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Spring 2016: An Update and Progress Report for Our Members

stcDear Members,

We have had a very busy winter and spring here at Stop the Cap! and we thought it important to update you on our efforts.

You may have noticed a drop in new content online over the last few months, and we’ve had some inquiries about it. The primary reason for this is the additional time and energy being spent to directly connect with legislators and regulators about the issues we are concerned about. Someone recently asked me why we spend a lot of time and energy writing exposés to an audience that almost certainly already agrees with us. If supporters were the only readers here, they would have a point. Stop the Cap! is followed regularly by legislators, regulators, public policy lobbyists, consumer groups, telecom executives, and members of the media. Our content is regularly cited in books, articles, regulatory filings, and in media reports. That is why we spend a lot of time and energy documenting our positions about data caps, usage billing, Net Neutrality, and the state of broadband in the United States and Canada.

A lengthy piece appearing here can easily take more than eight hours (sometimes longer) to put together from research to final publication. We feel it is critical to make sure this information gets into the hands of those that can help make a difference, whether they visit us on the web or not. So we have made an extra effort to inform, educate, and persuade decision-makers and reporters towards our point of view, helping to counter the well-funded propaganda campaigns of Big Telecom companies that regularly distort the issues and defend the indefensible.

Four issues have gotten most of our attention over the last six months:

  1. The Charter/Time Warner Cable/Bright House merger;
  2. Data cap traps and trials (especially those from Comcast, Blue Ridge, Cox, and Suddenlink);
  3. Cablevision/Altice merger;
  4. Frontier’s acquisition of Verizon landlines and that phone company’s upgrade plans for existing customers.

We’ve been successful raising important issues about the scarcity of benefits from telecom company mergers. In short, there are none of significance, unless you happen to be a Wall Street banker, a shareholder, or a company executive. The last thing an already-concentrated marketplace needs is more telecom mergers. We’re also continuing to expose just how nonsensical data caps and usage-based billing is for 21st century broadband providers. Despite claims of “fairness,” data caps are nothing more than cable-TV protectionism and the further exploitation of a broadband duopoly that makes it easy for Wall Street analysts to argue “there is room for broadband rate hikes” in North America. Stop the Cap! will continue to coordinate with other consumer groups to fight this issue, and we’ve successfully convinced at least some at the FCC that the excuses offered for data caps don’t hold water.

Dampier

Dampier

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s broadening of Charter’s voluntary three-year moratorium on data caps to a compulsory term as long as seven years sent a clear message to broadband providers that the jig is up — data caps are a direct threat to the emerging online video marketplace that might finally deliver serious competition to the current bloated and overpriced cable television package.

Wheeler’s actions were directly responsible for Comcast’s sudden generosity in more than tripling the usage allowance it has imposed on several markets across the south and midwest. But we won’t be happy until those compulsory data caps are gone for good.

More than 10,000 Comcast customers have already told the FCC in customer complaints that Comcast’s data caps are egregious and unfair. Considering how unresponsive Comcast has been towards its own customers that despise data caps of any kind, Comcast obviously doesn’t care what their customers think. But they care very much about what the FCC thinks about regulatory issues like data caps and set-top box monopolies. How do we know this? Because Comcast’s chief financial officer this week told the audience attending the JPMorgan Technology, Media and Telecom Broker Conference Comcast always pays attention to regulator headwinds.

“I think it’s our job to make sure we pivot and react accordingly and make sure the company thrives whatever the outcome is on some of the regulatory proposals that are out there,” said Comcast’s Mike Cavanagh. We suspect if Chairman Wheeler goes just one step further and calls on ISPs to permanently ditch data caps and usage billing, many would. We will continue to press him to do exactly that.

Stop the Cap! supports municipal and community-owned broadband providers.

Stop the Cap! supports municipal and community-owned broadband providers.

Other companies are also still making bad decisions for their customers. Besides Comcast’s ongoing abusive data cap experiment, Cox’s ongoing data cap trial in Cleveland, Ohio is completely unacceptable and has no justification. The usage allowances provided are also unacceptably stingy. Suddenlink, now owned by Altice, should not even attempt to alienate their customers, particularly as the cable conglomerate seeks new acquisition opportunities in the United States in the future. We find it telling that Altice feels justified retaining usage caps on customers in smaller communities served by Suddenlink while denying they would even think of doing the same in Cablevision territory in suburban New York City. Both Suddenlink and Cablevision have upgraded their networks to deliver faster speed service. What is Altice’s excuse about why it treats its urban and rural customers so differently? It frankly doesn’t have one. We’ll be working to convince Altice it is time for Suddenlink’s data caps to be retired for good.

We will also be turning more attention back on the issue of community broadband, which continues to be the only competitive alternative to the phone and cable companies most Americans will likely ever see. The dollar-a-holler lobbyists are still writing editorials and articles claiming “government-owned networks” are risky and/or a failure, without bothering to disclose the authors have a direct financial relationship to the phone and cable companies that don’t want the competition. We will be pressing state lawmakers to ditch municipal broadband bans and not to enact any new ones.

We will also continue to watch AT&T and Verizon — two large phone companies that continue to seek opportunities to neglect or ditch their wired services either by decommissioning rural landlines or selling parts of their service areas to companies like Frontier. AT&T specializes in bait-n-switch bills in state legislatures that promise “upgrades” in return for further deregulation and permission to switch off rural service in favor of wireless alternatives. That’s great for AT&T, but a potential life-threatening disaster for rural America.

We continue to abide by our mandate: fighting data caps and consumption billing and promoting better broadband, regardless of what company or community supplies it.

As always, thank you so much for your financial support (the donate button that sustains us entirely is to your right) and for your engagement in the fight against unfair broadband pricing and policies. Broadband is not just a nice thing to have. It is an essential utility just as important as clean water, electricity, natural gas, and telephone service.

Phillip M. Dampier
Founder & President, Stop the Cap!

Charter Running Ads Welcoming Time Warner, Bright House Customers to “Spectrum”

spectrumIf your reputation precedes you, a virtual makeover with a quick name change may be all a company can do to help smooth customers’ ennui about the news one cable company they heard wasn’t very good was taking over for the one they hate with a passion. After all, joining a new family isn’t necessarily good news if their last name happens to be Frankenstein, bin Laden, or Manson.

Charter Communications began running commercials this week on Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks cable systems “welcoming” customers to the Charter family. Except the Charter logo was nowhere to be found. Like Comcast’s virtual image makeover effort/attempt with its XFINITY brand, Charter is hoping for a “reset” with customers who have heard bad things about Charter from their relatives by using its “Spectrum” brand instead. That logo is expected to appear on cable trucks, billboards, billing statements, and television spots.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Charter Communications Transaction with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks from Charter 5-23-16.mp4

Charter Communications has completed the transactions with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, and soon you’ll get to know us by the name, Spectrum. We are proud to be the fastest growing TV, Internet, and Voice provider in the United States and are committed to bringing you the most advanced products and services for your home and business.

Exciting changes are in the works, but for now, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Charter Spectrum will continue offering their current suite of services to customers in their markets. In the coming months you’ll hear more from us as it relates to network, product and service improvements. Whether it is new ways to enjoy more shows with unrivaled picture quality, better service, or faster internet speeds, we cannot wait to show you what’s next. (1:04)

opinionWe offer three facts to ponder:

Charter’s Internet speeds are not any faster than what a Time Warner Cable Maxx customer can buy today — up to 300Mbps. Charter “Spectrum” tops out at 100Mbps in most of its markets.

