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Say Hello to Sports-Free Philo TV for Less Than $20/Month

Phillip Dampier September 13, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Philo TV 1 Comment

A group of cable networks are teaming up to offer the first over-the-top online streaming cable TV package for sports haters.

Philo TV, expected to soft launch within a few weeks, is a sports-free television package of popular cable networks expected to sell for under $20/month.

Instead of ESPN and Fox Sports, Philo TV will concentrate on dramas, documentaries, kids shows, reality television, and original productions aired on cable networks owned by the venture’s partners — Discovery Communications, Viacom, AMC Networks, A+E Networks and Scripps Networks Interactive.

That guarantees networks like Food TV, HGTV, Discovery, AMC, Comedy Central, A&E, Nickelodeon, and other popular general interest cable networks will be on the lineup.

The partners elected to work with Philo TV, an existing venture supplying skinny bundles of cable programming on college campuses around the country. Based on Philo’s college TV lineups, it is not a stretch to assume the new streaming service will also include networks like The Weather Channel, CNN, FOX News, tru-TV, Animal Planet, National Geographic, MSNBC, History Channel, BBC America, Game Show Network, Hallmark, Spike TV, USA, Cartoon Network, Lifetime, Syfy, and perhaps even the Disney Channel.

The service is not expected to include over-the-air stations, but the exclusion of sports means plenty of savings for sports-loathing viewers. Sports programming fees are by far the highest of any network costs for cable and satellite providers. Eliminating costly networks like ESPN saves the average cable company at least $6 a month for that network alone.

The “Philo” venture is named after Philo Farnsworth, the American inventor of an all-electronic television system still partly in use today, which quickly dispensed with the earlier electro-mechanical television systems that preceded it.

Philo isn’t necessarily going to be limited to online streaming. The company is exploring cutting deals with existing phone and cable companies to distribute the package as a competing alternative to today’s bloated cable television packages.

Those interested in being notified about the venture’s imminent launch can register their email address or mobile number on Philo’s website.

T-Mobile Giving Away Free Netflix to its ONE Family Plan Customers

John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile USA

T-Mobile ONE family plans now come with a free subscription to Netflix, the wireless carrier announced today.

“Now, the Un-carrier is going ALL IN on unlimited by adding Netflix — the world’s leading entertainment service — to T-Mobile ONE family plans,” T-Mobile said in a press release. “Which means anyone with two or more qualifying T-Mobile ONE lines can get Netflix On Us. And T-Mobile ONE with unlimited everything — and now with Netflix included — is still just $40 per line for a family of four. As always, monthly taxes and fees are included.”

“The future of mobile entertainment is not about bolting a satellite dish to the side of your house or resuscitating faded 90’s dotcoms. The future is mobile, over-the-top and unlimited,” said John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile. “While the carriers spend billions on their franken-strategies to cobble together carrier–cable–content mashups, the Un-carrier just leapfrogged them all by partnering with the best and giving it to customers at no extra charge. Because that’s what we always do. Give more to you without asking more from you.”

T-Mobile claimed the move to incorporate Netflix into its included services is part of a new campaign to further irritate AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Both of the larger carriers have been making acquisitions of content companies with the hope you will boost your mobile bill by bundling services like Go90 and DirecTV Now into your package. By giving away Netflix free to qualified customers, T-Mobile can argue its package remains a much better value and its network can handle the added streaming video load.

“Carrier bundles are almost always a combination of something you want and something you don’t … all in an effort to jack up your monthly bill even more,” T-Mobile argued. “Worse, carrier bundles are usually designed to explode after the “introductory promo” runs out, and customers are stuck paying hundreds more each year. T-Mobile’s strategy couldn’t be any more different. The Un-carrier sees an opportunity to do mobile entertainment right for today’s families … to give you something you want together with something else you want – but at no extra cost.”

