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Cheapest Thing Verizon Wireless Employee Ever Sold: Your Private Customer Records

vzw-for-saleA Verizon Wireless employee is facing up to five years in prison for peddling customer phone records and location data to private investigators for as little at $50 a month.

The employee, Daniel Eugene Traeger, worked as a network technician for Verizon and agreed to supply a private investigator with private customer information for a pittance, making it perhaps the cheapest service ever offered with the Verizon Wireless name attached.

Traeger’s lawyer worked out a plea agreement with prosecutors that could substantially shorten his possible sentence for pleading guilty to a felony count prohibiting unauthorized access to a protected computer. The Consumerist obtained a copy of the plea agreement.

Traeger quickly adopted the Verizon Wireless way of doing business, substantially raising his snooping rate to as much as $750 a month by 2013.

In all, prosecutors claim he earned more than $10,000 selling customer data using network tools readily available to Verizon’s network technicians.

Programmer Conglomerates Preparing to Ax Smaller Cable TV Networks

directv

Is this the future of satellite TV?

Ten years ago, large programmers like NBC-Universal, Fox, Viacom, and Time Warner started bundling new niche channels into their programming packages, forcing pay television providers to add networks few wanted just to get a contract renewal agreement in place for the networks they did want. Now, in the era of cord-cutting, those programming conglomerates are preparing to slim down.

One of the largest — Comcast/NBCUniversal — is the first to admit “there are just too many networks,” to quote NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke.

Burke warned investors back in July that axing networks like Style and G4 was just the beginning.

“You’ll see us and others trimming channels,” Burke said during Comcast’s second-quarter earnings call. “We will continue to invest what we need to invest into our bigger channels, and we’ll continue to trim the smaller ones.”

Cable operators hope that day arrives sooner rather than later as cord-cutting continues to have an impact on cable-TV subscriptions.

For every popular cable network like USA and Bravo, cable operators get stuck carrying ratings-dogs like CNBC World, Centric, Cloo, VH1 Classic, Fox Business Network, and Fuse — all of which attract fewer than 100,000 viewers nationwide at any one time. Fuse barely attracted 51,000 viewers in 2015. But just about every cable TV customer pays for these channels, and many more.

Many cable channels wouldn’t survive without subscription fees because advertisers consider them too small to warrant much attention.

cable tvWhile Burke’s prediction has yet to slash the cable dial by more than a few networks so far, it has slowed down the rate of new network launches considerably. One millennial-targeted network, Pivot, will never sign on because it failed to attract enough cable distribution and advertisers, despite a $200 million investment from a Canadian billionaire. Time, Inc.’s attempts to launch three new networks around its print magazines Sports Illustrated, InStyle and People have gone the Over The Top (OTT) video route, direct to consumers who can stream their videos from the magazines’ respective websites.

Fierce Cable this week opined that forthcoming cord cutter-targeted TV packages streamed over the internet from players including DirecTV/AT&T and Hulu, among others, will likely start a war of cable network attrition, which may make the concept of a-la-carte cable a thing of the past. Editor Daniel Frankel believes the future will be a finite number of cable networks delivered primarily over IP networks, which are expected to dramatically pare down the traditional cable TV bundle into fewer than 100 channels. Only the most popular networks will be included in a traditional cable TV lineup, and some of these providers expect to deliver a bundle of fewer than 50 channels, including local stations. Those booted out of the bundle may still find life from viewers going OTT, if those networks can attract enough people to watch.

AT&T is hoping for the best of both worlds as it prepares to launch an internet-based package of networks under its DirecTV brand called DirecTV Now. Sources told Bloomberg News AT&T is hoping DirecTV Now will attract more subscribers by 2020 than its satellite service. At some point in the future, it may even replace DirecTV’s satellite television service.

directvDirecTV Now is expected by the end of this year and will likely offer a 100 channel package of programming priced at between $40-55 a month, viewable on up to two screens simultaneously. The app-based service will be available for video streaming to televisions and portable devices like tablets and phones. No truck rolls for installation, no service calls, and no equipment to buy or rent are all attractive propositions for AT&T, hoping to cut costs.

