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Viacom Demands 100% Rate Increases for Hundreds of Small Cable Systems, Military Bases

viacom networksSmall cable systems across the country and on overseas military bases are being granted hourly reprieves that are keeping up to 24 Viacom-owned cable channels on the air after negotiations to extend an agreement with their program buyer stalled.

Cable operators belonging to the National Cable TV Cooperative, which represents independent cable systems on cable programming matters, report Viacom is demanding an unprecedented 100 percent rate increase for its networks and a guaranteed rate hike of 10% annually on each of its channels.

Viacom’s demands would cost each subscriber at least $4 a month, noted Jack Capparell, general manager of Service Electric’s cable system in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. Service Electric is a private, family owned cable business with 250,000 subscribers in central and northeastern Pennsylvania and northwestern New Jersey.

The impasse also affects cable systems serving American military bases. Americable has notified subscribers in Yokosuka, Atsugi, Iwakuni, and Sasebo, Japan Viacom was likely to cut off 10 of its cable channels to military families sometime today. Allied Telesis, which offers service to Air Force bases in Japan is also expected to lose programming.

cableoneNCTC members complain Viacom requires cable systems to carry nearly all of its lineup, including lesser-known channels few customers have even heard of, much less want. Even if a cable system chooses not to air a Viacom channel, Viacom’s contracts require cable providers to pay for them if they want to carry Viacom’s most popular networks.

Some cable systems are breaking away from NCTC’s negotiations and opening one on one talks with Viacom. Metrocast secured an agreement for its customers earlier today by negotiating directly with Viacom.

viacomFor most affected cable operators, there is a ‘wait and see what happens’ approach. Others, including Cable ONE, have already moved to replace the Viacom networks with other channels.

“Viacom asked for a rate increase greater than 100%, despite the fact that viewing is down on 12 of their 15 networks – some by more than 30% since 2010,” said Cable ONE. “We asked Viacom to either reduce their rates or allow us to drop some of their less popular networks to reduce the total cost. They refused these reasonable requests.”

Logo_Service-ElectricEarlier today, Cable ONE didn’t wait for Viacom to pull the plug. They pulled it themselves.

“Cable ONE has let these networks go and expects to add many top-rated networks you’ve requested and expand several other highly requested networks to our most popular level of service. Some of the new networks include BBC America, Sprout, Investigation Discovery, the Blaze, Hallmark Channel, National Geographic, TV One, Sundance, and more,” said the company, which expects to publish a full list of the new networks on Wednesday.

Viacom responded with a news release tailored for each affected provider:

GCI_Color_LogoWe are offering Service Electric a double-digit discount off of our standard rate card. It is a better deal than HUNDREDS of other TV providers in the country have agreed to. We have been actively trying to get a deal done with Service Electric for months and they have refused to negotiate in any meaningful way. And now, on top of this, Service Electric is throwing out numbers which simply aren’t true. Our expiring deal with Service Electric is nearly five years old. In that time, we have been great partners and given Service Electric more channels, more on demand content and access to our content beyond the TV – at no additional cost. We don’t understand why Service Electric has chosen to negotiate in this manner. And now, as a result of their lack of interest in coming to a mutually beneficial agreement, you are at risk of losing 19 Viacom networks. We are serious about getting a deal done.

Virtually the entire state of Alaska is also affected.

“We’ve unified to fight for Alaskans and to work toward a fair, long-term agreement that keeps prices stable for our customers,” said Paul Landes, GCI senior vice president. “Viacom wants a rate increase that is 40 times that of the rate of inflation. Alaska pay TV providers, along with 700 small to mid-sized operators nationally, are saying ‘no’ to Viacom’s take all 26 channels or nothing demands.”

GCI is joined by Alaskan providers MTA and KPU in the dispute.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Cable ONE Viacom Channels Removed New Channels Added 4-1-14.mp4

Cable ONE released this video earlier today informing customers they were dropping Viacom networks. (1:00)

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Math Problem: The Telecom Industry’s Bias Against Fiber-to-the-Home Service

Phillip "Spending $6k per cable customer is obviously a much better deal than paying half that to build a fiber to the home network" Dampier

Phillip “Spending $6k per cable customer is obviously a much better deal than paying half that to build a fiber to the home network” Dampier

Math was never my strong subject, but even I can calculate the groupthink of American cable and telephone companies and their friends on Wall Street just doesn’t add up.

