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AT&T’s Latest Sneaky Wireless Rate Hike

Always looking for a new angle.

Always looking for a new angle.

While T-Mobile and Sprint are preparing to battle it out offering dueling unlimited data plans, Verizon Wireless and AT&T are continuing to raise prices for many customers while pushing upgrades on customers some do not need.

This week, AT&T officially introduced its Mobile Share Advantage plan, with most of the advantages going to AT&T.

Per device fees have shot up by as much as 33% if you have more than two smartphones on your account. AT&T used to charge $15 per smartphone as a device fee. Now it is $20, offset in many cases by some reductions in data plan costs. But once you add a third device, you are paying a $5 rate increase per device.

The company is also trying to clean up its reputation by eliminating the scourge of data-related overlimit fee bill shock. Before the change, AT&T customers faced an overlimit fee of $5 for each 300MB used on its 300MB data plan and $15 per gigabyte on other plans. Instead of billing overlimit fees, AT&T is adopting punishing speed throttles for customers over their allowance. Once customers exceed their plan limit, speeds are reduced to 2G levels, up to 128kbps. While that is just painful for web pages, it makes watching video and uploading photos next to impossible without experiencing frustrating network timeout error messages.

Gone are the 2, 5, and 15GB plans. Customers can now choose from 12 different usage plans ranging from 1-100GB.

data plans att

But AT&T’s most conservative users of data are going to pay more under the new plan. Customers enrolled in the old 2GB $30 data plan, suitable for those who use their phones to check e-mail and view web pages, will find that same $30 will only buy them 1GB if they switch to the new plan. To avoid the likelihood of hitting the speed throttle, these customers will have to upgrade to a 3GB plan for $40 — a $10 increase.

For everyone else who happens to slightly exceed their data allowance, many may end up preferring the old $15 overlimit fee system. Under the new plan, customers have to live with speed throttles that make their devices almost unusable until the billing cycle refreshes. We predict many customers won’t wait and will upgrade their data plan to restore functionality. But upgrades from the 3GB and 6GB plans come in $20 increments — $5 more than the overlimit fee charged for slightly going over. Even worse, if the overage was a one-time issue, many customers will spend $20 more on a data allowance many probably won’t use.

Customers are free to keep their existing plan, for now. But if they change plans, they won’t be able to switch back.

Windstream Brings Kinetic TV to Communities Around Charlotte, North Carolina

Kinetic WindstreamWindstream will bring its fiber to the neighborhood service Kinetic TV to around 50,000 homes in 13 suburban and exurban communities surrounding Charlotte, N.C., to stay competitive with Time Warner Cable/Charter and a publicly owned cable system serving Mooresville.

The independent phone company submitted a formal application for a cable television franchise with North Carolina’s Department of the Secretary of State to begin offering television service in Albemarle, Badin, China Grove, Concord, Harrisburg, Hemby Bridge, Indian Trail, Kannapolis, Matthews, Mooresville, Mt. Pleasant, New London and Oakboro.

Windstream claims Kinetic TV leverages “a 100 percent fiber-backed network,” which leaves customers with the impression they are getting fiber optic delivery of television, broadband, and phone service. In fact, for many communities Windstream is constructing a network similar to AT&T U-verse. The phone company brings fiber optic cables into each neighborhood, but relies on existing copper wire infrastructure connecting individual homes to a nearby fiber optic-connected neighborhood hub. The upgrade allows Windstream to expand broadband capacity to support concurrent use of television, phone and internet access. For many Windstream customers complaining about the poor performance of Windstream’s DSL service, that offers a significant improvement. But Windstream does provide even better upgrades in some communities. In April 2016, Windstream launched gigabit speed internet service for seven North Carolina towns: China Grove, Concord, Davidson, Harrisburg, Kannapolis, Lewisville and Matthews. By applying for a statewide video franchise agreement in North Carolina, Windstream will be able to sell cable television service along with gigabit broadband speed.

Kinetic TV is now an exceptionally good deal for new customers.

Kinetic TV is currently available in Lincoln, Neb., Lexington, Ky., and Sugar Land, Tex.

Kinetic TV is already available in Lincoln, Neb., Lexington, Ky., and Sugar Land, Tex.

Windstream aggressively prices its most deluxe double play package of 50Mbps broadband and 270+ channels and Whole House DVR service at a one-year introductory price of $89.99 a month with a one-year service commitment. Customers can upgrade to a triple play package with the same 12 month commitment that includes a phone line with unlimited long distance calling for just $2 more — $91.99 a month. New double/triple-play customers also receive a one-time bill credit of $250, which will generally cover the first two months of service. This promotion is by far the best value for money. Unfortunately, after the promotion expires your price increases by $72.99 to $162.98 a month.

Kinetic TV operates with wireless set-top boxes that can be moved to different televisions as needed. The DVR can handle recording four channels at the same time and Windstream promises no lag while channel changing. The usual $80 installation fee is waived when new customers sign up under a promotional offer. Anyone can register to be notified about Windstream’s promotional offers on the company’s website and will likely receive an invitation as Kinetic TV becomes available in your area.

