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Charter’s Channel Roulette: Keeping Your Favorite Channels May Require an Upgrade

Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers are now getting a taste of the frustration that original Charter Communications customers have experienced for years in dealing with the company’s complicated TV packages.

Sheila Topmiller in northern Kentucky wasn’t the only former Time Warner Cable customer to see her bill spike after Charter took over and rolled out its new Spectrum TV packages. Her bill increased from $152 to $180 a month — a $28 rate increase. Her triple-play TV lineup had to change, along with her bill.

One of the highlighted points Charter executives told Wall Street and investors regarding its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks was that Charter’s “simplified pricing” and crackdown on promotions would result in higher average revenue from customers over time. The reasons are simple: fewer value-priced broadband options, illusory TV channel “choice” in packages designed to compel customer upgrades, higher phone pricing, and no more deals for complaining customers.

TV packages are supposed to offer customers at least the illusion of choice, giving options to cut down a TV package in return for a lower bill. But cable operators like Charter Communications are savvy enough to know what channels are considered “must-have” by customers, and can move networks from one tier to another with little notice. This can force subscribers to upgrade to get back channels stripped from their current package. Now Time Warner Cable customers shifting to Spectrum packages are discovering six popular Viacom-owned channels Nickelodeon, MTV, VH-1, Spike, BET, and Comedy Central are only included in the most expensive tier.

Pay-per-laugh

Just a year ago, these six networks were commonly found as part of Charter’s cheapest “Select” TV tier. But new customers found them transitioned first to the Silver tier, and finally to Charter’s most expensive “Gold” package. Existing Charter customers may not have noticed because the networks were often grandfathered into their current package, but ex-Time Warner Cable customers like Topmiller did. She has kids, and Nickelodeon is considered a “must-have” network in her home.

“You have to subscribe all the way to the highest plan to get Nickelodeon,” she complained.

This isn’t the first time channels have been shifted from one package to another, and Charter is not the only cable operator following this practice. In 2012, Comcast got a lot of heat for moving the popular commercial-free Turner Classic Movies from its Digital Starter package to its much more expensive Digital Preferred tier. Customers that wanted TCM back had to pay an extra $22 a month for the upgrade.

Time Warner Cable had its own tiers, but incentivized most customers through bundles and promotions to take its Preferred TV package that bundled Starter, Standard and Variety Pass options together. Time Warner Cable also didn’t bundle premium movie channels into TV packages the way Charter does. Charter’s Silver package, as well as adding basic networks, also bundles HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime. Upgrading to Gold to win back those six Viacom basic networks also gets you the aforementioned premium movie channels plus Starz, TMC, Starz/Encore, Epix, and NFL RedZone. For many customers, Gold is aptly named because it results in a considerably higher bill unless a customer already subscribed to most or all of the available premium networks through Time Warner Cable or Bright House Networks in the past.

To boost revenue, a cable operator need only shift popular cable networks into higher-priced tiers and watch customers follow.

Charter Communications may sell you a Silver or Gold package to restore your old lineup, but there is a better way to get channels back without spending money on premium movie channels you may not want.

Spectrum quietly offers two “digi-pack” options to customers who balk at paying for HBO and other premium networks:

  • Digi-pack 1 ($12) gives you access to all Silver-level basic cable networks, but no premium movie channels;
  • Digi-pack 2 ($12) gives you access to all Gold-level basic cable networks, but no premium movie channels.

But Charter representatives still claim its TV package “simplification” and new pricing is good for customers.

“It’s actually less money when you factor in there is no modem fee. No data caps, no contract to sign, no modem fees,” said Charter (and former Time Warner Cable) spokesman Mike Pedelty. He doesn’t mention customers could buy their own modems and avoid Time Warner Cable’s modem fees, and Charter’s predecessor also had no data caps or contracts to sign.

Class Action Lawsuits Hit Cable Modem Manufacturers Over Widely-Reported Defect

Phillip Dampier April 26, 2017 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

The Netgear CM700 is the target of a class action lawsuit filed in California.

As consumers increasingly spend money out-of-pocket to acquire their own cable modems to avoid leasing fees, alleged defects in those modems are spurring class action lawsuits to force manufacturers to fix the problems or issue refunds.

Two separate class action cases have been filed this month in Calfornia courts alleging “serious defects” in the Netgear CM700 and Arris SURFboard SB6190 — both newer DOCSIS 3.0 modems. But those modems are not the only ones affected by a serious firmware bug that can dramatically degrade internet performance.

