in which the repeat infringers it identifies aren’t just notified by e-mail. Instead, Steele hopes to see those users re-directed to a Rightscorp notice right at the moment they open their Web browsers.

“You wouldn’t be able to get around the re-direct page, and you’d have to pay a fine to return to browsing,” he explained. The company is in discussions with four ISPs about imposing such a re-direct page, according to Steele. But the details about which ISPs cooperate with Rightscorp, and how much they cooperate, is a secret that the company guards closely.

partner isps

Their “partner” ISPs include defunct Qwest, which has been known as CenturyLink since 2011 and Charter Communications — the only major cable operator listed.

grandeWhether ISPs will grant unprecedented access to a third-party company trying to turn off their customers’ broadband while maintaining a financial interest in extracting settlements from those customers is doubtful.

Last week, Texas-based independent ISP Grande Communications informed the Austin-based U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas that Rightscorp was engaged in shenanigans. In a strongly worded advisory to the court, Grande’s lawyers accused Rightscorp of using improper DMCA subpoenas to extract identifying information about alleged copyright offenders — a practice ruled improper more than a decade ago in RIAA v. Verizon, because no judge typically reviews the subpoena application. Rightscorp’s subpoenas rely entirely on the signature of an ordinary district court clerk in California:

Internet service provider and cable operator Grande Communications Networks LLC advises the Court that, one (1) business day after Grande filed its Motion to Quash Subpoena in this proceeding seeking to quash a subpoena served by Rightscorp, Inc. (the “Subpoena”), counsel for Rightscorp, Mr. Dennis J. Hawk withdrew the Subpoena.

The abrupt withdrawal of the Subpoena is consistent with the apparent desire of Rightscorp and its counsel to avoid judicial review of their serial misuse of the subpoena power of the federal courts. In addition, the withdrawal comes only after Grande was forced to expend considerable resources handling the Subpoena (and attempting to discuss it with Rightscorp’s counsel) and then preparing and filing the Motion to Quash.

As detailed in Grande’s Motion, the Subpoena presented an extraordinarily undue burden (over 30,000 subscriber lookups) and was issued to a cable operator without an order as required by the Cable Communications Act. Even more egregiously, it appears that the Subpoena is only one of approximately one hundred (100) or more similar subpoenas issued by Rightscorp to regional Internet service providers located across the country (presumably chosen because they are less likely to contest the subpoenas than national Internet service providers with larger in-house legal departments) upon the signature of the Clerk of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, seeking the personally identifiable information of thousands of individuals beyond the jurisdiction of the California courts, despite the fact that such subpoenas may not be sent and issued under 17 U.S.C. § 512(h) to an Internet service provider acting as a conduit under law that has been established for a decade.

Under the circumstances, this Court or the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California may consider ordering Rightscorp and its counsel to show cause why they should not be sanctioned for misusing the federal court’s subpoena powers. Such an order would be appropriate in connection with Grande’s request for costs and attorney’s fees in the Motion.

Beyond any doubt, Rightscorp and its counsel failed and refused to “take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or expense” on Grande. Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(d)(1). As Grande has explained, before the Motion was filed, Rightscorp’s counsel’s only response to Grande’s efforts to confer was a threat that “[w]e expect compliance by the service providers” and that Rightscorp “does not pay to obtain the address details on infringers.”

In addition, Rightscorp’s conduct also raises concerns under Rule 11, and, regardless, may present appropriate circumstances for the imposition of sanctions under the Court’s inherent powers.

The next business day after the Motion was filed, Rightscorp’s counsel made a hasty retreat. If Rightscorp believed it had a good faith basis for the Subpoena, it would have asserted its position before this Court.

But Rightscorp must know that its position and practice would not survive judicial review. If Grande had not challenged the Subpoena, Rightscorp would have improperly obtained the personally identifiable information of hundreds (or thousands) of Texas Internet subscribers using an invalid procedure, without the notice to any of them that would have followed from the court order that Rightscorp refused to seek to obtain, and without the slightest requirement of any showing to the California court whose signature Rightscorp improperly utilized. It appears clear that Rightscorp and its counsel are playing a game without regard for the rules, and they are playing that game in a manner calculated to avoid judicial review. Hopefully, they will not be permitted to continue much longer.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Rightscorp Piracy 5-1-14.flv

CNBC talked with Rightscorp CEO Christopher Sabec about copyright infringement, Net Neutrality, and whether or not copyright holders should simply cut the cost of their content as a disincentive to piracy. (5:28)

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Fiber to the Press Release: Atlantic Broadband Announces 1Gbps in Miami… (For 40 Homes)

atlanticMore people will read this story than Atlantic Broadband has current customers for its 1Gbps broadband project in Miami.