Earlier this year, Windstream debuted Kinetic TV in Sugar Land, Tex., joining the communities of Lexington, Ky. and Lincoln, Neb. The 13 small cities and communities in North Carolina will be Windstream’s fourth service area for Kinetic TV.

Kinetic TV's Whole House DVR

Kinetic TV’s Whole House DVR

The service has received generally positive reviews from those not expecting to place a lot of demand on the service. The fastest internet package tops out for most at 50Mbps and some customers report their actual speeds are sometimes slightly lower. Windstream currently offers Kinetic customers unlimited, uncapped data plans. If you cancel service before the end of your contract, the penalty as stated in Windstream’s terms and conditions is among the steepest we have ever seen: 100% of the charges you would have paid had you kept the service through the rest of your contract.

There is other fine print:

  • Kinetic TV cannot support more than four Standard Definition video streams (television sets in use concurrently). HD channels for recording or viewing are limited to between one and four, depending on the capacity of your connection. If you exceed it, the remaining video streams or recordings will be in Standard Definition.
  • Kinetic TV will not allow pay per view or video on demand charges to exceed $200 in a calendar month.
  • Prices above include one Kinetic TV receiver. Each additional box is billed at $7 a month, and may be limited in quantity. A Windstream gateway, also required for service, is assessed a separate monthly charge.
  • Your internet speeds may be affected by how many televisions are concurrently in use in your home.
  • Windstream collects information about programming watched, recorded, or accessed. Currently, they use this information to make general programming recommendations to all customers and/or specific recommendations to you based on your personal viewing habits.

(Windstream pricing information gathered by entering a residential street address in Sugar Land, Tex., Zip Code 77478.)

Christmas in August: Calif. Allows AT&T to Fine Itself and Keep the Money

att400California’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) couldn’t get cozier with AT&T if they moved regulators into the phone company’s plush executive suites.

In a 3-2 decision, the CPUC has given California phone companies that cannot manage to keep their wireline networks in good order an early Christmas, allowing the companies to effectively fine themselves for bad performance and keep the money.

Although the CPUC adopted a series of “automatic fines” for companies with chronic service problems (AT&T is by far the largest offender), it completely negated any sting by allowing companies to skip the fine by demonstrating they’ve invested at least twice the amount of the penalty in their networks. That is an expense AT&T’s bookkeepers can manage to document in minutes just by highlighting AT&T’s investments in other parts of the state. AT&T can argue investments in gigabit fiber in southern California or wiring fiber to business parks and cell sites improves service reliability for at least some customers.

CPUC president Michael Picker isn’t in any hurry either, helpfully offering AT&T and other phone companies two years to complete the investments that will cancel their fines:

In support of a request to suspend the fine, carriers may propose, in their annual fine filing, to invest no less than twice the amount of their annual fine in a project (s) which improves service quality in a measurable way within 2 years. The proposal must demonstrate that 1) twice the amount of the fine is being spent, 2) the project (s) is an incremental expenditure with supporting financials (e.g. expenditure is in excess of the existing construction budget and/or staffing base), 3) the project (s) is designed to address a service quality deficiency and, 4) upon the project (s) completion, the carrier shall demonstrate the results for the purpose proposed. Carriers are encouraged to review their service quality results to find appropriate target projects to invest funds.

Consumer advocates have accused AT&T of underinvesting in their wireline facilities for years. Because the CPUC does not require the investment be specifically targeted to correcting problems that prompted the fine, phone companies can continue to allow high cost/low profit rural infrastructure to deteriorate while targeting service-improving investments in more profitable or competitive service areas.

Steve Blum from Tellus Venture Associates, who has closely tracked telecom public policy matters in California for years, called it the most cynical decision he’s ever seen from the CPUC:

Fines, it seems, are just another cost of doing business for telecoms companies and don’t matter anyway. So why not let them keep the money?

Boiled down, that’s CPUC president Michael Picker’s rationale for establishing new telephone voice service level requirements backed up by a swinging schedule of penalties and then saying but we’ll let you keep the money if you invest it in infrastructure or pay staff. Or something. Anything.

Picker

Picker

Commissioner Mike Florio called the Picker’s proposal “unenforceable.”

The CPUC’s own staff has documented the troubling condition of landline service in the state. A staff report published in September 2014 showed the largest phone companies in the state — AT&T and Verizon (later sold to Frontier Communications) — that control 88% of landlines in California never met the CPUC’s minimum standard of repairing 90% of “out of service” trouble tickets within 24 hours during 2010-2013.

In 2010 and 2011, AT&T and Verizon needed an average of 110 hours to repair 90% of outages. That is 4.5 days. In 2012 and 2013, repair time marginally improved to an average of 72 hours (3 days). That is three days without any phone service or the ability to call 911, something the CPUC staff said compromised public safety.

AT&T and Verizon have papered the CPUC’s walls with “corrective action reports” over the years explaining why they failed to meet CPUC standards and what actions they planned to take to improve compliance. The staff report found those reports never resulted in improved compliance.

