Home » Editorial & Site News » Recent Articles:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren Calls Out Bought-and-Paid-For Research; One Paid Author Resigns

Phillip Dampier October 6, 2015 Editorial & Site News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Sen. Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has sent a shockwave across the D.C. Beltway and academia after complaining a Brookings Institution scholar co-authored a research report that was paid for by a corporation that used it to lobby Congress to reject consumer protections for retirees.

Warren’s encounter with paid research is nothing new for Stop the Cap! readers. We have been documenting Big Telecom’s “Phoney” research advocating against consumer protections for broadband and for usage caps and usage-based billing since 2009.

In our view, it is nothing short of unethical for a researcher to accept funding for a corporate-backed research study, bury that fact in a footnote, and leave out the dollar amounts involved. But with tens of thousands of dollars ready for the taking per “study,” a cottage industry of academia and “independent” researchers has sprung up to supply customized findings that “coincidentally” mirror that company’s public policy agenda.

Warren followed the money after reviewing a report written by Robert Litan and co-authored by Hal Singer, who often writes about broadband issues for the Progressive Policy Institute, which itself receives significant funding from Big Telecom companies.

Hire your own economist to write you a research report. Economists, Inc.'s "selected client list" is a Who's Who of America's top corporations.

Hire your own economist to write you a research report. Economists, Inc.’s “selected client list” is a Who’s Who of America’s top corporations.

Litan’s report advocated against a proposed rule written by the Labor Department that would prohibit retirement plan brokers from receiving financial commissions, bonuses and other quiet incentives from giant investment banks that could potentially influence the advice brokers give consumers. During the housing bust of the Great Recession, similar financial conflicts of interest occurred when realtors and loan officers were accused of steering consumers into loan/mortgage products that paid substantial commissions to both, despite the fact those products may not have been in the best interests of homebuyers.

Litan concluded the new rule would “be too costly” to manage, a claim dismissed as ridiculous by Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America.

What could have made an economist with ties to the prestigious Brookings Institution reach a conclusion that would, in the words of Roper, leave “millions of working families and retirees without meaningful protections when they turn to financial professionals for retirement investment advice?”

It might be the $85,000 paid by the study’s sponsor — the Capital Group, a leading mutual fund manager with an obvious interest in the outcome.

Brookings promotes "quality, independence, and impact."

Brookings promotes “quality, independence, and impact.”

Warren’s staff noticed a tiny footnote on the first page of Litan and Singer’s report acknowledging the study was sponsored by the firm, but did not disclose the amount paid or the conditions under which the study was written.

Warren complained the report was little more than a “highly compensated and editorially compromised work on behalf of an industry player seeking a specific conclusion.” Warren also notified both the Brookings Institution and the Obama Administration that using these types of reports to “independently” bolster a corporation’s lobbying was little more than influence peddling, and implied it threatened Brooking’s reputation.

The practice of writing corporate-sponsored research is well-established, usually dependent on the names and reputations of well-respected think tanks and policy institutes to provide cover for the more blatant practice of direct corporate lobbying. Most corporations avoid drawing attention to their direct financial relationship with study authors. Litan’s money connection was revealed in follow-up written questions from Warren. The answers conflicted with the study authors’ original claims they were “solely responsible” for the study’s conclusions, finally revealing Capital Group had paid $85,000 for the study, and Litan’s share was $38,800.

Recognize that logo? Your retirement fund may already be handled by a Capital Group subsidiary like American Funds.

Recognize that logo? Your retirement fund may already be handled by a Capital Group subsidiary like American Funds.

Tom Joyce, a spokesman for the Capital Group, said his company was following standard practice. “It is typical for organizations to sponsor academic studies,” Joyce said, noting that in this case, “no preconditions or predetermined conclusions were imposed.”

Few D.C. insiders believe Joyce, noting they have never seen a corporate-sponsored report that concluded anything markedly different from the corporate sponsors’ own positions.

In the end, Litan resigned his “non-resident scholar” position at the Brookings Institution, not because of his association with corporate-sponsored research, but rather his violation of a new think-tank rule prohibiting researchers from citing their affiliation with Brookings when testifying before Congress.

After that, the D.C. establishment and a threatened coterie of fellow pay-for-research writers went on the warpath, realizing a lucrative revenue stream was at risk if the public knew the independence of corporate-funded research is often suspect.

“This is McCarthyism of the left,” Hal Singer, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and co-author of the research Warren criticized told Politico. “What Warren is doing is suppressing scholars [who] speak independently through her threats.”

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal accused Warren of launching an inquisition against ideas and used the names of several former officials in the Clinton Administration to defend the bipartisan practice of corporate writing on spec.

The National Review (seeing a trend yet?) also blistered Warren for having a double standard in a piece Bloomberg News dismissed as “interesting though a bit breathless.” The fact pro-regulation lobbying group Better Markets often agrees with Sen. Warren’s political views was enough for the conservative magazine to indict her for essentially doing the same thing Litan did. Only Bloomberg concluded Warren was more of a bystander than a participant.

[The National Review piece] accuses Better Markets of “failing to adequately disclose its relationship” with its hedge-fund-manager founder Michael Masters, even though that relationship seems to be fully disclosed, and it insinuates that Masters was shorting Prudential and MetLife while Better Markets was arguing to have them regulated as “systemically important,” even though the only evidence for that is that Masters [had] long call options on Pru and Met.

Warren has made a point of publicly exposing the cozy relationships corporations have with lobbyists, paid consultants, and academia in her one-woman war to protect consumer interests and punish big banks and corporations for anti-consumer behavior. Her practice of tearing the lid off D.C.’s revolving door of lobbying and public service has made Democrats and Republicans nervous, and more than few are looking for revenge.

As far as we’re concerned, Warren’s isn’t the issue. The problem rests with those that willingly choose to risk their credibility for cash, writing reports with glaring conflicts of interest.

California Company Will Help You Cancel Comcast Service for $5 Or We’ll Help You for Free

The Don't Care Bears

The Don’t Care Bears

Americans seem to hate dealing with their cable company so much, they are willing to pay someone else to do it for them.

AirPaper, a Bay Area company, is now offering to help rid you of Comcast for a one-time charge of $5.

You supply them with your name, e-mail, address, phone number and Comcast account number/any security verification information required to cancel your account and they will send Comcast a letter requesting your account be closed.

For now, media reports are vague about the duo’s success rate. Because the request to cancel will arrive in writing, nothing precludes Comcast from having a retention specialist contact you by phone and still attempt to save your business. Comcast is also notorious for not being especially responsive to written requests for anything and its Executive Customer Service department also draws complaints.

Of course, nothing precludes you from keeping the $5 in your wallet and using our recommended methods of dealing with Comcast, which come for free.

You can write your own letter to Comcast requesting a no-negotiation cancellation of your service by sending a letter with your name, address, phone number, account number and e-mail to:

Office of the President
Comcast Headquarters
Comcast Center
1701 JFK Blvd.
Philadelphia, PA 19103

(215) 286-1700
(215) 981-7790 (fax)

Even better, you can follow Comcast’s usual cancellation procedure using 1-800-XFINITY (1-800-934-6489) and tell the agent you are canceling service for any of these reasons, and you will be spared customer retention hardball:

  • You are moving in with an existing Comcast customer and do not need two accounts at the same address;
  • You are relocating to a senior care or assisted living facility that already has service for all residents;
  • Tell them you are moving to a non-Comcast service area. Need an address? Tell them an apartment on Elmwood Ave., Rochester, NY 14618. It’s well outside of Comcast’s service area and they won’t try and offer you Time Warner Cable service if you remind them the complex already provides service to every renter;
  • Tell them you are converting your home into a seasonal residence and you wish to disconnect service with no reconnect date available;
  • Inform them your home succumbed to a fire, flood, killer bees, or whatever other natural disaster will make your home uninhabitable indefinitely. What they will care about the most is if their equipment survived the calamity. When you tell them yes and you are returning it, they won’t bug you any further;
  • You are relocating overseas for a job, volunteer work, or military service with no known return date.

If you use any of these excuses, you will be off the phone 10 minutes after speaking to someone.

Time Warner Cable’s “Improved Customer Service” Campaign Includes “On Hold Hits”

Time Warner Cable is turning lemons into lemonade with full-page ads in select newspapers promoting the company’s “improved customer service,” including a YouTube selection of their best hold music.

improved cs

If looks could kill...

If looks could kill… you’d already be dead.

Time Warner’s website expands on the list of improvements, including not trapping you on hold for more than 90 seconds, 24/7 online and phone support hours, scheduling a time for a customer service representative to call you back, and commitments for same day or next day in-home service calls with as little as one-hour window appointments, promising no more all-day waits for the cable repair guy to arrive. An app even tells you an estimated time the technician will arrive at your home.

Despite the commitments for better service, Time Warner’s tongue-in-cheek pokes at its own past performance fell flat with some customers.

A bizarre five-minute video offered customers who miss spending 30 minutes on hold a chance to listen to Time Warner’s best on-hold hits.

Sometimes, it’s too soon for jokes.

If Time Warner is really putting marathon-length hold times behind it, why not wait to prove it before lampooning it? Otherwise, depicting a humorless Time Warner customer dancing to hold music only reminds us of our own collective customer service agony, like calling to complain about a service outage and being walked through resetting a cable modem or web browser instead.

Nurse Ratched arrives just in time with medication for your unsatisfying customer service experience.

Nurse Ratched

The customer’s dead, staring eyes and near-motionless face were all clear signs of BCS: Bad Customer Service. The disturbing video left us waiting for Nurse Ratched to appear with a small paper cup containing medication. Message: Time Warner mentally tortured its own customers and has now finally promised to stop. (Tip: Next time, hire Seth “Family Guy” MacFarlane to manage your attempts at humorous irony. He would have gone over the top and turned Big Cable’s record for lousy service into an animated Broadway song and dance number that would have brought the house down.)

There are other problems as well:

  • Recent tests of the “convenient call back” feature have not always worked as intended, leaving customers waiting for hours for a callback. Others never got one at all;
  • The “Ask TWC” virtual attendant could handle simple queries, but was otherwise as satisfying as talking to a Moroccan call center. She delivered a lot of non-answers to more complicated questions, just like regular customer service. We asked if Time Warner Cable had usage caps. She had no idea. We asked why a certain channel cannot be found on our lineup. She offered a channel guide we already have (no help there) or a tutorial on how to use a remote control (ditto);
  • capsTWC’s TechTracker is going nationwide by the end of this year and promises to let you manage appointment reminders from the app and display a photo of the technician en route. That could be useful to show the authorities if the tech goes missing.

Customers in Cleveland who saw the ad in their local newspaper tell The Plain Dealer they are skeptical.

Michelle tweeted, “I’ll believe it when I see it. Otherwise, it’s just lip service.”

The company has a long way to go to change the perceptions of Wolf7: “TWC is the worst company in the entire history of everything.”

Customers report discontent with Time Warner’s product (slow Internet access, too many TV channels), its cost, and the quality of customer service — notably missed appointments, incorrect bills, and unresolved service problems.

Still, some of Time Warner’s improvements do seem to be making a difference in some areas, especially the possibility of in-home, same-day service calls (including weekends and evenings), and early detection of significant service outages. Time Warner needs to make sure its customer callback system is audited for performance and its TechTracker app should include some type of limited GPS tracking that automatically alerts customers the tech is really on the way, showing their progress as they drive to the customer’s address.

Time Warner’s potential buyer — Charter Communications — has a service and satisfaction record comparable to Time Warner, so customers should understand these changes remain a “work in progress.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TWC Hold Music -- Reduced Wait Time 10-5-15.mp4

Time Warner Cable’s new ad promising reduced hold times for customers. (30 seconds)

Stop the Cap!’s Formal Testimony to N.Y. PSC Opposing Charter/Time Warner Cable Merger

charter twc bhSTATE OF NEW YORK



Joint Petition of Charter Communications and Time

Warner Cable for Approval of a Transfer of Control

of Subsidiaries and Franchises, Pro Forma                                Case 15-M-0388

Reorganization, and Certain Financing Arrangements.                               


