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How to Get a Better Deal from Charter/Spectrum in 2017

If you are one of the millions of former Bright House Networks or Time Warner Cable customers now facing a significantly higher cable bill courtesy of Charter Communications, you are not alone. While incessantly promoting itself as “redefining what a cable company can be,” customers from around the country are complaining Spectrum is charging considerably higher prices for fewer channels and discourages customers from upgrading to higher speed internet services with unjustified setup fees amounting to $200.

It’s all a part of a strategy laid out by Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge, who sees a mission in correcting years of Time Warner Cable and Bright House’s “mispricing” of packages just to keep customers from leaving.

Long term Time Warner Cable customers know the drill. Every year, many call and complain about the high price of cable service and ask customer retention specialists for a better deal to stay. As the economy struggled to recover from The Great Recession, former Time Warner Cable CEOs Glenn Britt and Robert Marcus consciously adopted aggressive “customer retention” deals from 2010-2013 to keep customers threatening to cancel service. Some of these packages were cheaper than new customer promotions. The concept of retention pricing is simple: keeping current customers is less costly than attracting new ones. As a result, customers quickly learned all they had to do to pay a lower cable bill is to ask for a lower cable bill.

Time Warner Cable developed pricing promotions for virtually everyone. Older, fixed income customers were offered cut-rate cable television service when they called to cancel over the size of the bill. Families under economic distress were offered lower priced bundles that included savings as much as $600 annually. Millennials and cord-cutters were offered a half-dozen internet speed tiers at all price ranges, and were usually later targeted with relentless offers to add cable TV to broadband-only packages at cut-rate prices. Time Warner even targeted those stubbornly holding on to low-priced, low-speed DSL by introducing its $14.99 Everyday Low Price Internet offer, at speeds of just 2/1Mbps. That tier, available to anyone, would later become a de facto low-income internet package for those unable to afford the company’s regular broadband prices.

Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge arrived at Charter after spending years at Cablevision, a company that had already started cracking down on promotions and the customers that depended on them year after year as it fought an ongoing price war with Verizon FiOS. Cablevision eventually adopted a “one promotion per customer” policy, refusing to extend new promotional offers to customers rolling off old ones as they expired. Company officials admitted the policy would cost it customers it deemed undesirable, but would assure investors that prices, and earnings would continue to rise well in excess of inflation. The policy of “rate discipline” was applauded on Wall Street where it was seen as serving the interests of shareholders. The increased churn (customers leaving) rate was forgiven as long as revenue continued to grow.

By 2013, Time Warner Cable was under growing pressure to raise prices. Incoming CEO Rob Marcus told investors that year the company would back off on extending promotions and special offers and would stop trying to save every customer that threatened to cancel. He also announced the company would begin restricting who was authorized to offer customer retention deals. Employees were instructed to forward calls from rate-sensitive customers to new national customer retention call centers, where representatives were trained to get customers to voluntarily cut back their cable package before offering a lower rate.

That summer, Time Warner took a beating as more customers chose competitors or followed through on their threats to cancel.

“As we discussed before, this [new pricing] approach represents a conscious decision to pursue subscribers with higher ARPU, higher profit and lower churn even if that means fewer connects,” Marcus told investors in July 2013, defending the results. “So it’s not a surprise that as in the first quarter of 2013, subscriber net adds were down in the second quarter on a year-over-year basis.”

The more Time Warner Cable tried to hold the line on pricing, the more customers left, especially if the competition had a better deal. In early 2014, Comcast announced its intention to acquire Time Warner Cable, starting a lengthy merger review process and distracting the company as it contemplated getting the deal approved in Washington. To protect the value of the company, Time Warner Cable quietly began offering aggressive promotions once again to hold onto customers. Those promotions largely remained as the deal with Comcast collapsed all the way through its acquisition by Charter Communications, which was completed last summer.

Customers were allowed to keep their existing Bright House and Time Warner Cable packages and promotions, and could even sign up for new ones until the company managed to complete rolling out its Spectrum packages and pricing across its acquired service areas over late 2016 and early 2017. Once Spectrum arrived in an area, new customers had to select a Spectrum plan and if a current Bright House or Time Warner Cable customer switched to a Spectrum plan, they could not return to their old plan.

What drives most customers to contemplate switching plans is the bill shock that occurs when an existing promotion or bundled discount expires. Time Warner Cable gradually increased prices on customers coming off of a promotion. Charter hits them all at once with an immediate rate reset to regular prices. The result is a bill increasing $20-50 without warning.

When customers call to complain and attempt to negotiate a better deal, Charter representatives are trained to sell customers regular priced Spectrum plans and bundles. Rutledge calls it sensible and simple pricing. But some customers call it highway robbery, especially when they find out Charter does not consider them to be “new customers” qualified to get the heavily promoted new customer pricing advertised in newspapers and on the website.

Negotiations over pricing with Spectrum’s representatives largely go nowhere. Customers are typically offered “a deal” in the sense Charter’s regular pricing is usually less egregious than Time Warner Cable or Bright House’s “rack rates.” Getting a lower price from Charter as an existing TWC or BH customer typically means cutting back on services.