Charter may consider its service “unrivaled,” but customers don’t, rating it only a mouse whisker better than Time Warner Cable.

Many customers of both Time Warner and Bright House are indeed concerned with what Charter has in store for them, particularly after conditions preserving cap-free Internet expire.

Charter Completes Time Warner Cable/Bright House Merger Today

charter twc bhAmerica has a new second largest cable conglomerate with 17 million customers and a new name.

Charter Communications formally completed their $55 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks today, creating a new cable giant that more closely rivals number one Comcast in size and scope.

The approval came despite warnings from a team at the FCC assigned to review the impact of the merger.

The Deal is Likely to Trigger an Abusive Money Party at the Expense of Customers… Merger Approved

“We conclude that the transaction will materially alter [Charter’s] incentives and abilities in ways that are potentially harmful to the public interest,” an FCC report about the impact of the merger states.

The FCC concluded the deal could become an enormous money-maker for Charter and its investors through the eventual metering of online usage. There are strong incentives, according to the FCC, for Charter “to impose data caps and usage-based prices in order to make watching online video more expensive, and in particular more expensive than subscribing to a traditional pay-TV bundle” after its voluntary commitment not to impose data caps expires.

Existing Charter customers warn this isn't the cable company you are looking for.

Existing Charter customers warn this isn’t the cable company you are looking for.

The FCC is also certain Charter will enjoy considerable pricing power with its near broadband monopoly at speeds of 25Mbps or higher. That means one thing: substantial rate increases unchecked by competition.

Despite the gloomy prospects, FCC commissioners found a “compromise” that will impose consumer-friendly conditions on the merger, but will expire between 5-7 years from today. After that, in the absence of robust competition from a player like Google Fiber, it will be open season on broadband customers.

Consumer advocates were less than pleased.

“There’s nothing about this massive merger that serves the public interest. There’s nothing about it that helps make the market for cable TV and Internet services more affordable and competitive for Americans,” said Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron. “Customers of the newly merged entity will be socked with higher prices as Charter attempts to pay off the nearly $27 billion debt load it took on to finance this deal. The wasted expense of this merger is staggering. For the money Charter spent to make this happen it could have built new competitive broadband options for tens of millions of people. Now these billions of dollars will do little more than line the pockets of Time Warner Cable’s shareholders and executives. CEO Rob Marcus will walk away with a $100 million golden parachute.”

[Image: WSJ.com]

In fact, the golden parachutes will extend far beyond retiring Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus. According to a regulatory filing, Marcus’ contract was written to allow him to sell the company and effectively be “terminated without cause,” which activates the equivalent of a Powerball Powerplay. Marcus will automatically qualify to receive several years’ worth of his original salary, expected bonuses, and compensation in stock for showing himself to the exit. That alone is expected to exceed $100 million. Marcus’ ancillary benefits also add up, and will be eventually disclosed in future filings with the Securities & Exchange Commission.

Marcus’ colleagues won’t leave empty-handed either. The chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Time Warner Cable could each get $32 million in compensation. The general counsel of Time Warner will retire with around $22 million and some mid-level executives could leave with around $18 million each.

Familar names on Wall Street will also enjoy proceeds worthy of Donald Trump Lotto. Everyone’s favorite financial casino Goldman Sachs is sitting pretty with millions in fees advising Charter on both its acquisitions of Bright House and Time Warner Cable. UBS helped lead the financing of the whopping $55 billion deal on behalf of Charter and is the sole financial adviser to Advance/Newhouse, which owns Bright House. That means big bucks for the Swiss bank.

fishThe Small Swallow the Big

Charter was a much smaller, and not well-regarded cable company before it financed the acquisition of two of its non-competing rivals. In fact, Time Warner Cable was already the country’s second largest cable operator before the acquisition, and Charter will have to contend with managing a cable operator much larger than itself. Charter executives have hinted it will take many months to manage that transition, with the eventual retirement of both the Time Warner Cable and Bright House brands, in favor of Charter and its Spectrum product suite.

Those not already Charter customers will be subjected to a publicity campaign to manage the introduction of Charter in the best possible light, despite the fact current Charter customers rate the cable operator as mediocre in consumer surveys. Its reputation is well-known, especially in the middle of the country where many Charter systems operate.

Charter will continue to be led by CEO Thomas Rutledge, who will also hold the titles of president and chairman of the board. But the man behind-the-scenes expected to have a substantial amount of influence in how Charter is run in the future is ex-Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) CEO Dr. John Malone through his entity Liberty Broadband, which will control three seats on Charter’s board of directors, including one for Malone himself. Malone advocated for Rutledge to become CEO of Charter after the cable company emerged from bankruptcy reorganization in 2009.

makeoverHow to Remake Your Image: Change the Name

Renaming Time Warner Cable isn’t likely to fix the scandalously low regard its customers hold the company. But it couldn’t hurt either.

“It’s not surprising Charter wants to rebrand Time Warner Cable,” said David VanAmburg, managing director of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which regularly rates Time Warner Cable (and often Comcast trading places) the worst companies in the country. “Charter has scored better than Time Warner Cable in recent years, so it could bode well for Time Warner Cable customers. But the data suggests leaps-and-bounds improvement could be difficult.”

ACSI graded Charter 57 in 2015. Time Warner Cable managed a 58 — both effectively failing grades on a scale of 0-100.

What kinds of services Charter is now compelled to offer is dependent on the state of the cable system serving each area and if regulators extracted concessions on the state level to guarantee better service. The state that worked the hardest to compel upgrades and insist on a more customer-friendly transition is New York, where the Public Service Commission forced concessions to upgrade all of the state and allow customers to keep their current Time Warner Cable plans if they wished.

“On Day One, customers of (Time Warner) won’t really see any changes,” Charter spokesman Justin Venech told the Albany Times Union. “Time Warner Cable and Charter Spectrum will continue offering their current suite of advanced products and services to customers in their markets.”

“As we go all digital market by market, we will launch the Spectrum brand product, pricing and packaging, and Charter will also launch Spectrum in those markets in which (Time Warner has) already gone all digital,” Venech said. “We will be communicating directly with customers, letting them know when they will start seeing the Spectrum brand. In addition, when our Spectrum packages launch, if a customer likes the package they are currently in, they will be able to stay in that package.”

Fed Up With Frontier in California? Tell State Legislature to Act

assembly caIf you are a Frontier Communications customer in California that experienced bad service as a result of the transition from Verizon to Frontier, it is time to complain to the California State Assembly.

Stop the Cap! reader Sergio reminds us the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce will be meeting at 1:30 pm in Sacramento on Wednesday, May 18. They are open to hearing your complaints and problems regarding Frontier’s performance in the state. If you had problems or are still experiencing them, having an Assembly member intervene can be very effective in getting your service problems fixed, and deliver a message that Frontier’s rosy pronouncements on the transition are fact-challenged. But you need to act now, before the meeting on Wednesday.

By email: [email protected]

By phone: (916) 319-2083

You can also contact one or more Assembly members on the committee directly at these numbers:

  • Mike Gatto (Chair) (916) 319-2043
  • Jim Patterson (Vice Chair) (916) 319-2023
  • Autumn R. Burke (916) 319-2062
  • Rocky J. Chávez (916) 319-2076
  • Brian Dahle (916) 319-2001
  • Susan Talamantes Eggman (916) 319-2013
  • Cristina Garcia (916) 319-2058
  • Eduardo Garcia (916) 319-2056
  • David Hadley (916) 319-2066
  • Roger Hernández (916) 319-2048
  • Jay Obernolte (916) 319-2033
  • Bill Quirk (916) 319-2020
  • Miguel Santiago (916) 319-2053
  • Philip Y. Ting (916) 319-2019
  • Das Williams (916) 319-2037

 

Commentary: CPUC Unanimously Approves Charter-TWC-Bright House Merger

charter twcCharter Communications could not have closer friends than the commissioners on the California Public Utilities Commission who unanimously voted in favor of the merger of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable while some almost apologized for bothering the cable company with pesky deal conditions.