This week, we learned that cable companies like Bright House Networks, Suddenlink, and Charter Communications are already lining up for a chance to acquire three million cable customers Comcast intends to sell if it wins approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable. Wall Street has already predicted Comcast will fetch as much as $18 billion for those customers and pegged the value of each at approximately $6,000.

But for less than half that price any company could build a brand new fiber to the home system capable of delivering 1,000Mbps broadband and state-of-the-art phone and television service and start banking profits long before paying off the debt from buying an inferior coaxial cable system. Yet we are told time and time again that the economics of fiber to the home service simply don’t make any sense and deploying the technology is a waste of money.

Let’s review:

Google Fiber was called a boondoggle by many of its competitors. The folks at Bernstein Research, routinely friendly to the cable business model, seemed appalled at the economics of Google’s fiber project in Kansas City. Bernstein’s Carlos Kirjner and Ram Parameswaran said Google would throw $84 million into the first phase of its fiber network, connecting 149,000 homes at a cost between $500-674 per home. The Wall Street analyst firm warned investors of the costs Google would incur reaching 20 million customers nationwide — $11 billion.

“We remain skeptical that Google will find a scalable and economically feasible model to extend its build out to a large portion of the U.S., as costs would be substantial, regulatory and competitive barriers material, and in the end the effort would have limited impact on the global trajectory of the business,” Bernstein wrote to its investor clients.

dealSo Google spending $11 billion to reach 20 million new homes is business malpractice while spending $18 billion for three million Time Warner Cable customers is confirmation of the cable industry’s robust health and valuation?

Bernstein’s firm never thought highly of Verizon FiOS either.

“If I were an auto dealer and I wanted to give people a Maserati for the price of a Volkswagen, I’d have some seriously happy customers,” Craig Moffett from Bernstein said back in 2008. “My problem would be whether I could earn a decent return doing it.”

Back then, Moffett estimated the average cost to Verizon per FiOS home passed was $3,897, a figure based on wiring up every neighborhood, but not getting every homeowner to buy the service. Costs for fiber have dropped dramatically since 2008. Dave Burstein from DSL Prime reported by the summer of 2012 Verizon told shareholders costs fell below $700/home passed and headed to $600. The total cost of running fiber, installing it in a customer’s home and providing equipment meant Verizon had to spend about $1,500 per customer when all was said and done.

Moffett concluded Verizon was throwing money away spending that much on improving service. He wasn’t impressed by AT&T U-verse either, which only ran fiber into the neighborhood, not to each home. Moffett predicted AT&T was spending $2,200 per home on U-verse back in 2008, although those costs have dropped dramatically as well.

Moffett

Moffett

Moffett’s solution for both Verizon and AT&T? Do nothing to upgrade, because the price wasn’t worth the amount of revenue returns either company could expect in the short-term.

It was a much different story if Comcast wanted to spend $45 billion to acquire Time Warner Cable however, a deal Moffett called “transformational.”

“What we’re talking about is an industry that is becoming more capital intensive,” Todd Mitchell, an analyst at Brean Capital LLC in New York told Bloomberg News. “What happens to mature, capital-intensive companies — they consolidate. So, yes, I think the cable industry is ripe for consolidation.”

Other investors agreed.

“This is definitely a bet on a positive future for high-speed access, cable and other services in an economic recovery,” said Bill Smead, chief investment officer at Smead Capital Management, whose fund owns Comcast shares.

ftth councilBut Forbes’ Peter Cohan called Google’s much less investment into fiber broadband a colossal waste of money.

“Larry Page should nip this bad idea in the bud,” Cohan wrote.

Cohan warned investors should throw water on the enthusiasm for fiber before serious money got spent.

