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AT&T Gets Stingy With DirecTV Promotions for Existing Customers; $100+ for TV-Only Service

directvDirecTV under AT&T’s ownership is turning out to be no bargain for customers finding it increasingly tough getting a promotional rate package with the satellite provider.

Fred Johnson has been a DirecTV customer in rural Iowa for almost six years and has had to call DirecTV every time his on-contract promotion nears an end. Off-contract customers generally do not receive the best promotions and DirecTV’s regular prices can make the average cable company blush.

“It is not unusual for DirecTV customers to get quoted rates of $80 a month for satellite television and then receive a bill for over $100 once the surcharges, rental fees, taxes, and other hidden fees are added to your bill,” Johnson tells Stop the Cap! “There are months when the bill can go up even higher with no explanation, and even the customer service department cannot explain all the mysterious charges.”

At the end of the usual two-year contract, it has become customary for many long time DirecTV customers to call and threaten to cancel if they cannot get a renewed promotional rate, and for years DirecTV had been happy to oblige.

In 2015, AT&T bought the satellite provider and is in the process of integrating it as part of the AT&T family of services, next to U-verse, AT&T Mobility, and traditional landline service. That is the year the discounts seemed to evaporate for customers like Johnson and Evelyn Wiedmer, who subscribes to DirecTV for the family’s recreational vehicle.

Recreational vehicle owners are among the most loyal to satellite television.

Recreational vehicle owners are among the most loyal to satellite television.

“We were just told our bill was going to increase $45 a month starting in February and there is little we can do about it,” Wiedmer tells us. “The call center lady mentioned that the new owner of DirecTV is going in a different direction with promotions and we no longer qualify for any specials, unless we also want to get an AT&T cell phone.”

Wiedmer and her husband are retired and travel the country in their RV and do not have room in the budget to pay AT&T an extra $540 a year for the same package of channels they used to get for about $65 a month.

“They apparently do not want us to be customers anymore because DISH Networks will sell us a comparable package for about $60 a month, which is much less than the $105 DirecTV is charging us starting next month,” Wiedmer writes. “It looks like DirecTV won’t be competing with AT&T U-verse and the cable company anymore at their prices.”

Critics charge that is exactly the point. Adam Levine-Weinberg called the AT&T-DirecTV merger “one more step towards oligopoly,” warning approval of the merger would remove a serious competitor for tens of millions of customers also served by AT&T U-verse.

“That means there [were] tens of millions of people who [had] a choice between AT&T and DirecTV (as well as the local cable company and satellite TV rival DISH Networks,” said Levine-Weinberg. “The merger [reduced] many consumers’ pay-TV options from four to three, giving the remaining companies more pricing power.”

AT&T is flexing that pricing power by pulling back on promotions and discounts. In addition to curtailing retention plans and promotions for existing customers, AT&T also announced rate increases for DirecTV that take effect tomorrow:

The monthly pre-tax price of DirecTV’s “Select” and “Entertainment” programming tiers will go up by $2, to $51.99 and $61.99, respectively. The “Choice” and “Xtra” bundles will increase $4 to $74.99 and $81.99, respectively; the “Ultimate” pack will go up $5 a month to $91.99; and the “Premier” bundle will grow by $8 to $144.99. That is well over $150 a month after taxes and fees are added, just to watch television. AT&T is also applying a 50 cent increase to a fee DirecTV charges for… selling television service. The so-called “TV Fee” will now cost $7.00 a month.

(Courtesy: zidanetribal17)

(Courtesy: zidanetribal17)

“You used to switch to satellite to save money, but now cable companies offer returning customers lower prices than what DirecTV will offer,” notes Johnson. “It’s almost like they want to drive customers away. It worked. Our neighbors are now collecting money to convince Mediacom to extend their cable down our rural street and after these price increases we finally have enough willing to contribute to switch to cable television and remove the satellite dishes from our rooftops.”

Wiedmer has also canceled her DirecTV service this week, switching to DISH Networks.

“Would you sign another two-year contract agreeing to pay $540 more a year for two years with nothing in return for the extra money?” Wiedmer asks. “AT&T and DirecTV can take a hike.”

AT&T Brings Back Unlimited Wireless Data Plan… If You Have U-verse TV or DirecTV

att-logo-221x300Building in protection from cord-cutting, AT&T today announced it was bringing back its unlimited data wireless plan for customers that subscribe to U-verse TV or DirecTV.