“Atlantic Broadband is proud to be the first company to deliver 1 Gigabit Internet service to its customers here in the Miami Beach area,” said David Keefe, Atlantic Broadband’s senior vice president and general manager of the South Florida region. “While other companies are talking about what they will be doing, Atlantic Broadband moved forward and started offering this service in one of its communities. We look forward to extending access to our Gigabit Internet service to other properties and communities within our Miami footprint.”

Although Mr. Keefe isn’t being modest, his company’s gigabit broadband coverage area certainly is.

At present, the company serves just 40 properties with the super high-speed broadband service in high-income Indian Creek Village — the 8th richest community in the United States.

The tiny village of Indian Creek is made up of 40 properties and is the 8th richest community in the U.S.A.

The tiny village of Indian Creek, in the Miami-Dade area, is made up of 40 properties and is the 8th richest community in the U.S.A.

Designed to appeal to residents who can spare no expense, the Atlantic Broadband package also includes more than 350 TV channels powered by TiVo, integrated access to Netflix, and unlimited phone service for up to four lines.

An Atlantic Broadband spokesperson wouldn’t reveal the price of the package, and admitted customers cannot choose standalone broadband-only service.

“The needs of Indian Creek Village were unique so custom service packages were created that include all of Atlantic Broadband’s TV services, Gigabit Internet and four phone lines,” a spokeswoman told Multichannel News. “Currently, there is not a published a standalone price for Gigabit Internet.”

Residents in the wealthy enclave include Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima, Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, his son Enrique Iglesias, Robert Diener, co-founder of Hotels.com, Edward Lampert, hedge fund billionaire and owner of what is left of Kmart and Sears, Don Shula, retired football coach, Charles Bartlett Johnson, mutual fund billionaire, billionaire investor Carl Icahn and former Philadelphia Eagles owner and billionaire art collector Norman Braman.

Other famous residents both past and present have included Beyoncé and Jay-Z, pro golfer Raymond Floyd, coach Rick Pitino, U.S. Senator George Smathers, Sheik Mohammed al Fassi, television host Don Francisco, co-founder of Calvin Klein Barry Schwartz, radio magnate Raul Alarcon, coal and oil executive, heiress and philanthropist Suzie Linden, Arthur I. Appleton, President of Appleton Electric Company and founder of the Appleton Museum of Art and Bridlewood Farm, and his wife Martha O’Driscoll a former Hollywood actress.

Atlantic Broadband has not ripped out classic cable infrastructure for its less-well-to-do customers outside of the village in the Miami-Dade area and relies on RF over Glass technology for its network extensions. That allows the company to keep its legacy equipment in place while giving some residents access to fiber and others traditional coaxial cable.

Atlantic serves an island of customers in the Miami Beach area, but most of Miami gets its cable service from Comcast. Competitor AT&T has promised fiber upgrades and gigabit speeds for its own customers in the Hialeah, Hollywood, Homestead, Opa-Locka, and Pompano Beach areas, but no time frame has been announced for the upgrade.

Atlantic Broadband will have one advantage over AT&T U-verse. It does not have usage caps.

Atlantic Broadband serves around 230,000 residential and business subs in western Pennsylvania, Miami Beach, Maryland/Delaware, and Aiken, S.C. It is owned by Cogeco Cable of Canada.

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Comcast Extends Free 6 Months of Internet Essentials Offer An Extra 10 Days As Regulators Ponder Merger

ieAs regulators ponder Comcast’s application to acquire Time Warner Cable, the issue of affordable Internet has been a hot topic as part of the merger review. So it is no surprise Comcast has announced it is extending its recent offer of six free months of Internet Essentials service to income-challenged families with school age children an extra 10 days.