Both modems rely on a relatively new Intel Puma 6 chipset, which some media outlets have also implicated in similar defects in a variety of cable modems including the Hitron CGNV4, the Compal CH7465-LG, and Puma 6-based modems like Virgin Media’s Hub 3 and Comcast’s top-end Xfinity boxes. Other newer modems branded by Linksys and Cisco also use the same system-on-chip and may also be affected.

The law firm of Schubert, Jonckheer & Kolbe, which is handling the Netgear legal case, says these cable modems may be affected:

  • Arris SB6190
  • Arris TG1672G
  • Arris TM1602
  • Super Hub 3 (Arris TG2492LG)  (commonly, Virgin Media)
  • Hitron CGN3 / CDA / CGNV series modems:
  • Hitron CDA-32372
  • Hitron CDE-32372
  • Hitron CDA3-35
  • Hitron CGNV4
  • Hitron CGNM-3552 (commonly, Rogers)
  • Hitron CGN3 (eg CGN3-ACSMR)
  • Hitron CGNM-2250 (commonly, Shaw)
  • Linksys CM3024
  • Linksys CM3016
  • TP-Link CR7000
  • Netgear AC1750 C6300 AC1900
  • Netgear CM700
  • Telstra Gateway Max (Netgear AC1900 / C6300) (Australia)
  • Cisco DPC3848V
  • Cisco DPC3941B / DPC3941T  (commonly, Comcast Xfinity XB3)
  • Cisco DPC3939
  • Compal CH7465-LG / Arris TG2492LG (commonly, Virgin Media Hub 3)
  • Samsung Home Media Server

Customers of Comcast, Charter, and Cox in the United States are impacted, as well as Rogers and Shaw customers in Canada and Virgin Media in the United Kingdom. The faster your internet connection, the more likely you will notice the defect, which causes dramatic latency spikes and degraded internet performance.

Intel admitted there was a problem back in December, but ISPs have been slow to respond.

Intel acquired the Puma family of chips from Texas Instruments in 2010, and the latest — the DOCSIS 3.0-compatible Puma 6 – uses an Atom x86 processor designed to handle up to 1.6Gbps connections. Unfortunately, the engineers who developed the firmware have tasked the Atom CPU with too much work while it also copes with processing network packets on a high-speed internet connection.

As The Register reported back in December:

Every couple of seconds or so, a high-priority maintenance task runs and it winds up momentarily hogging the processor, causing latency to increase by at least 200ms and, over time, about six per cent of packets to be dropped. It affects IPv4 and IPv6 – and it spoils internet gaming and other online real-time interaction that need fast response times.

This problem is easily seen in two graphs provided to the Register by a reader in Phoenix who plugged in two different modems to his Cox Cable internet connection. The blue lines represent latency and the red lines are packet loss. The test was performed with an ICMP ping running 33 times a second to his ISP’s DNS server over a 30 minute period.

An Arris SB6183 cable modem using an older Broadcom-based chipset exhibits no problems. (Image: The Register)

The Arris SB6190 running the new Intel Puma 6 chipset shows significant and readily identifiable problems. (Image: The Register)

Online gamers are among the most likely to be affected by latency problems.

“I excitedly swapped out my Arris SB1683 Broadcom modem for the new SB6190 Intel one expecting gigabit performance and immediately noticed slower webpage loads,” one gamer told The Register. “During first-person gaming, I was getting killed way more often for no apparent reason. I looked at an eight-year graph of latency from my home logs, and was horrified. Swapping back to my SB6183 solved all the issues.”

Arris also confirmed the problem.

“Arris has been working actively with Intel to address the issue, which resulted in some SURFboard SB6190 users reporting latency concerns,” a spokeswoman for Arris said. “We plan to quickly issue Intel’s firmware updates to resolve any latency. We remain committed to providing the best broadband experience for all users of Arris devices and regret any inconvenience this issue caused.”

Unfortunately, regardless of how fast modem manufacturers issue updated firmware to resolve the problem, end users will not notice a difference until their cable operator pushes that firmware update to customers. You cannot update cable modem firmware on your own, and any effort to do so would be futile because your provider would automatically replace it with an older “approved” version as soon as the unauthorized firmware change was identified.

The lawsuits seek a jury trial and damages forcing the manufacturers to recall the modems and either replace them or issue refunds to all affected customers. Customers who own an affected modem who want to participate in the class action case can fill out this form for more information.