Commissioner Catherine Sandoval submitted an alternative plan of simple fines and a reporting system that gives equal weight to outages occurring in areas served by independent phone companies like Citizens Telecommunications Company of California (d/b/a Frontier) and SureWest Telephone (d/b/a Consolidated Telephone). Picker didn’t bother to hold a vote on Sandoval’s proposal, instead bringing his own proposal to the commission that approved it on a 3-2 voice vote. Florio and Sandoval voted no.

Despite the easy out, the state’s phone companies are still complaining the fine system was unnecessary because the free market was best equipped to manage service outages. If customers don’t like their provider, they can switch, assuming there is another provider available in the large rural and mountainous parts of the state.

Charter’s Plans for Time Warner Cable, Bright House Customers Apparently Leaked

charter twc bhCharter’s plans for Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers are now potentially clearer thanks to the apparent leak of several informational slides from a presentation given to employees to familiarize them with Charter’s forthcoming service plans.

A reader of DSL Reports in California shared what purports to be informational slides from a company training course. Los Angeles is among the first markets to be offered the new Charter/Spectrum service plans, likely to arrive as early as mid-September.

We’ve condensed the information down into a more readable format to give you an idea (subject to change, of course) about Charter’s pricing and plans. Existing customers may not need to give up their current plans right away, and some customers may not want to. Charter has recognized Time Warner Cable Maxx’s network upgrades in its plans and pricing, which means customers already upgraded for Maxx service will get better value from Charter’s plans than those customers who never made the upgrade list before Time Warner Cable was sold.

Keep in mind Charter will start by offering all “New Charter” customers a “new customer” promotion, priced low the first year and then increasing incrementally in price during the second and third years. Year three pricing will be equivalent to Charter’s regular price, which will be substantially higher than customers on Time Warner Cable customer retention plans have paid. Charter’s service plans offer improved broadband speeds, but at a significantly higher price. Standalone broadband customers in particular will feel an immediate sting. Charter’s entry-level price for most customers is $59.99 for 60Mbps, about $25 more than Time Warner Cable’s promotional rate for Standard 15/1Mbps service, which has been selling for about $35/mo for the first year. Charter will point out that it includes a cable modem for free while Time Warner Cable charged $10 a month, but that offers no solace to customers who have purchased their own equipment.

Please note these plans and prices have not been officially confirmed by Charter. In fact, we would not be surprised to see some pricing changes before the plans are officially available.

TELEVISION

spectrum selectThere are big changes in store from Charter. First, the company will end distribution and support for Digital Transport Adapters (DTAs) — the small boxes designed for older analog-only TV sets. Charter expects you to have a traditional set-top box on every cable-equipped TV in the house. Second, it seems Whole House DVR service is being discontinued. Charter prefers the alternative of placing DVR boxes on each set where you want to record and watch TV shows. There is a significant cost for Time Warner Cable to install Whole House DVR service and it involves a technician coming to your home. Charter seems to want to cut truck roll expenses, and traditional DVR boxes are easy for customers to install themselves.

DVR pricing is still confusing for customers. A single DVR box is priced at $4.99 for the equipment + an $11.99 DVR service fee. DVR’s 2-4 cost $4.99 per box + a $19.99 DVR service fee. We are not sure if the $19.99 inclusively covers all DVR boxes in the home or if that is charged for each additional DVR. (Update: STC reader Ricardo reports the $19.99 fee is inclusive, so it is only charged once regardless of how many extra DVRs you have.)

For the first year, traditional set-top boxes for New Charter customers are a bargain at $4.99/mo. Legacy Charter customers pay $2 more, and we predict you will pay more as well after the first year, but the equipment fees are less than what Time Warner Cable charged.

Customers will choose from three plans: Select, Silver, or Gold:

  • Select: 125+ channels (HD included), Spectrum App (comparable to TWC TV app), 10,000+ On Demand Library ($64.99)
  • Silver: 175+ channels (HD included), Spectrum App, On Demand, HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, NFL Network ($84.99)
  • Gold: 200+ channels (HD included), Spectrum App, On Demand, premiums shown above + TMC, Starz, Encore, Epix, NFL Redzone ($104.99)

Charter’s pricing is built to encourage customers to bundle multiple services together, because substantial discounts are provided, especially when combining TV and internet service.

INTERNET

(Image courtesy of Tech_Guy 88/DSL Reports)

(All presentation slide images courtesy of Tech_Guy 88/DSL Reports)

Charter moves to just two tiers of service available to the public (except in New York where TWC’s $14.99 Everyday Low Price Internet continues to be an option for the next two years — although it has been removed from TWC’s website) and standalone broadband pricing is considerably more expensive with Charter than with Time Warner Cable.

Perhaps special promotional offers will bring standalone internet prices closer to the $34.95-39.95 most new customers have gotten for Time Warner’s Standard Service (15/1Mbps) for years. We expect most customers will be more sensitive to price vs. speed and standalone internet at these prices will be a shock. We are not certain if Earthlink will continue to be an alternative option.