“FTTH authority, Neal Lachman, wrote in SeekingAlpha, that it would cost as much as $500 billion and could take a decade to connect all the houses and commercial buildings in the U.S. to fiber,” Cohan added.

Cohan was concerned Google’s initial investment would take much too long to be recovered, which apparently is not an issue for buyers willing to spend $18 billion for three million disaffected Time Warner Cable customers desperately seeking alternatives.

An investment for the future, not for short term profits.

An investment for the future, not short term profits.

Municipal broadband providers have often chosen to deploy fiber to the home service because the technology offers plenty of capacity, ongoing maintenance costs are low and the networks can be upgraded at little cost indefinitely. But such broadband efforts, especially when they are owned by local government, represent a threat for cable and phone companies relying on a business model that sells less for more.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funded by Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, Verizon, and other large telecom companies is at the forefront of helping friendly state legislators ban community fiber networks. Their excuse is that the fiber networks cost too much and, inexplicably, can reduce competition.

“A growing number of municipalities are [...] building their own networks and offering broadband services to their citizens,” ALEC writes on its website. “ALEC disagrees with their answer due to the negative impacts it has on free markets and limited government.  In addition, such projects could erode consumer choice by making markets less attractive to competition because of the government’s expanded role as a service provider.”

The Fiber-to-the-Home Council obviously disagrees.

“Believe it or not, there are already more than a thousand telecom network operators and service providers across North America that have upgraded to fiber to the home,” says the Council. “The vast majority of these are local incumbent telephone companies that are looking to transform themselves from voice and DSL providers into 21st century broadband companies that can deliver ultra high-speed Internet and robust video services, as well as be able to deliver other high-bandwidth digital applications and services to homes and businesses in the years ahead.”

Stephenson

Stephenson

In fact, a good many of those efforts are undertaken by member-owned co-ops and municipally owned providers that answer to local residents, not to shareholders looking for quick returns.

The only time large companies like AT&T move towards fiber to the home service is when a competitor threatens to do it themselves. That is precisely what happened in Austin. The day Google announced it was launching fiber service in Austin, AT&T suddenly announced its intention to do the same.

“In Austin we’re deploying fiber very aggressively,” said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. “The cost dynamics of deploying fiber have dramatically changed. The interfaces at the homes, the wiring requirements, how you get a wiring drop to a pole, and the way you splice it has totally changed the cost dynamics of deploying fiber.”

Prior to that announcement, AT&T justified its decision not to deploy fiber all the way to the home by saying it was unnecessary and too costly. With Google headed to town, that talking point is no longer operative.

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Comcast Wants to Invest $2.5 Billion More on Stock Buybacks if Merger Deal Approved

Phillip Dampier March 31, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News No Comments

One of Comcast’s biggest investments of 2014 won’t pay to boost broadband speeds, improve customer service, or upgrade cable systems.

comcast-shareToday the cable company announced plans to spend an extra $2.5 billion — $5.5 billion total — this year to buy shares of its own stock in a share buyback program designed to please investors.

The extra investment will only come if shareholders approve the deal to merge Comcast and Time Warner Cable into a single company. If the merger is successful, Comcast is prepared to spend even more on share buybacks with money it plans to collect from the sale of three million current Time Warner customers that will be spun away in the merger.

Bloomberg News reports Comcast shares have fallen 10 percent since the acquisition was announced last month, reducing the value of the company’s all-stock offer. The proposal of 2.875 in Comcast stock for each Time Warner Cable share was worth $142.49 a share last week, down from $158.82 the day the transaction was made public.

By buying back shares in its own stock, Comcast will cut the number of shares outstanding, which increases earnings per share and usually boosts the stock’s price. The share repurchase will benefit shareholders and any top executives who receive bonuses based on successfully increasing the value of earnings per share. Customers get nothing.

Neither will the tax man if Comcast and Time Warner Cable structure its deals as spinoffs qualifying as tax-free transactions.

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Comcast SportsNet Forces Most Phillies Games Off Free TV, Sticks Cable Customers With Surcharge

Phillip Dampier March 27, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 1 Comment
Comcast is keeping lucrative sports programming inside the family.