Since AT&T has taken over DirecTV, it has lost over 100,000 satellite customers. The threat to AT&T U-verse TV is also significant as customers increasingly look for alternatives to cable TV’s bloated and expensive programming packages. AT&T no doubt noticed the impending arrival of Hulu’s cable TV streaming platform next year and other services like Sling TV. Deploying their own streaming alternative with AT&T’s volume discounts from the combined subscribers of DirecTV and U-verse means AT&T can sell its streaming service at a substantial discount.

If consumers find the offerings from DirecTV Now and Hulu a credible alternative to traditional cable television, cord cutting could dramatically accelerate, provoking a response from cable operators likely to offer their own slimmed-down packages. So being among the 100 or so networks carried on DirecTV Now, or among the 50 or so networks Hulu is planning to offer, could be crucial to the future survival of any cable network. Those stranded in the 500-channel Universe of today’s cable television packages could be forced off the air or to an alternative means of reaching an audience such as OTT.

The lesson learned by the cable television industry is that customers are tapped out and unwilling to pay ever-rising cable TV bills for dozens of networks they’ve never watched and don’t intend to. The longer term lesson may be even more scary for some networks. Live, linear television as a concept may have seen its time come and go, at least for entertainment programming. While viewers are always going to seek live television for sports and breaking news, alternative on-demand viewing of everything else, preferably commercial-free, is a growing priority for many, especially if the price is right.

Cox Customers Pushed Into New Set-Top Boxes Or Else They Lose Channels

Phillip Dampier September 22, 2016 Consumer News, Cox No Comments

COX_RES_RGBCox Communications is requiring cable customers to add a cable box to their television set(s) or they will start losing channels as the company continues its nationwide effort to digitally encrypt all of its television services.

Customers in Las Vegas are the latest to be pushed to add a digital adapter, dubbed a “minibox” by Sept. 27 or they will start losing channels. By Nov. 9, all cable channels are expected to be encrypted and on Dec. 6, local stations will also be encrypted and viewable only with a cable box or similar equipment.

Cox calls the move a customer-pleasing “upgrade.”

“It will enable us to implement more advanced services down the road,” Cox spokesman Juergen Barbusca told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We deployed home automation in the last couple of years and home security. We are trying to get as much bandwidth out of your cable potential as possible and one way to do that is to go completely digital.”

cox-miniboxCox customers with a basic Starter package of more than 40 channels at $24.99 a month will get two miniboxes free for two years. Those with the second tier Essential package ($75.99) with more than 90 channels will get two miniboxes free for one year. You read that right. If you pay Cox more, you get free boxes for half the time lower-paying customers do. Each additional box is $2.99 a month. A traditional HD-capable set-top box from Cox rents for $8.50 a month.

Cox’s miniboxes are more advanced that traditional digital adapters provided by some other cable companies, supporting service like Music Choice, HDTV, parental controls and an on-screen program guide.

Customers are generally okay with getting the boxes for free, but are convinced it will cause their cable bills to rise in the years ahead.

“I’m not happy with that. That’s more money and I’m only getting basic service. I’m already at $146 a month for cable, internet and phone,” Cox customer Monique Patton said. “Not everybody can afford that. It’s too expensive now. They’re not giving us what they should for our money.”

California Consumer Seeks Class Action Case Against Frontier for False Advertising

frontier new logoDorothy Ayer said she was quoted a price of $69 a month for a package including landline phone and broadband service from Frontier Communications, but when she received her first bill, she claims she was charged $426.55.

Ayer filed a class action complaint against Frontier Communications Sept. 12 in U.S. District Court for the Central Division of California, claiming the phone company regularly engages in unlawful, unfair, and deceptive business practices including false advertising.

Ayer claims Frontier promised her all installation charges, activation fees and other miscellaneous costs found on her first bill would be waived, but now that the bill is in her mailbox, the company wants to be paid in full.

The lawsuit asks the court to recognize the economic harm and injury done not only to Ms. Ayer, but to other similarly situated Frontier customers. The lawsuit claims Frontier Communications benefits from falsely advertising the prices of its services without properly informing customers of the many other charges the company levies on the first bill.