“On August 4th, we made a special announcement: we are offering any family that has not yet signed up for Internet Essentials, up to six months of free service, if they apply before September 20th,” said Comcast executive vice president David Cohen on Comcast’s blog.  “Today, I’m thrilled to announce we’re going to extend that offer through Tuesday, September 30th.”

Comcast admits that only families that have never applied for Internet Essentials in the past can receive free service. Those already enrolled or who attempted to enroll in the past do not qualify.

The cable company does not make participation easy and is intent on protecting the revenue it earns selling regularly priced Internet service by keeping current customers out of the Internet Essentials program.

Just qualifying for Internet Essentials requires navigating an obstacle course:

The program is only available to households:

  • that have at least one child who is eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program (the “NSLP”) and as confirmed annually while enrolled in the program;
  • do not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment; and
  • have not subscribed to any Comcast Internet service within the last ninety (90) days.
Internet Essentials promises no rate increases, but the fine print suggests otherwise.

Internet Essentials promises no price increases, but the fine print suggests otherwise.

The program will only accept new customers for three full school years. After that, if Comcast decides it doesn’t want to offer the service any longer, customers are out of luck. Comcast can also restrict enrollment periods when it accepts new participants and requires annual verification paperwork demonstrating continued participation in the NSLP.

Comcast can throw families out of the program: if a child relocates outside of the household, loses NSLP eligibility, if a bill is paid late, if Comcast decides to stop offering the program, or if your account is closed. If you move, your account will be closed even if you choose to continue Comcast service at your new address, so don’t plan on going anywhere.

If and when Comcast determines your participation in Internet Essentials is over, your rates will automatically reset to standard Internet pricing without further notice. So much for promises of no rate increases. Those regular prices start at around $40 a month + a monthly modem rental fee of around $8 — quite a difference from $9.95.

Although the terms and conditions do not reflect it, Comcast claims to be continuing an “amnesty program” for would-be applicants with past due balances:

If customers have an outstanding bill that is more than one year old, then as long as they meet all the other eligibility criteria, they can apply to the program and we will provide amnesty for that back due bill for the purpose of connecting to Internet Essentials. If customers’ outstanding bills are less than a year old, however, then we would like them to settle that debt with us before they can be eligible to apply for the program. We are willing to work with families whose debt is reasonable enough that that they could pay us back in installments.

For more information, visit www.internetessentials.com or, for Spanish, www.internetbasico.com. You can also call 1-855-8-INTERNET or, for Spanish, 1-855-SOLO-995.

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Behind the Bulletproof Glass: More Misadventures at Comcast’s Customer Service Center

Marco S. was so frustrated by the line running outside of his local Comcast store, he snapped this photo. At least the weather was nice.

Marco S. was so frustrated by the line running outside his local Comcast store, he snapped this photo. At least the weather was nice.

Comcast customer Timothy Lee made a grave error in judgment. He decided to return his Comcast-owned cable modem to a Comcast customer service center… on a Saturday!

Long-time Comcast customers know only too well a Saturday visit to Comcast represents a major outing, with long lines that often extend outside and up to an hour or more waiting time.

Lee compared his visit to waiting in line at the post office, but that’s not really true except during the holidays — the post office is better organized and usually lacks the heavy-duty bulletproof glass and surly attitudes that separate Comcast’s “customer service agents” from their unhappy customers.

Predictably, Lee waited more than 30 minutes before his number was up.

Lee’s predicament is all too familiar. His only choice for high-speed Internet access is Comcast, and the cable company knows it. So just like your local Department of Motor Vehicles, there is no harm done if Comcast opens a customer service center with 10 available windows staffed by only two employees, one happily munching on pretzels ignoring the concert-length line during his 20-minute break.

Time Warner Cable’s service centers are not much better, although they usually have fewer windows to keep customers from getting their hopes up. Comcast’s bulletproof glass is also not in evidence at TWC locations, although the burly bank-like security guard is very apparent at some centers in sketchy neighborhoods. Time Warner Cable also offers seating, but visit wealthier suburban locations when possible, where comfortable couches replace the nasty hard benches or plastic furniture often found downtown.

Comcast was instantly ready to offer up the usual excuses:

Your recent visit to our Washington D.C. service center is certainly not the experience we want anyone to have. We’ve been working on  a multi-year project to revamp the hundreds of service centers we have around the country to better serve customers.  As part of that project, we will be remodeling the Michigan Avenue location and will open another service center in the District in early 2015.  We’re also introducing more options for customers to manage their accounts, including a new program we’re starting to roll out with The UPS Store to make them an authorized Comcast equipment return location.