Charter is likely to continue to lose around 50,000 customers every quarter, if not more, as promotions continue to expire and rates increase dramatically as a result. Rutledge believes once the last Time Warner Cable and Bright House promotions end, the churn rate will settle down. We’re not so sure that is true. Charter’s heavy focus on differentiating its TV package while offering one advertised broadband speed for all is likely to trigger family discussions about cord-cutting over one issue: price. Time Warner Cable customers moving to Charter’s popular Select TV package guarantees losses of several popular cable networks. Getting those channels back will cost at least $12 a month, if not more. That could prompt customers to consider whether cable TV is still worth the price. Time Warner Cable avoided spiking cable TV rates over the last three years precisely to avoid the kind of customer departure stampede Charter is experiencing today.  (To be fair, Time Warner Cable did increase its Broadcast TV and Sports Programming surcharges, but Charter also adopted the Broadcast TV surcharge for its own customers.)

Charter does not prominently publish its retail rates on its website, only promotional rates for new customers. To help readers intelligently decide what package is right for you, we’ve obtained Spectrum’s rate card and enlisted 15 regular readers to interact with Charter to get the best deal possible. This special report is the result as customers navigate to maximize savings without spiking your bill.

Option A – The Big Money Saver: Cancel Service and Come Back as a New Customer

If you want the lowest possible price on Charter service, you will have to cancel your current Time Warner Cable or Bright House package, return your equipment, and potentially survive a 30-day waiting period without Charter service before again qualifying as a new customer. This isn’t a problem if your area is well-served by a competing phone company and many customers in those areas bounce between new customer promotions offered by the cable and telephone company year after year. But if your phone company hasn’t seen fit to upgrade and is still trying to sell low-speed DSL, our savvy readers discovered you can bypass the waiting period and get service back within 24-48 hours, as a new customer at the new customer price.

To manage this, you will need another member of your household willing to put service in their name. Here is how our readers managed it, and following these instructions is important if you want to minimize downtime.

Step 1: Handling your Time Warner Cable/Bright House phone line and email address.

If you have phone service with Time Warner Cable or Bright House and want to keep your phone number, you will need to move it to a new provider. You can pick up a cheap cell phone for under $20 at Walmart or other discount stores and usually port your Time Warner Cable or Bright House phone number to a cheap prepaid cell phone plan you will set up for about a month. Follow all instructions on the cellular provider’s website on how to transfer your number. There is usually no cost for this service. Do NOT cancel your existing cable service until you are notified your phone number was successfully transferred, which can take 24 hours to a week. When you dial your number, it should ring the cell phone. The cable company will automatically cancel your phone service when the number is successfully ported out. If you use TWC’s Phone2Go app, you need to deauthorize all devices on your account from inside the app before canceling service. This will allow you to re-register those devices under your new account.

Also be aware you will lose your rr.com or twc.com email address after canceling service. If you are using either, why? Avoid the hassle by getting an online email address from Gmail (or another provider). This will protect you from future frustrating delays informing your contacts of your latest email address.

Step 2: Return your equipment and cancel service.

Gather your cable box(es), remote(s), cable and/or phone modem and return the equipment to the Charter Cable Store and tell them you are canceling service. When you are asked why you are leaving, explain the rates are too high and you are finished with them. Keep the receipt you are given for returning the equipment until after your final bill arrives to make sure there are no discrepancies.

Step 3: Go home and have a fellow household member sign up as a new customer.

Return home and visit the Spectrum website. You will be entering your home address and will likely be told there is already service at that address. You must return all equipment and cancel service before ordering new service or your order will be canceled.

Proceed by selecting “No, I would like to setup new service for this address.” You will then be shown options to configure your new service. Remember, Charter requires a 30-day waiting period without service before it will consider you a “new customer.” But your spouse, in-home relative, or legal age children can be considered new customers immediately if service is put under their name (if you get pushback for having the same last name, tell them the original account holder has moved out and canceled service and you want to establish service under your own name, or use your maiden name). You can sign up online or use the online chat feature to help expedite your order. If you end up talking to a representative, it will probably be from an offshore call center less likely to hassle you about your qualifications as a new customer. A credit check will be requested. Ask if you can waive that requirement by using a credit card to cover the first month’s payment and skip the inquiry that may land on your credit report.

Building Your New Package

At the time this article was prepared, Charter was heavily promoting an offer of cable TV, broadband, and phone service for $29.99 each for 12 months. Additional cable TV services are available in two packages known as “Silver” and “Gold.” Silver costs an extra $20 a month, Gold effectively costs $40 more when you review the offer carefully. Both bundle premium movie channels with extra basic cable networks you probably used to have with Time Warner Cable or Bright House package. It is important to check what channels are included with each package or you will find some channels missing from your lineup if you switch to Select. If you discover some “must-have” channels are missing, you need not buy premium movie channels as part of the Silver or Gold package if you don’t want them. Charter sells add-ons consisting of bundles of several basic cable channels missing from the Select package for $12 each.