If Ayer is successful, Frontier will be forced to notify all affected customers and presumably refund or credit their accounts.

The case is being handled by attorneys Todd M. Friedman and Adrian R. Bacon of Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman PC in Woodland Hills, Calif.

Want 100Mbps from Charter? Fork Over $200 for Activation/Upgrade Fee

charter-spectrumStop the Cap! reader Gabe, a Time Warner Cable customer, recently decided to upgrade his service to Charter’s fastest internet plan in his area — Ultra/100Mbps. That upgrade stopped dead in its tracks when Charter Communications informed him there is a mandatory $200 “activation” fee for customers selecting 100Mbps service.

We learned this upgrade fee is not new for Charter Communications’ existing customers. First implemented in 2012, Charter Communications claims the activation fee is set at a level commensurate with the value of having premium speed service.

“Ultra is a premium service which results in higher incremental network investments, equipment costs, and other operating expenses,” Charter Communications wrote in 2012. “In an effort to maintain reasonable monthly recurring service fees, we have implemented a higher installation fee for Ultra customers.”

We’ve taken a look to see if this fee can be waived and we found no instance where customers can avoid it. However, customers signing up for business service, which costs about the same as residential service, can subscribe to 100Mbps and face a $99 installation fee instead of $200 in most areas.

Comcast Getting Into the Wireless Mobile Business; Relies on Wi-Fi, Verizon Wireless

(Image courtesy: FCC.com)

(Image courtesy: FCC.com)

Comcast is getting into the wireless mobile business.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts made the surprise announcement at this morning’s Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference, telling attendees Comcast will offer service beginning in mid-2017.

Roberts added the service will depend heavily on Comcast’s installed base of 15 million Wi-Fi hotspots, mostly from cable modem/gateways already installed in customer homes. When away from a hotspot, Comcast’s cellular service will depend on Verizon Wireless.

The deal with Verizon Wireless was expected, because Comcast has maintained an agreement with Verizon since 2011 that allows both companies to sell each other’s services to consumers. The agreement allows Comcast to obtain service from Verizon Wireless at fixed wholesale prices.

That means Comcast can introduce its wireless service without having to build wireless infrastructure like cell towers.

“We believe there will be a big payback with reduced churn, more [customer] stickiness and better satisfaction,” Roberts said.

Comcast will continue the cable industry’s tradition of not directly competing with other cable operators and will not accept customers outside of an existing Comcast service area. Comcast will likely offer the service in a bundle with other services. This will result in a quad-play package for Comcast, bundling cable TV, internet, phone, and cellular service.

Roberts did not talk about pricing.

Charter Official Tells Berkshires He Doesn’t Know How Much Their Set-Top Boxes Actually Cost

charter-rumsfeld

Charter channels Don Rumsfeld

A Charter Communications executive told a western Massachusetts cable advisory board he had no idea how much Charter’s set-top boxes cost the company.

The question was just one of many asked by concerned public officials and residents worried cable bills could skyrocket as much as 50 percent after Charter takes over for Time Warner Cable early next year in the region.

Charter will require all cable television subscribers to rent a set-top converter for each connected television that will cost $6.99 a month each after a two-year grace period. The Five-Town Cable Advisory Committee that represents the interests of residents of Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, Sheffield, and Stockbridge, Mass., call that illegal, claiming it violates a 10-year agreement signed in 2013 with Time Warner Cable and transferred to Charter in 2015.

Charter promised officials there would be no changes after taking over Time Warner Cable’s 10-year contract, but officials and some residents are now pushing back against the cable operator after learning customers paying $14 a month for 20-channel basic service will now have to pay at least $21 — a 50% rate hike — to keep cable service after Charter Spectrum arrives.

charter spectrum logoThe Berkshire Eagle covered an open meeting held last night at the Great Barrington Firehouse, where residents and officials wondered why they could only lease a cable box from Charter, and asked the company to share how much the set-top box actually costs the company.