It’s always better at Comcast sometime in the yet-to-be-determined future. Until then, suffer.

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FCC May Make Comcast/Time Warner Merger Contingent on Carriage of More TV Channels

cable tvJust when you thought the cable television lineup could not possibly get any larger,  insiders at Comcast are anticipating one of the possible conditions that could be imposed by the Federal Communications Commission in return for approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable is an agreement to carry more independently owned cable television channels.

One of the most vocal groups of consumers opposed to the merger deal have been viewers of independent Omaha, Neb.-based RFD-TV, which has landed carriage deals with Time Warner Cable but has been largely ignored by Comcast. For most of the summer, RFD-TV encouraged viewers to pelt the FCC with complaints about the merger deal, insisting that more networks not owned or operated by the top five media conglomerates get equal treatment on the Comcast cable dial. Thousands of viewers responded.

Comcast vice president David Cohen told Congress Comcast already carries more than 170 small or independent networks, although Comcast counts international networks distributed to customers at premium rates.

“It sounds wonderful. But when you peel back the onion . . . it’s really nothing at all,” Pat Gottsch, founder of RFD-TV told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Very few [independent] channels have full distribution, other than BBC World News and Al Jazeera.”

Independent networks have little leverage with major cable operators because they cannot tie carriage agreements to more popular mainstream cable networks. That is why little-known networks like Crime & Investigation Channel or the spinoffs of fX – fXX and fXM – have glided onto cable lineups while networks like RFD, The Tennis Channel, and BlueHighways TV have a much tougher time.

Time Warner Cable now widely carries RFD-TV, but often only on an added-cost mini-pay tier. In many Time Warner markets, RFD and Smithsonian TV replaced HDNet, also an added-cost network.

rfdtv_logoThe independent networks fear they will never become viable if they cannot reach the nearly one-third of the country’s cable television subscribers a combined Comcast and Time Warner Cable would serve. Others question whether they will be given fair consideration if their networks compete with an existing Comcast or Time Warner Cable-owned channel.

The Tennis Channel and Bloomberg have both tussled repeatedly with Comcast over carriage agreements and channel placement. The Tennis Channel took Comcast all the way to a federal appeals court, but lost their case. Cable companies have won recognition of their First Amendment rights to choose the channels on their systems.

In years past, cable operators cited limited channel capacity as the most frequent reason a network could not be added to the lineup. Comcast continues to claim they have limited channel space for television channels, but that has not stopped the cable company from launching dozens of little-watched networks they receive compensation to carry (home shopping, TBN and certain other religious networks) or are contractually obligated to carry (add-on sports and entertainment networks owned by Disney, Viacom, Time Warner (Entertainment), Fox, and even Comcast itself, through its Universal division).

garbageComcast’s claim it already carries nearly 180 independent networks drew scrutiny when the company released the list of networks. At least half were added-cost international or pornography networks — all sold at a higher cost. More than a dozen others were independent sports channels packed into a higher-cost sports tier. Most of the rest were regional networks given very limited exposure. BlueHighways TV, which features bluegrass music, is seen in only 210,000 Comcast homes, mostly in Tennessee. That is less than 1% of Comcast’s total subscriber base.

The only prominent and truly independent networks given wide carriage on Comcast include Home Shopping Network and QVC, which pay a commission to Comcast for every sale made to a Comcast customer, BBC World News, and the Catholic EWTN network.

Mitigating the problem of independent network carriage may push the FCC to the path of least resistance – making carriage of some of these networks a requirement in return for merger approval.

It wouldn’t be the first time. Comcast agreed to launch 10 independent networks as a condition for FCC approval of its buyout of NBCUniversal. That deal is what brought BBC World News to the Comcast lineup, along with a range of little-known networks on high channel numbers: ASPiRE, BabyFirst Americas, Revolt, and El Rey. BabyFirst is targeted to babies and toddlers from 0-3 years old, but is also enjoyed by recreational drug users who find the network’s use of bright colors in their short-form videos entertaining. ASPiRE’s programming has been described by its critics as “crap.”

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