If Charter wanted customers to consider them more honest than their predecessors, they have some work to do.

We found Charter’s promotion to be deceptive because it gives customers the impression they can build lesser packages at the $29.99 price for each component. For example, if you just wanted TV and broadband service, that should cost $59.98 a month for both under the $29.99 each formula, right? Nice try. In fact, that “$29.99 each” price is effectively meaningless because it only applies when choosing a triple-play offer! It would be more honest to advertise a price of $89.97 for Spectrum’s triple-play service. See below to understand what happens when a customer thinks they can save some money by omitting the phone line.

Pick a Package

  • Charter/Spectrum’s Select TV package + Internet 60¹Mbps + Nationwide Unlimited Phone Service: $29.99 + $29.99 + $29.99 = $89.97 
  • Charter/Spectrum’s Select TV package + Internet 60¹Mbps: $59.99 + $29.99 = $89.98 (It costs more without the phone line!)
  • Charter/Spectrum’s Standalone Broadband 60¹Mbps (¹-100Mbps in some areas) = $44.99

It gets even worse for double-play customers if they have a DVR box. Charter waives the $9.99 DVR service fee on the first DVR box in the home, but only for triple play customers. If you skip the phone line and have a DVR, your bill will be $9.99 a month higher without the phone line. You will be better off taking the phone line even if you don’t use it!

Choose Optional Upgrades

  • Add Silver TV to Select TV package (Adds additional basic channels + HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime) = Add $20/month
  • Add Gold TV to Select TV package (Includes all Silver channels/networks, plus even more basic networks and Starz, StarzEncore, Epix, and The Movie Channel) = Add $40/month
  • Add Spectrum Voice International (Unlimited toll-free calls to 70 countries) = Add $5/month
  • Add Wi-Fi capability = Add $5/month ($9.99 setup fee may apply)
  • Add Internet Upgrade = $104.99 for standalone 100Mbps (non-Maxx) or 300Mbps (Maxx) service + $199 setup fee. For a triple-play internet upgrade: Add $40/mo + $199 setup fee

Missing basic cable channels you want back? If you don’t want to pay the extra $20-40 for Silver or Gold, you can upgrade to get back the basic cable channels gone missing without getting any premium movie channels by choosing one or both add-ons:

Silver Digi Tier 1 ($12) for Select adds the following channels²:

Animal Planet, ASPiRE TV, AXS TV HD, Baby First TV, BBC World News, BET Jams, BET Soul, BYUtv, CBS Sports Network, Centric, CMT, Cooking Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, DIY Network, El Rey Network, ESPN Deportes, ESPNews, ESPNU, FM, FOX Deportes, FOX Sports 2, Fuse, FXX, fyi, GAC, Golf Channel, GSN, Lifetime Real Women, LMN, LOGO, MLB Network, MTV Classic, MTV Live HD, MTV2, Nat Geo Wild, NBA TV, NBC Universo, NFL Network, Nick Jr., Nick Music, Nicktoons, Ovation, OWN, Reelz, REVOLT, RFD-TV, Smithsonian Channel, Spectrum News (NYC), Sprout, TCM, TeenNick, Tennis Channel, The Impact Network, Travel Channel, TV One, Univisión Deportes, Uplifting Entertainment, Viceland

Gold Digi Tier 2 ($12) for Select adds the following channels²:

American Heroes, BeIN Sports, BeIN Sports Español, BET, Boomerang, BTN, CNBC World, Comedy Central, Crime & Investigation, Destination America, Discovery Family, ESPN Classic, ESPN College Extra, ESPN Goal Line/Buzzer Beater, FamilyNet, FCS Atlantic, FCS Central, FCS Pacific, FOX Soccer Plus, HDNet Movies, Military History, MLB Strike Zone, MTV, NBC Universal HD, NFL RedZone, NHL Network, Nickelodeon, Outdoor Channel, PAC-12 (Various Regionals), Science Channel, Spike, TV Land, TVG, VH1, Willow Plus Cricket

(²- Channel selection may vary in different geographic areas. This list applies to the Northeast U.S./former TWC territory)

Choose Equipment

Charter DVR box.

Next step is selecting equipment, and this is one area where Charter does better for its customers than its predecessors. At the current time, the cost of the HD-DVR box or an HD box is the same for new customers: $4.99/mo each. The DVR service fee, charged regardless of the number of DVR boxes, is usually $9.99 a month. However, a current triple play promotion waives the fee for the first DVR box. If you want more than one DVR, the $9.99 fee will be levied once on your bill regardless of how many extra DVRs you have. Therefore, if you want more than one DVR, you might as well choose DVR units for every TV set in the home because there is no difference in price between a traditional set-top box and the DVR.