Statement of Opposition to Joint Petition and

Response to Redacted Comments of DPS Staff

Phillip M. Dampier, Director and Founder: Stop the Cap!

Rochester, New York

September 25, 2015

Stop the Cap! is a Rochester-based consumer group founded in 2008 to fight against the introduction of artificial limits on broadband usage (usage caps, consumption billing, speed throttling) and to promote better broadband speeds and service for consumers. Our group does not solicit or accept funding from lobbyists, companies, or others affiliated with the telecommunications industry. We are entirely supported by individual donors who share our views.


Our opposition to the Joint Petition is based on our belief it does not meet the “public interest”  test established in Section 222 of the New York Public Service law, and must therefore be denied.

For the sake of brevity, we wish to associate ourselves with most of the views of the DPS Staff contained in their redacted comments regarding this case, published on the DPS website on September 16, 2015. Most of our testimony will seek to expand on their findings or add additional information to the record for the Commission’s consideration.

As we stated in our remarks regarding the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, New York law obligates the applicant alone to demonstrate its proposal is in the public interest. If the Commission finds the application does not meet the public interest or provide sufficient public benefits, it should be rejected. The DPS staff has reported to you Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable have not met their burden. We agree.

The DPS staff then proposes a mitigation strategy in an effort to tip the balance in favor of the applicant. It remains our view it is not the Commission’s responsibility to help tip the balance in favor of an applicant that has failed to meet its burden.

Nevertheless, we offer the Commission our insight about Charter Communications, its proposals, and the DPS staff recommendations with the hope it will be useful to win commitments from Charter should the Commission choose to proceed with approval, enforcing modifications to deliver the public interest benefits consumers across New York tell us they actually want and need from their providers.


Phillip Dampier

Phillip Dampier

New York State, particularly across the upstate region, is not well positioned to take advantage of next generation broadband networks. Just two providers deliver telecommunications services to the majority of New York: Verizon Communications and Time Warner Cable. Although Frontier Communications and Cablevision also deliver service, their service areas are much smaller than the two dominant incumbents. The decisions Verizon and Time Warner Cable make about their investments in broadband and telephone service affect millions of New Yorkers.

Many New York residents have only one choice for Internet service that meets the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of broadband: 25Mbps download speed and at least 3Mbps upload speed.[1] In areas where Verizon FiOS is not available, Time Warner Cable is the only significant provider consistently providing service options at or above 25Mbps. The most common alternative is DSL, which rarely meets the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband.

With this in mind, the FCC reported 53 percent of rural Americans lack access to broadband service achieving speeds of 25Mbps or better. As much as 20 percent still lack access to broadband at speeds achieving the FCC’s old benchmark of 4Mbps. Upstate New York, in particular, is a long way away from achieving the goals of 100Mbps broadband set by Gov. Cuomo, unless you have access to a cable broadband provider.

In Rochester, the majority of residents have only one choice for a provider that meets the FCC’s definition of broadband: Time Warner Cable. While Frontier Communications has made investments to improve their wireline network, only a small minority of customers qualify for DSL service that can meet the FCC’s benchmarks.

While Verizon Communications has done an admirable job delivering its fiber to the home service FiOS to portions of New York, the company has suspended expansion of the service and has not even met its service obligations in cities like New York.[2]

Even more concerning is the fact none of the significant incumbent providers serving New Yorkers have expressed any interest in providing residential gigabit speed service. Google Fiber has not announced any expansion into New York State and other significant gigabit speed providers, including AT&T, do not provide wireline service in New York.

In contrast, in states including Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee, many consumers have the option of choosing at least two gigabit service providers (Google or AT&T) as well as municipal or public broadband providers such as EPB, which serves the Chattanooga area. Time Warner Cable has focused much of its upgrade activity on these communities to remain competitive, delivering 300Mbps broadband service for the price it used to charge for 50Mbps speeds.

In western New York, the fastest broadband speed most residential customers can buy is just 50Mbps. Charter Communications proposes to increase that speed in some areas to a maximum of 100Mbps, along with their entry level 60Mbps plan. Although helpful, that offers little solace to residents and small businesses that would like the option to purchase considerably faster Internet speeds that are now becoming available in other parts of the country.

The Commission’s decision will have an enormous impact on what kinds of telecommunications services will be available to New Yorkers for years to come. Verizon has shown no interest in resuming fiber service upgrades, so most customers will continue to purchase Internet access from the incumbent cable operator to obtain the broadband speeds they require. Today that usually means Time Warner Cable. Sometime next year, that could be Charter Communications.

Time Warner Cable vs. Charter Communications

The most important question before the Commission is which cable operator is better positioned to deliver the services customers in this state want and/or need. We argue that operator is Time Warner Cable, not Charter Communications.

Since the termination of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, Time Warner Cable has responsibly invested in their infrastructure without assuming an irresponsible amount of debt.

twc maxxTime Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus reported significant progress in their first quarter 2015 report to shareholders and customers, despite the distraction of the Comcast merger[3]:

Over the past 16 months, we’ve made significant investments to improve our customers’ experience:

  • Investing more than $5.2 billion to, among other things, improve the reliability of our network and upgrade customer premise equipment – including set-top boxes and cable modems – with the latest technologies and expand its network to additional residences, commercial buildings and cell towers;
  • Launching TWC Maxx, which features greater reliability, all-digital video, advanced TV services, standard tier of Internet speeds at 50 Mbps, and higher tiers of service up to 300 Mbps. New York, Los Angeles and Austin are complete; Dallas, San Antonio and Kansas City are underway; Charlotte, Raleigh and Hawaii are slated for later this year; and San Diego is expected to be done in early 2016;
  • Introducing Enhanced DVR, a six-tuner set-top box that allows customers to record up to six shows simultaneously and store up to 150 hours of HD content;
  • Increasing the number of Cable Wi-Fi hotspots available to our customers to 400,000;
  • Rolling out our cloud-based video guide to 8 million set-top boxes to date. The guide also makes it easier to browse our On Demand library, which now sits at 30,000 free and paid titles and continues to grow;
  • Expanding our industry-leading TWC TV app – which allows customers to watch live TV and On Demand content and control and program their DVR from inside and outside the home. TWC TV is now available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, Amazon Kindle Fire HD and HDX tablets, Android and IOS phones and tablets, Fan TV, PCs, Samsung TV and Roku;

Serving customers on their schedules rather than ours. We expanded one-hour appointment windows across the company and in Q1 met that window 97 percent of the time. We continue to add nighttime and weekend appointments.



Since that report, Time Warner Cable has announced new Maxx service upgrade areas – Greensboro and Wilmington, N.C. At least 45 percent of Time Warner Cable’s national footprint will be serviced with Maxx upgrades by the end of this year, and Marcus has indicated additional cities will receive upgrades in 2016.[4]

Marcus has indicated repeatedly he intends to see Maxx service upgrades extend even further. On the January 29, 2015 quarterly results conference call with investors, Marcus indicated Maxx upgrades delivered tangible benefits to the company, including increased customer satisfaction, higher network reliability, and a stronger product line. Based on those factors, it would be logical to assume Time Warner Cable would continue its upgrade project, and indeed Marcus confirmed this in his remarks:

“Our aim is to have 75% of our footprint enabled with Maxx […] by the end of [2016], and my guess is we’re continuing to roll it out beyond that,” said Marcus[5]. “So the only question is prioritization, and obviously as we think about where to go first, competitive dynamics are a factor. So that includes Google, although it’s not explosively dictated by where Google decides to go. In fact I think we announced the Carolinas before Google did their announcement this week. So competitors are certainly relevant obviously.

At the rate Time Warner Cable has been rolling out Maxx upgrades, which were first announced on January 30, 2014[6], with 45% of its service area upgraded within 23 months, it is likely the company would complete its Maxx upgrade to all of its service areas within the next 24-30 months. The DPS staff also notes, “there is no indication that Petitioner’s plan for converting to all-digital in New York is any different from Time Warner’s existing plan.”

Charter’s upgrade proposal is, in fact, generally inferior to what Time Warner Cable is accomplishing on its own. We strongly recommend the Commission carefully consider whether Charter’s proposal is as truly compelling as they claim.

Charter Communications’ upgrade proposal is not a good deal for New York.

We agree with the DPS staff’s conclusion Time Warner Cable, on its own, would likely complete its Maxx upgrade program across upstate New York at or around the same time Charter’s proposed upgrades would be complete. Therefore, when comparing Charter’s proposal with Time Warner Cable’s existing service, we urge you to use Time Warner Cable Maxx service as the benchmark, not the existing level of service provided in upstate New York today.

chartersucksTime Warner Cable Maxx offers 50/5 Mbps speeds under its most popular Standard plan. In contrast, Charter proposes to offer 60/5Mbps service under its most-popular Spectrum plan. While Charter’s offer is superior at first glance, it comes at a cost to customers looking for more budget-priced service or those seeking faster speeds.

Charter has no plans to continue Time Warner Cable’s $14.99 Everyday Low Price Internet service – a very important offer for low income residents and senior citizens who are unable to afford the nearly $60 regular price both companies charge for their 50 or 60Mbps tiers. Time Warner Cable offers this tier without preconditions, restricted qualifiers, contracts, or limits on what types of services can be bundled with it. Any consumer qualifies for the service and can bundle it with Time Warner Cable telephone service for an additional $10 a month, which offers a nationwide local calling area, as well as free calls to the European Union, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and several Asian nations.

The loss of a $25 plan that includes basic Internet access and a bundled, 911-capable telephone line would be devastating to low-income New Yorkers and senior citizens. During the Comcast-Time Warner Cable hearings, no topic elicited as much interest as Internet affordability. Time Warner Cable clearly offers a superior product line for these customers, including two other Internet service tiers offering stepped up Internet speeds in $10 increments. These options would be unavailable from Charter.

Charter’s proposed solution to serve low-income New Yorkers is adoption of Bright House Networks’ Connect2Compete program, which offers restricted access to $9.95/month Internet service for those who qualify.

Stop the Cap! investigated Bright House Networks’ existing offer in a report to our readers[7] in June 2015, and we urge the Commission to look much more closely at the specific conditions Bright House customers have had to endure to qualify to subscribe:

1) You must have at least one child qualified for the National School Lunch Program. They need not be enrolled now.

2) You cannot have been a Bright House broadband customer during the last three months. If you are a current customer, you must first cancel and go without Internet service for 90 days (or call the phone company and hope to get a month-to-month DSL plan in the interim.)

3) If you have an overdue bill older than 12 months, you are not eligible until you pay that bill in full.

4) Bright House does not enroll customers in discounted Internet programs year-round. From a Bright House representative:

“We do participate in this particular program, however, it is only around September that we participate in it. This is a seasonal offer that we have which can only be requested from the middle of August to the middle of September, which is when most start up with school again for the year.”

5) Bright House does not take orders for the Low-Income Internet plan over the Internet. You have to enroll by phone: (205) 591-6880.

connect2competeFamilies fall into poverty every day of the year, and poverty-stricken families move from one school district to another every day of the year. So it’s horribly unfair to tell them they’d qualify for this program if only they had fallen into poverty sometime between the middle of August and the middle of September.

It has been our experience covering service providers across all 50 states that most design these low-cost Internet access programs with revenue protection first in mind. Charter Communications is no different. As with Comcast, Connect2Compete is only available to families with school age children. Applicants face an intrusive, complicated, and time-restricted enrollment process designed to dampen and discourage enrollment.

The interest in meeting the needs of low-income customers would be laudable if not for the insistence otherwise-qualified existing customers cannot downgrade their regular price broadband plan to Connect2Compete unless they voluntarily go without Internet service for three months.