The new AT&T Unlimited Plan claims to offer unlimited data, talk and text for $100 a month. Additional smartphones are $40 per month each, with a fourth smartphone free to add at no extra charge.

“Video traffic continues to grow on our network as fast as ever because people enjoy viewing their favorite video content on their favorite devices,” said Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobile and Business Solutions. “And, they will get a high-quality video streaming experience from the start. No compromises in video quality.”

Except that AT&T discloses in its fine print, “After 22GB of data usage on a line in a bill cycle, for the remainder of the bill cycle AT&T may slow data speeds on that line during periods of network congestion.”

Speed throttles often affect video quality and can stall playback.

It’s the first time in five years AT&T has offered an “unlimited data” wireless option to its mobile customers. Analysts suspect the offer is designed to compete with T-Mobile’s free video streaming “BingeOn” promotion, while also protecting AT&T’s video platforms from cord-cutting. AT&T also gets an opportunity to add new video customers to its recently acquired DirecTV service, because only customers with a qualifying video subscription are allowed to buy the unlimited data plan.

AT&T is tying the unlimited data promotion to its satellite offering DirecTV, not U-verse, with a promotional satellite TV package for new video customers beginning at $19.99 per month for 12 months, with a 24 month agreement. After one year, the base TV package increases to $49.99 a month.

To bring back AT&T wireless customers that left for another carrier, AT&T is offering up to $500 in incentives when customers switch to the AT&T Unlimited Plan with an eligible trade-in and buy a new smartphone on AT&T Next. Customers who combine their U-verse or DirecTV account with AT&T Wireless on a single bill will also get an extra $10 off per month.

AT&T is effectively selling its Unlimited Plan for $60 a month, double AT&T’s original rate for unlimited data of just under $30. With a video subscription pre-qualifier, customers enrolling in the plan can expect a substantial bill.

AT&T Unlimited Plan
Device Type Monthly Access Fee Per Device
1st Smartphone $100
Additional Smartphones  (Fourth line free after bill credit) + $40
Tablets + $40 (or $10 for 1GB)
Watches + $10
Basic/messaging phones + $25
Select connected devices + $10

On the mobile side, customers will be initially expected to pay up to $220 a month for four active lines. The $40 credit for the fourth smartphone only begins after two billing cycles, finally reducing the bill to $180 a month before taxes and surcharges. A required video package will range from $19.99 for a basic DirecTV plan ($49.99 in year two) to as much as $80 or more for U-verse TV, bringing a combined television and wireless bill to more than $300 a month.

Those with 4G tablets can save some money dropping the $40 unlimited data device access fee and choosing a $10 1GB data plan for tablets instead.

AT&T Whistleblower: Our Successful CSR’s are “Liars and Sleaze”; Many Others on Anti-Depressants

Phillip Dampier January 4, 2016 AT&T, Consumer News 55 Comments

repeating mistakesAT&T customers reaching out for customer service are likely to encounter dysfunctional call center employees that will lie, cheat, and scam customers just to meet their monthly targets, while three-quarters of the rest rely on high-powered antidepressants and anxiety medication just to get through the day.

Those shocking allegations come directly from a 17-year AT&T insider that has blown the whistle on “the catastrophe” that is AT&T’s customer service.

“For 10 years, The [Dallas Morning News‘] Watchdog has received a steady flow of complaints about AT&T,” writes consumer reporter Dave Lieber. “Hundreds upon hundreds. More than any other company by far.” (Dallas isn’t served by Comcast.)

Lieber writes that the newspaper’s embarrassing publicity about unresolved consumer complaints always gets the problems he writes about fixed, but the company never seems to correct the chronic problems that bring readers to the newspaper in droves as a last resort.

“I don’t know why this continues to happen, but a recent letter I received may help us understand,” Lieber explains.

Last fall, a career employee at an AT&T call center with 17 years of history with AT&T and its predecessor decided to blow the whistle. She signed the letter, but the newspaper felt it prudent to withhold her name from publication for obvious reasons.