  • HD-DVR $4.99/mo per box
  • HD Box $4.99/mo per box
  • DVR Service: $9.99/mo for two or more DVRs (waived if choosing Triple Play package and have only one DVR box)
  • Cable Modem: No charge
  • Phone Modem: No charge

If you own your own cable modem, you can continue to use it. If you sign up for both phone and internet service, Charter will likely supply you with a device that handles both the phone and broadband service, but can disable the internet side of the modem to favor your own equipment. Charter does not charge rental fees for either a cable or phone modem. If you do not already own a wireless router for Wi-Fi, Charter will lease you a Wi-Fi equipped modem (usually made by Ubee) for $5 a month. A setup fee of $9.99 may also apply.

Completing Your Order

A self-install kit.

To minimize service interruption, choose the option of a “self-install” kit instead of a service call or having equipment mailed to you. Self-install kits are free without a service charge for a technician to visit to hook up the equipment and you can pick up equipment immediately.

At the end of the order, you should be given your account number and an equipment reservation number. Both are extremely important so be certain to write them down. Use online chat if you did not get one or both. Various verification procedures to activate your equipment and apps may require your account number. If you don’t have it, you may have to wait up to two weeks for your first invoice to be generated showing your account number.

Step 4: Time to pick up your equipment.

Take both your account number and reservation number along with legal photo ID to the nearest Charter Cable Store to pick up your new equipment. Some of our readers accomplished this on the same day they canceled service. You might avoid an awkward encounter by returning equipment at one store location and picking up new equipment at another. The store should give you equipment if your ID at least shows the same physical address where service is located. It depends on local store policies whether the account holder must be present or not.

Step 5: Hook everything up and activate service.

Return home and hook up your equipment. There are a few things you should know, however:

  • If you ordered home phone service, there is a mandatory 24-48 hour waiting period before TV and phone services will become active. Internet service may be intermittent at times during this waiting period or not work at all.
  • You will be required to complete a quick third-party verification call to activate home phone service and understand Charter’s 911 policies.
  • Your cable TV equipment will not authorize until the end of any waiting period, but you can use the Spectrum TV website or app to access TV immediately.
  • You may be given a temporary phone number if you are transferring your original landline number back to the cable company until the port request is complete.
  • There may be a brief delay of several days before you can use TWC’s or BH’s Wi-Fi hotspots.
  • Your first bill will usually be generated within a few days of activating service. Charter bills one month in advance. You can access your bill from the MyTWC, Bright House, or Spectrum account apps. Configure autopay as soon as possible to avoid your account going past-due.

Enjoy 12 months of reasonably priced cable service!

Option B – Understanding Charter’s Pricing for Existing Time Warner Cable/Bright House Customers

The best deals always go to new customers while loyal ones pay more.

Charter Communications considers current TWC/BH customers to be current Charter customers as well and do not qualify for new customer discounts or pricing. However, that does not mean you need to give Charter more money than they deserve.

For most customers, the option of keeping a legacy Time Warner Cable or Bright House Networks package will depend almost entirely on price. Charter is honoring existing BH/TWC bundled service promotions, new customer discounts, and retention plans until they expire (usually after one year, but occasionally two years). To avoid customer bill shock, Time Warner Cable used to gradually reset rates back to regular price over an extended period. Charter does not. Once your promotion is over, your bill will spike by $10-50 a month depending on the promotion you used to have. This rate reset is by design. If you do nothing, Charter will pocket revenue from a rate increase it wouldn’t dare try to impose on every customer. If you call to complain, you just saved Charter marketing expenses trying to convince you to contact them to discuss changing plans.

Because only a minority of customers ever paid regular Time Warner Cable pricing, Charter’s own rates may seem lower in comparison. Retail prices at a cable company are about as useful as the manufacturer’s suggested retail price on a piece of clothing. When the MSRP on a shirt is $55 and you pay $19.95, you may think you are getting a bargain. But if nobody was ever charged $55 for that shirt and it routinely sold for $19.95, that is no deal at all.

Our analysis shows Charter’s rates for existing customers are considerably higher for those who used to bounce from one Time Warner Cable promotion to the next and owned their own cable modem. For customers who just pay the bill and never attempt to negotiate a lower price, Charter’s regular pricing is comparable to slightly less that what customers used to pay Bright House and Time Warner Cable, if you don’t mind losing some TV channels.

The biggest winners of Charter’s Spectrum prices and plans are customers who rent a lot of equipment and subscribe to multiple premium movie channels. Charter charges considerably less for cable equipment and has no modem fee at all. Premium movie channels are bundled into Spectrum’s Silver and Gold TV plans, resulting in significant savings for customers who subscribe to multiple networks. DVR equipment and DVR service fees are also lower.

So get out your current cable bill and review these prices from Charter and compare. Charter does still offer some additional bundled discounts not reflected here. You will not get them unless you ask what offers are available to you. Don’t expect any gift card rebates or other big dollar promotions like Time Warner Cable used to offer. Charter is not a big believer in those kinds of marketing efforts, but the company will pay up to $500 towards any early contract termination fees charged if you switch to them from a satellite or telephone company competitor.