We strongly recommend Charter Communications be compelled to continue Time Warner’s $14.99 Internet plan, but at speeds no less than 25Mbps, the minimum definition of entry-level “broadband” by the FCC. We also recommend Charter be required to further discount this plan to $9.95 a month for qualified customers who meet a simple income test the Commission can define and establish. These discount programs should not just be available to families with school-age children. Everyone needs affordable Internet access, whether you are single and looking for your first job or a fixed income senior citizen.

All restrictions for existing customers or those with an outstanding balance must be prohibited and sign-ups must be accepted 365 days a year with re-qualification occurring not more than once annually.

Charter’s broadband offers for lower-income New Yorkers are not adequate, and neither are their plans for customers who need enhanced service.

Time Warner Cable Maxx delivers a more compelling offer for consumers and small businesses that need much faster Internet access. Charter’s upgrade will offer customers two choices: 60 or 100Mbps service. Time Warner Cable Maxx offers considerably more[8]:


Charter Communications has only committed to provide customers with unlimited Internet access for three years. Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus has repeatedly made it clear compulsory usage caps are off the table at Time Warner Cable – a lesson they learned after customers pushed back and forced them to shelve a usage cap experiment planned for Rochester and other cities in April 2009[9]. The company has never raised the possibility of compulsory usage limits or usage-based billing again.

“We have no intention of abandoning an unlimited product we think that something that customers value and are willing to pay for,” said Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus. “The way we’ve approached usage-based pricing is to offer it as an option for customers who prefer to pay less because they tend to use less. And we’ve made those available at 5 gigabytes per month and 30 gigabytes per month levels.[10]

Time Warner Cable again offers a better choice for New Yorkers. With many New Yorkers having no practical alternatives, imposing usage limits or forcing customers into even higher-priced usage billing plans would only make New York even less attractive for those who need high quality Internet access for education, telecommuting, or to assist in running a small business. Google Fiber, in contrast, offers 1,000Mbps service with no usage caps at all. Many other providers also have no plans to introduce usage caps.

Charter Communications has a history of capping their customers’ usage. Less than three months before announcing it would acquire Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications quietly dropped usage caps in place on its broadband plans since 2009, without explanation and the FCC now wants to know why, as they also contemplate the impact of the merger[11] [12]. In addition to the anti-consumer practice of placing customers on an unnecessary usage allowance, such usage limits may also be established for anti-competitive reasons to limit exposure to online video streaming, which competes directly with cable television. Customers who watch a lot of online video are those most likely to face service suspension or find overlimit usage fees applied to their bill.

junk3Almost all of Charter’s so-called customer-friendly commitments and policies have a very unfriendly expiration date of three years, which should be unacceptable to the Commission. There is no reason Charter cannot extend its commitments to not charge modem fees, adhere to the basic principles of Net Neutrality, and not impose usage caps or other forms of usage billing permanently. Without such a commitment, consumers could soon pay much higher prices for broadband service, and without robust competition unlikely to develop in most of New York over the next three years, there will be every incentive for Charter to further boost earnings by imposing modem fees and usage pricing on its customers.

One of those incentives is the level of debt Charter Communications will assume in this transaction. DPS staff is correct when they noted New Charter’s debt and lowered credit rating “represents the single most substantial risk of the proposed transaction.”[13]

Debt servicing costs and more expensive credit are both deterrents to investment and are likely to limit the scope of Charter’s ongoing system upgrades and maintenance. Charter is a much smaller cable operator than Time Warner Cable, and is itself still in the process of repairing and upgrading its own cable systems and those it acquired in earlier acquisition deals. Time Warner Cable, in contrast, is in a much stronger financial position to carry out its commitments associated with the Maxx upgrade program.

consumer reportsSpecifics about Charter’s commitments to expand service into unserved areas of New York were either vague and non-specific or redacted. The past history of winning expansion commitments from cable operators who rely on Return On Investment (ROI) formulas to determine which homes and businesses they will serve have met with limited success.

The pervasive problem of rural broadband availability is unlikely to be resolved substantially by this transaction without the strongest buildout requirements. But even that is unlikely to be of much help for large sections of New York outside of existing video franchise areas. Compelling Charter Communications to adopt universal service obligations within all existing Time Warner Cable franchise areas may be a good start. Under such a requirement, any consumer or business that wants cable service and lives within the geographic boundaries of an existing franchise area would receive it upon request without construction fees, surcharges, or other passed-along fees to reach that customer, regardless of their distance from the existing cable plant or ROI formula. The largest impact of this would be to extend cable service into business parks and commercial buildings, which often lack cable service, but many suburban and exurban residential customers would also benefit.

But the Commission must look carefully at Charter’s financial capacity to meet these obligations after assuming control of a company much larger than itself. No commitment is worth much if a company ultimately fails to deliver on it.

An overburdened cable operator is also unlikely to make substantial investments in improving customer service, and that makes the risk of depending on Charter Communications to improve Time Warner Cable’s already poor customer service rating doubtful. Competition is the biggest incentive to improve customer service and responsiveness, and that is unlikely to prove much of a factor for large sections of New York over the next few years. In fact, we argue customer service is likely to deteriorate for New Yorkers in the short term because of the disruptiveness of any ownership change and eventual billing system integration. Again, Charter’s proposal offers no compelling public interest benefit to New Yorkers. The fact DPS staff is proposing a performance incentive mechanism to compel service improvements illustrates absent punitive measures, Charter Communications is unlikely to offer any improvement over Time Warner Cable, and may in fact perform worse.

Consumer Reports rates both companies’ Internet Service poorly[14]:

  • Charter: 63 (Reader Score), Poor Value, Fair Reliability, Good Speed, Mediocre Phone/Online Support, Fair In-Home Support
  • Time Warner Cable: 57 (Reader Score), Poor Value, Fair Reliability, Fair Speed, Mediocre Phone/Online Support, Fair In-Home Support

Virtually nothing Charter Communications has offered as a public interest benefit meets that criteria. Its commitment to improve cable television does not offer any significant benefit to New York cable TV subscribers. Both Time Warner Cable and Charter propose to move to all-digital cable television to free up bandwidth to offer improved broadband.



While consumers clamor for smaller, less-costly cable television packages, Charter Communications’ CEO Thomas Rutledge is credited for inventing the “triple play” concept of convincing customers to package more services – broadband, television and telephone — together in return for a discount. Reuters cited his penchant for “simplified pricing,”[15] which is why Charter offers most customers only two options for broadband service and one giant television package dubbed Spectrum TV containing more than 200 channels.[16]

Unfortunately, any benefits from an all-digital television package are likely to be dismissed when customers get the bill. Currently, many Time Warner Cable customers watch analog television channels on television sets around the home without the need to rent a costly set top box. Any transition to digital television will require the rental of a set top box or purchase of a third-party device to view cable television programming. These can represent costly add-ons for an already high cable bill.

With approximately 99 percent of customers renting their set-top box directly from their pay-tv provider, the set-top box rental market may be worth more than $19.5 billion per year, with the average American household spending more than $231 per year on set-top box rental fees. These are some of the findings from Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal’s (D-Conn.) query of the top-ten pay-tv multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs).[17]

Passed by Congress in December, the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014 repealed the set-top box integration ban, which enabled consumers to access technology that allowed use of a set-top box other than one leased from their cable company. Without the integration ban, by the end of this year, cable companies will no longer be required to make their services compatible with outside set-top boxes, like TiVo for example, bought directly by consumers in the retail marketplace.

American cable subscribers spend, on average, $89.16 a year renting a single set-top box. The average set-top box rental fee for each company was used to calculate an overall set-top box rental cost average across companies: $7.43 a month, or $89.16 per year. Considering many homes rent a DVR box to make and view recordings and maintain less-capable boxes on other televisions, the total cost adds up quickly. The average household spends $231.82 a year on set-top box rental fees, according to Sens. Markey and Blumenthal.

Charter proposes to introduce a new generation of set top boxes but as far as we know, has not disclosed the monthly cost of these IP-capable boxes to subscribers. We anticipate they will cost more than the current equipment provided by Time Warner Cable, which has also been increasing the cost of its set top box rentals.

Time Warner Cable’s entry level Digital Transport Adapters, which convert digital/HD signals for older analog-only television sets, almost tripled in price over just one year. Originally introduced for $0.99 a month, the rental fee increased this year to $2.75 a month for customers in Rochester.[18]

Other points the Commission should consider in reviewing this transaction:

  1. DPA staffers claim the transaction is unlikely to alter the competitive landscape because Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable do not have overlapping service areas. While it is true Charter and Time Warner don’t compete for the same customers, it is inaccurate to suggest the transaction will not alter competition. Cable industry consolidation is underway, in part, to help larger combined operators secure better volume discounts for increasingly expensive video programming.

    AT&T’s primary motivation to acquire satellite provider DirecTV was to secure better prices for video programming, both for DirecTV customers but more importantly for its own, much smaller, U-verse TV operation.[19]

    The cost barrier for new, directly competing entrants into the cable television business is well-recognized, even by smaller independent cable television providers that are having difficulty staying profitable and maintaining investments in broadband as they lack the ability to secure similar volume discounts for themselves. The American Cable Association, representing small operators, warned the FCC “existing providers of both broadband and MVPD services and new entrants will be deterred from expanding their broadband networks or otherwise undertaking new builds” as a result of increasing programming costs.[20]

    As a result, it is unlikely a new provider will be able to develop a sustainable business model that includes cable television while paying wholesale programming costs that are dramatically higher than what combined companies like New Charter will pay.

  2. The Commission must insist that upstate New York is treated equally to the New York City market. If the deal is approved, Charter must be compelled to commit to continue Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade initiative across all of its service areas in New York State, to be completed within 30 months. Nothing less than that should be acceptable to the Commission. We agree with the DPS staff’s recommendation that Charter also be compelled to upgrade facilities to support gigabit broadband, but this should be extended to include all of its service areas in New York, not just the largest cities.

    This does not pose a significant challenge to any cable operator. With the upcoming introduction of DOCSIS 3.1 technology, cable operators even smaller than Charter will support 1Gbps broadband speeds as they drop analog television signals. Suddenlink[21], MidContinent[22], Cox[23], and Mediacom[24] already have gigabit deployment plans in the works. If Fargo, N.D. is getting gigabit broadband from MidContinent Communications in the near future, Charter should have no problem offering similar service to customers in Jamestown, Penn Yan, Watertown, Binghamton, and beyond.

  3. The Commission must establish and enforce meaningful enforcement mechanisms should Charter fail to achieve its commitments as part of this transaction. Cable consolidation has never significantly benefited consumers. Charter is not guaranteeing Time Warner Cable customers will receive a lower bill as a result of this merger. Nor is it committing to pass along the lower prices it will achieve through negotiations for video programming volume discounts. Cable rates, especially for broadband, will continue to increase. Without meaningful competition, there is no incentive to give consumers a better deal or better service.

    That is why if the Commission feels it must approve this transaction, the conditions that accompany it to achieve a true public interest benefit must be meaningful and ongoing. Any failure to deliver on those commitments must include a direct benefit to customers, not just to the state government. If fines are imposed, customers should receive a cash rebate or equivalent service credit for services not provided as part of any agreement.

Cable operators know once they secure a franchise or become the incumbent provider, no other cable company will negotiate with city officials to take over that franchise if the current provider’s application is denied during renewal. Once Charter (or any other cable company) establishes a presence, there is little or no chance a community will be able to get rid of that provider if it fails to perform. That is why any franchise transfer that comes from an acquisition or merger must be treated with the upmost seriousness. Customers will likely live with the decision the Commission makes for the next 10-20 years or more.

dpsAs Time Warner Cable customers loudly reminded the Commission in the Comcast merger proceeding, there is such a thing as a cable operator even worse than Time Warner Cable, already one of the lowest rated companies in the country. Comcast’s reputation preceded its intended entry into New York on a massive scale and the application was eventually withdrawn.

As the Commission must realize, this transaction does not just involve entertainment. Last week the Obama Administration declared broadband Internet access a “core utility.”[25]

“Broadband has steadily shifted from an optional amenity to a core utility for households, businesses and community institutions,” according to a report from the administration’s Broadband Opportunity Council. “Today, broadband is taking its place alongside water, sewer and electricity as essential infrastructure for communities.”