The letter details several customer service practices that are now routine at AT&T call centers — practices that could interfere with a customer’s ability to argue for a better deal or cancel service. Recent belt-tightening by AT&T on promotional spending has left call center workers almost no chance to “delight” customers with a good experience saving their business. In fact, the employee alleges, those not on medication to manage the depression and anxiety that comes from dealing with angry and disappointed customers are capable of thriving at work only by checking their conscience at the door.

“Dear Watchdog, I’ve worked 17 years for AT&T. I have never, in all my years, imagined it would become the catastrophe it is now.

“As retention reps, we are told to not only retain existing customers after their promotions expire, but to also sell more to these people.

“In most cases, a customer’s bill will jump up $83 a month after the ‘intro’ pricing ends. We as reps are allotted at the beginning of week 5 ‘limited use’ promotions, giving folks the maximum of $40 off.

“By Monday afternoon, these are generally depleted as we take about 40 calls a day.

“This has created a culture of reps promising promos, but not adding them. Or telling the customer they are disconnecting the service, but just not doing it. Reps do not want to disconnect a customer, as this counts against the rep.

“You are right to request a user ID [of the rep]. However, it does not help, as every account is noted with the ID of the rep, and management does nothing to discourage the reps’ behavior (as the manager’s pay also is negatively affected by each disconnect their rep does).

“This goes all the way up to sales center manager, general manager and VP. None of the higher-ups care or do anything to stop it.

“They also turn a blind eye to ‘cramming’ by reps (mostly nonunion employees overseas) and erroneous misquotes.

“It’s very frustrating to be an ethical rep there anymore, as you are constantly under their scrutiny for not meeting numbers. The only way to meet these numbers is to be a liar and a sleaze. Three-quarters of my call center is on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicine just to deal with the company. It shouldn’t be like that.

[…] “The problem with this is none of these general managers communicate. Each state is covered by different laws and regulations. You in Texas may call and get a rep in California. In California, I do not have to let you record the call. You also have the option not to be recorded.

“Now that we are national, you have GMs in charge of call centers in California, Missouri, Texas and Georgia. They don’t train you, don’t care about you, don’t care about the customer as long as they are getting commission off your work.

“They know nothing of government regulations, and frankly, do not care.

“I’ve been through so many GMs and vice presidents. However, this is by far the most inept. We should be helping our customers, not forcing products on them they do not want. … I really don’t think anyone in the government cares.”

att_logo“Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing if this is an employee of our company,” AT&T’s response begins. “But the picture painted is not the experience we create, promote or endorse. We have some of the best call center employees in the industry. We set expectations and limit the offers they can use. But we also provide new agents with 12 weeks of intensive training — with a focus on keeping customers with integrity and with offers based on needs determined during the conversation.”

AT&T’s reaction to the letter missed the point, Lieber wrote, only addressing the identity of the author, not the specific complaints.

In practical terms, many of the allegations raised by the employee seem borne out in AT&T’s own customer support forum, where customers routinely complain about promotions promised but never delivered, billing errors, bills higher than originally quoted, and service never cancelled despite repeated customer requests.

In just the last few weeks, one customer was misled about a U-verse promotion that turned out to last only 90 days, after which the bill soared to $180 a month (with six months still remaining on a one-year contract). Another cancelled U-verse service on Nov. 16, but the service, and the bills… keep on coming. Another customer was promised a retention offer that AT&T reneged on, increasing his bill $80 a month.

GOP Candidate Marco Rubio Wants to Kill Public Municipal Broadband

Marco Rubio swallows the talking points of AT&T while also spending their money.

Marco Rubio drinks AT&T’s Kool Aid while also spending their money.

Eight Republican senators, including presidential candidate Marco Rubio, are so upset about communities building their own broadband networks, they’ve signed a letter demanding the Federal Communications Commission stop making life easier for the would-be competitors.

Rubio joined Sens. Deb Fischer, Ron Johnson, John Cornyn, Pat Roberts, John Barrasso, Michael Enzi, and Tim Scott in protesting the Commission’s interference in “overriding [Tennessee and North Carolina’s] sovereign authority to regulate their own municipalities.”

The senators are concerned about an FCC decision to override state laws in the two states that make it nearly impossible to launch a public broadband network. The laws were widely criticized as being written and lobbied for by incumbent telecom operators that wanted to avoid competition.

The eight adopted the phrase “government-owned networks,” popular with telecom-funded critics of community broadband, to describe local broadband networks owned and operated in the public interest, mostly offering service in areas bypassed or underserved by incumbent phone and cable companies.