California Legislature Wants to Give $300 Million of Your Money Away to AT&T, Frontier, and Big Cable

Delivering 21st century broadband speeds to rural Californians just doesn’t interest incumbent phone companies like AT&T and Frontier Communications, so the California legislature has been hard at work trying to entice upgrades on the taxpayer’s dime while reassuring ISPs they won’t have to break a sweat doing it.

Steve Blum from Telus Venture Associates reports the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), California’s equivalent of the FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF) – is about to get a makeover sure to delight the two phone companies while throwing some cash at cable operators like Comcast, Cox and Charter to keep them happy as well.

The changes are encompassed in Assembly Bill 1665, sponsored by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D–Riverside County), who counts AT&T as his sixth biggest contributor. The phone company has cut checks to the former mayor of Coachella not less than a dozen times amounting to $16,700. Garcia has also received special attention from AT&T’s lobbyists, who invited him to appear side-by-side with AT&T officials at press-friendly events where the phone company donated $10,000 to an abused women’s shelter and $25,000 to the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Imperial County.

Blum reports that the bill has been largely a placeholder until now as negotiations and dealmaking happened behind the scenes. The result is a corporate welfare bonanza that will raise $330 million for the CASF by reinstating a telephone tax on consumers and businesses than ended last year. Of that, $300 million will end up in the pockets of phone and cable companies, $10 million will go to regional broadband efforts, and the remaining $20 million will be designated for schools, libraries, and non-profit groups to promote broadband use, but only where providers already offer service or will shortly. In effect, that $20 million will turn public institutions into sales agents for ISPs.

The corporate giveaway bill will also sell Californian consumers down the river:

  • The bill effectively replaces the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband (25/3Mbps) with California’s own minimum: 6/1Mbps — conveniently about the same speed telephone company DSL provides. As Blum writes, the language “makes 1990s legacy DSL technology the new 21st century standard.”
  • AT&T and Frontier Communications get monopoly protection with exclusive CASF rights in areas where they currently receive federal CAF funding. This means both companies will get to double-dip federal and state money to expand inferior DSL or fixed wireless service and never have to worry about taxpayer funding going to their competitors or communities that might choose to build their own superior broadband networks. It virtually guarantees rural California will be stuck with sub-standard internet access indefinitely, and at the taxpayer’s expense.
  • CASF funding has always been exclusively for infrastructure construction — building out the last mile to deliver internet access to consumers and businesses. But the new bill now allows the money to also be spent on “operating costs,” a rat hole where millions can quickly disappear with little improvement in broadband expansion or service.
  • The new bill suggests that provider contributions — where providers agree to kick in a percentage (usually 30-40%) of their own money on expansion projects in return for getting taxpayer subsidies, is just too hard on struggling phone companies like AT&T and Frontier. Under the new proposal, this requirement should be eliminated.
  • Individual homeowners would be able to apply for grants to get broadband connections, a direct nod to the state’s cable companies that routinely ask would-be customers just out of reach of the nearest cable line to pay tens of thousands of dollars to build a line extension. If approved, cable companies could set the installation price as high as the sky and get taxpayers to foot the bill, enriching themselves while avoiding any regulatory scrutiny.

Cable companies also get another wish granted — keeping subsidized broadband out the hands of many poor Californians that need connections for education, job-seeking, and training. The bill proposes to ban funding for broadband facilities in public housing. Cable companies have been irritated spending capital on broadband expansion to public housing only to find many of its customers would likely to qualify for their “internet for the poor” programs that cost as little as $10 a month.

Blum reports the language isn’t final and is likely to be amended as negotiations continue. A hearing of the Communications and Conveyance Committee at the State Capitol, Room 437 is scheduled for 1:30pm PDT today on the bill. You can listen to the hearing when in session here.

AT&T Uses Tax Dollars to Subsidize Expensive, Capped, and Slow Wireless Rural Broadband Solution

AT&T Fiber isn’t coming to rural communities and farms in the phone company’s service area anytime soon. Instead, AT&T grudgingly accepted $428 million in ratepayer-subsidized Connect America funds to build fixed wireless networks that do not meet the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband, come usage-capped, and will offer a price break only to customers who sign up for AT&T’s other services.