Comcast is keeping lucrative sports programming inside the family.

Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia signed a 25-year, $2.5 billion TV rights package with the Philadelphia Phillies and now wants cable subscribers to foot the bill.

The already-expensive regional sports network, estimated to be charging around $3.90 a month per subscriber, is asking its cable and satellite affiliates to pay an extra surcharge to cover the costly deal that will remove most Phillies games from free, over the air television.

Comcast SportsNet is warning if their surcharge demands are not met, they will black out up to 33 games for those refusing to pay extra.

Under the previous TV contract, Comcast SportsNet televised 100 Phillies games and WPHL, a free over the air station, televised 45 games.

philliesComcast’s new deal means SportsNet will air 133 games only on its cable network and a token 12 or 13 games will be seen on its owned and operated, over the air NBC affiliate in Philadelphia, WCAU.

The change illustrates the growing trend of deep-pocketed cable operators outbidding broadcasters for exclusive rights to televise sporting events, which has led to fewer games shown on free TV.

Cable and satellite customers end up subsidizing the lucrative rights fees in the form of regular rate hikes. Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia will not disclose the amount of its requested surcharge, but unsurprisingly Comcast Cable has already agreed to pay. Competitors are not as eager, reports The Inquirer:

  • Verizon Communications Inc.’s FiOS TV service “has not yet reached an agreement regarding the surcharge,” company spokesman Lee Giercynski said Tuesday.
  • DirecTV and Dish, the nation’s two satellite-TV operators, don’t carry Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, which also televises the Sixers and Flyers.

J.P. Morgan noted Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia is already the nation’s sixth-most-expensive regional sports network. Madison Square Garden/MSG, at $5.44 a month, comparable to the cost of ESPN, is the highest cost regional sports network in the country.

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Time Warner Cable Wins Cheap Hydropower from New York State for Its Buffalo Call Center

timewarner twcTime Warner Cable is one of three New York businesses that are the latest to be awarded almost 1 megawatt of inexpensive hydropower under the state’s ReCharge New York program.

The cable company was allocated 176 kilowatts of electricity for its new call center in Buffalo from the Power Authority’s hydroelectric plants in Lewiston and Massena, and from the open market. In return, it plans to add 152 new jobs in Buffalo.

The program is designed to encourage businesses to increase investment in New York communities. Most of the inexpensive power awarded recently went to Pratt and Whitney in Middletown in the Hudson region and to six businesses on Long Island.

“ReCharge NY is one of the strongest tools in the Empire State’s economic development arsenal,” Governor Cuomo said. “Low-cost power for businesses has helped create thousands of high-impact jobs in local communities, and its ripple effect of ReCharge NY can be felt statewide. Innovative initiatives like ReCharge NY continue to establish New York as a great place for businesses to thrive and grow.”

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Comcast Hotspot Wi-Fi Usage Will Be Tied Back to Customer’s Broadband Account

xfinity wifiComcast customers using the company’s growing network of Wi-Fi network hotspots will have their usage tracked to their broadband accounts, opening the door for Comcast to count wireless use against a customer’s future monthly usage allowance.

As part of a press release announcing that more than 300,000 Comcast hotspots are now available in New England, the cable company added that it is preparing to activate its Xfinity Wi-Fi Neighborhood Hotspots in the region, allowing other Comcast customers to share your Comcast Internet service over a separate Wi-Fi channel provided by your gateway. But it noted customers will need to log-in first, permitting Comcast to measure just how much of the wireless service you are using:

wifi hotXfinity WiFi Neighborhood Hotspots – In June of last year, Comcast announced its plans to create millions of WiFi access points for its customers through a neighborhood hotspot initiative. Comcast is the first major ISP in the country to deploy this innovative technology. This new initiative gives customers with Xfinity Wireless Gateways an additional “xfinitywifi” signal (or SSID) in their home that is completely separate and distinct from the private and secure home WiFi signal. Offered at no additional cost, the additional WiFi signal will allow visiting Xfinity Internet subscribers instant, easy access to fast and reliable WiFi without the need to share the home’s private network password and without an impact to the home subscriber’s speed. And since visitors sign in with their own Xfinity credentials, their usage and activities are tied back to their own accounts, not the homeowner’s.