The letter complains “agency officials have begun engaging in outreach to persuade communities to deploy municipal broadband networks.”

The senators were particularly upset about remarks from one agency official who stated, “Where you’ve got a community infrastructure or a rural electric company, a rural electric co-op, states shouldn’t be telling local communities what they can and cannot do.”

The eight believe private broadband providers should be given due deference over other competitors but also demanded the FCC stop “choosing winners and losers in the competitive broadband marketplace.”

EPB's biggest problem is that they are not AT&T.

EPB’s biggest problem is that they are not AT&T. The fiber to the home municipal utility outperforms both Comcast and AT&T and charges dramatically lower pricing for high speed service.

“Typical hypocrisy from those in the back pocket of AT&T,” responds Tim Weller, an advocate for expanding EPB’s municipal fiber network to other communities adjacent to Chattanooga, Tenn. “By telling the FCC to stop allowing cheaper, more reliable, and faster service from municipal utilities like EPB, they have no issue picking AT&T and Comcast as winners. Rubio couldn’t be closer to AT&T if he located his campaign headquarters in their corporate office in Dallas.”

Few candidates have closer ties to corporate telecom interests than Marco Rubio. AT&T lobbyist Scott Weaver, who works as the public policy co-chair of high-powered DC law firm Wiley Rein, is a close Rubio associate. Weaver, also assisting in litigation against the FCC to curb municipal broadband, is one of three lobbyist money-bundlers working on behalf of the Rubio campaign. He has raised at least $33,000 so far for the Florida senator.

Rubio has lived off AT&T’s generosity since his days in the Florida legislature, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, including $22,000 in personal expenses, on a state Republican Party American Express card that was paid each month with funds donated by AT&T and other special interests.

The International Business Times reported Rubio’s long history courting companies like AT&T to give heavily to murky Republican-controlled fundraising groups that bypassed Florida’s ban on gifts from lobbyists.

In 2003, as a member of the Florida state House, Rubio created a special fundraising committee, called Floridians for Conservative Leadership, that could accept unlimited contributions. In the span of a year, the committee raised $228,000, with large donations from lobbyists, telecom giant AT&T, health plan manager WellCare and the state’s sugar conglomerates, Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar. Not all of the contributors were disclosed, and some are listed simply as gold or silver memberships.

By mid-2004, the group had spent $193,000. More than a third of the committee’s money was spent on meals and travel. Some of those expenditures were made as reimbursements to Rubio and his wife, Jeanette. Other payments appear to be multiple items lumped together as single expenditures — an uncommon arrangement — like a $3,476 expense listed under “Citibank Mastercard” that includes hotel, airfare, meals and gas. Another $71,000 was spent on staff and consultants.

While Rubio was in the legislature in the February 2004, he created a federal 527 organization with a similar name, called Floridians for Conservative Leadership in Government. Rubio was listed as the group’s president, with his wife as vice president. The committee raised $386,000 by the end of 2004, with donations from Hewlett-Packard, Dosal Tobacco Corporation and private prison company GEO Group, according to filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

The federal group spent $316,000 by the end of 2005. The bulk of its spending was on consulting, but the committee also paid Rubio’s relatives roughly $14,000 for items wrongly described as “courier fees,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

As Marco’s money controversies emerged, some members of his staff decided to move to the private sector, including Rubio’s former chief of staff, Cesar Conda, who now works as a professional lobbyist for AT&T. As a U.S. senator, Rubio continues to cash AT&T’s campaign contribution checks.

“This letter is nothing more than naked corporate protectionism from senators that get donations from the same telecom companies that are threatened by a challenge to their monopolies,” Weller added.

The senators also demanded Wheeler answer questions about how much money the FCC has given to municipal providers, whether the presence of municipal providers would lead to cuts in funding for private phone companies from the Universal Service Fund/Connect America Fund, and what exactly the FCC plans to advocate or regulate with respect to public broadband in 2016.