CPUC president Michael Picker quickly dispensed with the glaring omission of a sunset provision on Charter’s three-year voluntary commitment to abide by the FCC’s Open Internet Order by inviting his fellow commissioners to add it back for Charter’s benefit. How nice of him. The cable company lobbyists in attendance at today’s hearing did not even need to ask.

Picker’s review of the merger benefits effectively recited a Charter press release and he seemed genuinely pleased with himself for making it all possible. For example, the CPUC considered the addition of a provision allowing consumers to buy their own cable modems and set-top boxes without a penalty from their provider “unprecedented,” while never mentioning they failed to adopt recommendations that customers be given a discount for providing their own equipment. Score Charter, which can continue to collect modem fees built into the price of its broadband service even when you provide your own.

Dampier

Dampier

New Charter’s “exciting” commitment to upgrade to 300Mbps by 2019 sounds good, until one realizes Time Warner Cable was committed to finishing their own 300Mbps upgrade at least one year earlier, and at a lower cost to customers. In fact, while California celebrates 300Mbps by 2019, thanks to the efforts of Stop the Cap! and the New York Public Service Commission, Charter is required to be ready to offer gigabit service across the state that same year. See what is possible when you actually try, CPUC?

The commissioners repeatedly thanked Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable while ignoring the consumer groups that contributed opposing comments and tangible suggestions to improve benefits for consumers — almost entirely ignored by the CPUC. That will cost Californians dearly and borders on regulatory malpractice. If the CPUC required California to at least enjoy the same benefits other state utility regulators won for their constituents, Californians would get a substantially better deal. Instead, the CPUC insisted on giving California and even worse deal than the FCC, by granting Charter’s right to gouge customers with usage caps and usage billing in three years, even after the FCC agreed to seven years of cap-free Internet. Mr. Picker and the other commissioners owe California an explanation for letting them down, and the scandal-plagued CPUC needs to demonstrate it is reforming after the shameful performance of its former chairman Michael Peevey.

“Today was a travesty for Californian consumers, and frankly we were shocked to watch ostensibly independent commissioners carry water for Charter Communications,” said Stop the Cap! president Phillip Dampier. “We saw clear evidence of a commission more concerned about Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable than for the average citizens of California that will face higher cable bills, time limits on unlimited Internet access, and a longer wait for upgrades as a direct result of today’s decision. Consumer groups like Stop the Cap! brought clear and convincing evidence to the commission that the benefits of this merger have time limits and plenty of fine print. We offered concrete suggestions on how to improve the deal for consumers — ideas accepted in other states, but the CPUC clearly wasn’t interested in anything that might make Charter uncomfortable.”

California Dreamin’: Will Regulators Approve Tougher Charter/Time Warner Merger Conditions Today?

charter twc bhAll signs are pointing to a relative cake walk for Charter Communications’ executives this afternoon as they seek final approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to acquire Time Warner Cable systems in the state, with the help of an Administrative Law Judge that is recommending approval with a minimum of conditions.

In fact, the strongest condition Charter may have to accept in California came by accident. As part of Charter’s lobbying effort, it proposed a set of voluntary conditions it was prepared to accept, claiming to regulators these conditions would represent benefits of approving the transaction. One of those was a temporary three-year commitment to abide by the FCC’s Open Internet Order, which among other things bans paid prioritization (Internet fast lanes), intentionally blocking lawful Internet content, and speed throttling your Internet connection.

Somewhere along the way, someone forgot to include the language that sunsets (or ends) Charter’s voluntary commitment after three years.

Without it, Charter will have to abide by the terms of the FCC’s Open Internet Order forever.

cpucSoon after recognizing the change in language, Charter’s lawyers appealed to the CPUC to correct what it called a “drafting error.”

“[New Charter does] not seek modification of the second sentence, which matches their voluntary commitments, but believe[s] that the three-year limitation in the second sentence was intended to— and should—apply to the first sentence as well,” Charter’s lawyers argued two weeks ago.

In other words, the Administrative Law Judge’s apparent attempt to ‘cut and paste’ Charter’s own press release-like voluntary deal commitments into his personal recommendation went horribly wrong. Charter’s lawyers prefer to call it an “intent to track” the company’s voluntary commitments. Either way, Charter’s lawyers all call the new language unfair.

“Holding New Charter indefinitely to FCC rules even after the FCC’s rules are invalidated or modified, and irrespective of future market conditions or the practices or rules governing New Charter’s competitors, would be a highly unconventional requirement,” the lawyers complained.

That provides valuable insight into how “New Charter” is likely to feel about Net Neutrality three years from now. Charter’s lawyers argue it would be unfair to hold them to “invalidated” rules — the same ones the company itself has voluntarily embraced as a condition of approval, but only for now.

Remarkably, in the final revision of the Administrative Law Judge’s recommendations to the CPUC recommending approval, the language that is keeping Charter’s lawyers up at night is still there:

New Charter shall fully comply with all the terms and conditions of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order, regardless of the outcome of any legal challenge to the Open Internet Order. In addition, for a period of not less than three years from the closing of the Transaction, New Charter (a) will not adopt fees for users to use specific third-party Internet applications; (b) will not engage in zero-rating; (c) will not engage in usage-based billing; (d) will not impose data caps; and (e) will submit any Internet interconnection disputes not resolvable by good faith negotiations on a case-by-case basis.

Charter's new service area, including Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers.

Charter’s new service area, including Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers.

If it remains intact through the vote expected this afternoon, New Charter will have to permanently abide by the FCC’s Open Internet Order, with no end date. That condition will apply in California, and because of most-favored state status, also in New York.

Stop the Cap!’s recommendations to the CPUC are also in the same document, although our views were not shared by the judge:

Stop the Cap! objects to [New Charter’s] 3-year moratorium on data caps and usage based pricing for broadband services. It argues that such bans should be made permanent or, if not permanent, should last at least 7 years in parallel with the lifespan of the conditions imposed in the FCC’s approval of the parent company merger. In addition, Stop the Cap! objects to what it asserts will be a major price increase for existing Time Warner customers when Charter’s pricing plans replace Time Warner’s pricing plans.

More broadly, Stop the Cap! president Phillip Dampier called the revised recommendations to approve the deal underwhelming and disappointing.

“By window-dressing what is essentially Charter’s own voluntary offer to the CPUC, the commission is continuing to miss a golden opportunity to win deal conditions that will meaningfully benefit Californian consumers that will otherwise get little more than higher cable and broadband bills,” Dampier told Communications Daily. “Virtually everything Charter is promising customers is already available or soon will be from Time Warner Cable, often for less money. Time Warner Cable committed to offering its customers 300Mbps speeds, no usage caps or usage billing, and all-digital service through its Maxx upgrade program, expected to be complete by the end of 2017 or 2018. The CPUC is proposing to allow New Charter to wait until 2019 to provide 300Mbps service and potentially cap Internet service three years after that, four years less than what the FCC is demanding.”