Our recommendations:

  • Do not attempt to negotiate using the new customer promotions Charter is advertising. You will get shot down because you are considered an existing customer. If you are primarily focused on price, strongly consider Option A above, despite the hassle. A representative can only give you the deals they are authorized to offer, and Charter’s management has severely curtailed promotional plans, even if it means losing you as a customer.
  • You will pay about $65 a month for a basic TV package that, in our area at least, includes just shy of 200 channels. We found that was more than adequate, although we will miss Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Turner Classic Movies, and BBC World News which are not a part of Spectrum’s base Select package. Adding another $12-24 a month to get these channels back isn’t worth it.
  • Charter still sells the equivalent of Broadcast Basic — a small package of over the air stations and some ancillary channels for around $24 a month. It isn’t advertised and frankly is overpriced for what you get, but it is an option if you just want local TV stations.
  • If you want HBO, Cinemax, or Showtime, upgrading to Spectrum Silver is worth it. For $20 a month more, you get all three of those premium movie channels plus a number of basic networks that used to be a part of your TWC or BH lineup.
  • Check bundled promotions for existing customers carefully. Ask what is currently on offer. You may still find in certain circumstances the triple-play offer of TV, internet, and phone service is very closely priced to the double-play packages.
  • If you have a DVR, ask if there are any promotions that waive the $9.99 DVR service fee for the first DVR box. If you are going to have to pay the DVR service fee, check the rates for HD-DVR boxes vs. a traditional HD-set top box. You may just want to put a DVR on every set in the home if the prices are nearly the same. Charter does not offer Whole House DVR service.
  • Always choose to pick up any equipment in the local cable store. You will avoid Charter’s truck roll fee to send a technician to your home. Ask about any shipping fees if you want Charter to mail equipment to you. Those fees may be substantial.
  • Customer self-install kits are a good option if your home is pre-wired for cable and you require no rewiring. You can get equipment and connection cables for free almost immediately. Don’t spend money at Best Buy or other retailers on HDMI cables and coaxial patch cables. Charter supplies cables at no extra charge that work just fine.
  • Charter overprovisions broadband speeds to help the company meet FCC expectations that advertised speeds are comparable to actual speeds. Charter’s 60Mbps (100Mbps in some areas) basic internet service actually performs at around 70/6Mbps in most areas. Charter’s Internet Ultra package (100 or 300Mbps) is not worth the extra expense, particularly when factoring in the $199 setup fee. The more customers that reject upgrading because of the setup fee, the more likely Charter will eventually remove it. There is no justification for the fee other than to gouge consumers looking for faster speeds.
  • If you are looking for Charter’s $14.99 Everyday Low Price Internet option and live in New York State, if Charter tells you it isn’t available we would like to know about it. We are monitoring Charter’s compliance with the state’s conditions included in the order granting Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable and we will forward your complaints to both the state Public Service Commission and Attorney General’s office. If you do not live in New York, this plan is no longer an option unless you already have it.
  • Charter’s phone service performs equivalently to Time Warner Cable, but includes a much smaller international toll-free calling area. Spectrum Voice International ($5/mo) gives toll-free calling to 70 countries and is a good value if you regularly call those places.

The following rates are effective April 2017 and packages and pricing will vary slightly in different regions of the country. All prices exclude applicable taxes, franchise fees, and the Broadcast TV Surcharge, which can vary considerably in different service areas (expect to pay an average of $4-7 a month). Charter does not appear to levy a sports programming surcharge.

TELEVISION PACKAGES

$23.89 BASIC SERVICE (Local Channels, C-SPAN, Public, Educational and Government Access, Various Home Shopping Channels)
$64.99 SPECTRUM SELECT (Includes Basic Service, Expanded Service of 120+ basic cable networks)
$84.99 SPECTRUM SILVER (Includes Spectrum Select, Digi Tier 1, HBO, Cinemax and Showtime)
$104.99 SPECTRUM GOLD (Includes Spectrum Silver, Digi Tier 2, TMC, Starz, Encore and EPIX)

Optional Services

$12.00 DIGI TIER 1 (Available with subscription to Spectrum Select, Silver or Gold)
$12.00 DIGI TIER 2 (Available with subscription to Spectrum Select, Silver or Gold)
$38.00 EXPANDED SERVICE (does not include basic service channels)
$7.99 LATINO VIEW (adds additional Spanish language channels not included in Select, Silver, or Gold)

Premium Channels

$15 each: Starz/Encore, EPIX, HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, The Movie Channel, or Starz

Subscription on Demand

$14.99 Too Much For TV On Demand
$6.99 Here TV On Demand
$4.99 Disney Family Movies On Demand
$3.99 Disney On Demand

Other Services (per month)