Unfortunately, the federal government has seen to it that this core utility is provided without the ability of local and state governments to properly deliver needed oversight. While the Public Service Commission lacks the authority to enforce consumer protections and quality of service standards for Internet access, it retains the very powerful ability to determine whether a company seeking to make a fortune selling consumers broadband service in a monopoly/duopoly market for many New Yorkers is a good or bad thing for consumers.

Our group strongly believes New York should not take a risk on Charter’s less-then-compelling offer when Time Warner Cable has demonstrated it is in a better financial position and has a proven track record of delivering on its commitments to improve service with its Maxx upgrade project. Time Warner Cable has superior options for low-income New Yorkers, has a large number of New York-based call centers providing valuable employment for our residents, offers more broadband options and faster speeds for entrepreneurs remaking themselves in the digital/information economy, and has committed to providing unlimited Internet access – a critical prerequisite for consumers choosing to drop cable television’s one-size-fits-all bloated video package and watch only the shows they want to see and pay for online.

We urge the Public Service Commission to deny Charter’s application. If it sees fit to make a different choice, we strongly recommend you demand the best possible deal for New York consumers and businesses that, as the DPS staff wrote, deserve best-in-class communications services.

  • [1] http://stopthecap.com/2015/02/03/fcc-now-defines-minimum-broadband-speed-25mbps-everything-less-now-slowband/
  • [2] http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/415-15/de-blasio-administration-releases-audit-report-verizon-s-citywide-fios-implementation
  • [3] http://www.twcableuntangled.com/2015/04/twc-gains-momentum-with-best-ever-subscriber-growth-customer-enhancements/
  • [4] http://www.twcableuntangled.com/2015/07/twc-maxx-expands-rollout-in-2015/
  • [5] http://seekingalpha.com/article/2864536-time-warner-cables-twc-ceo-rob-marcus-on-q4-2014-results-earnings-call-transcript?
  • [6] http://www.twcableuntangled.com/2014/01/get-the-details-on-twcs-plan-to-transform-ctv-internet-experience/
  • [7] http://stopthecap.com/2015/06/25/bright-houses-mysterious-internet-discount-program-charter-wants-to-adopt-nationwide/
  • [8] http://www.timewarnercable.com/en/enjoy/better-twc/internet.html
  • [9] http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=7368388
  • [10] http://stopthecap.com/2014/10/30/time-warner-cable-recommits-mandatory-usage-caps-long-company-remains-independent/
  • [11] http://stopthecap.com/2015/09/23/fcc-demands-details-about-charters-suddenly-retired-usage-caps/
  • [12] http://www.multichannel.com/news/fcc/fcc-seeks-data-dump-charter-twc-bright-house/394010
  • [13] http://documents.dps.ny.gov/public/Common/ViewDoc.aspx?DocRefId={C60985CC-BEE8-43A7-84E8-5A4B4D8E0F54} (p.39)
  • [14] http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/computers-internet/telecom-services/internet-service-ratings/ratings-overview.htm
  • [15] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/30/us-charter-timewarnercable-rutledge-anal-idUSBREA0T01D20140130
  • [16] https://www.charter.com/browse/content/tv#/channel-lineup
  • [17] http://www.markey.senate.gov/news/press-releases/markey-blumenthal-decry-lack-of-choice-competition-in-pay-tv-video-box-marketplace
  • [18] http://stopthecap.com/2014/12/22/time-warner-cable-deck-halls-8-modem-fees-fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-2-75-dta-fee/
  • [19] http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2015/07/24/fcc-approves-ts-acquisition-directv/30626421/
  • [20] http://www.americancable.org/node/5229
  • [21] http://www.multichannel.com/news/technology/suddenlink-boots-1-gig-broadband/392087
  • [22] https://www.midco.com/PressRoom/2014/midcontinent-bringing-gigabit-internet-access-to-the-northern-plains/
  • [23] http://www.multichannel.com/news/distribution/cox-plots-docsis-31-plans/393996
  • [24] http://www.multichannel.com/news/cable-operators/mediacom-sets-residential-1-gig-rollout/393585
  • [25] http://thehill.com/policy/technology/254431-obama-administration-declares-broadband-core-utility-in-report

Special Report: Drahi Strikes Again: Stop the Cap! Analyzes Altice’s Acquisition of Cablevision

special reportAfter 44 years in the cable television business, the Dolan family has agreed to part with its prize possession, Cablevision Systems Corp. in a $17.7 billion dollar deal with Patrick “The Slasher” Drahi’s Altice NV.

The transaction will profoundly impact Cablevision’s employees, customers, and potentially the cable business in general in the New York City metropolitan area, where Cablevision’s 3.1. million customers live.

Who is Patrick Drahi?

Although few Americans have heard of the self-made billionaire Patrick Drahi, most of French-speaking Europe knows Mr. Drahi only too well, regularly criticized in the French press for surrounding himself with debt-laden acquisitions, stiffing vendors and suppliers, and paying rock-bottom wages to the employees that remain after constant campaigns of ruthless cost cutting.

Drahi’s idol is none other than cable magnate billionaire John Malone, the man pulling the strings at Charter Communications. In the 1970s and 1980s, Malone ran America’s largest cable conglomerate – Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), a company castigated by customers for high rates and poor service about as much as Comcast is today.

Altice1Malone’s reputation with the U.S. Congress reached its lowest point in the 1980s when then-Sen. Al Gore, Jr. (D-Tenn.) alternately accused Malone of heading a monopolistic cable “Cosa Nostra” that extorted his constituents with rate increases that exceeded 180% in less than five years and the “Darth Vader of Cable.” Malone taught Drahi that massive sums of money could be made buying and selling cable television (and later broadband) over systems that are usually de facto monopolies. Although entertainment is always in high demand, few governments treat the cable systems that offer it as an “essential utility,” allowing them to charge whatever they want for service.

From his earliest days working for a small cable operator, Drahi dreamed of building a cable empire buying and selling cable systems, extracting whatever he could from subscribers. One of his earliest techniques was flouting a French telecommunications law that, at the time, forbade the carriage of non-French language channels. His cable systems quietly added Arabic language networks to entice the large North African immigrant community in France to sign up for service. Drahi did not directly promote the networks, relying on word-of-mouth to deliver sales in the Arabic speaking community.

The Sacred Monster

While very conservative about spending money on wages, service upgrades, and technology, customers of Drahi-owned cable companies report he had no problem raising their rates. Numericable’s customer satisfaction rating rivals that of Comcast — a one-star cable company charging five-star prices.



The announced acquisition of Cablevision (and earlier Suddenlink) by Drahi’s company — Altice NV, came with glowing coverage from the American media, particularly cable business news channels, the Wall Street press, and the New York Times. A Sept. 7, 2015 piece by Nicola Clark in the Times presented Drahi as a classic “rags to riches” success story, noting he loathes being interviewed and allegedly leads a humble existence:

Despite a personal fortune estimated at close to €17 billion, Mr. Drahi indulges in few of the trappings of great wealth, friends and colleagues said. Although he keeps several elegant homes — in Geneva, Paris and Tel Aviv — his personal tastes and habits hew to the mundane. He wears a plastic Swatch instead of a Rolex and often arrives at business meetings on foot or a bicycle, instead of by chauffeured car.

Clark only mentions in passing she relied almost entirely on a series of interviews with “a half-dozen friends and colleagues” to paint what turned out to be a one-sided picture of Mr. Drahi for American readers. That story had eyes rolling among staffers in the offices of French newspaper Les Echos, incredulous at the American infatuation with a man the newspaper calls the “sacré monstre” — sacred monster. In New York, reporter Lucie Robequain, foreign business correspondent for the French daily, tried to share the scene at the Goldman Sachs-organized Communacopia conference where the deal was personally announced by Mr. Drahi for her French readers.

cablevision“Newspapers [in America] devote entire pages [about Drahi], emphasizing his self-made-man side which Americans love so much,” Robequain noted. She added the New York Times painted Drahi an almost romantic figure, proposing to his wife one hour after meeting her and then putting everything between them at risk to build his personal fortune.

A later piece in the Times on Sept. 17 by Emily Steel and Mark Scott also was the subject of derision in the European press. Steel and Scott called Altice a “bold new player” in the American cable market and gave Dexter Goei, one of Drahi’s lieutenants (some in the French press prefer ‘minion’) space to gush about the game-changing deal. Goei joined Altice in 2009, having worked for 15 years in investment banking with JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley until the Great Recession arrived.

“There’s a new sheriff in town, and we’re probably going to run it a little differently,” Goei said during the investor conference in New York on Thursday that unveiled the deal.

Phantom Fiber

The Times piece also relied on unnamed “analysts” dangling the promise of fiber optics to appease subscribers concerned about a legendary cost-cutter taking the helm of the cable company.

[…] Analysts said Altice invests heavily in new infrastructure — with a focus on upgrading fixed-line networks with the latest fiber-optic technology. The priority, analysts said, is to provide subscribers with faster Internet connection speeds at competitive prices.

Previous deals involving Altice (Image: Financial Times)

Previous deals involving Altice (Image: Financial Times)

In Europe, the press is skeptical about promised upgrades, noting Altice is “an empire built on a mountain of debt” largely made possible by quantitative easing and record low interest rates, which permit companies to finance buyouts on the cheap. Drahi says he can save money through synergy — sharing operations and minimizing the need for customers to reach out for customer service. Altice officials claim just by simplifying Cablevision’s bills, the company can save $14 million annually.

Drahi’s success story with Wall Street and other investors comes from his ability to cut costs at acquired companies, often dramatically. It is part of the informal deal with investors that has allowed the company generous credit to continue its buying spree. The Cablevision deal promises the Dolans and other investors only $3.3 billion in cash. The rest of the purchase price will come from raising $8.6 billion in new debt, saddled on Cablevision’s books inside Altice.

So while unnamed analysts are promising fiber upgrades for Cablevision customers, the Financial Times and CNBC report only one thing will be on Cablevision’s menu post-merger: spending a lot less, not more. Drahi seems to agree.

In a slide presentation to investors, Altice compares Cablevision’s $49 a month in operating expenses per customer against what its Numericable operation in France spends on its customers: $14 a month.

So how does Numericable spend three times less on subscribers than Cablevision?

Cost Cutting Specialists

Say hello to Michel Combes, former CEO of Alcatel-Lucent. Two years ago, he took leadership of the company that was better known by many as Bell Labs. Known as a cost-cutter, Combes quickly announced plans to strip the company of less profitable business units and fired about 10,000 workers while also holding the line on salaries (except for his) of the remaining employees. After two years in the leadership position, Combes engineered the sale of the company to Nokia, putting himself out of a job. But he won’t be hurting. A breathtaking golden parachute package approved by his colleagues on Alcatel Lucent’s board caused a political furor in France.



Combes’ departure bonus was originally planned to amount to $15 million in stock after completing the company’s sale to Nokia, an amount Emmanuel Macron, France’s economic minister, called shocking and irresponsible. Under pressure, the board has since cut the payoff roughly in half. But according to L’Observateur, Drahi has offered his friend an even more lucrative “golden hello” — stock options awarded as a signing bonus worth up to $100 million. Combes’ first role will be to serve as Altice’s chief operating officer, presiding over new rounds of cost-cutting at the company’s various acquisitions. One item spared from review is Combes’ own compensation package. Those under him are not so lucky.

Wages and Jobs

“I do not like to pay salaries, I pay as little as I can,” Drahi told investors at the Goldman Sachs event last week. Drahi complained more than 300 employees at Cablevision were being paid more than $300,000 a year. “This we will change.

In addition to a large number of expected layoffs at Cablevision, widespread salary reductions are also likely to be forthcoming. Drahi’s cable companies have some of the smallest compensation packages in the industry, except at the top executive level.