Upload speeds in non-Maxx areas are conservative, if these slides are accurate, topping out at just 5Mbps. This still leaves Charter as one of the slower U.S. providers.

In TWC Non-Maxx Areas (maximum TWC speed now 50/5Mbps):

  • Spectrum Internet 60/5Mbps: Standalone $59.99/mo or $29.99 as part of a triple play package (first year promo price), $59.99 standalone or $53.99 as part of a bundle (regular price);
  • Spectrum Ultra 100/5Mbps: Standalone $119.99/mo or $99.99 as part of bundled package (first year promo price), $119.99 standalone or $113.99 as part of a bundle (regular price).

In TWC Maxx Territories (maximum speed now 300Mbps):

  • Spectrum Internet 100/10Mbps: Standalone $59.99/mo or $29.99 as part of a triple play package (first year promo price), $59.99 standalone or $53.99 as part of a bundle (regular price);
  • Spectrum Ultra 300/20Mbps: Standalone $119.99/mo or $99.99 as part of bundled package (first year promo price), $119.99 standalone or $113.99 as part of a bundle (regular price)

Spectrum Wi-Fi, for those without their own routers, can be added to any internet plan for a $9.99 setup charge and $5 a month.

spectrum assistCharter’s discount plan for the income-challenged carries the usual restrictions. The most unconscionable effectively forces current Charter customers to go with internet access for 60 days before they can enroll in Spectrum Internet Assist. They also must not owe any past due balance to Charter.

Assuming you qualify (eligible for the National School Lunch Program and senior citizens 65 years and older eligible for the federal Supplemental Security Income program), $14.99 will get you up to 30/4Mbps, plus an extra $5 a month if you want Charter to supply a Wi-Fi enabled router. The usual $9.99 activation fee is waived. Self-installation is free. If they have to send a truck to your home, the prevailing standard installation rate will apply. This is the only level of service Charter sells that will not require a credit check.

PHONE

Time Warner’s phone service had been promoted for years at $10 a month as part of a double-play or triple-play bundle. Charter’s triple play bundle pricing seems to show the price for phone service will now be effectively $20 a month.

Charter’s digital phone service has never seemed to be a marketing priority for Charter in its legacy service areas, and will likely be treated as an afterthought going forward. No further information about any service or calling area changes from what Time Warner Cable offered is available yet.

Hedge Fund to FairPoint: Sell the Company to Maximize Shareholder Value

fairpoint greedAfter years of financial problems, union problems, and service problems, customers of FairPoint Communications in northern New England report the company has stabilized operations and has been gradually improving service. A hedge fund holding 7.5% of FairPoint agrees, and is now pressuring FairPoint’s board of directors to sell the company, allowing shareholders that bought FairPoint stock when it was nearly worthless to cash out at up to $23 a share.

That almost guarantees shareholders a huge profit while likely saddling whoever buys FairPoint with the same kind of sale-related debt that bankrupted FairPoint in 2009.

Maglan Capital’s David Tawil and Steven Azarbad communicated their displeasure to FairPoint CEO Paul Sunu in a letter earlier this summer that complains “shareholders have been extremely patient with the company’s operational turnaround and have suffered because the board has not been vigilant in protecting shareholder value.”

maglan“Not as patient as FairPoint’s own customers that spent several years of hell dealing with Verizon’s sale of its landlines in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine,” said FairPoint customer Sally Jackman, who lives in Maine. “It looks like the hedge funds want their pound of profits from another sale, exactly what FairPoint customers don’t need right now.”

Jackman endured three weeks of outages after FairPoint took over Verizon’s deteriorating landline networks in northern New England. The nearest cable company – Time Warner Cable, is almost 50 miles away, leaving Jackman with FairPoint DSL or no broadband service at all.

“Wall Street doesn’t care, they just want the money,” Jackman added. “They probably assume Frontier will pay a premium for FairPoint and then we can go through the kind of problems customers in Texas and Florida dealt with for over a month.”

The hedge fund managers argue that FairPoint “has made enormous strides” and notes “revenue is stabilizing and growth is coming.”

Maglan is well positioned to cash out with an enormous gain, having been an investor in FairPoint since the phone company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy almost six years ago. The fund held shares when their price dipped below $4. Now, assuming FairPoint will put shareholders first “in ways that other wireline telecom companies do,” investors like Maglan hope to see a sale at a share price of $23, a 75% premium.

“With the company’s labor challenges behind it and with it $700 million of long-term debt removed from FairPoint’s balance-sheet, the time has come for the company to be sold or to be merged into a peer,” the hedge fund managers write.

Tawil (L) and Azarbad (R)

Tawil (L) and Azarbad (R)

Maglan recommends the company be sold to Communications Sales & Leasing, a tax-sheltered Real Estate Investment Trust spun off from Windstream with no current experience running a residential service provider. CS&L primarily provides commercial fiber services for corporations, institutions, and cell phone towers. Shareholders would benefit and CS&L would benefit from diversification, argues Maglan. But the hedge fund has nothing to say about the sale’s impact on FairPoint customers.