Among the conditions Charter will be expected to fulfill in return for approval of its merger in California:

  • Within a year of the closing of the merger deal, New Charter must boost broadband download speeds for customers on their all-digital platform to at least 60Mbps, an upgrade that is largely already complete.
  • Within 30 months, New Charter must upgrade all households in its California service territory to an all-digital platform with download speeds of not less than 60Mbps, an upgrade that has already been underway for a few years.
  • By Dec. 31, 2019, New Charter shall offer broadband Internet service with speeds of at least 300Mbps download to all households with current broadband availability from New Charter in its California network. Time Warner Cable essentially promised to do the same by early 2018, with many of its customers already getting up to 300Mbps in Southern California.
  • While Charter talks about a bright future for the Time Warner customers joining its family, the company has not done a great job maintaining and upgrading its own cable systems in parts of California. Many smaller communities still only receive analog cable TV from Charter, with no broadband option at all. Therefore, the CPUC is giving New Charter three years to deploy 70,000 new broadband “passings” to current analog-only cable service areas in Kern, Kings, Modoc, Monterey, San Bernardino and Tulare counties. But the CPUC is giving New Charter a break, only requiring them to offer up to 100Mbps service in these communities.
  • Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers in California will be able to keep their current broadband service plans for up to three years. Customers will also be allowed to buy their own cable modems and set-top boxes, but there is no requirement New Charter compensate customers who do with a service discount.
  • Within six months of the deal closing, New Charter must offer Lifeline phone discounts within its service territory in California.
  • New Charter must print and distribute brochures explaining the need for backup power to keep phone service working if electricity is interrupted. Those brochures must be available in multiple languages including, but not limited to, English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese, as well as in accessible formats for visually impaired customers.

The CPUC is also expected to adopt Charter’s own voluntary commitments not to impose usage caps, usage billing, modem fees, and other customer-unfriendly practices for three years, a point that drew strong criticism from Stop the Cap! and the California Office of Ratepayer Advocates for being inadequate.

Both groups proposed that bans on data caps and usage billing should stay in place “until there is effective competition in Southern California, or no shorter than seven years after the decision is issued, whichever is later.”

ORA’s program supervisor Ana Maria Johnson believes the proposed changes don’t go far enough to “mitigate the harms that the merger will likely cause, especially in Southern California.”

Dampier was surprised how little the CPUC seemed to be asking of New Charter, especially in comparison to regulators in New York.

“The New York Public Service Commission did a more thorough job protecting consumers by insisting on faster and better upgrades, including readiness for gigabit service, and the same level of broadband service for all of New Charter’s customers in New York,” Dampier argued. “It also demanded and won meaningful expansion in rural broadband, low-cost Internet access, protection of New York jobs, and improved customer service. It is remarkable to us the CPUC did not insist on at least as much for California.”

The CPUC is expected to take a final vote on the merger deal this afternoon, starting at 12:30pm ET/9:30am PT and will be webcast. It is the 20th item on the agenda.

AT&T Ghostwritten Bill Would Allow End of Rural Landline/DSL Service in California

att californiaIn California, AT&T’s money and influence has the power to bend reality for some members of the California legislature.

This spring, AT&T is lobbying hard for a bill it largely wrote itself that vaguely promises 21st century technology upgrades if the state’s politicians agree to near-total deregulation and permission to scrap landline service and DSL for rural residents.

Assembly Bill 2395, introduced by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley), allows AT&T to decommission wired service across the state, so long as the company replaces it with any alternative capable of connecting customers to 911. Smoke signals might qualify, but most suspect AT&T’s true agenda is to replace its legacy wireline network with wireless service in areas where it has no interest upgrading its facilities to offer U-verse.

Members of the Assembly’s Utilities & Commerce Committee were easily swayed to believe the company’s claims this will represent a massive upgrade for California telecommunications. At least that is what the company is saying in their lobbying pamphlets. In April, committee chairman Michael Gatto (D-Los Angeles), one of the bill’s strongest advocates, told his fellow committee members it was safe to trust AT&T’s assurances it was not using the bill to kill rural landline telephone service.

“We have a very, very good perspective on history in this committee and you can rest assured that nobody will tear up any copper line infrastructure,” said Gatto, who gradually became less sure of himself as he pondered the impact of AT&T scrapping the one option many rural Californians have to connect to the outside world. “The cost of it, to tear up every street in the United States and take out the copper is not going to happen. At least, I don’t think it’ll happen…. This committee will not let it happen.”

Low

Low

Despite that less-than-rousing endorsement, and the fact the bill’s language would allow AT&T to do exactly that, the bill sailed to approval in the committee. It was also endorsed by a range of non-profit and business groups, including the Boys & Girls Club, Black Chamber of Commerce, Do It Yourself Girls, The Latino Council, NAACP-Los Angeles, San Jose Police Officers’ Association, and the United Women’s Organization — almost all regular recipients of “contributions” from AT&T.

Consumer groups are largely opposed to the measure, because it gives AT&T near carte blanche to disconnect rural residents and leave them with inferior and more expensive wireless alternatives. It also scraps most oversight over AT&T’s business practices in the state, which are not stellar. Those living in rural areas are opposed even more.

The Rural County Representatives of California, representing the interests of local leaders in 35 rural counties across the state, came out strongly against AB 2395, pointing out earlier deregulation efforts and a largely hands-off California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) helped create the digital divide problem that already exists in the state, and AT&T’s bill proposes to make it worse.

S

Frentzen

“While AB 2395 offers the promise of a more modern communications system for California, the bill devises a scheme that minimizes consumer protections and provides avenues for telecommunication providers to abandon their current subscribers from ever experiencing these modern telecommunications options,” said the group. “RCRC would have far more comfort with relinquishment proposals if California’s telecommunications stakeholders, including the CPUC, had met their obligations in providing near universal access. And that access included quality, demand-functions found in other areas of the state. Unfortunately, much of California has either no connectivity (unserved) or inferior connectivity (under-served). Until this digital divide is eliminated, we cannot support changes in the regulatory and statutory environment which furthers this gulf between who gets access and who does not.”

While AT&T continues to deny it will do anything to disconnect rural California, the company vehemently opposes efforts to drop language from the bill that would grant them the right to retire landline service. AT&T’s lobbyists insist the legislature can still trust the company, an idea that failed to impress Shiva Frentzen, the supervisor of El Dorado:

Trust is something that you earn. It’s built over time. We have a rural county each constituent, all your consumers, pay into the infrastructure, but we don’t see the high-speed coming to the rural parts of the county because it does not pencil out. For larger companies to bring the service in those areas – the infrastructure costs a lot and the monthly service does not pay for it. So that is the experience we’ve had with larger providers like yourself. We have not had the trust and the positive experience for our rural county, so that’s why we are where we are.

Editor’s Note: My apologies to Steve Blum, who didn’t get full credit for gathering most of the quotes noted in this piece. We’ve linked above (in bold) to several of his articles that have followed the AT&T lobbying saga, and we’ve added his blog to our permanent list of websites we can recommend.

Stop the Cap! Still Fighting Charter-Time Warner Cable Merger in California

stop-the-capStop the Cap! continues the fight for a better deal for Time Warner Cable customers that could soon end up as Charter Communications customers, if the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approves the merger.

While the Federal Communications Commission formally approved the deal last week, California has yet to sign off on the transaction, giving consumer advocates like Stop the Cap! an opportunity to recommend the state regulator impose stronger consumer-friendly deal conditions that guarantee customers their share of the anticipated windfall in “deal benefits” that shareholders and executives of the companies involved are likely to receive.