FCC Wants Details About Usage Caps and Zero Rating from Comcast, T-Mobile, and AT&T

An AT&T Logo is pictured on the side of a building in Pasadena, California, January 26, 2015. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

An AT&T Logo is pictured on the side of a building in Pasadena, California, January 26, 2015. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Editor’s Note: Stop the Cap! learned in May from a well-placed source that the FCC would “get serious” about data caps if Comcast moved to further expand them in its service areas across the country. It appears that day has arrived although it is too early to tell what direction the FCC will move in. Comcast’s data cap program has grown the most controversial, triggering at least 13,000 consumer complaints from what the company continues to claim is only a limited “trial.” But wireless providers’ growing interest in exempting certain data from counting against a customer’s allowance — a practice known as “zero rating” — has also attracted interest because of its potential impact on Net Neutrality policies.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Communications Commission said on Thursday it has asked major Internet providers to discuss innovative data policies in the wake of the government’s Net Neutrality rules.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told reporters Thursday that commission staff sent letters on Wednesday to AT&T, Comcast and T-Mobile “to come in and have a discussion with us about some of the innovative things that they are doing.”

Wheeler said the letters are focused on data policies.

T Mobile has introduced a new “Binge On” policy that does not count some digital video services against data limits.

Comcast is rolling out its own live streaming TV service called “Stream TV” that would not count usage against data caps if using Comcast services.

AT&T has had “sponsored data plan” programs that allow content providers to subsidize users wireless data.

Wheeler said the commission wants to welcome innovation in its open Internet order. He said the commission wants to “keep aware” of what is going on.

On Dec. 4, a U.S. appeals court heard arguments on Friday over the legality of the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules, in a case that may ultimately determine how consumers get access to content on the Internet.

The fight is the latest battle over Obama administration rules requiring broadband providers to treat all data equally, rather than giving or selling access to a so-called Web “fast lane.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Corporate Welfare: Congress Gives Big Telecom Accelerated and Bonus Depreciation Extensions

Phillip Dampier December 16, 2015 AT&T, CenturyLink, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon 10 Comments

corporatewelfareIn the darkness of night, Congress on Tuesday handed some of America’s largest telecom companies a huge tax windfall allowing many to continue taking a special 50% depreciation bonus that slashes their tax bills on new equipment purchases, winning substantial reductions in their federal tax bills.

CenturyLink had been heavily lobbying House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other House leaders to extend a “temporary tax provision” that was designed to stimulate corporate spending on capital investments during the height of the Great Recession. Stimulus programs like these have allowed corporations like AT&T and Verizon to pay virtually no federal taxes at all for multiple years in a row. AT&T was the second biggest tax provision/corporate welfare recipient in the country, Verizon was fifth according to Citizens for Tax Justice. Between 2008-2012 taxpayers effectively covered the $19.2 billion in federal tax not paid by AT&T and $11.1 billion not paid by Verizon.

The two words that make it possible are: Accelerated Depreciation

Telecom companies, particularly those with wireless assets, are benefiting from the “temporary” stimulus program introduced by President George W. Bush in the last year of his second term because most are capital-intensive, spending regularly to expand, maintain, and upgrade their networks. CenturyLink has taken advantage of accelerated depreciation to invest billions in fiber network expansions to reach cell towers and businesses and on residential broadband speed upgrades the company claims would not have come so quickly without the tax savings.

Mobile companies like AT&T and Verizon Wireless are some of the largest beneficiaries of the stimulus program, using accelerated depreciation to write off expenses for cell tower expansion, network densificiation, and deployment of services like 4G LTE. In most cases, “accelerated depreciation” is technically a tax deferral, but because these companies maintain constant investment in network development and upkeep, the tax man never actually arrives at the door to collect.

Heavy lobbying from beneficiaries not only succeeded in getting the program’s expiration date extended, the Obama Administration agreed to expand it at the end of 2013. Companies slashed tens of billions off their tax bills as a result. A report from the Congressional Research Service, reviewing efforts to quantify the impact of depreciation breaks, found that “the studies concluded that accelerated depreciation in general is a relatively ineffective tool for stimulating the economy.”

Citizens for Tax Justice added:

Combined with rules allowing corporations to deduct interest expenses, accelerated depreciation can result in very low, or even negative, tax rates on profits from particular investments. A corporation can borrow money to purchase equipment or a building, deduct the interest expenses on the debt and quickly deduct the cost of the equipment or building thanks to accelerated depreciation. The total deductions can then make the investments more profitable after-tax than before-tax.

The latest budget bill, passed Dec 15-16, extends the tax breaks until 2018 when the bonus drops to 40%, 30% in 2019, and zero in 2020.