Charter representative Tom Cohan and his lawyer responded they did not know the cost of the equipment and added Charter’s upgrade, which will digitally encrypt all cable television channels, would have happened with Time Warner Cable as well.

Cohan also declared that since Charter views the encrypting of cable channels as “an upgrade,” that means they are not in violation of the agreement with the towns, and they have no say in the matter anyway.

“As the cable operator, we have authority over what technology we use,” said Cohan.

Town officials pointed out there has not been a case of prosecutable cable theft over the last five years, making encryption unnecessary.

“It’s not proper to make us pay for something we don’t need and don’t want,” said Linda Miller, the committee’s chairwoman. “We don’t want to file a lawsuit, but we will if we have to.”

Verizon Wireless Bill Shock is Back; Customers Complaining About Sudden Usage Increases

bill shockSome Verizon Wireless customers are reporting data usage numbers spiked on their bills to unprecedented levels this summer, giving the cellular company’s bean counters a heaping helping of overlimit fees, charged when customers exceed their data allowance.

The phantom usage problem has become noticeable enough to win attention from the consumer reporter at Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer, who found her own family of four suddenly blowing past their shared 15GB a month, resulting in a $30 overlimit fee.

“My family’s data usage has mysteriously increased significantly every month since February, except for one month,” wrote Teresa Dixon Murray. “My family of four pays for 15GB a month. We’re grandfathered in the old More Everything family share plan. We typically were using no more than 10GB a month. But for the last six months, that has increased steadily — and inexplicably. 8.2. Then 9.7. Then 10.6. Then 12.7. Two months ago, we got alerts that we were nearing our allotment and managed to take care to avoid going over. Last month, despite our efforts, we went over by 1.057GB, and were charged an extra $30.”

Murray questioned why her family’s phones were burning through their data allowance in the middle of the night, while connected to the family’s home Wi-Fi.

A Verizon representative explained phones may be connecting to Verizon’s network because of a new feature installed on some phones, including the Apple iPhone, called “Wi-Fi Assist.” This feature, which could also be called “Verizon Profit Assist” automatically ignores the fact you are connected to Wi-Fi and switches back to the Verizon Wireless network if the phone determines your Wi-Fi connection is “poor.”

“So what’s the definition of poor? I guess Verizon and our iPhones decide that,” Murray questioned.

This feature can be switched off from your phone settings.

They are coming.

They are coming.

But that hasn’t always stopped the overlimit fees. Some customers report they still incur overlimit fees even after switching cellular data off when they reach a warning from Verizon they are about to exhaust their allowance. Verizon charges $10 in overlimit fees, even in instances where the offending extra usage amounts to .0001GB.

Verizon claims its usage meter only provides an estimate of usage, and there are instances where the warning comes too late for a customer to stop using data before they’ve already exceeded their plan allowance. Verizon’s solution is to sell a $5/month “family coverage” add-on that allows parents to monitor data usage before it gets out of hand. But Verizon doesn’t guarantee it will stop overlimit fees based on the measurements of usage it provides.

That add-on plan may or may not have helped Valarie Gerbus, who is now facing a $9,100 Verizon cell phone bill she is adamantly refusing to pay.

The suburban Tampa customer regularly paid $118/month for her cell phone plan, which included 4GB of data usage — an amount she never exceeded, at least until July. Gerbus was shocked to open her bill and discover her normal monthly bill now also included $8,535 in overlimit fees for using 569GB of data in a single month:

(Image: The Plain Dealer)

(Image: The Plain Dealer)

On July 21, Verizon sent her a text, notifying her that she had used nearly all of her 4 gigabytes of data. The text said she could get 4 more gigabytes for $20. Realizing that she had two weeks before the end of the month, Gerbus bought the additional data.

Within an hour of the purchase, she received another text that told her she only had 10 percent left on the data that she had just purchased. The next text message she received said she could change her plan to 8 gigabytes for an additional $20 a month. She said she bought that upgrade to ensure she didn’t have any data overages.

In a span of several hours, she estimates that she received 40 to 50 texts saying that she needed to purchase more data. She turned the notification off, believing that there had been a glitch in Verizon’s system.