AT&T’s Fixed Wireless Internet service begins this week in Georgia, offering up to 10/1Mbps service with a monthly data cap of 160GB (additional 50GB increments cost $10 each). The monthly price is $70, or $60 with a one-year contract, or $50 if a customer has AT&T wireless phone service or DirecTV. The installation fee is $99, waived if you bundle with DirecTV. The fee covers the installation of an outdoor antenna and indoor residential gateway, which remains the property of AT&T. The service works over AT&T’s 4G LTE network. Credit approval is required, and those not approved may have to pay a refundable deposit to start service. These prices do not include taxes, federal and state universal service charges, regulatory cost recovery charges (up to $1.25), gross receipts surcharge, administrative fees and other assessments which are not government-required charges. See att.com/additionalcharges for details on fees & restrictions.

AT&T is using ratepayer funds to construct a sub-standard fixed wireless network that it will use to cross-sell its own products and services by offering customers a discount. The minimum speed to be considered “broadband” according to the FCC is not less than 25Mbps. But AT&T would have to spend considerably more to equip its wireless solution to work at those speeds, and the company has already admitted fixed wireless will be available in areas where it is “uneconomical to build wireline” networks, according to AT&T president of technology operations Bill Smith.

The new wireless network will be in service for 400,000 locations in Georgia by the end of this year, with 1.1 million locations up and running across 17 other states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin) by 2020.

The buildout is required to meet the terms of the FCC’s Connect America Fund, which AT&T committed to in 2015.

Fixed wireless fits nicely with AT&T’s long-term strategy of mothballing its wireline networks in rural service areas, in favor of wireless alternatives. The company has been behind bills in more than a dozen state legislatures where it offers landline service to permanently disconnect rural customers from wired landline and broadband services.

“We’re committed to utilizing available technologies to connect hard-to-reach locations,” said Eric Boyer, senior vice president, wireless and wired product marketing at AT&T. Just as long as that technology isn’t fiber optics.

Questions and Answers About AT&T’s Fixed Wireless Internet

What is AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet?

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet provides qualified households and small businesses with high-speed internet service via an outdoor antenna and indoor Wi-Fi Gateway router. AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet includes:

  • High-speed internet with download speeds of at least 10Mbps.
  • 160GB of internet usage per month. If you exceed the amount of data in your plan, additional data will automatically be provided in increments of 50GB for $10, up to a maximum of 20 such increments or $200
  • Wi-Fi connections for multiple devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, smartphones, gaming consoles, etc.).
  • Wired Ethernet connections for up to 4 devices.

What speed does AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet provide?

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet will provide speeds of at least 10Mbps for downloading and at least 1Mbps for uploading. However, data speeds can vary depending upon various factors:

  • Wi-Fi isn’t as fast as a wired connection. You get the best Wi-Fi signal closest to your gateway without obstructions. Use a wired (Ethernet) connection for the best results.
  • Devices have a maximum internet speed they can reach, and might not be as fast as your possible internet service level (especially older devices).
  • Multiple devices sharing your internet connection at the same time, whether wired or Wi-Fi, can reduce your internet speed.
  • Learn more at att.com/speed101 and att.com/broadbandinfo.

Can I add AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet to my AT&T Mobile Share Plan and is Rollover Data included?

No, AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet cannot be added to a Mobile Share plan, and Rollover Data is not included in the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet data plan.

Is Wi-Fi included with AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet?

Yes, you can connect multiple Wi-Fi enabled devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets to the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet Wi-Fi Gateway, and up to 4 Ethernet-connected devices. When you access your AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet over your Wi-Fi home network using any type of device (including smartphones and some home automation equipment), that counts as AT&T internet data usage. However, if you access the internet via a public or commercial Wi-Fi hotspot, that access does not count as usage.

How far does the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet Wi-Fi signal reach?

The AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet Wi-Fi Gateway router enables wireless networking capabilities throughout your home or business and helps to minimize wireless dead spots. This smart technology allows you to:

  • Provide high-speed internet connections to multiple devices
  • Create safe and secure wireless networking

Does weather affect service?

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet relies on a LTE signal from a cell tower. Many things can affect the availability and quality of your service, including network capacity, terrain, buildings, foliage, and weather. A professional installer will confirm sufficient signal strength at your location before installation.

What type of support is available for AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet service?

For AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet Customer Care, call 1-855-483-3063, available 6AM to midnight Central Time 7-days a week.

How long does it take to get AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet service?

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet service is available for installation within 10 business days of ordering. Professional installation (required) usually takes about 3 hours.