AT&T Got Their DirecTV Merger, Now You Get a Higher U-verse Bill

Phillip Dampier December 15, 2015 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News 5 Comments

att directvDespite cost savings expected to run into the billions from the combination of AT&T U-verse and satellite TV provider DirecTV, AT&T isn’t sharing any of their savings with you and has announced a nationwide rate hike for early 2016.

For the latest round of price increases, AT&T is focusing on its U-verse TV and telephone services, blaming “increased programming costs” and “service delivery expenses.”

All customers not on a promotional rate contract will be affected, starting with billing statements issued after Jan. 28, 2016.

  • merryxmasattAT&T’s Voice 1000 plan is increasing to $30 a month and the Voice 250 plan will rise by $2, to $27 per month;
  • U-family and U-family All-In tiers increase $2 a month;
  • U100, U200, U200 All-In, U200 Latino and U200 Latino All-In up $3 a month;
  • U300, U300 All-In, U300 Latino, U300 Latino All-In, U400, U450, U450 All-In, U450 Latino and U450 Latino All-In rise $4 a month;
  • Non DVR-TV receivers increase $1 per month;
  • Regulatory Video Cost Recovery Surcharge: up 1¢ per month;
  • Broadcast TV Surcharge: increasing $1 per month (except 46¢ in Detroit, Biloxi, Miss., and Wilmington, N.C.)

AT&T claims its services remain a good value at the higher price because the company’s TV Everywhere service now allows mobile/tablet customers access to more than 270 live channels while inside the home and more than 205 channels when on the go.

Customers appear not to be impressed. AT&T admitted 92,000 U-verse customers left AT&T for good during the last quarter and analysts expect further customer losses during this quarter as AT&T refocuses its value conscious customers on cheap and easy to install DirecTV instead of U-verse, which can be costly to get up and running.

CEO Randall Stephenson also warned customers should expect a harder line on pricing due to the company’s ‘new focus on profitability.’ AT&T has cut back on promotional pricing and is especially reluctant to extend deals to customers with a “propensity to churn.” That means AT&T does not want to extend lower pricing to customers threatening to leave who are unwilling to pay the regular price after their deal ends. The company noted price sensitive customers often bounce back and forth between providers just to secure new customer pricing.

AT&T U-verse’s Magical Morphing Modem Fee: Your Modem or Theirs, It’s Still $7 a Month

Phillip Dampier December 15, 2015 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Internet Overcharging 1 Comment
Motorola NVG589 gateway

Motorola NVG589 gateway

AT&T customers offered free broadband service upgrades are discovering “free” means at least $7 a month in new equipment charges for some, even when the customer owns the equipment.

Jim Grant has been an AT&T ADSL 2+ customer for almost a decade, happy to get 12Mbps broadband service from the phone company while maintaining an account with DISH Network for satellite television. As part of AT&T’s expansion effort, Grant’s neighborhood recently became U-verse capable, which led to an onslaught of new customer promotions offering upgrades for broadband-only customers and packages of television, telephone, and broadband service for everyone else.

“An AT&T salesman offered me 18Mbps VDSL service for the exact same price I’ve been paying for 12Mbps, claiming the newer single-pair circuit would work more reliably than the bonded pair service I receive today,” Grant tells Stop the Cap! “What he and the installation guy failed to mention is that this ‘free upgrade’ would cost me $7 a month in equipment fees, even though I bought and own the RG (residential gateway) they now want to charge me for using.”

Grant’s Motorola-manufactured router/modem did not need to be replaced. It was always capable of supporting ADSL2+ and VDSL broadband service. Only his bill has changed.

It turns out AT&T changed its policies that used to allow certain customers to avoid modem fees by buying their own equipment. Starting Jan. 11, 2015, AT&T’s modem rental fee for customers using the company’s equipment remained $7 a month. But customers who own their own equipment in a U-verse upgraded area are also charged the same $7, only AT&T doesn’t consider it a modem rental fee. Instead, it is a combination equipment charge and extended warranty.

AT&T claims this change actually saves customers money once their purchased modems go out of warranty. AT&T used to charge $99 for a service call to a home with customer-owned equipment and a $100 replacement charge if the modem turned out to be defective. AT&T says the $7 monthly equipment and warranty fee protects customers from both charges if something goes wrong.