Maglan also demanded that while FairPoint explored a sale of the company, it must turn its investments away from its network and operations and start “generating value for shareholders immediately.” Maglan wants FairPoint to turn spending towards a $40 million share repurchase program (to benefit shareholders with a boost in the stock price) and initiate a recurring shareholder dividend payout. To accomplish this, FairPoint will have to designate much of its $23 million of cash on hand and a hefty part of the $52 million of free cash flow anticipated in 2016 directly to shareholders. The company may even need to tap into its revolving credit line if financial results are worse than expected.

Tawil and Azarbad characterize their plan as “well within the range of comfort.”

“It is high-time that the company and the board turn its attention directly to shareholders and, specifically, unlocking shareholder value,” the hedge fund managers add. “We have been a very patient group.”

But perhaps not as patient as they thought. This week, Maglan demanded that FairPoint remove four of its board members — Dennis Austin, Michael Mahoney, David Treadwell and Wayne Wilson, demanding they “immediately tender their resignations” and warned Maglan would push for a special meeting if no action was taken. The reason? Tawil and Azarbad said they did not think the four were “critical to the board in any way.”

“Wall Street has been about as useful as cancer for those of us trying to communicate with the outside world up here,” Jackman said. “I hope all three states get copies of these temper tantrums, because if FairPoint does sell, maybe this time they won’t approve the deal. After all, even the Titanic only sank once.”

Comcast Backs Off Charging Customers Double for Gigabit Speed in Chicago

comcast gigabitTo be a Google Fiber city or not to be a Google Fiber city. It could make a big difference to your wallet if Comcast upgrades broadband speeds in your neighborhood before Google Fiber finally arrives in your “fiberhood.”

When Comcast first announced a major trial of DOCSIS 3.1 gigabit broadband service in Chicago, it confirmed it would cost $139.95 a month — double the price Comcast charges customers in cities where Google Fiber has expressed an interest in providing gigabit service as well. With Chicago nowhere on the Google Fiber upgrade list, it seemed Comcast was prepared to prove the point that competition can really make a difference in broadband pricing, at least until stories appeared headlining Comcast’s pricing policies. Within hours, Comcast “clarified” it was prepared to sell gigabit service in Chicago for $70 a month as well, with a three-year contract.

“We are now able to deliver gigabit speeds over the existing lines that already reach millions of homes in the Chicago area,” Comcast spokesman Jack Segal told the Chicago Tribune. “This is a major step in the evolution of high-speed broadband.”

This is not Comcast bringing a new fiber line to your home or business. This is gigabit download speed over Comcast’s current cable/fiber network — the same one that delivers your current broadband service. DOCSIS 3.1 allows Comcast to bond additional channels together to boost speeds, at least on the downstream side. This technology will not deliver gigabit speed in both directions, at least for now. Comcast’s DOCSIS 3.1 gigabit plan delivers 1,000Mbps download speed, but just 35Mbps upstream. Customers looking for something faster can pay dramatically more for Comcast’s Gigabit Pro fiber to the home service, offering 2,000Mbps speeds. But it will cost up to $1,000 to install and is priced at $300 a month with a two-year contract.

Comcast’s 1TB usage cap (with up to $200 in overlimit fees) will apply to Comcast’s DOCSIS 3.1 plans, unless you opt for unlimited service… for another $50 a month. Comcast gracefully includes unlimited with its Gigabit Pro service.

gigabit comcast

Chicago residents can sign up for either gigabit plan at www.xfinity.com/gig. A $50 installation fee applies and a service call is required. Customers signing up will need a new cable modem that supports DOCSIS 3.1, and there are only a handful on the market so far. Many more will be available in 2017.

Police Looking for Comcast Contractor That Ran Over Georgia Grandfather

Phillip Dampier August 22, 2016 Comcast/Xfinity, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments
This Comcast truck was involved in a hit and run accident that left a Georgia grandfather dead.

This Comcast truck was involved in a hit and run accident that left a Georgia grandfather dead.

Georgia police are looking for information about a Comcast contract driver they say may have intentionally run over an East Point grandfather.

Local police originally assumed the July 17 accident along Camp Creek Parkway that fatally injured 60-year-old Dewey Skidmore was a drunk-driving incident, but new surveillance footage showed the driver looking out the window of his Comcast truck as he hit Skidmore, who died of blunt force trauma to his chest.

“If you look at the video you can see that the driver is driving at a slow pace, [but] begins to speed up as he runs over the victim,” East Point police spokesman Capt. Cliff Chandler told WSB-TV in Atlanta.

Comcast quickly distanced itself from the crime and the contractor, but has so far not released the driver’s name or truck ID to police. The cable company claims the contractor is not connected with Comcast, even though surveillance footage shows the company’s logo on the side of the vehicle.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the victim’s family,” the company told the TV station in a news release. “We are cooperating with the police in their investigation of this incident, which we believe involved one of our contractors.”