The details:

Starting Tuesday, September 12th, qualifying T-Mobile ONE customers can activate their Netflix subscription online, in-store or by calling T-Mobile’s customer care. If you already have a Netflix subscription, T-Mobile will cover the cost of a standard subscription for you — meaning you’ll save nearly $120 every year. To qualify, all you need are two or more paid voice lines on T-Mobile ONE. Customers with free lines from T-Mobile’s “line-on-us” deals also qualify. Customers on Unlimited 55+ or 2 lines for $100 can get Netflix On Us by switching to the latest T-Mobile ONE plan. T-Mobile ONE families who get Netflix On Us will also get T-Mobile’s Family Allowances at no extra charge. Family Allowances allow parents to manage their kids’ phone usage — like setting guidelines for talk time, text messages, download times and which numbers their kids can contact.

John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile USA, introduces Netflix on Us and roasts his competitors AT&T and Verizon Wireless. (6:10)

DirecTV Now Adds 25 More Local Stations in Various Cities

Phillip Dampier August 30, 2017 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, DirecTV, Online Video No Comments

DirecTV Now is continuing to boost the number of live, local stations included in its streaming service with the addition of more than 25 local ABC, NBC and Fox affiliates, most in smaller cities.

The additions bring the station total to nearly 130 stations in 70 cities.

“We’re giving DirecTV Now customers more live local channels to stay connected, with more channels coming,” said Daniel York, senior executive vice president and chief content officer of the AT&T Entertainment Group.

The new stations:

Albany-Schenectady-Troy, N.Y. NBC
Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M. ABC, NBC
Bend, Ore. Fox
Buffalo, N.Y. ABC
Butte-Bozeman, Mont. Fox
Columbia-Jefferson City, Mo. Fox
Evansville, Ind. Fox
Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo, Mich. ABC
Great Falls, Mont. Fox
Greensboro-Winston-Salem, N.C. ABC
Joplin-Pittsburg, Kan. Fox
Lafayette, La. Fox
Lima, Ohio Fox
Little Rock-Pine Bluff, Ark. ABC
Louisville Fox
Missoula, Mont. Fox
Myrtle Beach-Florence, S.C. Fox
Norfolk-Newport News, Va. ABC
Oklahoma City ABC
Palm Springs, Calif. Fox
Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo, Calif. Fox
St. Joseph, Mo. Fox
Tulsa, Okla. ABC, NBC
Yuma, AZ-El Centro, Calif. Fox

Verizon Wireless Brings Big Changes to “Unlimited” Data Plans; Throttled Video for All

All Verizon Wireless customers, regardless of their data plan, will begin seeing throttled video on their phones, tablets, and tethered devices starting today, Aug. 23.

The change coincides with the introduction of two new “unlimited” data plans that come with an unprecedented number of tricks and traps in the fine print.

Existing customers can keep their current plan, but will still experience throttled online video speeds to at or below 10Mbps that will make it impossible to view 4K streamed video. On smartphones, the top permitted video resolution will be substantially lower than that.

Verizon claims the new throttled video plans will deliver better service for all of their wireless customers.

“We’re doing this to ensure all customers have a great experience on our network since there is no visible difference in quality on a smartphone or tablet when video is shown at higher resolutions,” a Verizon spokesperson claimed. That refers to video resolution above 720p for phones and 1080p on tablets and laptops.

More likely, Verizon engineers observed video traffic spiking as a result of its unlimited data plan reintroduced in February. Independent speed measurement services detected significant speed and performance hits on Verizon’s wireless network as customers got the most they could out of an unlimited plan that started at $80 a line. Even with Verizon’s soft cap of 22GB before customers were subject to throttled performance was not enough to manage traffic loads, so Verizon has decided to specifically target online video.

Verizon’s “Cadillac” network is straining to keep up.