Gerbus said she realizes now that she should have contacted the company at that point, but she didn’t, as she feared being placed on hold by a customer service representative.

She later went to work and planned on paying the bill online. When she found her online statement, it said she owed $6,480 for using 490 gigabytes of data. She was shocked.

“I told them that I won’t pay the bill,” Gerbus told the newspaper. “I can either wait until they take it to a collection agency or when they take it to court. Either way, my credit history will be ruined. I can go bankrupt here.”

Verizon said they are not aware of any widespread problem, but is looking into phantom phone usage at night and some of the more extreme examples of bill shock, where bills extend into the thousands of dollars.

Affected customers report the high bills are, in some cases, tearing families apart.

“It got to the point that we were battling in our family,” reported Lockport, N.Y. resident Tom Walker, who told the newspaper their data usage soared for no apparent reason. “We were really asking each other, ‘Have you been on Facebook too much? What have you been doing?’ We were trying to figure out who was using all this data.”

Gerbus is almost thankful to pay Verizon Wireless a nearly $600 fee to exit her contract early as she switches to T-Mobile. Verizon’s engineers have no explanation for Gerbus’ bill, other than noting her phone contacted Amazon.com at least 400 times over a few days.

Providers with usage caps and usage-based pricing often consider their usage meters more reliable than their own customers, and when customers complain, many representatives trust the meter and insist on payment. When a customer like Gerbus complains about usage that is considerably above average usage, customer service representative are not always receptive.

“I told them that there was no way that I could have gone from 490 to 560 in a day,” Gerbus said. “The [Verizon] person said, ‘Yes there is.'”

Cable Industry Declares War on Set-Top Box Compromise They Lobbied For

The cable industry prepares for war over a watered-down set-top box reform proposal many companies initially supported.

The cable industry prepares for war over a watered-down set-top box reform proposal many companies initially supported.

You can’t please cable companies any of the time.

After months of an intense lobbying effort to kill Federal Communications Commission Chairman Thomas Wheeler’s set-top box reform proposal that would have created an open standard allowing manufacturers to compete for your box needs, the cable industry has declared war on the watered-down compromise released last week that many cable operators lobbied for as a suitable alternative.

“While we appreciate that Chairman Wheeler has abandoned his discredited proposal to break apart cable and satellite services, his latest tortured approach is equally flawed,” said Comcast’s vice president of government communications Sena Fitzmaurice in a statement. “He claims that his new proposal builds on the marketplace success of apps, but in reality, it would stop the apps revolution dead in its tracks by imposing an overly complicated government licensing regime and heavy-handed regulation in a fast-moving technological space. The Chairman’s new proposal also violates the Communications Act and exceeds the FCC’s authority.”

That’s a veiled threat Comcast may take the FCC to court if they proceed with the watered down reform policy now advocated by Chairman Wheeler.

Charter Communications, newly enlarged with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in its family, also issued a statement claiming the FCC will ruin everything:

cable-box“Enabling consumers to use apps instead of set-top boxes may be a valid goal, but the marketplace is already delivering on the goal without overreaching government intervention. The FCC’s mandate threatens to bog down with regulations and bureaucracy the entire TV app market that consumers are increasingly looking to for innovation, choice and competition.”

Sensing blood in the regulatory waters, the pile on from Congress and programmers that depend on their relationships with large cable operators was inevitable and quick:

The top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said Monday that he is doubtful.

Pallone

Pallone

“While I commend Chairman Wheeler for working to solve this difficult issue, I’m concerned that this latest proposal will not work, particularly when it comes to licensing,” Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.) said in a statement. “Ultimately, I’m skeptical that the revised plan will benefit consumers.”

Fido Cable Leases Access from Current Cable Providers, Charges More Than They Do

(PRNewsFoto/Fido Cable)

(PRNewsFoto/Fido Cable)

You may soon have a choice of cable companies, but don’t expect any savings doing business with the competition.

South Carolina-based Sky Play, LLC has launched a new cable service it claims is available across the U.S., offering competitive broadband and later phone and television service.