$9.99 Deutsche Welle Amerika (German)
$24.99 Filipino Pass Plus
$9.99 TV5Monde (French)
$39.99 TVB Jade World (Hong Kong – Cantonese and Mandarin)
$19.99 Mandarin Language Pack (China)
$25.99 Russian Language Package
$19.99 TV Polonia and Polski Radio Warszawa (Polish)
$19.99 SBTN & TVBV (Vietnamese)
$9.99 RAI Italia (Italian)
$19.99-69.99 Hindi Language Networks
$24.99 TV Japan (Japanese)
$12.99 ART TV (Greek)
$12.95 Playboy TV
$12.95 Penthouse
$12.95 Real
$12.95 TEN
$12.95 Hustler
$12.95 VIVID
$24.95 Adult 3-Pack

INTERNET PACKAGES

$14.99 Everyday Low Priced Internet (2/1Mbps) (New York State only)
$14.99 Spectrum Internet Assist (30/4Mbps) (qualified low-income customers only)
$64.99 Spectrum Internet (60/5Mbps or 100/10Mbps depending on area)***
$104.99 Spectrum Internet Ultra (100/10Mbps or 300/20Mbps depending on area)***
$199 One-time Upgrade Fee for Spectrum Internet Ultra
$5 Wi-Fi Service****

SPECTRUM VOICE TELEPHONE SERVICES

$29.99 Spectrum Voice*** (includes unlimited local and long distance calling in U.S., Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico, Canada, and Northern Marianas)
$19.99 Additional Line
$5 Spectrum Voice International (per line optional add-on; adds unlimited toll-free calling to 70 countries)

INSTALLATION/SERVICE CALL (PER ACTIVITY)

$49.99 Primary Installation/Reconnect (when truck roll required)*
$49.99 Trip Charge**
$49.99 Custom Work Hourly Service Charge
$49.99 Service Call Truck Roll
$49.99 Wall Fish
$49.99 Move Transfer

UNRETURNED EQUIPMENT FEES

$123 Spectrum Receiver
$22 CableCARD™
$130 Tuning Adapter
$496.46 Guide Narration Laptop

MISCELLANEOUS CHARGES (PER MONTH)

(Varies) Broadcast TV Service Charge (expect $4-6/mo on average)
$8.95 Late Fee
$4.99 Reconnection Fee if no truck roll is required
$20 Insufficient Funds/Returned Check Fee
$5 Making a payment over the phone with a customer service representative

* An amplifier may be required for a dwelling with multiple outlets (outlet = digital receiver/modem/eMTA). Technician assessment and professional installation required.
** Applicable when adding and/or relocating outlet, upgrading and/or downgrading services and picking up equipment in some cases.
*** Prices are for standalone service. Rates are lower when service is bundled with TV, internet and/or telephone service.
**** Applies when customers use a Charter-supplied internet modem equipped with built-in Wi-Fi. A $9.99 setup fee may also apply. No fee if you use your own internet router.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rolling Stone:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copps

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

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

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

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

Please Stand By… Charter and I Have a Disagreement

A typical crowd at a Charter/Spectrum store still displaying Time Warner Cable signage. (Image: Sherry T.)

Your patience is appreciated as I spent the last two days more offline than online, courtesy of “problems” with Charter Communications and their confusion factory.

The good news: The local employees I have dealt with have been both polite and professional and are trying to be helpful, and I’ve always recognized this as true with both Time Warner Cable and now Charter.

The bad news: Corporate policies, the merger, and confusion over glacially slow integration of Charter and TWC’s separate billing and provisioning systems can leave customers caught in the middle. Also, despite the well-intentioned assistance provided by the offshore call center workers (Sandheep, Moanwalla, and someone I think was named Sunshine), their abilities to navigate Charter’s own service and provisioning systems properly left plenty to be desired. Much of their efforts had to be redone from the beginning stateside.

Phillip Dampier’s Charter/Time Warner Cable Account — Born 2004, Died 2017.

We will be back with regular articles tomorrow, assuming our internet service is functioning properly, and look for a write-up of my experiences navigating around Charter’s new policies towards their adopted TWC and Bright House customers.

To be sure, I was not alone having problems with Charter. I have never seen such crowds at Charter Cable Stores, where 20 people were ahead of me in line at one location, almost 30 at another. Nearly half brought their equipment back with new, higher bill in hand. They had enough after their bill increased $20-80(!) dollars, all thanks to Charter’s “pro-consumer merger benefits.”

Yes, a higher bill and a package of fewer channels.

It was stunning to think Charter had lost several hundred thousand TWC customers in just three months, but not after what I witnessed yesterday. It is entirely believable they will be losing a lot more, all thanks to higher prices and intransigence on giving loyal customers the kind of deals new customers get.

Charter/Spectrum: Same s***, different name.

D.C. Media Ignores Rural Broadband Dilemma While Taking Cheap Shots at Hillary Clinton

Any opportunity to paint Hillary Clinton as an out-of-touch politician rarely escapes the Beltway crowd and some of the media that covers it. Unfortunately, rural America’s broadband problems also get dismissed in the process.