Comcast claims its contractors are “thoroughly vetted,” but as we’ve reported for the last several years, some of Comcast’s “vetted” contractors have committed serious crimes, including rape and murder, while on service calls.

Skidmore’s family is upset that more than a month has passed without any leads in the case.

Hulu’s Money Blowout: Analyst Predicts Forthcoming Live TV Service Will Lose Real $$$

huluTM_355Hulu’s still-to-be-announced live TV streaming service designed to give subscribers an alternative to bloated and expensive cable-TV packages will lose “real money” if it is priced at around $40.

BTIG Reseach analyst Brandon Ross’ research note to investors (reported by Fierce Cable) claims Hulu faces big expenses to include sports and CBS programming — the one network that isn’t a part-owner of Hulu — into its forthcoming package of live and on-demand programming. With most sources claiming Hulu intends to price the service starting at prices as low as $35-40 a month for a slimmed down package of cable television and over-the-air stations viewable on one device and $50 a month for those wanting to watch on multiple devices, Ross predicts the service will rapidly run into the red because of programming costs.

Hulu’s live streaming service could be a real game changer for online cable TV alternatives, because it is expected to contain a robust assortment of popular cable networks and regional sports channels that could appeal to a wider marketplace than even slimmer packages from Sling TV.

Video margins are dropping, which means smaller operators have less to invest in broadband.

Video margins are dropping as programming costs continue to grow. Cable operators are turning to broadband to make up the difference, but virtual providers like Hulu don’t have that option.

“The ramifications of success could have an effect that goes far beyond just Hulu’s partners, from [competing cable TV providers] to cable networks to Netflix. A failed Hulu virtual [cable-TV provider] could dispel the idea of widespread competition for incumbent bundles from virtual bundled competitors,” Ross wrote in his research note. “We are skeptical that the Hulu bundle will meaningfully impact the [cable-TV] landscape from a subscriber standpoint. We simply wonder whether the price/value will be strong enough to attract customers at ~$40, with much less content than the current larger bundles.”

Ross predicted Hulu will bundle several expensive sports networks, as indicated in surveys Hulu sent to potential customers. Those surveys suggested Hulu’s service will include a variety of Regional Sports Networks from Hulu’s owners, which include Fox and Comcast-NBC. One potential exclusion is Madison Square Garden Network (MSG), a potential omission that concerned MSGN investors enough to drive the share price down after a significant spike in mid-August.

The issue of MSG could open an interesting new front in the war on cable television pricing. MSG’s viewership is focused in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and one of the largest cable providers in the region is cost-conscious Altice USA, which took over Cablevision. Ross states MSG Network’s addition on the Hulu lineup could give Altice more leverage to force better contract renewal terms.

“For instance, Altice could theoretically tell those that want MSGN to switch their video provider to Hulu, while staying on Altice for broadband,” Ross wrote. “We do not believe this would be an ideal approach for either party, but it is possible.”

Quit Calling Over Here: California Man Sues Charter for Years of Wrong Numbers

Phillip Dampier August 18, 2016 Charter, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

pushpollA Los Angeles man has reached the boiling point after two years of telemarketing calls from Charter Communications that turn out to be the result of a wrong number.

William L. McCarthy filed a complaint on Aug. 12 with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California alleging Charter Communications of California LLC has harassed him with telemarketing calls intended for someone else.

McCarthy’s complaint states Charter has calling his phone number to talk to Monique Smith, someone McCarthy doesn’t know. Despite requesting at least 12 times that Charter remove his phone number from their telemarketing lists, the calls just kept on coming with the help of an automatic dialer, in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

McCarthy wants a jury trial, seeks statutory damages, legal fees, and whatever other relief the court finds reasonable.

Charter has an expansive history of aggravating customers with relentless telemarketing calls:

charter spectrum logo2013: “I have never been more harassed by spam telemarketing/calling in my life than from Charter Communications and they already have my business! It’s unbelievable to me how many times they call per week (average of 8 times), never leaving a message, and they only call to “promote an upgrade of my services” every time. They continue to call even after I have asked them multiple times to stop calling me and that I don’t want to upgrade, period. They literally take telemarketing spam to a whole new level. All seven of their numbers that they have tried calling me on (including “unknown”/blocked numbers), I have saved to my phone as “Charter Spam” so I know it’s them calling me and don’t pick up. Only problem is, if you don’t pick up with one number, they’ll continue to call you but from their other 100 numbers.”

From a blog: “As a Charter customer, it’s very annoying to be constantly bombarded by telemarketing calls. Charter is relentless. No matter how much you ask them not to call you, they will continue and the reps are very aggressive. They are exempt from the National Do Not Call Registry because there is a business/customer relationship. At one point, I was contacted 16 times within two weeks from their 909-259-XXXX number. They do change the number that appears on the caller ID. Sometimes I have gotten the 404 area code.”

2014: “I don’t even have their services yet and I have received 19 calls in 5 days. NINETEEN! And, those are only the ones I haven’t answered!”