If I move, can I take AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet with me?

If you are moving, please contact AT&T to find out if AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet or other AT&T services are available at your new address. Please do not attempt to move the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet outdoor antenna.

Can I take AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet to my cottage or second home?

No, AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet is not movable or mobile. Please do not attempt to move the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet outdoor antenna.  Please contact AT&T to find out if AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet or other AT&T services are available at your cottage or second home.

How is AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet different from AT&T Wireless Home Phone & Internet?

Both AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet and AT&T Wireless Home Phone & Internet provide internet access. AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet includes an outdoor antenna that is professionally mounted on or near the exterior of your home or business to provide a strong signal for better connectivity, while Wireless Home Phone & Internet uses a small desktop device that you can install yourself since there is no outdoor antenna. Stated another way, Wireless Home Phone & Internet is a mobile service, whereas AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet is not. AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet is only available in select (typically rural) areas, while Wireless Home Phone & Internet is available throughout the AT&T wireless footprint.  AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet provides internet download speeds of 10Mbps or over, while Wireless Home Phone & Internet provides the highest speed available to it, typically in the range of 5-12Mbps.

What service limitations apply to AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet?

Services like web hosting or hosted services such as camera, gaming server, peer-to-peer, etc., that require static IP address are not supported by AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet. AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet may not be compatible with DVR/Satellite systems; please check with your provider.

Sling TV Offers $50 AirTV Player for Subs Who Prepay 3 Months of Service

Phillip Dampier April 25, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Sling No Comments

AirTV Player

Sling TV subscribers that prepay for three months of Sling TV’s $20/mo “Orange” 30-channel streaming cable TV plan can get an AirTV Player + Adapter for $50, a discount of $79.99 off the $129.99 retail price.

Dish Network’s Sling TV service rebranded its service today, in light of competitive pressure from AT&T’s DirecTV Now and new streaming services from YouTube and Hulu. The company ditched its “basic TV” marketing pitch and has now recast the service as “A La Carte TV,” but the changes are in name-only. There is nothing different about the packages or pricing, just the marketing message pushing their packages.

“A La Carte TV is choice in an industry that prevents it,” the Sling TV website states. “Personalize your own channel lineup. Start with the service that’s best for you, then customize with Extras in your favorite TV genres like Sports, Comedy, Kids, News, Lifestyle, Hollywood Movies, and Spanish TV. Change your service online anytime.”

“As we expected, competitors are coming out of the woodwork,” wrote Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch in a blog post. “However, we didn’t expect that they’d drag three key pieces of Old TV baggage with them: bloated bundles, higher prices and lack of flexibility. The only choices these competitors give consumers is a big bundle or even bigger bundles. That isn’t the choice consumers want. Plus, they’re making people pay for features and channels they may not want. The ‘new guys’ are missing the point and re-creating the sins of Old TV.”

Lynch admits Sling TV isn’t true “a la carte,” because subscribers still end up with channels they don’t want.

“Every consumer would love to just pay $20 and then choose the twenty channels they want,” Lynch wrote. “And we would love that too. We would do that in a heartbeat if programmers would let us…but they won’t.”

Sling TV is also attempting to find a niche targeting international audiences with packages of international networks that are either not available on cable, or can cost a fortune.

“Sling TV is the only pay-TV service that offers the ability to subscribe only to programming from a specific region, including Mexico, Spain, South America and the Caribbean,” Lynch wrote, adding the service now offers more than 300 channels across more than 20 language groups.

The total price of the three-months of prepaid Orange service and the AirPlay TV + Adapter is $124.97, before state and local sales taxes are applied. Subscribers can also qualify for the deal with other packages:

  • Prepay for four months of Sling TV if your monthly payment is between $15-$20 and get AirTV Player and AirTV Adapter for $50.
  • Prepay for six months of Sling TV if your monthly payment is under $15 and get AirTV Player and AirTV Adapter for $50.

Sling TV customers can visit sling.com/devices/airtv to buy the bundle. A separate deal offering a 25% discount off an RCA indoor TV antenna was not working at the time this article was written. Existing Sling TV customers can also qualify for this promotion by writing to the company’s social media team on Sling TV’s Facebook page.

The AirTV Player allows users to combine over-the-air free TV with streaming services without having to change viewing sources on your television.

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  • LG: "simplified pricing" ..yes, it means they're "simply" raising the price. "It's actually less money when you factor in there is no modem fee. No d...
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