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Charter/Spectrum Launches ‘Choice’, a True A-La-Carte Video Package for $25

Phillip Dampier February 22, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Video 4 Comments

Charter Communications has introduced internet-delivered cable television packages that its cable TV subscribers have requested for years, including one offering a true a-la-carte lineup of network TV channels and the customer’s choice of 10 cable channels for $25 a month.

Spectrum Choice was soft-launched this week and is a companion to a larger internet-delivered package of TV services targeting cord-cutters called Spectrum Stream, which is also available in many areas.

Although Spectrum customers can visit the order page to sign up for Spectrum Choice immediately, when we tested it this afternoon we found the website was not able to complete an order. It turns out Spectrum is initially “hand-selecting” about 100,000 customers in selected areas for Spectrum Choice, but won’t disclose exactly where those areas are. We know from some reviews, it is available in parts of Ohio.

For now, would-be customers can try building their own package from at least 65 cable networks, including several networks Spectrum usually bundles into higher cost Silver and Gold packages. For example, Turner Classic Movies, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and FX Movie Channel are all available to choose. Spectrum Choice also offers all three major cable news networks as well as Spectrum News (where available). ESPN, ESPN II, FOX Sports, NBC Sports Network, and NFL Network are also available for sports fans. Even Music Choice is included.

Spectrum Choice customers are not tied down with a bloated package of channels, except for the included large bundle of local stations, which includes ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW, MyNetworkTV, PBS, and independent/foreign language over the air stations. The availability of public television is a rarity among online cable TV alternatives. In most areas, digital subchannels like Grit and MeTV are also included, depending on what networks are provided by stations in your area. You will also get several shopping channels, C-SPAN I, II, and III, and local Public, Educational, and Government Access channels as seen on your local cable system.

If you visit their website can complete an order online, you are qualified to receive their service. If there is no option to move forward to complete an order, you are not qualified to sign up at this time, but check back later or call Spectrum and ask.

The service relies on the Spectrum TV app (available on iOS, Android, Roku, and Xbox One) and the Spectrum website to stream video programming to customers, and no set-top box is required. DVR service is not worth the effort or cost. It requires a traditional DVR set top box and you can only watch recorded shows on the television connected to the DVR. Be aware there are also restrictions viewing some channels outside of the home, just as Spectrum’s cable TV customers already understand:

Linear OOH: Watching a live channel while away from home
VOD OOH: Watching on-demand content while away from home
TVE App Name: TV Everywhere App Name – Independent apps used by programmers or viewing on their websites
VOD Parity: Cable TV and Spectrum Choice customers get access to the same on-demand programming options.

Details (click the name of the package for more information):

Spectrum Choice TV

    If you don’t mind Charter/Spectrum choosing your channel lineup, a second option offers more channels for about the same price.

  • 7-day money back guarantee/trial, then $15 for the first month
  • To get the service, you must have an internet-only plan or an internet + voice plan from Spectrum. You cannot be a current traditional cable TV subscriber
  • After the first month, the service costs $25 per month for the first two years, including the Broadcast TV Surcharge, but excluding tax
  • After 24 months, price increases to $30 a month
  • Your assigned Spectrum TV username and password will also work on websites that authenticate you as a qualified cable TV customer
  • Premium channels are $7.50 each for HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Starz, and Starz Encore or bundle all-five for $15 a month for two years. Epix is also available a-la-carte.

Spectrum Stream TV

  • $21.99 a month (not including $3 Broadcast TV Surcharge) for 25+ pre-selected channels including local stations and major basic cable networks
  • All features included with Choice TV work similarly except the lineup is not a-la-carte. But you may get more channels at a comparable price.
  • After two years, the price increases to $26.99. Starting in year three, the price rises again to $34.99.
  • The same $15 promotion for five premium movie networks noted above applies, if interested.

Spectrum’s promotion of Stream TV. (1:00)

Sinclair May Sell Big Tribune TV Stations to Shell Corporation Sinclair’s Founding Family Controls

Allegedly independent Cunningham Broadcasting’s headquarters are located at 2000 West 41st Street in Baltimore, coincidentally the same address as Sinclair-owned WBFF-TV, the city’s FOX affiliate.