Our California coordinator Matthew Friedman has been educating the CPUC about the true nature of data caps and usage-based billing, and sharing our view that Charter’s promised merger deal benefits are illusory, offering little more than what Time Warner Cable already offers its Maxx-upgraded service areas. In fact, Time Warner’s ongoing commitment to not impose compulsory data caps or usage billing is likely to be canceled by Charter Communications, which has only agreed not to impose such billing schemes on customers for three years.

Even worse, future Charter customers are likely to pay higher broadband bills after Charter imposes its regular prices on Time Warner Cable customers — prices often higher than what Time Warner charges for similar services. Although Time Warner customers have been able to negotiate a better deal for themselves after threatening to cancel, Stop the Cap! anticipates Charter will not be as generous with those customers in the future.

At the minimum, Stop the Cap! is recommending the CPUC either permanently ban compulsory usage caps and usage billing from Charter, or add a competition test that will allow such billing only where consumers can switch to a competitor that offers comparable unlimited broadband service.

Charter's broadband "deal"

Charter’s broadband “deal”

The loss of [Time Warner’s] commitment [to always offer unlimited broadband options to consumers] could result in the following harms, according to Friedman:

  1. New Charter’s commitment to provide low cost broadband will become completely voluntary and unenforceable;
  2. increased broadband pricing resulting in decreased demand for broadband;
  3. New Charter will be able to circumvent Net Neutrality rules;
  4. New Charter will be able to engage in a multitude of anticompetitive behaviours, increasing the cost and reducing the attractiveness of competing video content from edge providers, thus lessening the demand for high-speed broadband access to the Internet, and thus running counter to Section 706(a)’s mandate to promote competition in broadband services;
  5. innovation and investment will potentially decrease significantly;
  6. network security can be adversely affected; and,
  7. Californians, especially low-income Californians, may lose access to education opportunities.
We're not drinking "New Charter's" Kool-Aid

We’re not drinking “New Charter’s” Kool-Aid

Stop the Cap! (and the Office of Ratepayer Advocates as well) has offered a reasonable option of requiring a competition test to sunset the prohibition on data caps and usage based pricing,” wrote Friedman. “This suggestion is based on Charter’s own expert testimony and [the conditions] must be rewritten per these suggestions if it is to fulfill multiple statutory requirements.”

Stop the Cap! also advocates that Time Warner Cable customers that purchased their own cable modems to avoid Time Warner’s modem fees deserve an ongoing bill credit for providing their own equipment, because Charter builds the cost of its modem into the price of broadband service.

“Charter already bakes the price of the modem rental into the monthly cost of the plan,” Friedman noted. “New Charter [should be required] to offer a discount to customers who bring their own modems. Charter currently allows customers to bring their own modems… they just continue to charge those customers for a Charter modem that the customer never uses.”

Although Charter’s pledge to increase broadband speeds for Time Warner customers seems laudatory, in fact Charter’s proposed service offerings also represent a significant rate increase for broadband customers who don’t need or want 60Mbps service. They won’t have much choice after Charter imposes its own plans and pricing, which are now limited to 60 or 100Mbps options for most customers, at prices starting at $60 a month.

charter twc“Clearly these TWC customers are materially much worse off under New Charter than TWC,” Friedman told the CPUC. “Equally clear is that Charter’s ‘Simplified Pricing’ (perhaps more accurately described as ‘Fewer Options and Higher Prices’) is far from a public benefit. This massive price increase will affect literally every stand-alone-broadband TWC customer other than the few who qualify for the School Lunch/Senior Assistance plan. While the low-cost School Lunch/Senior Assistance plan is great for the narrowly targeted group of consumers who manage to qualify, roughly doubling the cost of broadband for every other standalone customer more than offsets the combined value of every other ‘benefit’ that the applicants allege will come from this transfer.”

Stop the Cap! also advocates that the CPUC guarantee Charter customers have a choice about the broadband speeds they need and the amount they have to pay for Internet access.

“New Charter should be required to retain TWC’s pricing and plan structure in perpetuity, for both new and existing TWC customers. TWC customers should retain the ability to switch back and forth between TWC’s cheaper, larger variety of plans,” Friedman wrote. “New Charter should be required to continue TWC’s practice of increasing customer speeds as technology advances with no
accompanying price increase.”

Although Charter’s lobbying efforts promote improved service for Time Warner Cable customers, it is our view that once one examines the full scope and impact of Charter’s proposal, customers will be worse off under Charter than they would be staying with Time Warner Cable.

“TWC stands out in its field for its customer-friendly policies such as providing discounts for those who own their own modems, its public commitment to refuse to impose data caps or
usage based pricing even in the face of pressure from Wall Street to do so, and the creation of its TWC Roku App to allow customers to avoid set-top box rental fees,” argued Friedman. “This transfer, as currently conditioned, creates a net public benefit harm, not a benefit, or even a status quo.”

Cable Industry & Friends Freak Out Over Set-Top Box Competition: It Destroys Everything

comcast-set-topIt’s all hands on deck for a cable industry desperate to protect billions in revenue earned from a monopoly stranglehold on the set-top box, now under threat by a proposal at the FCC to open up the market to competition.

While cable industry groups decry the proposal as a solution looking for a problem, at least 99 percent of cable customers are required to lease the equipment they need to watch pay television. That has become a reliable source of revenue for the industry and set-top box manufacturers, who share the $231 each customer pays a year in rental fees. Collectively that amounts to $20 billion in annual revenue. The FCC argues there is ample evidence cable operators and manufacturers are taking advantage of that captive marketplace, raising rental fees an average of 185% over the last 20 years while other electronic items have seen price declines as much as 90 percent.

With that kind of money on the line and a recent statement from the Obama Administration it fully supports FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler’s proposal, Wall Street has gotten jittery over cable stocks — a clear sign investors are worried about the economic impact of additional competition and lower prices.

Wheeler

Wheeler

“Instead of spending nearly $1,000 over four years to lease a set of behind-the-times boxes, American families will have options to own a device for much less money that will integrate everything they want — including their cable or satellite content, as well as online streaming apps — in one, easier-to-use gadget,” Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, wrote in a White House blog post.

The proposal would coordinate the establishment of an “open standard” for set-top box technology, making it possible for multiple manufacturers to enter the market and compete.

The idea is not without precedent. The cable modem marketplace uses a DOCSIS standard any manufacturer can use to launch their own modem. Once the modem is certified, broadband consumers can choose to either rent the modem from their cable operator ($10 a month from Time Warner) or buy one outright, usually for less than $70, easily paying for itself in less than one year.

But the set-top box proposal just doesn’t add up, argues Comcast — one of the strongest opponents of Chairman Wheeler’s proposal.

“A new government technology mandate makes little sense when the apps-based marketplace solution also endorsed by the FCC’s technical advisory committee is driving additional retail availability of third-party devices without any of the privacy, diversity, intellectual property, legal authority, or other substantial concerns raised by the chairman’s mandate,” wrote David Cohen, Comcast’s top lobbyist.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) — the country’s largest cable industry lobbying group, said much the same thing.

The Roku set top streaming device.

The Roku set-top streaming device.

“By reading the White House blog, you have to wonder how they could ignore that the world’s largest tech companies — which are often touted in other Administration initiatives — including Apple, Amazon, Google, Netflix and many others are providing exactly the choice in video services and devices that they claim to want,” the NCTA wrote.