Modem fees apparently don't apply if you are lucky enough to qualify for a promotion like this one in Austin for AT&T's GigaPower service.

Modem fees apparently don’t apply if you are lucky enough to qualify for a promotion like this one offered in Austin in 2013 for AT&T’s GigaPower service.

AT&T’s explanation didn’t go over well with Grant, who only found out about the charge once the bill arrived.

“I was promised repeatedly my bill would be exactly the same and since I owned my own equipment, there was no way I should be charged a fee like this,” Grant explained. “AT&T is charging me the same $7 it would any customer using AT&T-supplied equipment.”

fat cat attMost customers affected by this charge discover it after upgrading their service or when technicians replace older equipment, often accompanied by a promise there would be no extra charges or fees, something customers learn isn’t always true after their next bill arrives.

Abhijit accepted an AT&T offer to boost his U-verse Internet speed to 24Mbps. Along for the ride was a brand new U-verse gateway.

“I was told specifically that there would be no additional charge,” Abhijit complained on AT&T’s customer support forum. “After first month’s bill, I am seeing an additional $7.00 Internet equipment fee.”

Another customer in Texas was also misinformed by AT&T’s salespeople about the modem fees.

“I was informed that this $7 fee was for leasing a modem/wireless Router/Residential Gateway (RG),” wrote the customer. “However, if I have my own compatible modem, there will be no additional charge. I have purchased my own compatible modem and now AT&T service says [it will charge a] ‘$7 service fee’ instead of [the $7] equipment rental.”

Modem fees are a lucrative source of revenue from AT&T, earning the company potentially more than $84 million a month.

Some customers report success receiving service credits or other fee waivers after complaining about the undisclosed fees in complaints to the FCC.

AT&T Announces 38 New Markets for Gigabit U-verse, Omits Availability Numbers

Phillip Dampier December 8, 2015 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News 6 Comments

uverse gigapowerOn Monday, AT&T announced 38 additional cities that will eventually have access to its gigabit broadband offering – AT&T U-verse with GigaPower, but the company remains coy about the number of customers that can actually order the service today across the 56 metro areas that will eventually be served by AT&T’s fiber to the home network.

“Nearly two years ago, we successfully launched the first AT&T GigaPower metro in Austin, Tex.,” AT&T wrote in its press release. “This launch led to a major expansion in multiple metros beginning in 2014. Recently we marked a major milestone deploying the AT&T GigaPower network to more than 1 million locations, and we expect to more than double availability by the end of 2016.”

Stop the Cap! asked AT&T for information about its claim of offering service to more than “one million locations” and received a response that this number may not reflect strict availability of the gigabit service, but rather the likely number of potential customers served by a central office/exchange where GigaPower was enabled. In reality, not every customer within a central office immediately qualifies for U-verse service, as many customers have complained.

At the current rollout rate of about one million customers per year, it will take AT&T at least 12 years to achieve its goal of more than 14 million residential and commercial locations, probably in the year 2027.

The 38 metro areas that AT&T will be entering, starting with the launch of service in parts of the Los Angeles and West Palm Beach metros today, are:

  • Alabama: Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery
  • Arkansas: Fort Smith/Northwest Arkansas and Little Rock
  • California: Bakersfield, Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose
  • Florida: Pensacola and West Palm Beach
  • Georgia: Augusta
  • Indiana: Indianapolis
  • Kansas: Wichita
  • Kentucky: Louisville
  • Louisiana: Baton Rouge, ShreveportBossier, Jefferson Parish region and the Northshore
  • Mississippi: Jackson
  • Missouri: St. Louis
  • Michigan: Detroit
  • Nevada: Reno
  • North Carolina: Asheville
  • Ohio: Cleveland and Columbus
  • Oklahoma: Oklahoma City and Tulsa
  • South Carolina: Charleston, Columbia and Greenville
  • Tennessee: Memphis
  • Texas: El Paso and Lubbock
  • Wisconsin: Milwaukee

For more information on where the AT&T GigaPower network is and will become available, visit att.com/gigapowermap.

The Stage Is Set to Kill Telco ADSL: Cable Operators Prepare for DOCSIS 3.1 Competitive Assault

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Next year’s upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1 will support cable broadband speeds up to one gigabit shortly after introduction.