 

Comcast is testing the reimplementation of a usage cap – now set at 300GB a month – in several cities in the southern U.S. Wireless usage could eventually also be counted against that cap.

Many of Comcast’s primary outdoor hotspots are in larger cities, such as Greater Boston. Most of the one million total hotspots Comcast hopes to activate are located in residential customers’ homes using Comcast’s Wireless Gateway.

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Time Warner Cable Releases Video Showing Broadband Upgrades Underway in LA, NYC

twcmaxDespite its pending merger with Comcast, Time Warner Cable is still promising to boost broadband speeds by the end of this year in New York City and Los Angeles.

The TWC Maxx program was announced before the merger, but Time Warner says it is still going ahead with upgrades and produced a video showing some of the behind-the-scenes work in Los Angeles.

Although the video doesn’t show much more than people pointing at equipment displays and maintaining equipment racks, it does include an interview about what Time Warner is doing to prepare for infrastructure upgrades serious enough to need a bigger air conditioner for the building.

Time Warner does warn customers they may experience brief service interruptions as a result of the work.

When complete, Time Warner Cable customers in both cities will have all-digital television service and major broadband speed upgrades:

 

Current Mbps Speeds Up to

New Mbps Speeds Up to

Everyday Low Price   Customers

2/1

3/1

Basic Customers

3/1

10/1

Standard Customers

15/1

50/5

Turbo Customers

20/2

100/10

Extreme Customers

30/5

200/20

Ultimate Customers

50/5

300/20

These upgrades may be modified if/when Comcast takes over, and Time Warner has not disclosed which cities will get the upgrades next.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TWC Behind The Scenes at a Los Angeles Hub Time Warner Cable 3-26-14.flv

Jay Gormley, a former reporter for KTVT in Dallas now working for Time Warner Cable takes customers on a tour of a Los Angeles Time Warner Cable hub slated to get service upgrades. (2:01)

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Comcast Says Customer-Owned Cable Modem Equipment Restriction Was Part of an Old Memo

Phillip Dampier March 26, 2014 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 1 Comment
Comcast's gateway is optional after all.

Comcast’s gateway is optional after all.

Yesterday, Stop the Cap! reported Comcast was informing some customers with 105Mbps service they would have to give up their customer-owned cable modems and go back to renting Comcast’s gateway device for $7 a month. Customers were told the policy was elaborated on in a memo, obtained by Stop the Cap!

This afternoon, Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas responded to our inquiry about this with some good news for customers: they can keep using the equipment they purchased to avoid the modem rental fee.

Douglas explains the memo “is apparently an old document from 2010 when we first launched Extreme 105.”

“At that time, there weren’t any modems for sale at retail that could handle that speed,” Douglas added. “Four years later here we are and there are plenty of modems customers can buy. The document is wrong and old and we’re fixing it and sorry for any confusion it may have caused. It’s not acceptable. If you want to pass those customers you’ve heard from on to us, we will be happy to follow up with them and apologize and make sure their service and modem is running properly.”

“The short of it is Extreme 105Mbps customers can choose to either buy their own modem or rent one from us. Here is our approved devices list, which is updated regularly: http://mydeviceinfo.comcast.net/

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As Usual, Big Telecom in the Running for Worst Company in America 2014

2014wciabracketdayfive

Our friends at The Consumerist invite you to participate in the 2014 Worst Company in America contest. Readers are invited to cast a series of votes — one each day — to help narrow the field to the truly abysmal, the god-awful, and the despised. The ultimate winner receives the Golden Poo award.

Not surprisingly, the nation’s biggest telecom companies are among the regular finalists. The big ones are all there — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and AT&T.