Cablevision’s already testy relationship with some of its union employees will likely grow much worse under Drahi’s leadership. But that battle may have to wait until another day. In February, the union ratified a two-year agreement with Cablevision. In Europe, Drahi’s reputation among public unions is so poor many of the opinions expressed by unionized workers cannot be printed in a family newspaper.

Suppliers complain Drahi's companies don't pay their bills.

Suppliers complain Drahi’s companies don’t pay their bills.

In Lisbon, Jorge Felix – a representative of the trade union organization of workers at PT (Portugal Telecom) warns U.S. unions should get everything from Altice and Mr. Drahi in writing.

“There are commitments made by Altice before our union and are written,” Felix said, adding that he was disturbed by Drahi’s attitude toward his middle class employees. Felix notes Drahi has already created tremendous controversy in Portugal by stonewalling payment of suppliers and vendors’ outstanding invoices until the company secures written agreements promising enormous discounts, often amounting to 30-40% off current prices. That, in turn, can cause layoffs and salary reductions at suppliers, enriching Altice but hurting just about everyone else.

Drahi: Looking to run faster than the music

France’s Economic Minister Macron seems to agree, lashing out at Drahi’s now familiar business model.

“Is it good for the economy? The answer is no,” he said. “Is it good for investment? The answer is no. Is it good for employment? The answer is no.”

Macron also expressed concern that Drahi’s telecom empire was growing too fast — and taking on too much debt too quickly.

“I have a big concern in terms of leverage on Drahi due to its size and its place in our economy,” he said. “That’s my responsibility to look at it. He is looking to run faster than the music.”



Macron and his staff are concerned many of Drahi’s top executives and advisers come from New York’s financial markets and investment banks who either left or were pushed out in the turmoil of the Great Recession. Macron worries Drahi could be constructing the world’s first “too big to fail” cable operator that could cost nearly 100,000 jobs and require a government bailout if things turn sour.

Promised Service Improvement & Upgrades

With each cable consolidation merger, companies routinely promise subscribers will benefit from improved service. As mentioned earlier, unnamed analysts predict Drahi could invest up to $30 billion to improve the cable companies he buys in the United States.

“Which Altice are they talking about,” asks Stop the Cap! reader François Ribaud. “Altice owns Numericable, the largest cable company in metropolitan France, and if they are spending money it certainly was not on us.”

Ribaud’s original cable company Noos was acquired by Numericable in a massive acquisition effort in the early 2000s which today leaves almost all of France served by a single cable operator — Numericable.

“Things stagnated after that because Patrick Drahi does not spend money unless he has to,” Ribaud said. “The set-top boxes are outdated, the broadband service is often oversold, and heaven help you if there are service problems. The North African call center customer service help is an example for Numericable of getting what you pay for. They are awful.”

Charles Dolan

Charles Dolan

Drahi’s competitors in the fixed line and wireless markets eventually forced his wallet open, requiring an investment in fiber optics to help it remain a player in one of Europe’s most contentious telecommunications price wars. Drahi’s company in France lost subscribers as its network suffered from a lack of needed upgrades to manage demand.

“Now that I live in New York, I can say it is completely different than in France,” Ribaud said. “There is certainly no price war here, so there is no need to spend more money. The only people spending money will be customers I assure you.”

The Creator of Home Box Office Signs Off

Cablevision has been rumored “for sale” for so long without a deal, many analysts predicted the founding family would never let go of the company founded by 88-year old Charles Dolan, who helped transform what used to be a rural service to help customers receive distant over the air stations over a shared antenna into an urban and suburban subscription television business. Dolan made cable television something more.

Dolan founded Home Box Office (HBO), a commercial-free premium movie and entertainment channel free from the network “standards and practices” divisions that removed profanity and edited out violence from movies originally shown intact in theaters.

Cablevision systems used to cover 2.9 million subscribers in 19 states, many in small and medium-sized communities. By the 1990s, cable systems were swapped or sold to build regional empire-like service areas. Cablevision was no different, retreating to just three large service areas in New York, Cleveland and Boston. Soon thereafter, Cablevision would only serve metropolitan New York, particularly in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Long Island, parts of northern New Jersey and Connecticut, while exiting Cleveland and Boston.

The New York Post reported secret talks for the sale began in June, and a deal was complete at the end of August. Some of the discussions took place on a yacht floating around the Mediterranean. The Post reports the sale of Cablevision was an emotional experience for Dolan and he still thinks of the people who work there as family. But in the end, the Dolan family’s proceeds from the sale will reinforce their already well-established wealth and prominence. The same is unlikely to be true for Cablevision’s employees and customers under Drahi’s cost-conscious leadership.

Blue Ridge Communications Rations Internet Usage With Hard Usage Caps

blue-ridgeA tiny cable company serving communities around the Blue Mountain in eastern Pennsylvania has a big appetite for rationing Internet usage by imposing data caps and overlimit fees on their 170,000 customers.

Effective Sept. 1, Blue Ridge dropped off-peak unlimited use service and imposed a 24-hour rationing plan on its customers, including a familiar overlimit fee of $10 per 50GB of excess usage — the same fee created by AT&T and adopted by several other cable and phone companies.

Customers on the lowest priced plans are most at risk of encountering overlimit fees, which most providers claim are designed to make heavy users pay more for access. In the past, the company maintained rarely enforced “soft caps” and off-peak unlimited usage starting at 5pm. The “hard caps” arrived Sept. 1 with claims the company generously doubled the allowance for some customers, without mentioning it also eliminated off-peak unlimited usage. In terms of “fairness,” the heaviest users signed up to the fastest speed tiers get the most generous allowances while those at lower-price tiers are most likely to encounter an overlimit penalty fee:

  • Web Surfer $42.95 (1.5Mbps Download/384kbps Upload) – 150GB per month (no change)
  • G5 $52.95 (5Mbps/384kbps) – 300GB per month (was 250GB)
  • G10 $57.95 (10Mbps/800kbps) – 400GB per month (was 250GB)
  • G15 $67.95  (15/2Mbps) – 500GB per month (was 250GB)
  • Dream 60 $84.95 (60/3Mbps) – 600GB per month (was 250GB)
  • Dream 100 $124.95 (100/5Mbps) – 700GB per month (was 250GB)
Blue Ridge Communications is headquartered in Palmerton, Pa.

Blue Ridge Communications is headquartered in Palmerton, Pa.

To avoid a higher bill, customers will have to check a company-sponsored, unverified usage meter on Blue Ridge’s website and be ready to upgrade to a more costly Internet plan. Blue Ridge customers already pay substantially more for Internet service than other customers pay in the region. A Comcast subscriber in eastern Pennsylvania now pays $29.99 a month for the first 12 months of 25Mbps service, after which the price increases to as much as $66.95 a month. A less expensive 6Mbps tier costs $49.95 from Comcast, and a much faster 150Mbps tier is also available for $78.95, $46 less than what Blue Ridge charges for service that is 50Mbps slower.

“It’s no dream at 60 or 100Mbps, it’s a straight up gouging nightmare wrapped in greed and lies,” says Stop the Cap! reader Thomas, who lives in Palmerton and calls Blue Ridge’s parent company a local media and entertainment dictatorship. “My friends and relatives are stunned when I tell them one local company controls cable, telephone, wireless, the newspaper and the local news channel. It’s all Pencor through and through.”

Pencor Services, Inc., (Pennsylvania ENtertainment, COmmunications and Recreation) holds a unique position in eastern Pennsylvania. The rural character of the region has allowed Pencor to own and operate a large number of media and telecommunications companies. Pencor owns both Blue Ridge Communications — the cable operator and two local phone companies — Palmerton Telephone and the Blue Ridge Telephone Company. DSL service is offered, but it is “powered by” PenTeleData, another Pencor-owned operation. Wireless service is provided by Pencor-owned Pencor Wireless. In certain other markets, phone companies like Frontier Communications offer some competition, mostly low-speed DSL.

Pencor and its businesses have a substantial presence throughout the Blue Mountains region.

Pencor and its businesses have a substantial presence throughout the Blue Mountain region.

Residents get much of their local news from BRC TV-13, the local news channel on the Blue Ridge system serving Carbon, Monroe, Wayne & Pike counties and parts of Lehigh, Schuylkill, Northampton and Berks counties. BRC TV-11 provides local news on the Blue Ridge system serving Northern Lancaster County. Both stations are also owned by Pencor. So is the Lehigh Valley Press and the Times News newspaper operations.

A Facebook group has been organized to fight Blue Ridge on its new data caps.

A Facebook group has been organized to fight Blue Ridge over its new data caps.

Coverage of the usage cap imposition and customer reaction to it, best characterized as hostile, came from media not owned by Pencor.

Milfordnow! reported “when analyzing similar cap programs that have been implemented by other cable companies, it is apparent that bills may be rising substantially for heavy users.”

The cable company countered it expected only 3% of customers to affected by the new caps, which has some customers wondering why they need them at all.

“You have to wonder if caps affect almost nobody, why do companies spend so much time and energy imposing them,” said Thomas.

“Everything from downloads to YouTube, Netflix and even online gaming count against their new 24-hour cap,” Milford resident John Ferry III told the Pocono Record, reporting his latest bill was about $46 over previous charges. “They are telling people they have doubled the cap, but this is not true. By removing the off-peak time, which was essentially a free period, there is no math that makes it double.”

Blue Ridge customers have begun to organize a pushback against the data caps through a new Stop Blue Ridge Cable Data Caps Facebook page.

Frontier Plans to Finance Acquisition of Verizon Lines With $6.6 Billion in Junk Bonds

frontier-fast-buffalo-large-2To complete an acquisition of landline assets in California, Florida, and Texas from Verizon Communications, Frontier Communications is hoping to raise $6.6 billion in “speculative-grade debt” to finance the deal.

Frontier will begin selling the securities better known as “junk bonds” starting today with a target date of Sept. 15 or 16 to complete the sale, according to Bloomberg News.

Wall Street raised its eyebrows at the amount of the transaction — the second largest junk-rated deal since Valeant Pharmaceuticals sold almost $10 billion in junk bonds in March.

Frontier plans to offer a high yield to attract investors, some already favoring the company’s stock for its reliable shareholder dividend payout. Frontier has been a popular choice for investors relying on dividend income — money Frontier distributes to shareholders — that critics contend limit Frontier’s ability to improve its network of largely rural landlines.

analysisCalifornian consumers are among those most concerned about a Frontier takeover of landline and FiOS service. Verizon ventured far beyond its original service area extending from Maine to Virginia after it acquired independent telephone networks operated by General Telephone (GTE) and Continental Telephone (Contel) in 2000. In 2015, the company wants to return to its core landline service area in the northeast.

junk1David Lazarus, a consumer reporter for the Los Angeles Times, wonders how ratepayers will benefit from a Frontier takeover.

“Financial analysts are generally upbeat about the deal, but that reflects the projected benefits to the corporate players, not consumers,” Lazarus wrote.

Verizon’s claims the sale will help refocus the company on its “core markets” in the east and Frontier’s suggestion the Verizon acquisition will enhance Frontier’s footprint with “rich fiber-based assets” didn’t seem to excite Lazarus.

“I honestly wonder if corporate leaders know how ridiculous they sound when they spout such gobbledygook,” he added.

Lazarus suspects Verizon is worried the Obama Administration may eventually extend universal service obligations to broadband, which would force phone companies to deliver broadband to any telephone customer that wants the service, regardless of how much it costs to offer it. Universal Service remains an important legacy of wireline landline telephone service. Your landline survives under a regulatory framework not applicable to the wireless business, where both AT&T and Verizon Wireless now make the bulk of their profits.

junk2As AT&T and Verizon ponder ditching high-cost landline customers, so long as there are companies like Frontier willing to buy, the deal works for both. Verizon gets a tax-free transaction that benefits both executives and shareholders. An already debt-laden Frontier satisfies shareholders by growing the business, which usually makes the balance sheet look good each quarter.