Their argument is that a competitive set-top box market has already emerged without any interference from the FCC. Time Warner Cable, for example, voluntarily offers most of its lineup on the Roku platform. Comcast’s XFINITY TV app allows subscribers to watch cable channels over a variety of iOS and Android devices. Several operators also support videogame consoles as an alternative to renting set-top boxes.

But few allow customers to completely escape renting at least one set-top box, especially for premium movie channels. Others don’t support more than one or two streaming video consoles like Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV.

In Canada, cable customers can often buy their own set-top boxes and DVRs (known as PVRs up north) from major electronics retailers like Best Buy. For example, Shaw customers in western Canada can purchase a XG1 500GB HD Dual Tuner PVR with 6 built-in tuners and a 500GB hard drive (upgradable), which supports recording up to 6 HD shows simultaneously, for under $350. With some cable companies charging up to $15 a month for similar equipment, it would take just under two years to recoup the purchase cost. Many cable subscribers rent the same DVR for as long as five years before the hard drive starts acting up, necessitating replacement (of the drive).

Endangered?

Endangered cable network? Minority programmers say set-top box competition will destroy their networks.

Arguing the technical issues of cable box competition isn’t apparently enough of a winning argument, so the industry has drafted the support of minority cable programmers and friendly legislators who have taken Hyperbole Hill with declarations that set-top box competition will result in “the ultimate extinction of minority and special-interest programmers.”

How?

A competitive set-top box manufacturer may decide to ignore the way cable channels are now numbered on the cable dial. With everything negotiable, many programmers offer discounts or other incentives to win a lower channel number, avoiding the Channel Siberia effect of finding one’s network on a four digit channel number that channel surfers will likely never reach.

Their fear is that an entity like Google or Apple will pay no attention to how Comcast or Time Warner chooses to number its channels, and will use a different system that puts the most popular channels first.

Fees:

Fees: $34.95 for TV package, $35.90 in equipment and service fees.

But that assumes consumers care about channel numbers and not programs. Those who argue the days of linear TV are coming to an end doubt opening the set-top box market up for competition presents the biggest threat to these minority and specialty programmers. Those that devote hours of their broadcast day to reruns and program length commercials are probably at the most risk, because they lack quality original programming viewers want to see.

Hal Singer, who produces research reports for the telecom industry-backed Progressive Policy Institute, even goes as far as to suggest competitive set-top boxes will discourage telephone companies from building fiber to the home service, because they won’t get the advertising revenue for TV service they might otherwise receive from a captive set-top box market. But Singer ignores the fact Verizon effectively stopped substantial expansion of its FiOS network in 2010 (except in Boston) and AT&T now focuses most of its marketing on selling DirecTV service to TV customers, not U-verse – it’s fiber to the neighborhood service.

But Singer may be accurate on one point. If the cable industry loses revenue from set-top box rental fees, it may simply raise the rates it charges for cable television to make up the difference.

“So long as high-value customers for home video also demand more set-top boxes—a reasonable assumption—then pay TV operators can use metering to reduce the total price of home entertainment for cable customers,” Singer opines. “If this pricing structure were upended by the FCC’s proposal, economic theory predicts that pay TV prices would rise, thereby crowding out marginal video customers.”

2016 Edition: Fighting for a Better Deal from Time Warner Cable; Save $600+ Annually

badbillFor the fourth year, Stop the Cap! is pleased to bring you our advice on how to win yourself a better deal from Time Warner Cable. If you are paying regular price for Time Warner Cable service, you are throwing money away. There is no award for being a loyal cable customer these days. Only new customers and those willing to demand a better price get the best deals, while everyone else pays astoundingly high rates.

We are rarely surprised by anything, but even we confess astonishment as customers continue to show us their $180-250 cable bills. Most have been customers for decades and have never bothered to ask Time Warner if they could be getting a better deal. They should have asked us because the answer is absolutely yes. If you can devote about one hour a year and are willing to do some homework, even those coming off a promotion can save hundreds of dollars a year and get better service.

For those accustomed to badgering the cable company for a better deal year after year, we have some troubling news. Time Warner Cable is making things harder for you. In years past, customers only needed to use social media like Twitter or Facebook and ask for a better price and the cable company usually called back with a great promotional offer for the next year. Those days ended last fall, when the company began channeling current customer promotions almost exclusively through its national customer retention call centers. Even the oldest method of all — showing up at a local cable store with boxes in tow ready to turn in as you threaten to cancel service over its cost today often results in a shrug of the shoulders and an admission cable store employees are increasingly unable to offer customers promotions to entice them to stay. We saw this ourselves this week. As a result, Time Warner Cable lost that customer on the spot.

So why do cable companies play this game with their customers year after year? In a word, it’s all about the money. At least 80% of Time Warner Cable customers are still paying the company $10 a month to rent a cable modem customers can buy for themselves for as little as $50. Why do they keep paying? Because it’s a hassle or the customer believes they are incapable of installing their own. Even those who fought and won up to $1,100 in savings last year procrastinate after that promotion expires and put off trying to renew it. Why? Because few people relish debating for discounts. It’s a chore. But you say the same thing about doing your taxes, so it’s time to get some discipline and get this done. We’re even going to walk you through the process and share the tricks and traps you are likely to encounter along the way and how to get past them. How do we know? We have Time Warner Cable service too.

Heads Up: Time Warner Cable & Charter Communications — You may have read that Charter Communications is in the process of acquiring Time Warner Cable. Most state regulators with the exception of California (where approval isn’t a done deal at the time of writing) have approved the sale and federal regulators seem likely to follow, with a number of conditions Charter will have to meet going forward. For the rest of 2016, even if the deal is approved, we don’t expect many immediate changes. You are likely to see the Time Warner Cable name, packages, and pricing remain the same for most of this year. Next year, we expect Charter will want to retire Time Warner’s name and packages and move customers to their Spectrum product suite, at new customer pricing for all for the first year. We will update readers as needed to explain the transition, but it should not affect any promotions you win for at least the next year.

Getting Ready to Deal

courtesy: abcnews

Time to cut the cable TV bill down to size.

Based on reader input and our own experiences, you are going to find Time Warner Cable less willing to volunteer their lowest price promotions as they have in the past. Customer retention call center workers are trained to try to keep your business without giving away too much to customers threatening to leave. That is why doing your homework is essential before you call.

The most common reasons people call threatening to cancel service are:

  • a poor service experience
  • a rate increase or the end of a promotion that results in a higher rate
  • a better deal from the competition

When you call to cancel service, a representative will seek to understand your reasons and attempt to save you as a customer. If you respond you don’t like the picture quality or your Internet is constantly going out, you are unlikely to get a promotion. You’ll be offered a one-time service credit and a repair visit. If you are calling to cancel over a rate hike notice, they will probably offer a tepid promotion that effectively wipes out the rate increase, but still leaves you paying a lot more than you should. The best offers are designed in response to marketing from competitors trying to steal you away as a customer.

Doing Your Homework

This year your key word is: UPGRADED. Your local phone company just notified your neighborhood better service and a better deal is now available.

This year’s key word is: UPGRADED. Your local phone company just notified your neighborhood better service and a better deal is now available.