Hated cable companies frequently beat down big banks like the vipers at Chase, where settlements in the hundreds of millions with the government for wrongdoing are almost a monthly occurrence. Voters would rather fly the Unfriendly Skies with Divided Airlines, Last Frontier Air — even US Scare — than deal with Comcast’s offshore customer service. The bad boys at Electronic Arts and Koch Industries bring knives to AT&T’s gunfight on good customer relations.

Over the last eight years, Comcast turned up as the big winner of the Golden Poo award in 2010 and either runner-up or third place in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013. AT&T achieved third place in 2012. Time Warner Cable and Verizon are usually eliminated in the finals, but their regular appearance on the nominations list is not something they can be proud of. Time Warner Cable has already managed to beat back EA, big winner in 2012 and 2013. So this year they might go all the way to the top… or is it bottom?

Year Winner Runner-up Third place
2006 Halliburton Choicepoint Wal-Mart and US Government
2007 RIAA Halliburton Wal-Mart and Exxon
2008 Countrywide Financial Comcast Diebold and Wal-Mart
2009 AIG Comcast Bank of America and Ticketmaster
2010 Comcast Cash4Gold Bank of America and Ticketmaster
2011 BP Bank of America Comcast and Ticketmaster
2012 Electronic Arts Bank of America AT&T and Wal-Mart
2013 Electronic Arts Bank of America Comcast
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CenturyLink to Idaho Residents: You Don’t Need 1Gbps, DSL is Good Enough for You

centurylinkCenturyLink’s philosophy about offering gigabit fiber broadband speeds in Idaho can be summed up simply as “for business-use only.”

Jim Schmit, Idaho CenturyLink’s vice president and general manager, believes super fast broadband connections are overkill for homes and most businesses in the state.

“It’s like having a fancy sports car,” Schmit told the Idaho Statesman. “It might go 200 miles per hour, but what good does that do if the speed limit is 60?”

Schmitt’s attitude of broadband a-plenty is nothing new. In 2007, he told attendees of the Emerging Directions in Economic Development conference in Boise that “virtually all” Idahoans already had access to high-speed broadband. That was news to the audience, with about a quarter of the economic development professionals attending stating they represented a community that didn’t have it yet. Most of the questions related to how their communities could get the access they’d been told wasn’t available.

Seven years later, the Statesman reports more than a few homes and businesses in the region still rely on slow DSL, satellite and even dial-up access because faster options are just not available.

idahoIdaho could find itself a bystander in the growing movement to deploy gigabit fiber to the premise broadband, despite the fact CenturyLink already has fiber infrastructure available nearby.

“We’re getting to the point where, for businesses in most places, we’re within last-mile connections for most locations,” Schmit says.

CenturyLink is willing to extend its fiber, but only if that fiber line reaches businesses needing gigabit speeds. Residential customers need not apply.

Fiber optics can be found in several office buildings in downtown Boise, which has been good news for established tech companies that need more bandwidth. Three data centers are operational in the city and would likely not be there without fiber.

But for home-based entrepreneurs of future Internet startups, most will be forced to choose between CenturyLink DSL or cable broadband from providers like Cable ONE, which offer slower speeds.

Smaller broadband providers have begun to fill the gap left open by the lack of interest from cable and phone companies. While Google is showing interest in building fiber networks in a handful of U.S. cities, many more communities are realizing they will not get gigabit speeds anytime soon unless they build a publicly owned broadband network themselves or rely on much smaller-scale projects under development in the private sector.

Patrick Lawless, founder and CEO of Boise voice recognition software developer Voxbright Technologies Inc., sees opportunity providing a limited fiber network in Boise. Lawless has plans to build a 2.6-mile fiber-optic loop and deliver television, phone and broadband service to apartment and office buildings in a manner similar to Google’s. It’s a small early effort, limited to a handful of businesses and new residential buildings — mostly apartments and renovated former office buildings or hotels. He plans to charge $99 a month for a package including television, 100Mbps broadband, and phone service.

With the project’s small scope and uncertain cost, CenturyLink says it isn’t too worried about the competition. For now they will continue to bank on offering only the broadband speed they believe customers actually need, and it will be up to a competitor to prove them wrong.

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