In late 2015, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed a lawsuit in federal court against Charter Communications for violating federal and state telemarketing and No-Call laws. Unwanted telemarketing calls and harassing treatment by telemarketers annually rank highest on the list of complaints received by the Attorney General’s Office. 

His office alone received 350 No-Call complaints about harassing practices by Charter’s telemarketers. Many consumers complained about daily calls from Charter, and some consumers received up to three calls a day. The calls were an attempt to sell Charter’s cable, internet and phone services.

Unlimited Data is Back (With Fine Print): T-Mobile/Sprint Push Unlimited Data Plans for All

Tmo1LogoSeveral years after wireless unlimited data plans became grandfathered or riddled by speed throttling, America’s third and fourth largest carriers have decided the marketplace wants “unlimited everything” after all and is prepared to give customers what they want, at least until they read the fine print.

T-Mobile Announces “The Era of the Data Plan is Over”: T-Mobile ONE

T-Mobile CEO John Legere used a video blog to announce a major shakeup of T-Mobile’s wireless plans this morning, centered on the concept of “unlimited everything.”

“The era of the data plan is over,” said Legere. T-Mobile’s new plan — T-Mobile ONE — does away with usage caps and usage-based billing and offers unlimited calls, texting, and data on the company’s 4G LTE network. The plan becomes available Sept. 6 at T-Mobile stores nationwide and t-mobile.com for postpaid customers. Prepaid plans will be available later.

tmoone

“Only T-Mobile’s network can handle something as huge as destroying data limits,” said Legere. “Dumb and Dumber can’t do this. They’ve been running away from unlimited data for years now, because they built their networks for phone calls, not for how people use smartphones today. I hope AT&T and Verizon try to follow us. In fact, I challenge them to try.”

Legere

Legere

T-Mobile claims the savings with its unlimited plan are enormous compared to its bigger competitors AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Verizon’s largest LTE usage-capped data plan would cost a family of four $530/month. That’s $4,440 more than T-Mobile ONE will charge.

T-Mobile ONE costs $70 a month for the first line, $50 a month for the second, and additional lines are $20 a month, up to 8 lines with auto pay (add $5 per line if you don’t want autopay). Customers can add tablets for an extra $20 a month.

T-Mobile does offer some caveats in the fine print which are relevant to customers:

  • All video streaming on this plan is throttled to support a maximum of 480p picture quality. Higher video quality is available with an HD add-on plan for $25/mo per line;
  • Tethering is included with T-Mobile ONE, but it is painfully speed-limited to 2G speeds — around 70kbps, just a tad faster than dial-up. At that speed, a web page that will take less than five seconds to load on a 4G network will take 17-25 seconds. A 60 second YouTube video will take nearly five minutes to watch, and downloading apps or sharing images is often impossible because of timeouts. If you want 4G tethering, that will be $15 a month for 5GB, please;
  • Customers identified as among the top 3% of data users, typically those who use more than 26GB of 4G LTE data a month will find themselves in the same data doghouse T-Mobile’s Simple Choice customers are in. That means during peak usage periods on busy cell towers, heavier users are deprioritized on T-Mobile’s network, but we’re not sure if that results in slight speed reductions or the kind of drastic 2G-like experience these kinds of “fair usage” policies often deliver.

Our analysis:

bingeonWhile we’re happy to see unlimited data plans return to prominence, T-Mobile is continuing to punish high bandwidth applications, tethering, and usage outliers with frustrating speed throttles.

T-Mobile’s biggest source of increasing traffic is coming from online video. About a year ago, Legere introduced T-Mobile’s Binge On program, which offers streaming video from T-Mobile’s partners without it counting against your usage allowance. This program had the potential of causing problems with the Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality rules.

Legere seemed to avoid trouble by revealing enough information about Binge On to make it clear why the program exists — to reduce video traffic’s impact on T-Mobile’s network. That might seem counterintuitive until one looks at what it takes to be a Binge On partner — allowing T-Mobile’s Binge On-related traffic to be “optimized” to Standard Definition video (around 480p). No money changes hands between T-Mobile and its Binge On partners.

T-Mobile makes it easy to be a BingeOn participant.

T-Mobile makes it easy to be a Binge On participant.

Binge On was an important factor in freeing up bandwidth on T-Mobile’s network. Some analysts suggest two-thirds of T-Mobile’s video traffic load disappeared after Binge On was introduced. Video is likely the single biggest bandwidth consuming application on wireless networks today. If a customer is watching on a smartphone or even a small tablet, 480p video is generally adequate and has a lower chance of stopping to buffer.

slowAnother clue about the impact of online video on T-Mobile’s network is the same video throttling strategy is built into T-Mobile ONE and applies to all online video, whether the provider partners with T-Mobile or not. Also consider the extraordinary cost of the optional HD Video add-on, which defeats video throttling: a whopping $25 per month per device. That kind of pricing clearly suggests 1080p or even 4K video is a major resource hog for T-Mobile, and customers looking for this level of video quality are going to pay substantially to get it.