Telephone companies relying on traditional ADSL service to power their broadband offering will likely face a renewed competitive assault in 2016 that will further reduce their already-challenged market share in areas where cable companies compete.

Cable operators are hungry for profitable broadband customers and the best place to find new prospects is at the phone company, where DSL is still a common technology to deliver Internet access. But while cable Internet speeds have risen, significant DSL speed hikes have proven more modest in the residential market.

In 2016, the cable industry intends to poach some of the remaining price-sensitive holdouts still clinging to DSL with revised broadband offers promising more speed for the dollar.

Cable broadband has already proven itself a runaway success when matched against telephone company DSL service. Over the last year, Strategy Analytics found Comcast and Time Warner Cable alone signed up a combined 71 percent of the three million new broadband customers in the U.S.

“Cable operators continue to increase market share in U.S. broadband,” said Jason Blackwell, a director at Strategy Analytics. “Over the past twelve months, Comcast has accounted for 42 percent of new subscribers among the operators that we track.  Fiber growth is still strong, but the telco operators haven’t been able to shake off the losses of DSL subscribers.  In 2016, we expect to see a real battle in broadband, as cable operators begin to roll out DOCSIS 3.1 for even higher speed offers, placing additional pressure on telcos.”

That battle will come in the form of upgraded economy broadband plans, many arriving shortly after providers upgrade to the DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband platform. Currently those plans offer speeds ranging from 2-6Mbps. Starting next year, customers can expect economy plan prices to stay generally comparable to DSL, with promises of faster and more consistent speeds. A source tells Stop the Cap! at least two significant cable operators are considering 10Mbps to be an appropriate entry-level broadband speed for 2016, in keeping with FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler’s dislike of Internet speeds below 10Mbps.

slowJust a few years earlier, most providers wouldn’t think of offering discounted 10Mbps service, fearing it would cannibalize revenue as customers downgraded to get lower priced service. Increasing demands on bandwidth from online video and multiple in-home users have gradually raised consumer expectations, and their need for speed.

Unfortunately for many phone companies that have neglected significant investment in their aging wireline networks, the costs to keep up with cable will become unmanageable unless investors are willing to tolerate significant growth in capital expenses to pay for network upgrades. Frontier Communications still claims most of their customers are satisfied with 6Mbps DSL, neglecting to mention many of those customers live in areas where cable competition (or faster service from Frontier) is not available.

Where competition does exist, it’s especially bad news for phone companies that still rely on DSL. Earlier this year, Frontier’s former CEO Maggie Wilderotter admitted Frontier’s share of the residential broadband market had dropped to less than 25% in 26 of the 27 states where it provides service. In Connecticut, the one state where Frontier was doing better, its acquired AT&T U-verse system has enabled the phone company to deliver broadband speeds up to 100Mbps. But even those speeds do not satisfy state officials who are seeking proposals from providers to build a gigabit fiber network in a public-private partnership.

DSL speed upgrades have been spotty and more modest.

DSL speed upgrades have been spotty and more modest.

Frontier’s recent experiments with fiber to the home service in a small part of Durham, N.C., and the unintentional revelation of a gigabit broadband inquiry page on Frontier’s website suggests the company may be exploring at least a limited rollout of gigabit fiber service in the state. But company officials have also repeatedly stressed in quarterly results conference calls there were no significant plans to embark on a major spending program to deliver major upgrades across their service areas.

Some phone companies may have little choice except to offer upgrades where cable operators are continuing to rob them of customers. In the northeast, where Frontier has a substantial presence, cable operators including Charter, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are committing to additional speed upgrades. Time Warner Cable’s current standard speed of 15Mbps will rise to 50-60Mbps in 2016, up to ten times faster than Frontier’s most popular “up to” 6Mbps DSL plan.

Most of the broadband customer gains won by Comcast and Time Warner Cable come as a result of DSL disconnects. AT&T said goodbye to 106,000 customers during the third quarter. Verizon managed to pick up 2,000 new subscribers overall, almost all signing up for FiOS fiber to the home service. No cable operator lost broadband market share, reported analyst firm Evercore. Leichtman Research offered additional insight, finding AT&T and Verizon were successful adding 305,000 U-verse and FiOS broadband customers, while losing 432,000 DSL customers during the same quarter.

The message to phone companies couldn’t be clearer: upgrade your networks or else.

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