Even as Frontier takes on a massive new tranche of debt, in the short-term the more landlines Frontier acquires, the happier shareholders will be. More customers equal more revenue — revenue that can assuage fears of Frontier’s eye-popping debt load. That added revenue often also means a nice dividend payout to shareholders, unless that money has to be diverted to debt payments or network improvements.

Unfortunately, like a Ponzi scheme, Frontier will have to continue acquiring new landline customers from other companies indefinitely to make it all work. If it can’t, or if customers continue to flee Frontier for more capable providers, revenue numbers will worsen, only making the company’s large debt obligations look even more ominous. Some shareholders think Frontier’s days of paying very high dividends are already behind them as the company takes on even more debt. The value of Frontier stock has dropped 35% in the last six months. In the second quarter of 2015, Frontier reported losses of $28 million. Last year at the same time, Frontier reported $38 million in profits.

junk3Those losses have to be reflected somewhere, and customers complain they are paying the highest price. West Virginians are among those that regularly accuse Frontier of chronically under-investing in broadband service in the state. Many rural communities obtaining broadband for the first time initially appreciated Frontier’s efforts, but have since grown critical of the performance of Frontier’s DSL service, which can slow to 1Mbps or less during the evenings because Frontier has oversold its network and not kept up with usage demands.

Frontier’s deal with Verizon allows it to acquire a large state of the art FiOS fiber to the home network Frontier has never been willing to build itself. Keeping an existing fiber network up and running is considerably less expensive than building one from scratch. That explains why Frontier customers in ex-Verizon FiOS areas enjoy relatively good service while legacy customers still connected to copper phone lines that were installed in the 1960s (or earlier) are stuck with uneven and slow-performing DSL that rarely meets the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband — 25Mbps. Where customers have a choice between Frontier DSL and another wired provider, most choose fiber or coaxial-based Internet service. Frontier’s rural service focus protects the company by limiting the effects of that kind of competition.

In the near term, Frontier’s biggest threat could eventually come from wireless 4G LTE broadband from AT&T and Verizon Wireless, if the companies can deliver an affordable service for rural residents without a punishing low usage allowance. That remains a big “if.”

(Illustrations by Chris Serra.)

Comcast Introducing Usage Caps in Florida, Then Offers $30 Option to Get Back Unlimited

comcast money pileComcast today quietly announced its broadband customers in Fort Lauderdale, the Keys and Miami, Fla., will find a broadband usage cap of 300GB per month imposed on their Internet access starting Oct. 1, 2015, along with the option of buying a new $30 insurance plan to protect against overlimit fees and restore unlimited access.

Stop the Cap! reader Jose from Hialeah informed us Comcast formally began notifying affected customers in e-mail earlier today and updated their website (thanks to DSL Reports):

***An important update about your XFINITY Internet service:

We’re writing to let you know that we will be trialing a new XFINITY Internet data plan in your area. Starting October 1, 2015, your monthly data plan will include 300GB. We’ll also trial a new “Unlimited Data” option that will give you the choice to purchase unlimited data for $30 per month in addition to your monthly Internet service fee.

The majority of XFINITY customers use less than 300GB of data in a month, and therefore will not be affected by these changes. If you are not sure of your monthly data usage, please refer to the Track and Manage Your Usage section below.

Here are the details of the plan:

You’ll get 300GB of data each month. If for any reason you exceed the 300GB included in your plan in a month, we will automatically add blocks of 50GB to your account for an additional fee of $10 each. We’re also implementing a three-month courtesy program. That means you will not be billed for the first three times you exceed the 300GB included in the monthly data plan.

Here are the details of the Unlimited Data option:

If you don’t want a 300GB data plan, the new Unlimited Data option is an alternative that provides additional choice and flexibility, especially for customers who use lots of data. You can choose to enroll in the Unlimited Data option at any time for an additional $30 a month, regardless of how much data you use. Enrollment in this option goes into effect on the first day of the subsequent calendar month.


If you are on the 300 GB plan, we will send you a courtesy “in-browser” notice and an email letting you know when you reach 90%, 100%, 110%, and 125% of your monthly data usage plan amount. You can also elect to receive notifications at additional thresholds as well as set up mobile text notifications. Notices will not be sent to customers who enroll in the unlimited data option.

$30 a month will let Floridians bypass Comcast's overlimit usage tolls.

$30 a month will let Floridians bypass Comcast’s overlimit usage tolls.

What is remarkable about the introduction of Comcast’s latest usage cap trial is the naked monetization scheme that accompanies it. Comcast’s old arguments that usage caps provide an even usage experience and fairness for all customers has been replaced with a new $30 insurance plan that effectively restores the unlimited usage plan customers had until this month… for $30 more a month than they used to pay. Once Comcast collects your $30, the sky is the limit as far as usage is concerned.

Customers are howling about the changes on Comcast’s social media platforms and customer support forums. Stop the Cap! strongly urges Comcast customers to also complain to the Federal Communications Commission using this online complaint form. The more Americans that complain about capped Internet, the more likely the FCC will act on the issue.

“Comcast can just do whatever they want without asking or giving notice,” writes Jason. “So basically we all just got a $30 a month increase in our Comcast bill, such BS! I’ve been a Comcast customer over 20 years. I am done. This was the last straw.”

“Kiss my business goodbye,” wrote another customer. “I have had nothing but trouble with Comcast since I’ve had it.  Weekly outages, incompetent techs on the phone, etc. AT&T U-verse may not have speeds that are as fast as Comcast, but the service was reliable, and they didn’t try to stab us in the back with ridiculous fees. Hasta la vista, Comcast!”

For now, the Unlimited Data Option is only available to customers in Florida. All other Comcast customers living under the company’s usage caps will continue to face overlimit fees of $10 for each 50GB of usage they run up past their 300GB usage allowance.

Comcast has also suddenly clarified exactly which customers are facing a life with usage caps by publishing a lengthy list of zip codes where unlucky customers will not be allowed to receive unlimited broadband. (Last week, Stop the Cap! shared with readers the story of Comcast customers in Georgia being misled about usage caps by Comcast employees. Woodstock’s two zip codes – 30188 and 30189 – appear on the below list.):


35020, 35021, 35023, 35111, 35211, 35401, 35403, 35404, 35405, 35406, 35440, 35444, 35446, 35447, 35453, 35473, 35475, 35476, 35486, 35487, 35490, 35630, 35631, 35632, 35633, 35634, 35645, 35660, 35661, 35674, 35677, 35741, 35748, 35750, 35756, 35758, 35759, 35763, 35773, 35801, 35802, 35803, 35805, 35806, 35810, 35811, 35816, 35824, 35899, 35901, 35903, 35904, 35905, 35906, 35907, 35952, 35953, 35954, 35961, 35972, 35987, 36528, 36571, 36572, 36575, 36582, 36587, 36602, 36603, 36604, 36605, 36606, 36607, 36608, 36609, 36610, 36611, 36612, 36613, 36615, 36617, 36618, 36619, 36652, 36693, 36695


85145, 85619, 85653, 85658, 85704, 85705, 85709, 85712, 85713, 85715, 85718, 85719, 85735, 85737, 85739, 85741, 85742, 85743, 85745, 85746, 85749, 85750, 85755, 85757


72301, 72303, 72331, 72364, 72373

Florida – New Area for 300GB Usage Cap; Unlimited Data Option available for $30 extra per month.

33001, 33004, 33009, 33010, 33012, 33013, 33014, 33015, 33016, 33018, 33019, 33020, 33021, 33023, 33024, 33025, 33026, 33027, 33028, 33029, 33030, 33031, 33032, 33033, 33034, 33035, 33036, 33037, 33040, 33042, 33043, 33044, 33045, 33050, 33051, 33054, 33055, 33056, 33060, 33062, 33063, 33064, 33065, 33066, 33067, 33068, 33069, 33070, 33071, 33073, 33076, 33109, 33122, 33125, 33126, 33127, 33128, 33129, 33130, 33131, 33132, 33133, 33134, 33135, 33136, 33137, 33138, 33139, 33140, 33141, 33142, 33143, 33144, 33145, 33146, 33147, 33149, 33150, 33155, 33156, 33157, 33158, 33160, 33161, 33162, 33165, 33166, 33167, 33168, 33169, 33170, 33172, 33173, 33174, 33175, 33176, 33177, 33178, 33179, 33180, 33181, 33182, 33183, 33184, 33185, 33186, 33187, 33189, 33190, 33193, 33194, 33196, 33199, 33233, 33242, 33301, 33304, 33305, 33306, 33308, 33309, 33310, 33311, 33312, 33313, 33314, 33315, 33316, 33317, 33319, 33321, 33322, 33323, 33324, 33325, 33326, 33327, 33328, 33330, 33331, 33332, 33334, 33337, 33351, 33355, 33388, 33394, 33434, 33441, 33442, 34142, 34974


30002, 30004, 30005, 30008, 30009, 30011, 30012, 30013, 30014, 30016, 30017, 30018, 30019, 30021, 30022, 30024, 30025, 30028, 30030, 30032, 30033, 30034, 30035, 30038, 30039, 30040, 30041, 30043, 30044, 30045, 30046, 30047, 30052, 30054, 30055, 30056, 30058, 30060, 30062, 30064, 30066, 30067, 30068, 30069, 30071, 30072, 30075, 30076, 30078, 30079, 30080, 30082, 30083, 30084, 30087, 30088, 30090, 30092, 30093, 30094, 30096, 30097, 30098, 30101, 30102, 30103, 30104, 30105, 30106, 30107, 30108, 30109, 30110, 30111, 30114, 30115, 30116, 30117, 30120, 30121, 30122, 30123, 30125, 30126, 30127, 30132, 30134, 30135, 30137, 30139, 30141, 30142, 30144, 30145, 30146, 30147, 30149, 30150, 30152, 30153, 30157, 30161, 30165, 30168, 30171, 30172, 30173, 30176, 30178, 30179, 30180, 30182, 30183, 30184, 30185, 30187, 30188, 30189, 30205, 30213, 30214, 30215, 30220, 30223, 30224, 30228, 30230, 30236, 30238, 30248, 30250, 30252, 30253, 30257, 30260, 30263, 30265, 30266, 30268, 30269, 30272, 30273, 30274, 30276, 30277, 30281, 30288, 30290, 30291, 30292, 30294, 30296, 30297, 30303, 30304, 30305, 30306, 30307, 30308, 30309, 30310, 30311, 30312, 30313, 30314, 30315, 30316, 30317, 30318, 30319, 30320, 30322, 30324, 30326, 30327, 30328, 30329, 30330, 30331, 30332, 30334, 30336, 30337, 30338, 30339, 30340, 30341, 30342, 30344, 30345, 30346, 30349, 30350, 30354, 30358, 30359, 30360, 30361, 30363, 30369, 30410, 30411, 30413, 30414, 30417, 30423, 30427, 30428, 30429, 30434, 30439, 30442, 30445, 30457, 30467, 30471, 30477, 30501, 30504, 30506, 30507, 30517, 30518, 30519, 30520, 30527, 30529, 30530, 30533, 30534, 30542, 30543, 30548, 30549, 30554, 30558, 30564, 30567, 30575, 30606, 30607, 30620, 30622, 30624, 30634, 30635, 30643, 30655, 30656, 30666, 30673, 30677, 30680, 30701, 30733, 30735, 30746, 30802, 30805, 30807, 30808, 30809, 30812, 30813, 30814, 30815, 30816, 30817, 30824, 30828, 30830, 30901, 30904, 30905, 30906, 30907, 30909, 30912, 30914, 31002, 31063, 31064, 31068, 31096, 31301, 31302, 31304, 31305, 31307, 31308, 31309, 31312, 31313, 31314, 31315, 31316, 31318, 31320, 31321, 31322, 31323, 31324, 31326, 31328, 31329, 31331, 31333, 31401, 31404, 31405, 31406, 31407, 31408, 31409, 31410, 31411, 31415, 31419, 31421, 31543, 31545, 31546, 31555, 31560, 31566, 31568, 31569