An analyst warns Sinclair Broadcasting’s willingness to part with WPIX-TV in New York and WGN-TV in Chicago may amount to transferring control of the stations on paper from one hand to the other.

Broadcasting & Cable reports an unnamed source told the trade publication Sinclair is considering “selling” the stations to Cunningham Broadcasting, which is effectively Sinclair in all but name.

Cunningham and Sinclair are more than a little close. The majority of Cunningham-owned stations are run by Sinclair under local marketing agreements, and Sinclair’s founding family controls more than 90% of Cunningham’s stock. That has led to repeated accusations Cunningham is nothing more than a shell corporation used by Sinclair to circumvent the FCC’s TV station ownership caps, something both companies strenuously deny. But observers note some remarkable coincidences, starting with the Cunningham name itself. Cunningham Farms, on a 200-acre estate, Cunningham Manor, are both owned by Sinclair executive chairman David Smith.

Cunningham Broadcasting’s corporate headquarters are inside the studios of WBFF-TV, Sinclair’s FOX affiliate in Baltimore. Cunningham owns WNUV, Baltimore’s CW affiliate, which is also run from the same building as WBFF.

WNUV was originally planned to be a direct Sinclair acquisition, but FCC rules prohibited that. So Sinclair guaranteed loans allowing Glencairn Ltd., (later to be renamed Cunningham Broadcasting), to acquire WNUV instead. At the time, Carolyn Cunningham Smith, the mother of Sinclair’s current executive chairman David Smith, had voting control of Cunningham. That control has since passed to a trust run for the benefit of Smith’s children after Carolyn died in 2012.

After Glencairn/Cunningham won control of the station, it immediately signed a local marketing agreement with Sinclair. That agreement merged WNUV’s operations under the control of Sinclair-owned WBFF. Most employees at WNUV report to Sinclair management. Many of the Cunningham-owned stations also offer options to Sinclair to acquire the stations outright should deregulation of ownership limits permit.

A shell corporation is essentially an entity in name only, usually quietly controlled by someone else seeking to keep their true identity secret.

Should WPIX-TV and WGN-TV end up in the hands of Cunningham, it would be unprecedented for a company its own president admitted in 2013 was dependent on Sinclair to help program their stations, noting Sinclair is “a smart company, and they certainly have a lot more experience.” WPIX is in the nation’s number one television market, WGN is in the third largest market. The majority of Cunningham’s 20 stations are FOX, CW, or MyNetworkTV affiliates in small and medium-sized markets. A few are so small, they don’t even have websites.

Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, suspects Sinclair could once again be thumbing its nose at the FCC’s ownership caps, and the planned divestiture may be in name only.

“It’s not clear to me who the new owner is going to be from the documents filed, but it sure looks like business as usual for Sinclair, which has long specialized in propping up shell companies to evade FCC rules,” Aaron told The Baltimore Sun. “The idea that Armstrong Williams [owner of another side entity that also owns stations that Sinclair runs] or Cunningham or whoever they are setting up as the ‘owner’ of these stations is independent from Sinclair, at least if the past is any guide, is a complete fiction. Sinclair should not be allowed to set up shady front companies to evade the congressionally mandated ownership caps. But Ajit Pai’s FCC is aiding and abetting this ruse in every way.”

The FCC’s inspector general is reportedly now investigating whether Pai improperly pushed through ownership cap rule changes to directly benefit Sinclair’s efforts to grow even larger.

Should Sinclair successfully acquire Tribune Media’s television stations, Sinclair will control 233 television stations that reach 72 percent of U.S. households. The FCC’s media ownership cap now limits an single owner’s reach to 39% of the nation’s audience.

While the FCC has shown little interest in slowing down Sinclair, the Justice Department has previously blocked some of Sinclair’s moves. When Sinclair was forced to divest WSYT-TV, the FOX affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y., it first hoped to sell the station to Howard Stirk Holdings, owned by conservative commentator Armstrong Williams.