We believe the best deals will go to customers prepared to bring a competitor’s offer for them to match. If Time Warner’s local competitors are Google Fiber or Verizon FiOS, you are probably going to get a great deal without a lot of effort. In the northeast, Verizon FiOS and Time Warner Cable have had to face the fact if a customer of either doesn’t get an excellent deal to stay, they are going to switch to the other for one or two years and then switch back after the promotion expires. We’ve seen retention offers in these areas that even include high value gift card rebate offers normally reserved exclusively for customers able to prove (with their final bill) they are leaving one provider for the other. In areas where Time Warner Cable competes with AT&T U-verse, negotiations can get tougher. Time Warner Cable retention operators will listen to your claim you can get a better deal from AT&T or DirecTV and then try to trip you up by asking a lot of questions about 1-2 year contracts, HD fees, set-top equipment fees, broadband speeds, and other sneaky fees AT&T loves to slap on their bills but not always disclose in their advertising.

Things can get even tougher if their only significant competitor is Frontier Communications, HawTel, Windstream, CenturyLink, or other independent telephone companies. Most customers still can’t get TV service except through a companion offer with a satellite company and broadband typically comes in the form of underwhelming DSL. Time Warner Cable has a database of their competitors’ promotions and packages, and they respond to your price match request by trying to find the offer you want them to match in their system. When they find it (or something close to it), the call center operator will respond with a series of challenging statements to cut the apparent value of that promotion. For example, they will claim the competing offer does not include certain features Time Warner includes at no extra charge or doesn’t include various equipment, programming and other hidden fees that raise the price.

If you concede this, the price they will ultimately match is likely to be higher than what you originally thought. It may even sound reasonable to you, because you are used to “gotcha” and hidden fees that are already on your current Time Warner bill (fees the retention operator usually “forgets” to mention Time Warner also charges when they claim to be making an “apple to apple” comparison of the two offers.) That’s their game and it is designed to confuse and overwhelm you. We are going to teach you how to avoid getting on board their carnival carousel.

The key word for 2016 is: UPGRADED, as in their competitor ‘just notified you they have upgraded your neighborhood to a better level of service with a great limited time, local promotion just for customers like you.’

As AT&T and other phone companies continue to upgrade their networks to deliver video, phone and better broadband service, you can shut down the debate about DSL broadband speed and the many deficiencies of telephone company partnerships with satellite TV providers. Instead, you will explain the phone company can now match the speed Time Warner is selling (or at least the speed you need), and with services like Frontier FiOS TV/Vantage TV, CenturyLink’s Prism, Hawtel’s TV, and Windstream’s Kinetic TV, you don’t need a satellite dish to watch anymore.

A Time Warner Cable call center.

A Time Warner Cable call center.

But before we begin negotiations, a review of what you are already paying for is in order. Go and grab your latest Time Warner Cable bill.

If you are a broadband-only customer, you’ve probably received many offers to add television service. Those with cable television and broadband may be getting cards in the mail offering to add phone service for an additional $10 a month. Those customers identified as likely premium movie channel subscribers are getting offers to add multiple premiums at a special price. This practice is known as upselling, and it is how your $150 cable bill quickly rose to well over $200 once those limited-time promotions end and regular prices begin.

Here are some common cable TV add-ons that may be still lurking on your bill, are optional and may be removed on request:

  • Variety Pass (a/k/a Preferred TV): Just over 60 channels of lesser-known and slightly more expensive cable networks and their cousins. Includes MTV, Aspire, Cooking Channel, FOX Sports, Crime and Investigation Channel, GSN, LOGO, and National Geographic, among dozens of others. This package is very common and can often be downgraded to a 70+ Standard TV package.
  • HD Pass: Usually 4-6 channels of uniquely expensive basic cable networks. Most customers probably added this during the days of HDNet — a network Time Warner Cable dropped several years ago. Today, you are probably paying $3-5 a month extra for networks like beIN SPORTS, MGM HD, RFD HD, and Smithsonian. If these don’t interest you, drop this add-on.
  • TWC Sports Pass: More than two dozen additional sports channels that come at a hefty price. If you need to get your cable TV bill down, this is a good place to start.
  • TWC Movie Pass: Once affordable, this package of Disney Family Movies On Demand, TWC Movie Pass On Demand, and at least eight Encore movie channels has seen steady rate increases, especially over the last three years. It may no longer be worth it.
  • Various Premium Channels: HBO alone now costs $16.99 a month. Other premiums have also seen prices rise these last few years. But for $20-30 more, depending on the promotion, you can have every premium channel for a year, usually including HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Epix, and Starz. Don’t leave your money on their table.
The TWC Digital Adapter was supposed to cost $0.99 a month. It's now $3.25.

The TWC Digital Adapter was supposed to cost $0.99 a month. It’s now $3.25.

With the latest round of rate hikes, renting equipment from Time Warner has gotten more expensive than ever. Do you still need a traditional set-top box in the guest bedroom or kids’ rooms if they are not even interested in cable TV? Each box and remote can add up to $7-9 a month depending on your package. DVR service is also increasingly costly because Time Warner charges customers for both the equipment and the service. An enhanced DVR capable of recording up to six shows at once is a nice addition, but it can easily add over $20 a month to your bill in equipment and service fees. If you find you aren’t using the DVR as often as you used to, it may be time to switch back to a traditional set-top box, which costs much less.

If you have TVs in spare bedrooms or the kitchen hooked up with Time Warner’s Digital Adapters, you will find the price for those has also increased dramatically. Initially promised for $0.99 a month, they now cost $3.25 each. This year, we recommend returning them and buying one or more Roku 2 2015 Edition ($70) units instead, which can deliver cable TV to your spare TV sets over your home Wi-Fi. (Also available on: Roku 3, All Roku 2 Models, Roku LT, Roku HD (2500X), the Roku Streaming Stick, Kindle Fire HD & HDX, Samsung Smart TV, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.) Time Warner provides their lineup on these devices with a free app. A one time equipment purchase will pay for itself in a few years, give instant access to Hulu, Netflix, and other services and offer a less frustrating experience.

Cable modems are another piece of equipment you should not be renting from Time Warner. These devices work with your Internet service and now cost $10 a month. The top recommended Arris (formerly Motorola) SB-6141 can be purchased on eBay for around $50 (for refurbished units) and from retail outlets for $70-80 (new). If you are still renting a modem from Time Warner, go and buy one today.

Am I Getting a Good Deal?

While tempting, these offers usually require upgrades that raise the price. For example, Whole House DVR mandatory service and equipment fees add $11.75 a month per cable box, with at least two boxes required.

While tempting, these typical Time Warner Cable offers usually require upgrades that raise the price. For example, Whole House DVR mandatory service and equipment fees add $11.75 a month per cable box, with a two-box minimum. That gift card offer is only good if you are able to prove you are switching from another provider and can produce a copy of your final bill.

This is the part people dread the most — having to haggle over their cable bill. How do you know if the offer Time Warner gives you is a good one? The answer is: by comparing it against the competition and what Time Warner would charge new customers for the same services. If it is within that range, you’ve done okay. If you keep pushing far beyond that, you are likely to find diminishing returns and increasing aggravation – sometimes an offer promised on the phone never even makes it to your bill, because it was offered in error. Then it becomes a dispute over crediting the difference between an offer promised and one actually received. We also don’t recommend people push for rebate cards, because even if you are offered one to keep your business, you usually will not qualify for it because you typically cannot meet the rebate’s terms and conditions, resulting in a rejection letter several months later from the third-party rebate processor.

To find out pricing of current promotions, start by visiting the phone company’s website to see what it has to offer. After that, it is off to Time Warner Cable’s website, pretending to be a new customer and creating a package similar or identical to what you receive today.

PrismTV + Internet, from CenturyLink

PrismTV + Internet, from CenturyLink. This service is being introduced in a number of CenturyLink-served communities.