62910, 62960


47520, 47586


40150, 40160, 40162, 40175, 42001, 42002, 42003, 42027, 42029, 42048, 42053, 42058, 42069, 42082, 42086, 42127, 42134, 42141, 42152, 42223, 42321, 42323, 42324, 42326, 42330, 42332, 42337, 42344, 42345, 42367, 42374, 42701, 42702, 42712, 42716, 42718, 42724, 42726, 42732, 42733, 42740, 42748, 42749, 42754, 42757, 42758, 42764, 42783, 42788


71201, 71202, 71203, 71209, 71225, 71227, 71229, 71234, 71238, 71280, 71291, 71292, 71294


03901, 03903, 03904, 03905, 03908, 04003, 04008, 04011, 04032, 04066, 04078, 04079, 04086, 04222, 04287, 04530, 04562, 04565, 04579


38611, 38618, 38619, 38621, 38632, 38635, 38637, 38641, 38649, 38651, 38654, 38661, 38664, 38666, 38668, 38670, 38671, 38672, 38674, 38676, 38680, 38683, 38801, 38802, 38803, 38804, 38824, 38826, 38828, 38829, 38834, 38835, 38843, 38846, 38849, 38855, 38856, 38857, 38860, 38862, 38866, 38868, 38869, 38876, 38879, 39041, 39042, 39043, 39046, 39047, 39056, 39066, 39071, 39073, 39079, 39110, 39145, 39151, 39154, 39157, 39167, 39170, 39174, 39175, 39193, 39201, 39202, 39203, 39204, 39206, 39208, 39209, 39210, 39211, 39212, 39213, 39216, 39217, 39218, 39232, 39269, 39272, 39301, 39302, 39303, 39304, 39305, 39307, 39309, 39320, 39325, 39335, 39338, 39342, 39347, 39348, 39355, 39364, 39366, 39367, 39401, 39402, 39406, 39422, 39437, 39439, 39440, 39441, 39442, 39443, 39455, 39465, 39475, 39477, 39481, 39773

South Carolina

29108, 29127, 29401, 29403, 29404, 29405, 29406, 29407, 29408, 29409, 29410, 29412, 29414, 29418, 29420, 29424, 29425, 29426, 29429, 29438, 29439, 29445, 29449, 29451, 29455, 29456, 29461, 29464, 29466, 29470, 29482, 29483, 29485, 29487, 29488, 29492, 29628, 29803, 29822, 29829, 29831, 29841, 29842, 29847, 29860, 29901, 29902, 29904, 29906, 29907, 29911, 29920, 29924, 29944, 29945


37010, 37013, 37014, 37015, 37020, 37022, 37025, 37026, 37027, 37029, 37030, 37031, 37032, 37033, 37036, 37037, 37042, 37046, 37048, 37049, 37051, 37055, 37059, 37060, 37062, 37064, 37066, 37067, 37069, 37071, 37072, 37073, 37074, 37075, 37076, 37080, 37082, 37083, 37085, 37086, 37087, 37090, 37098, 37115, 37119, 37122, 37127, 37128, 37129, 37130, 37131, 37132, 37135, 37137, 37138, 37141, 37143, 37145, 37148, 37149, 37150, 37152, 37153, 37165, 37166, 37167, 37172, 37179, 37181, 37185, 37186, 37187, 37188, 37189, 37190, 37201, 37203, 37204, 37205, 37206, 37207, 37208, 37209, 37210, 37211, 37212, 37213, 37214, 37215, 37216, 37217, 37218, 37219, 37220, 37221, 37228, 37229, 37232, 37235, 37236, 37238, 37240, 37243, 37246, 37306, 37318, 37324, 37330, 37352, 37366, 37398, 37701, 37705, 37709, 37710, 37713, 37714, 37716, 37719, 37721, 37722, 37725, 37726, 37737, 37738, 37742, 37748, 37754, 37755, 37756, 37757, 37763, 37764, 37766, 37769, 37770, 37771, 37772, 37777, 37779, 37801, 37803, 37804, 37806, 37807, 37820, 37821, 37828, 37829, 37830, 37840, 37841, 37843, 37845, 37847, 37849, 37852, 37853, 37854, 37862, 37863, 37871, 37872, 37876, 37882, 37886, 37887, 37892, 37902, 37909, 37912, 37914, 37915, 37916, 37917, 37918, 37919, 37920, 37921, 37922, 37923, 37924, 37929, 37931, 37932, 37934, 37938, 37996, 37998, 38002, 38010, 38011, 38014, 38015, 38016, 38017, 38018, 38019, 38028, 38029, 38036, 38039, 38046, 38048, 38049, 38052, 38057, 38060, 38061, 38066, 38067, 38068, 38069, 38075, 38076, 38103, 38104, 38105, 38106, 38107, 38108, 38109, 38111, 38112, 38113, 38114, 38115, 38116, 38117, 38118, 38119, 38120, 38122, 38125, 38126, 38127, 38128, 38131, 38132, 38133, 38134, 38135, 38137, 38138, 38139, 38141, 38152, 38157, 38305, 38326, 38339, 38357, 38365, 38367, 38375, 38504, 38547, 38549, 38553, 38555, 38556, 38557, 38558, 38560, 38565, 38570, 38571, 38572, 38577, 38583

Comcast Still Lying About Its Data Caps: Woodstock, Ga. Customer Misled to Believe There Are None

comcast whoppersBefore regulators, the media, and elected officials, Comcast’s executive vice president David Cohen has repeatedly told all who can hear that there are no usage caps on Comcast’s broadband service.

“There isn’t a cap anymore. We’re out of the cap business,” Cohen began saying in May 2012 after the cable company dropped its nationwide 250GB usage cap. But in several markets, mostly in the southern and western United States, Comcast snuck the caps back on residential Internet customers, only this time they claim it isn’t a usage cap at all.

“We effectively offer unlimited usage of our services because customers will have the ability to buy as much data as they want,” says the cable company these days.

But if the “usage caps” are actually gone, why is Comcast issuing executive-level memos to its customer service representatives and supervisors that repeatedly state the company does, in fact, have “data caps” in about a dozen cities across the country — part of an ongoing market trial that suggests Comcast is considering extending a new 300GB usage allowance nationwide.

Stop the Cap! reader Joe, an AT&T U-verse customer in Woodstock, Ga. — 30 miles north of downtown Atlanta — was offered a deal to switch to Comcast for 75Mbps Internet service at an attractive price. All Comcast had to do was convince Joe he would never have to deal with Comcast’s 300GB cap that is being tested in Atlanta. Joe, like many Internet customers, will not sign up with a company that imposes usage allowances on its wired broadband customers. He isn’t interested in checking a usage meter and considers broadband usage overlimit fees a deal-breaker.

So Joe called Comcast to get some straight answers. Does Comcast impose its usage cap on customers in Woodstock, which is part of Comcast’s greater Atlanta service area? Current Comcast broadband customers in Woodstock tell Stop the Cap! the company absolutely does impose a 300GB usage cap on Internet service, and some have the overlimit fees to prove it. But Comcast’s customer service representative insisted it just was not true. To back her up, not one but two Comcast supervisors also swore Woodstock is not affected by “data caps.”

Joe knew enough to record the call. Because if he did sign up for service and maintained his current usage, often in excess of 400GB a month, that “good deal” offered by Comcast would be replaced by nightmarish overlimit fees of $10 for each 50GB increment he exceeded his allowance.

Stop the Cap! reader Joe recorded his Aug. 22, 2015 conversation with Comcast — a company that really, really, really wants to convince potential customers in Georgia there are no Internet data caps on its broadband service outside of the city of Atlanta. Except there are, including in Joe’s city of Woodstock, Ga.

Comcast executives repeatedly claim Comcast doesn’t have “usage caps” on its Internet service anywhere, but you will quickly lose count adding up the number of times Comcast’s representative specifically refers to Comcast’s “data caps” and its official “data cap document.”

(This recording has been edited for brevity and clarity. Tones indicate where significant edits were made, during the time Joe was left on hold and as the representative moves towards a last ditch sales pitch. At the end of the clip, Joe shares his first impressions after he hung up with Comcast. (8:28)

You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

“What makes me laugh is the fact she is so uncertain. Obviously Comcast doesn’t properly train their employees,” Joe writes. “Comcast reps spreading bad information like this is negligent [when they tell] unsuspecting customers that there is no data cap. I honestly cannot tell if this woman was flat-out lying, or was just poorly trained.”

woodstockJoe isn’t the only one being misinformed by Comcast.

“I’ve been lied to so many times about this,” Jamil Duder wrote. “Sometimes I will get in touch with their online support just to see what they will tell me this time for my own amusement. I’ve been told everything. It has been removed, it never existed, it’s actually 600GB not 300GB, etc.”

In fact, Comcast’s enforcement of its data cap has spread well beyond the city limits of Atlanta. Despite claims from Comcast to the contrary, customers around the state report they are now limited to 300GB of usage before overlimit fees kick in.

“Absolutely unacceptable, and you wonder why they have the reputation as the worst company in America,” Joe writes.

So why would Comcast blatantly misinform customers about usage caps. The company is in an unenviable position in several of the cities where they are testing their caps. Most of Comcast’s competition in the usage cap trial markets comes from AT&T U-verse, which itself claims a 250GB usage cap — one that customers also know isn’t being enforced.

For Joe, sticking with AT&T’s slower Internet speeds in return for peace of mind his usage is not being limited is a better prospect.

comcast cartoonEric Ravenscraft suspects Comcast isn’t too happy with complaints it is getting about data caps from its customers either. He recently received a call from Comcast seeking feedback on what customers would like to see changed about the caps. But in typical Comcast fashion, getting rid of the caps does not seem to be an option. Instead, the representative claimed “obviously, the plans are outdated,” which suggests Comcast will adjust your allowance, not get rid of it.

Ravenscraft believes the most effective force to convince Comcast to ditch its caps altogether might be the Federal Communications Commission.

“If you want to do something about it, rope the FCC in. Let them know how you feel about this,” Ravenscraft writes. “Not only does this give the FCC another complaint to add to the pile, Comcast is required to respond to your complaint—by contacting you directly—within 30 days after the FCC forwards your complaint along.”

Several readers are doing exactly that every time they are charged an overlimit fee by Comcast. Within 30-60 days, Comcast has reportedly credited back the overlimit charges to complaining customers.

“I’ve filed 10 complaints with the FCC each time I get an overlimit fee on my bill, and I always get the overlimit fees credited back,” reports Stop the Cap! reader Jeff in Atlanta. “It takes about five minutes to fill out the complaint form — a minor nuisance, but now I effectively don’t have a Comcast usage cap and I am costing them more money dealing with my complaints every month than they would ever get charging me extra in the first place. Imagine if we all did that.”

“Comcast sucks but we might actually have a shot at making things better if we all do this,” Ravenscraft adds. “Most cities aren’t subject to these restrictive data cap trials, but they’ll eventually roll out nationwide if customers here don’t speak up loudly enough. We’ve got a weirdly unique opportunity to actually change how the internet works in the U.S.”

Cable Operators Told to Get Ready for a Gigabit, But Will Rationed Usage Make It Meaningless?

Phillip Dampier: A cable trade publication is lecturing its readership on better broadband the industry spent years claiming nobody wanted or needed.

Phillip Dampier: A cable trade publication is lecturing its readership on better broadband the industry spent years claiming nobody wanted or needed.

Remember the good old days when cable and phone companies told you there was no demand for faster Internet speeds when 6Mbps from the phone company was all you and your family really needed?

Those days are apparently over.

Multichannel News, the largest trade publication for cable industry executives, warns cable companies gigabit broadband speeds are right around the corner and the technological transformation that will unleash has been constrained for far too long.

Say what?