Williams coincidentally has served as a longtime commentator for Sinclair, which forces its owned and operated stations to carry conservative messages in local newscasts. Sinclair believed so much in Armstrong, it guaranteed his company’s acquisition loans in similar deals. Sinclair may also benefit from the fact that Armstrong, a minority, gets extra consideration and relaxed rules from the FCC to promote minority station ownership. In other deals, after taking ownership, Armstrong promptly signed contracts with Sinclair to run the stations for him.

The Justice Department was not convinced by explanations of the close relationship between Armstrong and Sinclair. It objected to the sale, writing “it wouldn’t work” because “it would still be like a duopoly.” Sinclair also couldn’t persuade the Justice Department to believe Sinclair and Cunningham were completely independent companies either, eventually forcing Sinclair to abandon efforts to sell WSYT to Cunningham. Today WSYT is owned by Northwest Broadcasting, which owns a handful of stations in the rural Rocky Mountain west and has no ties to Sinclair.

Anderson admitted what was behind the maneuvering to sell WSYT in a 2013 Wall Street Journal story.

“They [The Justice Department] were not comfortable yet,” Anderson said, “and in the interest of time, Sinclair went to Plan B [selling the station to Northwest Broadcasting].”

“It’s a scandal,” Aaron told CNN in 2017. “Trump-favoring mega-chain [Sinclair] gets rules changed — and expects others to be erased — so it can put its cookie-cutter newscasts in nearly 70 percent of local markets across the country. I feel terrible for the local journalists who will be forced to set aside their news judgment to air Trump administration talking points and reactionary commentaries from headquarters. This deal would have been DOA in any other administration, but the Trump FCC isn’t just approving it; they’re practically arranging it.”

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

Phillip Dampier February 21, 2018 CenturyLink, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

CenturyLink’s Prism TV continues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N.Y. Attorney General Overcomes Charter’s Legal Objections to Slow Internet Lawsuit

Phillip Dampier February 20, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 6 Comments

Charter Communications will have to face a courtroom to answer accusations the cable company intentionally sold internet service at speeds it knew it could not provide to its customers in New York.

New York State Supreme Court Justice O. Peter Sherwood rejected a motion by the cable company to dismiss New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s 2017 lawsuit accusing Time Warner Cable (now owned by Charter) of systematically shortchanging as many as 640,000 New York internet customers by falsely advertising internet speeds it knew it could not deliver, often with at least 900,000 outdated company-provided cable modems incapable of supporting the higher speeds the company promoted.

“Today’s decision by the New York Supreme Court marks a major victory for New York consumers — rejecting every single argument made by Charter-Spectrum in its attempts to block our lawsuit,” said Schneiderman. “This decision ensures that our office can continue to hold Charter-Spectrum to account for its failure to deliver the reliable internet speeds it promised consumers, ripping you off by promising internet speeds it simply could not deliver.”

Charter’s Defense: Spectrum’s Ad Claims for Fast Internet Service are: “Prototypical instances of non-actionable puffery.”

Charter’s lawyers attempted a variety of legal strategies to get Schneiderman’s lawsuit tossed, including undermining the cable company’s own marketing efforts. Lawyers argued the court should ignore Charter’s claims it sold a “blazing fast, super-reliable connection” that could “stream Netflix and Hulu movies and shows effortlessly” as nothing more than “prototypical instances of non-actionable puffery.”

Scheniderman’s office claimed it was much more than that.

N.Y. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

“Spectrum-TWC failed to maintain enough network capacity in the form of interconnection ports to deliver this promised content to its subscribers without slowdowns, interruptions, and data loss,” stated Schneiderman. “It effectively ‘throttled’ access to Netflix and other content providers by allowing the ports through which its network interconnects with data coming from those providers to degrade, causing slowdowns. Spectrum-TWC then extracted payments from those content providers as a condition for upgrading the ports As a result, Spectrum-TWC’s subscribers could not reliably access the content they were promised, and instead were subjected to the buffering, slowdowns and other interruptions in service that they had been assured they would not encounter.”