T-Mobile is also clearly concerned about tethering, relegating hotspot and tethered device traffic to 2G speeds, which will quickly deter anyone from depending on it except in emergencies. Again, traffic is the issue. Some semi-rural customers unserved by cable but able to get a 4G signal from a T-Mobile tower may think of using T-Mobile as their exclusive source of internet access. At speeds just above dial-up, they won’t consider this an option.

We’re also disappointed to see 26GB of usage a month as the threshold for potential speed throttling. T-Mobile ONE is not cheap, and without more detailed information about how often those exceeding 26GB face speed slowdowns, how much of a slowdown, and how quickly those speed reductions disappear when the tower gets less congested would be very useful. Until then, customers are likely to interpret 26GB as a type of soft usage allowance they will not want to exceed.

T-Mobile ONE also delivers a powerful signal to Wall Street because it raises the lowest price a T-Mobile postpaid customer can pay to become a customer from $50 to $70 a month for a single line. That’s quite a burden for some customers who will have to look to prepaid plans or resellers to get cheaper service. Other carriers rushed to meet T-Mobile’s $50 2GB plan when it was introduced, which has served as an entry-level price range for occasional data dabblers. If those carriers don’t immediately raise prices as well, they will undercut T-Mobile. That could provoke an increase in cancellations among customers buying on price, not plan features. T-Mobile is banking consumers will appreciate unlimited data enough to pay extra for peace of mind.

Jackdaw Research found customers enrolled in 2GB and 6GB T-Mobile plans, T-Mobile ONE represents a price increase. Those signed up for 10GB or unlimited service will pay the same or slightly less with T-Mobile ONE.

Jackdaw Research found customers enrolled in 2GB and 6GB T-Mobile plans will see a price increase with T-Mobile ONE. Those signed up for 10GB or unlimited service will pay the same or slightly less.

sprintlogoSprint: Unlimited Freedom: Two Lines of Unlimited Talk, Text, and Data for $100/month

Not to be outdone by T-Mobile, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure today announced his own company’s overhaul of wireless plans, featuring the all-new Sprint Unlimited Freedom plan, which offers two lines of unlimited talk, text and data for $100 a month, with no access charges or hidden fees.

Starting Friday, Aug. 19, Sprint customers can sign up for the new plan, which costs $60 for the first line, $100 for two lines, and $30 for each additional line, up to 10. Sprint pounced on the fact its Unlimited Freedom plan for two is $20 less than T-Mobile charges.

Otherwise the two plans are remarkably similar — too similar for the CEOs of both companies that spent part of today engaged in a Twitter war.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure traded tweet barbs this morning.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure traded tweet barbs this morning.

“Sprint’s new Unlimited Freedom beats T-Mobile and AT&T’s unlimited offer – only available to its DirecTV subscribers – while Verizon doesn’t even offer its customers an unlimited plan,” read Sprint’s press release.

unlimited freedom“Wireless customers want simple, worry-free and affordable wireless plans on a reliable network,” said Marcelo Claure, Sprint president and CEO. “There can be a lot of frustration and confusion around wireless offers, with too much focus on gigabytes and extra charges. Our answer is the simplicity of Unlimited Freedom. Now customers can watch their favorite movies and videos and stream an unlimited playlist at an amazing price.”

Sprint has also essentially joined the T-Mobile optimization bandwagon, limiting streaming video to 480p, but it goes further with optimization of games — limited to 2Mbps, and music — limited to 500kbps. There does not seem to be any option to pay more to avoid the “optimization” and Sprint is not offering a tethering option with this plan.

“While we initially questioned using mobile optimization for video, gaming and music, the decision was simpler when consumers said it ‘practically indistinguishable’ in our tests with actual consumers,” said Claure. “In fact, most individuals we showed could not see any difference between optimized and premium-resolution streaming videos when viewing on mobile phone screens. Both provide the mobile customer clear, vibrant videos and high-quality audio. Mobile optimization allows us to provide a great customer experience in a highly affordable unlimited package while increasing network efficiency.”

sprint

boostAlso, beginning Friday, Aug. 19, Sprint’s leading prepaid brand, Boost Mobile introduces its own unlimited offer, Unlimited Unhook’d:

  • Unlimited talk, text and optimized streaming videos, gaming and music
  • Unlimited nationwide 4G LTE data for most everything else
  • $50 a month for one line
  • $30 a month for a second line up to five total lines

In addition to the Unlimited Unhook’d plan, Boost Mobile will also unveil the $30 Unlimited Starter plan, which includes unlimited talk, text and slower network data (2G or 3G) with 1GB of 4G LTE data. Customers looking for more high-speed data can add 1 GB of 4G LTE data for $5 per month or 2 GB of 4G LTE data for $10 per month. Multi-line plans are also available for families looking to save some money for an additional $30 a month per line.

“There’s a lot of confusion and clutter in prepaid, but is doesn’t have to be that way. Boost Mobile is offering the simplest solution with plans that are easy to understand,” said Claure. “Boost has something for everyone, whether you need a truly unlimited plan with 4G LTE data or want to save extra money with a low-cost plan.”

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