After a 35-minute Hillary Clinton interview with Christiane Amanpour, one takeaway line about how the former presidential candidate felt about rural job creation was seized on by the folks inside-the-D.C. Beltway and used to mock and belittle her:

“If you don’t have access to high-speed, affordable broadband, which large parts of America do not, [large employers will overlook your town]. If you drive around in some of the places that beat the heck out of me, you cannot get cell coverage for miles. And so, even in towns — so, the president was in Harrisburg. I was in Harrisburg during the campaign, and I met with people afterward. One of the things they said to me is that there are places in central Pennsylvania where we don’t have access to affordable high-speed internet.”

As any reader of Stop the Cap! knows, those are very legitimate points. The video embedded below has several more. Available robust internet access at affordable prices attracts employers. Just ask the city of Chattanooga, Tenn.

Anyone who has traveled mountainous central Pennsylvania knows exactly what Mrs. Clinton is talking about. These communities are served by Frontier Communications and Verizon, and the best either company will offer, if you’re lucky, is basic DSL service. There are significant parts of Pennsylvania with no cable provider, and with terrain that often resembles West Virginia — another difficult-to-serve state — wireless is not so great either.

Long term rural Pennsylvanians decried the day the last analog cellular network was switched off. They routinely outperformed the digital network that replaced it in fringe reception zones. Many residents have to use indoor cell tower extenders provided by companies like Verizon Wireless and AT&T to get stable cellular reception, and many rural towns are either a total wireless dead zone or are filled with dead spots where reception evaporates.

Competition from Sprint and T-Mobile don’t mean much in rural Pennsylvania, because neither offer any reception in significant sections of the state, and AT&T and Verizon Wireless can be only nominally better in some areas.

Areas where at least 25Mbps broadband is available in Pennsylvania (Blue – Cable, Brown – Fiber) (Map courtesy of Pennsylvania Department of Community Economic Development)

So like much of the Appalachians, rural broadband is a very big problem in central Pennsylvania. Candidate Clinton proposed spending billions to augment rural broadband service, presumably by offering matching funds and grants to rural telephone companies. Although saddling rural areas with indefinite DSL service is not an ideal solution, it offers more than the Trump Administration’s apparent willingness to coddle incumbent providers with more deregulation and less oversight.

But the D.C. chattering class ignored the entire question of rural broadband problems in America and according to the Washington Post, selectively edited Mrs. Clinton’s statement into a whiny complaint she couldn’t get enough bars on her cell phone while campaigning in areas across the state where she ultimately lost:

Elliot is a reporter for Time magazine. If he can take her quote out of context on Twitter, is that a routine practice in Time magazine as well?

Zach Wolf manages @CNNPolitics for the cable news channel. That does not inspire confidence in CNN.

Clinton Soffer is a regional National Republican Senatorial Committee director, so his shot is at least politically predictable, but easy enough to identify as partisan.

Of course, nobody is talking about the real issue, which isn’t whether Hillary Clinton is a limousine liberal or not. It’s the bipartisan problem of downright lousy or non-existent rural broadband, a problem that incumbent providers won’t do much about unless the government arm-twists them into expansion when companies launch another merger or acquisition that needs government approval, or better yet for them, if taxpayer or ratepayer dollars help foot the bill.

At the same time this kerfuffle was going on, a private company selling VPN services decided to embark on a questionable survey asking whether Americans think broadband is a “human right” or simply a nice thing to have if you can get it.

Results of survey conducted by AnchorFree, which sells VPN services to consumers.

In April, AnchorFree surveyed an audience of over 2,000 consumers, ages 18+ about online privacy. This survey was completed online and was completely anonymous — two points that rendered it largely useless for actual opinion measurement. Online surveys are notoriously unreliable because they are heavily weighted toward those that found the survey on a website most Americans would not likely have visited, and AnchorFree offers no reliable evidence of an appropriate measurement of different demographic groups to get a properly mixed sample of opinions. In this case, we predict about 80-90% of respondents were young, male, and paranoid enough about online security to warrant shopping around for a VPN provider. But the survey does at least highlight the real issue of “not my problem” thinking that impacts on rural broadband public policy.

AnchorFree’s study asked these 2,000 visitors to its website whether they felt the internet was a “human right” or a privilege. That question was more weighted than a circus elephant, because it suggests Americans were entitled to a broadband account, presumably paid for by the government. Only one out of three respondents agreed it was “a human right.” The survey mentioned the language came from a United Nations declaration, without linking to it, which is another surefire way to get about the half the country riled up enough over the UN to stampede in the other direction.

Nobody responsible for the survey explained the premise for the UN declaration, which was first to declare broadband an extension of freedom of expression, so long as it was affordable, available, and uncensored.

It is easy to demagogue Lifeline phone service and affordable broadband as a type of welfare, as Drudge Report did in 2015.

“The Special Rapporteur underscores the unique and transformative nature of the Internet not only to enable individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression,” according to the report’s summary, “but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole.”

It did not say broadband should be free of charge, but at least it should be available. That means just as electricity and telephone service are available today to every American that wants either or both, so should broadband.