The service, known as Fido Cable, is dependent on leasing access from cable companies including Cablevision-Altice, Charter-Bright House-Time Warner Cable, Cable One, Comcast, and Cox as well as telephone company AT&T.

“We believe that people deserve to select which internet company they would like to utilize as opposed to being stuck with one or two options of service from companies who constantly raise their rates and offer no thought of the customer they service,” said David Wheeler, vice president of Sky Play. “Fido Cable is available to everyone in every major city and surrounding cities throughout the U.S.”

The company’s claims about the aspirations of American cable subscribers may be true but after Stop the Cap! called the company and obtained price quotes, it is clear any savings doing business with Fido Cable are illusory at best. Fido has a single page website that needs work, including correcting “Cable Vision,” when it actually meant “Cablevision.” Details about service and pricing was scant, so we called the company to get prices for two large cable operators: Time Warner Cable and Charter.

The company claims it offers internet access today and will be offering voice services across its national footprint and television in “select cities.” For purposes of obtaining pricing information, we quickly learned our home city of Rochester, N.Y., is not select enough for Fido Cable.

charter twcFido Cable (which has no relationship with the Canadian prepaid mobile provider “Fido,” owned by Rogers Communications), says internet and voice plans start at $39.99 a month, but not for TWC or Charter customers.

In fact, Fido does not seem to offer any new customer promotional pricing. Their quoted rates were consistently higher than their cable company hosts charge their own customers. No wonder cable operators allowing Fido to compete using their systems are not breaking any sweat over the “competition.”

For instance, Fido charges a $120 installation and $15 modem fee for both Time Warner Cable and Charter customers. The representative claimed the modem fee was a one-time charge and customers were allowed to supply their own equipment. In comparison, both Charter and Time Warner Cable agreed to waive any installation fees for new customers. Time Warner Cable charges a $10 monthly modem rental fee and Charter includes the modem in the price of its service.

Fido Cable charges $65 a month for 15/1Mbps service. Time Warner Cable’s equivalent plan costs $59.99 a month for the service and modem rental (deduct $10 a month from TWC’s price if you buy your own modem). A 50Mbps plan from Fido costs $120 a month, but it’s $119 a month from Time Warner Cable (again, deduct $10 if you supply your own modem).

For Charter customers, a 60/4Mbps plan is priced $59.99 direct from Charter, but if you choose Fido Cable you will pay $5 more a month: $65. A 100/7Mbps plan from Charter is priced at $99.99, or you can pay Fido $105.

Here are more details about Fido internet plans we obtained today:

Time Warner Cable Service Areas

  • 10/1Mbps: $55
  • 15/1Mbps: $65
  • 50/5Mbps: $120

Charter Cable Service Areas

  • 60/4Mbps: $65
  • 80/5Mbps: $99
  • 100/7Mbps: $105

A 2-year price guarantee applies to all pricing.

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  • Guest9987: Why not 65.536Mbps? That would make it 8192KB/s which is what the standard should be; any more or less is questionable so far. It's not like 8.192MB/s...
  • Chad: EV, I completely agree. Recording your phone calls is a great way to keep these companies in check. There's a great blog post about how this, and a ha...
  • modal: I pay a visit each day some websites and websites to read content, however this blog offers quality based writing....
  • FredH: If your area is upgraded to be getting 300Mbps down and you aren't, there could be any number of factors preventing it that are your responsibility, n...
  • Ev: Why bother rearranging deck chairs on the titanic? Drop your cable TV service, put up an antenna for a bunch of channels, buy a DVR, and if you still...
  • Ev: People need to start recording ail their phone calls with company reps. They're recording it already, for their benefit. One little app on your phone...
  • beth: Called TWC today. They're the only cable provider in my area. I pay for internet and phone unfortunately still hooked to Direct for the football seaso...
  • Austin: "Responsible usage".... "limited resource"???? Give me a break! It's not like internet is mined out of a pocket in the ground. How can these idiots ke...
  • SendDavid: If you're in NY, you can also submit a claim for a refund with David, Inc. and they'll do all the work for you--50% of claims get refunded: http://bit...
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