Although many streaming services offer customers an option to reduce video resolution to cut back on data usage, customers often ignore the option, particularly if enrolled in “unlimited” data plans. Starting today, Verizon’s network management speed throttle tells streaming services a customer’s connection is limited and cannot sustain the speeds needed for the highest resolution video. The video player reduces video playback resolution on its own as a result. In turn, this can dramatically lighten the traffic load on Verizon’s network.

Verizon’s new plans seem designed for the “light touch” era the current administration’s FCC advocates for telecom regulation, and the carrier’s new plans will give blatant priority for some customers over others, relegating lower paying users into the slow lane while premium plan customers can race on by.

Verizon’s new unlimited data plans for the Net Neutrality-free future are here, scoff critics.

“‘Unlimited’ = ‘Limited’ and ‘Beyond Unlimited’ = ‘Slightly less limited’,” wrote one customer on Verizon’s customer forum.

Verizon put its best face on its new unlimited plans.

“These plans give you the best unlimited choices, but you also get what only Verizon can give you: the best network, the best rewards program, the best way to manage your plan with the My Verizon app and the best selection of phones and devices,” the company said in a press release.

“If this isn’t a sign that Verizon’s network is crumbling from offering unlimited, I don’t know what is!” countered John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile USA.

Here are the new unlimited plans from Verizon Wireless, effective immediately:

Go Unlimited – $75 (1 line), $65 per line (2 lines), $50 per line (3 lines), $40 per line (4+ lines) – Paperless billing and autopay required (or add $5 per month)

Verizon’s new base unlimited plan automatically throttles your speed when a cell site reports as congested. This plan puts your data usage at a lower priority over other customers and you can experience throttled speeds at any time, regardless of usage. Video streaming is limited to 480p on smartphones and 720p on all other devices. You also get unlimited mobile hotspot, but speeds are permanently locked at a maximum of 600kbps. Unlimited talk and text with no restrictions is included

Beyond Unlimited – $85 (1 line), $80 per line (2 lines), $60 per line (3 lines), $50 per line (4+ lines) – Paperless billing and autopay required (or add $5 per month)

This plan more closely resembles the current unlimited data plan, but costs considerably more. You get unlimited 4G LTE data, but are subject to a speed throttle in congested service areas once exceeding 22GB of usage per month. Video streaming is limited to 720p on smartphones and 1080p on all other devices. No 4K video on any device is allowed. Unlimited mobile hotspot data really means up to 15GB of usage at LTE speed before you are throttled. Unlimited talk/texting included in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Customers on 2017 Unlimited and Legacy Unlimited Data Plans:

You will be able to keep your current unlimited plans. For those who enrolled in Verizon’s 2017 unlimited plan starting in February, video speed throttles now apply: 720p on smartphones, 1080p on all other devices. You will get a free upgrade to 15GB of mobile hotspot usage, up from 10GB.

For customers on Verizon’s original unlimited plan discontinued several years ago, nothing changes except the introduction of video speed throttles: 720p on smartphones, 1080p on all other devices.

Mid-Rivers’ Mandatory Usage-Based Billing: $19.99/Mo + $0.20/GB

Mid-Rivers Communications, a Montana-based telecom co-op, wants everyone to believe their mandatory, usage-based broadband scheme that charges $19.95 a month + $0.20 per gigabyte is popular with their customers.

After the company noticed that fewer than 20% of customers were responsible for more than 90% of Mid-Rivers’ network traffic, it decided to ditch its traditional usage-capped, speed tier plans in favor of a compulsory usage-based billing scheme that included the maximum speed available, sometimes as high as 1Gbps, with no usage allowance.

To listen to Michael Candelaria, Mid-Rivers CEO and general manager, people have lined up at the doors just waiting to sign up, according to an interview published by Telecompetitor:

Initially the company tested usage-based pricing as an option in one CLEC market. But considering that 80% of customers opted for usage-based pricing within one year of its introduction, Mid-Rivers moved completely to usage-based pricing and launched it throughout all four CLEC markets.