Charter also claimed it was not legally responsible for meeting its own advertised speeds because the company only sold speeds “up to” a level, without guaranteeing customers would get the speeds it advertised.

Even if a judge found Charter lacking in its legal defense, lawyers for the company more broadly argued that under FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s net neutrality order, state courts and regulators had no power to regulate or oversee broadband providers because “regulation of broadband internet access service should be governed principally by a uniform set of federal regulations, rather than by a patchwork of separate state and local requirements,” according to Charter’s attorney Christopher Clark.

Justice Sherwood uniformly rejected all of Charter’s arguments to dismiss the case:

  • Improper state venue for the lawsuit: “Spectrum-TWC fails to identify any provision [of law] that preempts state anti-fraud or consumer-protection claims, or reflects any intention by Congress to make federal law the exclusive source of law protecting consumers from broadband providers’ deceptive conduct.”
  • False advertising: “This court finds that, contrary to defendants’ contentions, the FCC’s goal of promoting competition through [the Internet Transparency Rule], the FCC stated that the rule was intended to ensure consumers had the “right to accurate information, so [they] can choose, monitor, and receive the broadband internet services they have been promised. New York’s Executive Law and Consumer Protection Act […] require that [providers] refrain from fraud, deception, and false advertising when communicating with New York consumers.
  • Netflix/YouTube slowdowns: The issue of interconnection agreements between content providers and Spectrum-TWC are matters for the court to consider because it is not an attempt to regulate those agreements. “Rather, the complaint simply alleges that Spectrum-TWC misled subscribers by claiming that specific online content would be swiftly accessible through its network, while it was simultaneously deliberately allowing that service to degrade […] and failing to upgrade its network’s capacity to meet demand for this content.”
  • “Up to” speeds: Spectrum-TWC claimed that advertising speeds “up to” a certain level was not misleading because consumers understood this to mean the maximum speed, not average speed. In Spectrum’s argument, it claimed “reasonable consumers understand this is not a promise of ‘minimum’ performance, but rather ‘maximum’ performance.” But the judge disagreed. “Defendant’s theory is contrary to New York law regarding ‘up to’ claims” when those speeds are “functionally unattainable as a result of the defendants’ knowing conduct.”

Schneiderman’s office is seeking civil fines and restitution from Spectrum-TWC for customers in New York.

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  • jeff: if u tell the system u want to be a new customer it will let u add the choice option after selecting internet only. if current customer with tv it do...
  • EJ: Kaniki we all know what is happening. They charge that because they can. In most areas there one competitor is inferior so they can charge to much and...
  • Todd: And 300M to Charter/Spectrum is peanuts. They increased ELP Internet from $14.99 to $19.99. I'm not a math major, but let me see if I have this righ...
  • Todd: I got called with this offer yesterday, actually. The problem with this, is yes, at $22, it seems like a good deal, and I'd almost consider it. Exce...
  • Quinn: Spectrum is awful. I very much preferred dealing with them when it was just Time Warner. At least if I spent some time I could get myself a good promo...
  • kaniki: and yet, they still do nothing about the things that people need more.. Like an internet service that they can afford.. Cable is a luxury, but, a lot ...
  • L. Nova: In the long run it is cheaper for CenturyLink to partner with streaming providers Netflix, Amazon, Sling TV & HULU and the hardware streaming box ...
  • Frances: Currently we only get 100Mpbs which is the new standard to my understanding. So I contacted spectrum about if that was the standard why are we being ...
  • KevinS: The service failed for the basic fact that CenturyLink fails to provide any form of broadband internet to bundle with the service and phone. Or..is t...
  • Matthew: They are making huge improvements. Gig speeds are coming soon for WNY. Time Warner would even upgrade WNY to 300 meg. Node splits are going on ever...
  • RochMN: Tried calling Charter Business to update the service from 60 Mbps. Was told it will be $99.99 for upgrade and then $199.99 per month after! I cannot b...
  • Racerbob: As an almost 20 year user of Time Warner/Spectrum internet service, I have seen it all. But right now, in my home, Spectrum is providing me a superior...

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