Along the way, take note of fine print disclosures about contract terms, equipment fees, surcharges, etc. Some new customer offers increase in price during the second year, but ignore that. You are only negotiating for a better price for one year. In general terms, you are probably going to find new customer prices averaging in this range:

  • Broadband only: $34.95/mo for 12 months (Standard service)
  • Triple Play (broadband, TV + Enhanced DVR, phone): $99.99/mo for 12 months (30Mbps service)
  • Double Play (broadband + TV): Expect to pay around $80-90 for Standard/Turbo/Extreme broadband with traditional 200+ channel Preferred TV (periodic promotions offer enhanced speed broadband at the higher side of this price range)

Be aware most promotions start with lowball offers that do not include equipment like the very popular and expensive DVR (with the equipment and service fee), and the additional cost of a second set-top box many people have in their master bedroom. There are also Broadcast TV and Sports Programming surcharges increasingly charged by providers, and the usual taxes and fees.

No, dealing with Time Warner Cable won't reduce you to tears.

No, dealing with Time Warner Cable won’t reduce you to tears.

If you want to save time and are comfortable with a triple play package including 200+ channel Preferred TV with DVR and one additional standard HD set-top box, Ultimate Internet (50Mbps or 300Mbps in Maxx-upgraded areas), and Unlimited local/nationwide home phone service with voicemail, you should be able to easily negotiate a price hovering around $120-130 a month. We pay closer to the high side of that range after subscribing to “whole house” DVR service, which allows you to watch shows recorded on a DVR in another room. That price represents about a $50/month savings over the $175 price we would pay with the lesser promotion they offered us after the most recent one expired. If you are in a more competitive market with an even better deal than we found from our local providers, Time Warner should be able to match it too.

It’s Time to Make the Cancel Call

We’re getting close to making that phone call. Just one more reminder: the retention operator will probably try to question your competitor’s deal. That is where our magic word UPGRADED comes in. You are going to stay resolute the competitor’s offer you negotiated and are telling Time Warner about specifically targeted those gotcha fees and hidden charges, which have all been waived or do not apply. To win your business after the upgrade, the price quoted is the “out the door” price exactly as it will be billed to you, without hidden fees, no term contracts, and no gotchas. You can acknowledge those fees are common among many providers, but they do not apply to you in this case.

Get a glass of water, a pen and paper, and be prepared to spend about 30 minutes total on the phone (most of that will be on hold as they change your account to add the promotion you just won).

Call 1-800-892-4357 and say “cancel service” when the automated system asks what you are calling about. From there, your call will be forwarded to a customer retention call center. The first thing you should ask when connected is the representative’s name and extension (or other identifying information). If your deal isn’t applied (or applied correctly) to your account, the name of the person you spoke with will go a long way to getting any problems straightened out.

timewarner twcYou will be asked why you are canceling service. You want to emphasize “it costs too much” and you have “found a better deal” elsewhere. You should expect the representative to start negotiations by attempting to downgrade your current service to save money. Do not play this game at this point in the call. Politely tell the representative you are not interested in a reduction in your services because you can get the same or better from the competition… at a lower price. Keep reminding them your concern is over the cost of the service, nothing else. Don’t get sidetracked talking about service problems or poor customer service. Address those issues at the end of the call.

Despite assertions Time Warner Cable customers won't endure extended hold times, at least 2/3rds of our recent calls were spent listening to hold music.

Despite assertions Time Warner Cable customers won’t endure extended hold times, at least 2/3rds of our recent calls were spent listening to hold music.

You will be asked to describe the deal from the competitor. Let them know that with recent upgrades in your area it covers all the TV channels you want to watch, has the same broadband speed you are getting now, and offers unlimited local and long distance calling to all the places you care about. Let them know you have already talked to the other company but after a family discussion, you decided to give Time Warner a chance to match or beat their offer and will stay as a customer if they can.

The retention operator will likely try to challenge the competitor’s offer, but each time politely remind them your offer either includes those fees/charges or waives them with no contract obligation and no cancellation penalties. Tell them that competitor is going all out to sign up new customers in your neighborhood.

At all times, be polite, persistent, and persuasive. If you are pleasant, representatives will often go the extra mile for you. Try saying, “is there anything else you can try to get me a better price,” “I really appreciate all of your help today,” and “thank you for looking into this for me.” If things seem to be going against you, remind them, “I know there must be something we can do together to get to a better deal,” “I know you might not be able to do this for me, but perhaps a supervisor could?” and “maybe I am approaching this wrong and we need to start over and try to find the best promotion we can, even if it means adding or changing something that will get me a better deal.”

At this point, the operator will put you on hold and review the promotional offers they can apply to your account. When they return to the line, hear them out but you need them to come within $5-10 of the deal you took to them. If they can’t, you can usually ask if a supervisor will grant you a one time service credit for the difference between the two prices, or to give you a free upgrade to faster Internet speed, a premium movie channel, or something else to sweeten the offer. Try to stay flexible over a few dollars either way. The representative cannot make up a deal, they have to find one in the system that matches your current services and enter the proper code(s) to apply it to your account. Write everything down and repeat it back as you go to make sure you both understand the terms. Also make certain to ask if ANY other fees or charges apply, and if they do, write them down. In most cases, the price you get will be before taxes and some surcharges.

If you find you are dealing with a difficult or intransigent representative, thank them for their time, hang up and call back in a few hours and try again. You never have to commit to a deal immediately. If you want to think about it, ask for the representative to note your account with the offer he or she made and ask their name so you can refer back to that conversation when you call back.

Save your notes. It is unfortunately all too common that the deal you were promised over the phone can look very different on your first bill. But if you kept your notes and the name(s) of representatives you spoke with, any problems can be fixed later with a corrected deal or service credits.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Inside Amy Schumer -- Calling the Cable Company.mp4

Amy Schumer calls Time Warner Cable. It wasn’t this bad for us, we swear! (4:45)

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  • Dawsonfiberhood: Thanks for the hard work, Phillip. I look forward to each new article you write!...
  • Duncan: Cut the cord today, and used this blog post as inspiration. TWC jacked my bill from $140 to $180, and that was the final straw. Goodbye, TWC, but ...
  • Jimmy Bae: That really isn't the proper use of the term ennui. You can't sooth someone's extreme boredom and disinterest....
  • Martha: What if you say you are going to cancel your cable service for a streaming service, such as Roku or SlingTV? Will they likely to come back with an off...
  • Paul Houle: @Lee, it is worse than that. It is not that they cannot afford to give you fiber, it is that they can already make so much money selling you infe...
  • Lee: Frontier will not deliver that 5 Mbps to me. It will not matter what modem I have or what they have in the dslam located at the school. The copper lin...
  • Paul Houle: @Joe, don't buy the hype over G.Fast. Instead of "Fiber to the Press Release" it is just "Copper to the Press Release" G. Fast is a great techn...
  • Joe V: Here's the irony : I watched the Frontier go in front of California politicians broadcast play out and two things that got underneath my skin : I...
  • Matt: It won't increase it any more than what were paying for(1.5 Mbps) right?...
  • Joe V.: Replace the frontier supplied DSL modem and buy your own. The modem they give you is locked down and does not deliver the promised speeds....
  • Matt: I wish Frontier would upgrade our internet over here in Doyle, Ca! We've had 1.5(not even that) Mbps for 12 years!!!!!! And out here in the middle of...
  • TekTalk: I have the blazing fast 5 Mbps Frontier DSL in WV. Frontier won't even say it IS broadband. They know they can't call it that. They only call it "H...

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