The very thought of someone effectively paying for someone else’s broadband service went down about as well as increasing welfare benefits with survey respondents. Some people also love to make decisions on behalf of others, which is why the survey also revealed a lot of broadband selfishness. Among those who told AnchorFree broadband was only a privilege, 64% exempted themselves, declaring it was essential to them, while only 18% said it might be essential for others. How nice.

This is why it can be easy to demagogue broadband expansion programs as an unnecessary luxury. AnchorFree’s study isn’t very useful or credible on its own because the questions asked and the responses given appear in context with AnchorFree’s own agenda of peddling its products and services. Its methodology is suspect, but the results are not completely surprising.

How the rural broadband problem is framed in language can make a significant difference in how the problem is tackled. If the survey asked if Americans were in favor of guaranteed universal access to quality broadband service, the results would likely have been more favorable. Hillary Clinton’s campaign had not pledged this and her broadband platform was based primarily on spending more money to cajole phone companies to expand their networks, perhaps alluding this alone might solve the problem. It won’t for at least the last 1-2% of unserved America, because those last users will be hellishly expensive to reach. But Mrs. Clinton, and rural America, deserved something more than cheap shots about cell phone reception as part of the media’s narrative she was out of touch with rural voters. On the issue of broadband, she put her finger precisely on the problem after just visiting the area. The locals have to live with it and there are no signs this will change anytime soon.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour at a Women for Women International event, Hillary Clinton spoke about creating jobs and the importance of access to high-speed affordable broadband in rural towns. (Women for Women International) (1:12)

Here is Who Paid the Sock Puppets Trotting Out Anti-Net Neutrality Opinion Pieces

Sock Puppets: Ostensibly “independent” people quietly on the payroll of Big Telecom companies and advocating their positions.

A mass of guest editorials and opinion pieces appearing in the D.C. press praising FCC chairman Ajit Pai and his intention to get rid of Net Neutrality fail to disclose the millions of dollars the authors’ host organizations have received from the telecommunications industry.

Pai smugly announced in an April 26 speech that he wants to roll back Net Neutrality rules brought into effect under President Obama in 2015. Those rules guarantee that ISPs cannot discriminate against any online application or service or interfere with traffic for competitive reasons. Pai and other opponents of an open internet have called Net Neutrality ‘a solution in search of a problem.’ But since announcing an intention to mothball the rules, the telecom industry’s sock puppets have frantically penned opinion pieces that suggest the rules were a disaster that held back innovation and investment — a claim countered by the record of ISP investment since the rules took effect and statements from many Silicon Valley innovators that support the Net Neutrality rules now under threat.

Media Matters did extensive research on the individuals and groups behind the letters, and it will come to no surprise to Stop the Cap! readers that just about every piece originated from or on behalf of a group that received financial support from the same cable and phone companies that want Net Neutrality dead and buried:

(Searches were conducted via The Center for Public Integrity’s Nonprofit Network tool of available IRS filings.)

  • Thomas M. Lenard, a senior fellow and president emeritus at the Technology Policy Institute, wrote an April 28 opinion piece for The Hill which praised Pai and defended ISPs against concerns over content blocking. Lenard’s group states that its supporters include AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and NCTA. The group received $1 million from NCTA from 2011-2014 and $22,500 from CTIA in 2011 and 2013.
  • Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) President Tom Giovanetti wrote an April 27 opinion piece for The Hill praising Pai for “eliminating harmful regulation” and commending his “commitment to undo the two-year-old mistake of regulating the internet under the old Title II.” IPI received $135,000 between 2010 and 2014 (the most recent years available) from MyWireless.org (now ACTwireless), a project of CTIA, and $110,000 from NCTA from 2011-2014.
  • Digital Liberty Executive Director Katie McAuliffe wrote an April 27 piece for The Daily Caller praising Pai’s Net Neutrality remarks. Digital Liberty is a project of Americans for Tax Reform, which received $200,000 from NCTA from 2011-2014 and $115,000 from MyWireless.org from 2010-2014.
  • Doug Brake, a senior telecommunications policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), wrote an April 27 opinion piece for The Hill praising Pai for “moving in the right direction” with his Net Neutrality plans. The ITIF has received $220,000 from NCTA from 2010 to 2014 and $235,000 from CTIA from 2010 to 2014.
  • Brandon Arnold, the executive vice president at the National Taxpayers Union, wrote an April 26 Washington Examiner piece that criticized existing Net Neutrality rules as having “stymied innovation and reduced the deployment of new broadband services.” The National Taxpayers Union received $200,000 from CTIA from 2010-2014.
  • Jonathon Paul Hauenschild, director of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Task Force on Communications & Technology, wrote an April 28 piece for The Hill attacking the Obama administration’s Net Neutrality rules. ALEC has close ties to the telecom industry (among many other corporate interests) and received $85,000 from CTIA from 2010-2014 and $41,000 from NCTA in 2010 and 2011.

Media Matters previously documented that media outlets have promoted the anti-Net Neutrality Free State Foundation without noting it has received heavily financial backing from the telecommunications industry.

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