Mid-Rivers has been particularly proud of the response it has received from local businesses. Candelaria noted that local hotels have seen occupancy drop after the area experienced an oil-related boom, followed by a bust. Nearly-empty hotels were paying $500 to $1,000 a month for high-bandwidth connections from competitors but only using a fraction of the capacity. The Mid-Rivers usage-based broadband offering was perfect for them.

During certain months, the hotels’ bills are dramatically lower than they were before.

“When the hotel is full, their bill goes up and they know why,” Candelaria said.

Meanwhile, as businesses that were not Mid-Rivers customers heard about the usage-based offering, “they came to us” after “we beat on their door for 20 years,” he noted.

But as news of the interview spread, it seems more than a few customers are not happy with Mid-Rivers’ new broadband pricing, and accused the company of propagandizing its usage based pricing scheme and censoring social media to suppress customer backlash.

Candelaria admitted the company used to take a lot of heat from customers that called up and asked for the cheapest internet plan available, which was $40 a month for 1.5Mbps service. At those speeds and prices, customer slammed the company’s Facebook page.

“This is where Candelaria time traveled a bit on his answer,” reflects Dan Corey, a customer rebutting Candelaria’s case. “Before the usage-based internet [plans], the tiers Mid-Rivers [offered] were 8, 12, and up to 50Mbps. There has not been a 1.5Mbps speed at Mid-Rivers for years.”

These days, Candelaria claims, complaints about speed and pricing are mostly gone.

“Of course they are gone,” responds customers J.P. and Kyle Jones, who jointly shared their feelings with Stop the Cap! “Mid-Rivers now censors their social media after taking a lot of heat so complaints are never publicly seen on their Facebook page.”

“Mid-Rivers must approve any comments made on their Facebook page, so 90% of the complaints are never seen unless Mid-Rivers has a full (even if not accurate) response ready to post along with it,” adds Corey. “No dissatisfied customers would know of others because of the control. Their Facebook page used to show all comments when posted, but that changed once they got a better understanding of how to control the flow of comments.”

Jones points out that the reason “80% of customers opted for usage-based pricing” is that any account change automatically forced the customer onto a usage-based pricing plan whether they wanted it or not. Most customers, including himself, do not want data caps or usage pricing, but he didn’t get a choice in the end.

“Put yourself in the shoes of a customer that used to be enrolled in Mid-Rivers’ Preferred Plan, which cost $59.95 a month and includes 600GB of usage at 12/1Mbps speeds,” writes J.P. “People don’t live in Montana for the social life so we spend a lot of time streaming video at home. Under Mid-Rivers’ new plan, if I used 500GB a month, I’d pay $20 for the account and $100 in usage charges — double what I paid a month earlier just for faster speed I could have paid more to get if I wanted or needed it. How many people do you think are enthusiastically waiting to pay double what they used to for internet?”

Mid-Rivers new usage-based plan.

For Candelaria, “Wide Open Wi-Fi”  is about selling fast internet access for less, and customers should only pay for what they use.

“People have been paying for utilities by usage for some time,” he told Telecompetitor. “Customers don’t tally up how much electricity they use and then order a 30-kilowatt plan and they don’t count how many showers they take to determine what kind of water plan they need. Why should the internet be any different? Everybody should have good internet. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, you should be able to afford fast internet.”

Customers like J.P. agree with wanting fast and affordable internet, but argue this isn’t that. Where available, “Wide Open Wi-Fi” quickly becomes the only option Mid-Rivers offers, he claims.

“The reason for the [high] ‘take rates’ is that if you attempt to change or upgrade service, you are forced onto the usage-based service,” adds Corey. “There is no choice, so the take rates are very misleading. Customer satisfaction would increase for those that don’t use the service as of now. However, with more and more of the world going to internet, those customers will feel the squeeze soon enough.”

For customers that avoid calling Mid-Rivers and keep their heads down to keep their current plan, that doesn’t stop the company from eventually notifying customers their plan was changing whether they liked it or not.

Mid-Rivers older tiered plans.

“You will be ‘offered’ the Wide Open internet shortly I’m sure. Just like we in the cable modem towns were,” noted BigSkyGuy. “However, once not enough people switch to it, or it’s been some pre-determined amount of time, you’ll be forced onto it like the rest of us. Then you can enjoy the larger bills. Just like your forced router unfortunately.”

Mid-River sells its “Wide Open” service as a great way to get rid of data caps and tiered plans, and includes a free Wi-Fi router:

  • Virtually unrestricted speeds
  • Connected Home Wi-Fi included!
  • No more tiered plans! You automatically get the fastest speed!
  • No more data caps
  • Pay for only what you use
  • Your speed and experience will be greatly enhanced
  • Your perfect plan – whether you need the fastest speeds or the most affordable option
  • You as the customer will have control over your Internet bill*

That asterisk points to fine print that explains for $19.95 a month, you get no data allowance. You are billed $0.20 per gigabyte in one gigabyte increments. Don’t like the high bill that results?

“Your bill can be controlled by monitoring how much data you are using, use less and your bill will decrease,” the company explains.

But for most internet users, using less isn’t an easy option, especially as cord-cutting shifts more viewing towards the internet. Once Netflix, Hulu and similar services detect the faster speeds available on Mid-Rivers’ metered plan, their players increase video bandwidth to match available speed unless the customer intervenes. If they don’t, streaming can get very expensive.

“I have been hit with that Wide Open internet scam […] and unless you change your settings in [Netflix, Hulu, CBS, etc.] it’ll run you up to 7GB an hour, especially when it reads that speed setting from the Wide Open. In essence, Mid-Rivers is making you pay $1.40 per hour of Netflix,” writes BigSkyGuy. “Now granted, you can go in and change your settings, but how many people really know you can do that?”

The meter is lurking.

Candelaria argues the majority of Mid-Rivers customers use less than 100GB a month and their bill is less than $40, which is nearly $5 less than Mid-Rivers’ cheapest plan at $44.95, which includes a 300GB data allowance. He also claimed ‘the change to usage-based broadband has increased customer satisfaction and take rates – and while margins initially dropped, profitability was back to its previous level within six months.’

To accomplish that, either the company has signed up more new customers under the plan than it expected or usage charges from heavier users are covering the lost revenue. For Candelaria’s statement to remain true, “most customers” would have to use less than 100GB of usage a month for their bill to remain under $40. Lighter use customers may benefit from the faster speeds and continue to pay less as long as their usage stays at or near 100GB a month. But as average internet use continues to increase, so will customers’ bills.

Jones says the news isn’t all good for Montana businesses either.

“In areas where Charter/Spectrum offers business internet service, their bills are a fraction of what Mid-Rivers is charging if that business tends to run up a lot of usage, and there are no surprise bills from Mid-Rivers’ traffic charges,” Jones notes. “The problem is that Mid-Rivers is charging sky-high usage fees of $0.20/GB while other ISPs pay at most pennies per gigabyte. In fact, most ISPs buy bandwidth based on meeting demand during peak usage times, not traffic alone. During off-peak times, using your connection costs Mid-Rivers next to nothing, but Mid-Rivers keeps charging $0.20/GB day and night.”

BigSkyGuy notes other ISPs in the area are offering customers a better value proposition with flat-rate internet that will quickly be the envy of many Montanans facing future Mid-Rivers’ usage charges:

  • RTC/Reservation Telephone Cooperative: (100/100Mbps) UNLIMITED DATA $55/month
  • Midco/Midcontinent Communications: (75/5Mbps) UNLIMITED DATA $56/month or (25/3Mbps) UNLIMITED DATA $42/month
  • Nemont: (10/10Mbps) UNLIMITED DATA $71/month

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