Proving our theory that those loudest about dismissing the need for faster Internet speeds are the least equipped to deliver them, the forthcoming arrival of DOCSIS 3.1 technology and decreasing costs to deploy fiber optics will allow cable providers to partially meet the gigabit speed challenge, at least on the downstream. Before DOCSIS 3.1, consumers didn’t “need those speeds.” Now companies like Comcast claim it isn’t important what consumers need today — it’s where the world is headed tomorrow.

Comcast 2013:

Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen writes that the allure of Google Fiber’s gigabit service doesn’t match the needs or capabilities of online Americans.

“For some, the discussion about the broadband Internet seems to begin and end on the issue of ‘gigabit’ access,” Cohen says, in a nod to Google Fiber. “The issue with such speed is really more about demand than supply. Our business customers can already order 10-gig connections. Most websites can’t deliver content as fast as current networks move, and most U.S. homes have routers that can’t support the speed already available to the home.” Essentially, Cohen argues that even if Comcast were to deliver web service as fast as Google Fiber’s 1,000Mbps downloads and uploads, most customers wouldn’t be able to get those speeds because they’ve got the wrong equipment at home.

Comcast 2015:

“We’ve consistently offered the most speeds to the most homes, but with the current pace of tech innovation, sometimes you need to go to where the world is headed and not focus on where it is today.”

“The next great Internet innovation is only an idea away, and we want to help customers push the boundaries of what the Internet can do and do our part to inspire developers to think about what’s possible in a multi-gigabit future.  So, next month we will introduce Gigabit Pro, a new residential Internet service that offers symmetrical, 2-Gigabits-per-second (Gbps) speeds over fiber – at least double what anyone else provides.”

Nelson (Image: Multichannel News)

Nelson (Image: Multichannel News)

Rich Nelson’s guest column in Multichannel News makes it clear American broadband is behind the times. The senior vice president of marketing, broadband & connectivity at Broadcom Corporation says the average U.S. Internet connection of 11.5Mbps “is no longer enough” to support multiple family members streaming over-the-top video content, cloud storage, sharing high-resolution images, interactive online gaming and more.

Nelson credits Google Fiber with lighting a fire under providers to reconsider broadband speeds.

“Google’s Fiber program may have been the spark to light the fuse — Gigabit services have fostered healthy competition among Internet and telecommunications providers, who are now in a position to consider not ‘if’ but ‘when and how’ to deploy Gigabit broadband in order to meet consumer’s perceived ‘need for speed’ and maintain their competitive edge,” Nelson wrote.

But the greatest bottleneck to speed advances is spending money to pay for them. Verizon FiOS was one of the most extravagant network upgrades in years among large American telecom companies and the company was savaged by Wall Street for doing it. Although AT&T got less heat because its U-verse development costs were lower, most analysts still instinctively frown when a company proposes spending billions on network upgrades.

Customer demand for faster broadband is apparent as providers boost Internet speeds.

Customer demand for faster broadband is apparent as providers boost Internet speeds.

The advent of DOCSIS 3.1 — the next generation of cable broadband technology — suggests a win-win-win for Wall Street, cable operators, and consumers. No streets will have to be torn up, no new fiber cables will have to be laid. Most providers will be able to exponentially boost Internet speeds by reallocating bandwidth formerly reserved for analog cable television channels to broadband. The more available bandwidth reserved for broadband, the faster the speeds a company can offer.

Many industry observers predict the cable line will eventually be 100% devoted to broadband, over which telephone, television and Internet access can be delivered just as Verizon does today with FiOS and AT&T manages with its U-verse service.

The benefits of gigabit speeds are not limited to faster Internet browsing however.

Nelson notes communities and municipalities are now using gigabit broadband speeds as a competitive tool selling homes and attracting new businesses to an area. According to a study from the Fiber to the Home (FTTH) Council, communities with widely available gigabit access have experienced a positive impact on economic activity — to the tune of more than $1.4 billion in GDP growth. Those bypassed or stuck in a broadband backwater are now at risk of losing digital economy jobs as businesses and entrepreneurs look elsewhere.

The gigabit broadband gap will increasingly impact the local economies of communities left behind with inadequate Internet speeds as app developers, content producers, and other innovative startups leverage gigabit broadband to market new products and services.

The Pew Research Center envisioned what the next generation of gigabit killer apps might look like. Those communities stuck on the slow lane will likely not have access to an entire generation of applications that simply will never work over DSL.

But before celebrating the fact your local cable company promises to deliver the speed the new apps will need, there is a skunk that threatens to ruin your ultra high speed future: usage-based pricing and caps.

At the same time DOCSIS 3.1 will save the cable industry billions on infrastructure upgrade costs, the price for moving data across the next generation of super high-capacity broadband networks will be lower than ever before. But cable operators are not planning to pass their savings on to you. In fact, broadband prices are rising, along with efforts to apply arbitrary usage limits or charge usage-based pricing. Both are counter-intuitive and unjustified. It would be like charging for a bag of sand in the Sahara Desert or handing a ration book to shoreline residents with coupons allowing them one glass of water each from Lake Ontario.

skunkCox plans to limit its gigabit customers to 2TB of usage a month. AT&T U-verse with GigaPower has a (currently unenforced) limit of 1TB a month, while Suddenlink thinks 550GB is more than enough for its gigabit customers. Comcast is market testing 300GB usage caps in several cities but strangely has no usage cap on its usage-gobbling gigabit plan. Why cap the customers least-equipped to run up usage into the ionosphere while giving gigabit customers a free pass? It doesn’t make much sense.

But then usage caps have never made sense or been justified on wired broadband networks and are questionable on some wireless ones as well.

Stop the Cap! began fighting against usage caps and usage pricing in the summer of 2008 when Frontier Communications proposed to limit its DSL customers to an ‘ample’ 5GB of usage per month. That’s right — 5GB. We predicted then that usage caps would become a growing problem in the United States. With a comfortable duopoly, providers could easily ration Internet access with the flimsiest of excuses to boost profits. Here is what we told the Associated Press seven years ago:

“This isn’t really an issue that’s just going to be about Frontier,” said Phillip Dampier, a Rochester-based technology writer who is campaigning to get Frontier to back off its plans. “Virtually every broadband provider has been suddenly discovering that there’s this so-called ‘bandwidth crisis’ going on in the United States.”

That year, Frontier claimed most of its 559,300 broadband subscribers consumed less than 1.5 gigabytes per month, so 5GB was generous. Frontier CEO Maggie Wilderotter trotted out the same excuses companies like Cox and Suddenlink are still using today to justify these pricing schemes: “The growth of traffic means the company has to invest millions in its network and infrastructure, threatening its profitability.”

Just one year later, Frontier spent $5.3 billion to acquire Verizon landline customers in around two dozen states, so apparently Internet usage growth did not hurt them financially after all. Frankly, usage growth never does. As we told the AP in 2008, the costs of network equipment and connecting to the wider Internet are falling. It still is.

“If they continue to make the necessary investments … there’s no reason they can’t keep up” with increasing customer traffic, we said at the time.

We are happy to report we won our battle with Frontier Communications and today the company even markets the fact their broadband service comes without usage caps. In many of Frontier’s rural service areas, they are the only Internet Service Provider available. Imagine the impact a 5GB usage cap would have had on customers trying to run a home-based business, have kids using the Internet to complete homework assignments, or rely on the Internet for video entertainment.

So why do some providers still try to ration Internet usage? To make more money of course. When the public believes the phony tales of network costs and traffic growth, the duped masses open their wallets and pay even more for what is already overpriced broadband service. Just check this chart produced by the BBC, based on data from the Organization for Economic Co‑operation and Development. Value for money is an alien concept to U.S. providers:


The usual method of combating pricing excess is robust competition. With a chasm-sized gap between fat profits and the real cost of the service, competitors usually lower the price to attract more customers. But the fewer competitors, the bigger the chance the marketplace will gravitate towards comfort-level pricing and avoid rocking the boat with a ruinous price war. It is one of the first principles of capitalism — charging what the market will bear. We’ve seen how well that works in the past 100+ years. Back in 2010, we found an uncomfortable similarity between broadband prices of today with the railroad pricing schemes of the 1800s. A handful of executives and shareholders reap the rewards of monopolistic pricing and pillage not only consumers but threaten local economies as well.

special reportThe abuses were so bad, Congress finally stepped in and authorized regulators to break up the railroad monopolies and regulate abusive pricing. We may be headed in the same direction with broadband. We do not advocate regulation for the sake of regulation. Competition is a much more efficient way to check abusive business practices. But where an effective monopoly or duopoly exists, competition alone will not help. Without consumer-conscious oversight, the forthcoming gigabit broadband revolution will be stalled by speed bumps and toll booths for the benefit of a few giant telecommunications corporations. That will allow other countries to once again leap ahead of the United States and Canada, just as they have done with Internet speeds, delivering superior service at a lower price.

China now ranks first in the world in terms of the total number of fiber to the home broadband subscribers. So far, it isn’t even close to the fastest broadband country because much of China still gets access to the Internet over DSL. The Chinese government considers that unacceptable. It sees the economic opportunities of widespread fiber broadband and has targeted the scrapping of every DSL Internet connection in favor of fiber optics by the end of 2017. As a result, with more than 200 million likely fiber customers, China will become the global leader in fiber infrastructure, fiber technology, and fiber development. What country will lose the most from that transition? The United States. Today, Corning produces 40% of the world’s optical fiber.

Global optical fiber capacity amounted to 13,000 tons in 2014, mainly concentrated in the United States, Japan and China (totaling as much as 85.2% of the world’s total), of which China already ranked first with a share of 39.8%. Besides a big producer of optical fiber, China is also a large consumer, demanding 6,639 tons in 2014, 60.9% of global demand. The figure is expected to increase to 7,144 tons in 2015. Before 2010, over 70% of China’s optical fiber was imported, primarily from the United States. This year, 72.6% of China’s optical fiber will be produced by Chinese companies, which are also exporting a growing amount of fiber around the world.

John Lively, principal analyst at LightCounting Market Research, predicts China could conquer the fiber market in just a few short years and become a global broadband leader, “exporting their broadband networking expertise and technology, just like it does with its energy and transportation programs.”

Meanwhile in the United States, customers will be arguing with Comcast about the accuracy of their usage meter in light of a 300GB usage cap and Frontier’s DSL customers will still be fighting to get speeds better than the 3-6Mbps they get today.

Search This Site:


Recent Comments:

  • Innovation: The public should choose Verizon FiOS instead of Time Warner Cable. Verizon FiOS is a lot for tomorrow and time warner is boring with price increases....
  • Tamara Shurling: Unfortunately the FCC is doing nothing, I've filed complaints twice and all they did was have Comcast contact me which did nothing. I'm not discouragi...
  • Joe V: I just got rid of AT&T DSL but not before contacting the company about their sub-par service and overage fees. I emailed you all the details Phil....
  • Edna Crabapple: I am interested in this as well. I need a new router with this funtionality, as I have 2, soon to be 3, Raspberry Pi's set up as media streamers ...
  • Elsa: Does the router measure everything that passes through it, including a Roku used for streaming?...
  • Ricky: Hello, I seen your post and want to offer some information. I own a Netgear N300 wireless router. This router has a built in traffic monitor service...
  • Mike: Apparently, this was officially implemented as a policy for SFL on October 1. On October 4th, I got my first ever alert from Comcast stating that I ha...
  • Julian: fm, you are 100% spot on. I forgot about the useless ads we are forced to watch and then pay for (when these Internet CAP schemes are implemented)....
  • Julian: So, I suspect that Comcast/Xfinity is pulling a bait and switch. I signed up for the Quad-Play (Internet, TV, Phone and Home Security). When I signe...
  • baffled: I called CLEAR todayto asK for other reliable options. She gave number for Exede and recommended I call Boost mobile abt service connection problems....
  • Fred: Well I just got my letter yesterday! Comcast put me on a data cap of 300GB and suggested I "upgrade" my internet to an unlimited plan for $30.00 more ...
  • Steven: to be honest i have not seen anything against data caps from the FCC even though Comcast and so many others are putting out data caps. From what i ...

Your Account: