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Time Warner Cable Customers Bait and Switched to Charter/Spectrum Products

Milan Gohil’s customer retention promotion with Time Warner Cable was coming to an end. Following in the footsteps of what tens of thousands of other Time Warner Cable customers have done for the last several years – it was time to call and request another deal.

Unfortunately for Gohil, this year the phone was answered by Charter/Spectrum and not a customer retention specialist at Time Warner Cable. That will be increasingly true for all Time Warner Cable customers as Charter continues its gradual transition towards a Spectrum rebrand across the country. That transition for Bright House customers appears to have been already completed. As a consequence, Time Warner Cable and Bright House offers will be replaced with a “simplified” menu of options from Charter.

For Gohil, a Time Warner Cable Maxx customer, those choices didn’t amount to anything except a speed downgrade and a broken promise.

“I had 200Mbps for $60 a month through Time Warner Cable, but the plan was set to expire in a few days,” Gohil explained. “I spoke to a customer service representative and was told I could upgrade to 300Mbps service for $68 a month, including taxes.”

Believing a good deal was in hand, Gohil readily agreed and while waiting on the phone, the representative activated the new promotion. There was only one problem: Milan ended up with Charter’s default internet plan in Time Warner Cable Maxx service areas converted to Spectrum service – 100Mbps.

“I spoke to a Spectrum tech support agent and was told my account was downgraded and that my TWC legacy pricing was no longer available,” Gohil told Stop the Cap! Trying to get his old 200Mbps Maxx speed plan back at any price proved fruitless.

“I was then put in touch with a Spectrum ‘Customer Solutions’ representative and pleaded with them to reinstate my original TWC legacy plan,” Gohil said. “I was told this was not an option and that if I wanted their Ultra 300 (closest option), there would be a $200 activation fee!”

After an hour of negotiation, Spectrum had won the first battle, leaving a dissatisfied customer behind.

“I had 200Mbps just two hours ago and now have only have half of that. I am EXTREMELY disappointed,” Gohil shared. “I would never have agreed to a drastic reduction in speed to save a few bucks.”

Gohil regrets ever calling Spectrum, and is livid customer service could not restore a plan other Time Warner Cable Maxx customers still have and can keep for the next several years, all because a Spectrum call center agent misrepresented a promotion.

Despite’s Charter’s promises to consumers and regulators that their way of doing business would result in better service at a better price for Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers, many of those converted to Spectrum have told us they’d rather have Time Warner Cable and Bright House back, because more options were available and they were at least open to negotiation.

Finding a supervisor at a problem resolution center proved difficult at first. Time Warner Cable’s executive customer service department, formerly reachable at (212) 364-8300 has been taken over by Spectrum and disconnected. Calls are now being taken by 1-800-892-4357, and that is where we referred Gohil, which turned out to be at least some help.

“After an hour on the line with Spectrum/TWC billing and retention, I was able to get 300Mbps for $80 per month for one year,” said Gohil, but there was a catch. “I was informed that it will go up to $100 in 2018.”

But Spectrum has another nasty surprise in store for customers like Gohil looking for speed upgrades: a $200 activation fee.

Spectrum minimizes the chance customers will encounter this fee by marketing only one internet speed tier to most customers: 60Mbps for most Bright House and non-Maxx Time Warner Cable customers and 100Mbps for those Time Warner customers lucky enough to see Maxx upgrades completed before the cable company was acquired by Charter. Most customer service agents are trained to sell this single internet plan, and we’ve found several not trained to offer customers anything else.

When existing Time Warner Cable or Bright House customers are first converted to a Spectrum plan, the $200 activation fee does not apply. But once a Spectrum customer, any attempt to further upgrade broadband service usually results in a $200 fee. Some customers have managed to negotiate their way out of the fee, but it takes some effort and faith the representative isn’t telling you a tall tale to get you upgraded and off the phone.

“After negotiating with the retention specialist, she implemented the 300Mbps service for me,” Gohil reports. “It was implied that the ridiculous $200 ‘activation fee’ would be waived. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if [it] appears on next month’s bill. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

For Gohil, cable mergers have never lived up to their promised “consumer benefits” and he’s worried about what is coming next.

“With Trump taking office, it’s certain that broadband consumers are going to continue to be exploited by the telecom duopoly,” writes Gohil. “As a cord cutter and Net Neutrality proponent, I am deeply concerned about the future of America’s broadband landscape.”

Here are some tips from Stop the Cap! for Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers to consider before changing your account.

Time Warner Cable legacy offers in an area not yet switched to Charter Spectrum plans look like this.

If your local area is still being served by Time Warner Cable and their old service plans are still being advertised:

  1. If you are on a new customer promotion, have a rebate offer, or a discount you negotiated to remain a customer, Charter will honor the deal until it expires. However, once your offer or the submission deadline for a rebate has been reached, you will probably not be able to negotiate an extension or new offer. Your rates will either gradually or immediately reset to regular pricing and your rebate will be lost.
  2. Time Warner Cable seems to have ended most of their customer retention deals under the Time Warner Cable brand, but they are still offering new customer promotional offers. If you are an existing customer facing a rate reset, you can cancel service under your name and sign up with a new customer promotion under the name of another member of your household before the Spectrum plans arrive in your area. This is the only certain method remaining to get a discount off existing Time Warner Cable plans and will generally last one year.
  3. You can continue to select any Time Warner Cable legacy service plan advertised on the website, and as long as the transition to Spectrum has not yet happened in your area, you can safely change between those plans. You can also continue an existing plan indefinitely, but you will pay dearly for doing so — eventually forced to pay regular Time Warner Cable pricing which is generally higher than what Charter’s Spectrum plans will cost.

Bright House customers have already been introduced to Charter Spectrum plans.

If you are a Bright House customer (you have already been introduced to Charter Spectrum plans):

  1. If you are on a new customer promotion from Bright House or a discount you negotiated to remain a customer, Charter will honor the deal until it expires. However, because your area has now switched exclusively to Charter/Spectrum branding, your current plan has been grandfathered and you cannot change it without losing it and switching to a Spectrum plan.
  2. Any “promotion” Charter offers you will be based on a Spectrum plan. You will lose your existing Bright House plan permanently if you accept the offer.
  3. Spectrum’s broadband offer will likely default to 60Mbps, which may be a reasonably good deal if you subscribed to a lower speed tier through Bright House itself. Faster speeds may be available but you will need to call to be certain. There is a significant price jump of about $40 a month to upgrade to 100Mbps at regular Charter Spectrum prices. Ask about discounts and if one is available you may want to upgrade immediately. If you decide to upgrade later, you are likely to encounter a $200 upgrade fee.
  4. In general, Charter’s offer for Bright House customers will prove initially cheaper than what Bright House offered before at its regular prices. But most Spectrum plans will increase in price after your first and second anniversary unless Charter changes its rate structure. Charter has also strongly discouraged representatives from renewing promotions for existing customers as they expire, so negotiating a better deal is going to be more difficult than before.

When your area has been fully converted to Charter Spectrum, the available plans will look something like this.

If you are a Time Warner Cable Maxx customer now served by Charter/Spectrum (the only plans on the website are branded Spectrum):

  1. If you are on a new customer promotion from Time Warner Cable, have a rebate offer from TWC in progress, or a discount you negotiated with TWC to remain a customer, Charter will honor the deal until it expires. However, because your area has now switched exclusively to Charter/Spectrum branding, Charter has a demonstrated history of not honoring requests to renew customer promotions, will not honor rebate requests that have not been already fulfilled by TWC and will not be much help if you have to intervene about a missing rebate.
  2. You cannot change your Time Warner Cable Maxx plan features. Once an area has been converted to Spectrum, TWC Maxx plans are grandfathered as-is. If you want to change your plan, you will be offered a Spectrum plan instead. Any “promotion” Charter offers existing Maxx customers will also be based on a Spectrum plan. You will lose your Time Warner Cable Maxx plan permanently if you accept their offer.
  3. Choose wisely if you are thinking of moving from Maxx to a Spectrum broadband plan. Spectrum will usually enroll you in their traditional 100Mbps plan by default. If you already have 200 or 300Mbps service, you may see a significant price change switching to Spectrum unless you can negotiate a discount. If you decide to upgrade your speed later, you will also face Charter’s $200 upgrade fee. There are some promotions available that can get 300Mbps service down to about $80/mo for a year, but it will increase to $100/mo the following year. Some customers have successfully negotiated the $200 fee off their bill, but make sure you ask for the name of any representative offering to waive the fee and keep that information handy if the fee shows up anyway.
  4. Customer promotions are available for existing customers, but you will have to negotiate and you can expect them to be less generous than what Time Warner Cable offered in the past. Also, Charter has strongly discouraged representatives from renewing promotions as they expire. Charter management is on record stating they feel Time Warner Cable’s tradition of extending ongoing discounts were bad for business.

If you are in a Time Warner Cable area never upgraded to Maxx service -and- you are now served by Charter/Spectrum (the only plans on offer are branded Spectrum):

  1. If you are on a new customer promotion from Time Warner Cable, have a rebate offer from TWC in progress, or a discount you negotiated with TWC to remain a customer, Charter will honor the deal until it expires. However, because your area has now switched exclusively to Charter/Spectrum branding, Charter has a demonstrated history of not honoring requests to renew existing customer promotions, will not honor rebate requests that have not been already fulfilled by TWC and won’t be much help if you have to intervene about a missing rebate.
  2. You cannot change your current Time Warner Cable plan without switching to an available Spectrum plan.
  3. Any “promotion” Charter offers you will be based on a Spectrum plan. You will lose your existing Time Warner Cable plan permanently if you accept the offer.
  4. For most customers currently subscribed to a broadband plan up to 30Mbps, Spectrum’s broadband offer will likely be an upgrade worth considering, especially if you are still paying a modem rental fee. Spectrum will widely market just one speed in your area – 60Mbps, and that is the default plan you will get. Because Time Warner Cable already overprovisions their 50/5Mbps Ultimate tier to speeds that approach 60Mbps, Spectrum’s offer will probably be cheaper, but it won’t be faster. Your area will probably also have 100Mbps service available as an alternative, but it won’t be widely advertised. It’s not cheap, adding another $40 a month to your bill. If you think you may want that speed, ask about any discount promotions and sign up at the same time you abandon your Time Warner Cable plan to avoid paying a $200 upgrade fee later on.
  5. In general, Charter’s offer for Time Warner Cable customers never upgraded to Maxx will prove initially cheaper than Time Warner Cable’s regular prices. But the rates might not be cheaper if you negotiated a lower bill from Time Warner during the last year. Many Spectrum promotions initially offered are comparable to new customer deals and you can expect rates to increase on your first and second anniversary with Charter, with regular prices returning by the third year. Charter has strongly discouraged representatives from renewing promotions for existing customers as they expire. Charter management is on record stating they feel Time Warner Cable’s practice of offering ongoing discounts were bad for business.

Charter Still Losing Time Warner Cable Customers With Hard Line on Retention Deals

charter-twc-bhAt least 54,000 Time Warner Cable customers downgraded or canceled their cable TV service in the last three months as Charter Communications continues to take a harder line on offering or renewing customer retention discounts for customers unhappy with their bill.

Time Warner Cable customers are “mispriced” with discounts and deals that lower the cost of service but face bill shock when the promotion ends, according to Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge.

“Third quarter customer results were more inconsistent with good performance at Legacy Charter and Bright House, but higher churn and downgrades in the Time Warner Cable markets, as we expected, given the way Time Warner Cable had marketed promotional pricing,” said Rutledge. “Until our Spectrum pricing and packaging is launched across the newly acquired service areas, we continue to expect higher levels of churn and downgrades where Time Warner Cable was the operator.”

“Over the next few quarters, our operating results will reflect reversing certain product and packaging strategies, in particular at TWC, in which in our view are not sustainable, given high promotional roll-offs and annual rate increases, high customer equipment fees, including modem fees, all coupled with complex and stacked offers,” added Charter’s chief financial officer Christopher Winfrey.

Traditionally, Time Warner Cable has dealt with price sensitive customers rolling off special pricing promotions by gradually resetting rates higher or, when necessary, by renewing the promotion for another year in an effort not to lose the customer. That will stop under Charter’s ownership, according to Mr. Rutledge. As a result, Charter Communications is seeing significant customer losses at Time Warner Cable when customer service representatives won’t budge on pricing.

Rutledge is seeking more discipline in product pricing so Charter does not have to extend cut-rate retention promotions to customers. As part of the Charter Spectrum rebrand, the cable company introduces new cable, broadband, and phone plans while allowing Time Warner Cable’s legacy plans to stay in effect until a customer elects to switch. While Texas and California Time Warner Cable customers have already been introduced to Spectrum plans, much of the rest of the country is still being offered plans only from Time Warner Cable or Bright House.

Rutledge

Rutledge

Customers are most likely to cancel service as their promotion expires. The resulting price hike can be a considerable shock as rates quickly reset to Bright House or Time Warner’s “regular price.”

Charter wants an incentive to get customers to forfeit their Time Warner or Bright House plan and switch to a new Spectrum plan as they are introduced. By making the grandfathered plans as unattractive as possible, the alternative Spectrum plans appear to be a better deal. Unfortunately, until Spectrum-branded plans arrive nationwide, many customers are stuck in limbo rolling off a promotion, are unable to renew it, and forced to wait for new Spectrum plans to be introduced.

Rutledge announced last week that the next markets to be introduced to Spectrum this month are in New York City and Florida, the latter former Bright House territory. Rutledge predicted half of Time Warner Cable customers will be offered Spectrum plans by the end of this year. But some Time Warner Cable customers may have to wait until next spring before Spectrum rebranding is complete.

Time Warner Cable Maxx is Still Dead, Earning Charter $36 Million in Reduced CapEx

Charter also reported significant financial benefits from prematurely terminating the Time Warner Cable Maxx upgrade effort. Time Warner’s upgrades would have given customers free speed upgrades up to 300Mbps. But Charter pulled the plug on the upgrade project just after completing its acquisition, and has no plans to restart it.

“Cost to service customers declined by about 2% despite overall customer growth of 5.1%, which reflects lower service transactions at Legacy Charter, the lack of all-digital activity at TWC this quarter versus last year’s third quarter, and some benefit from less physical disconnects in all-digital markets,” reported Winfrey. “Capital expenditures totaled $1.75 billion, including $109 million of transition spend. Excluding transition CapEx, our third quarter CapEx was down by $36 million year-over-year, about 2%, driven by all-digital spending at TWC, primarily on [equipment], which did not recur in the third quarter of this year.”

Winfrey

Winfrey

Charter expects to increase CapEx next spring, as the company continues its less ambitious transition to all-digital cable service, which includes broadband speeds topping out at 100Mbps, three times less than what Time Warner Cable was implementing.

Charter is Less Enthusiastic About Digital Phone Service

Time Warner Cable maintained a healthy market share for its digital phone service by bundling it at a promotional price of $10 a month, a rate that remained relatively stable for customers sticking with a triple play package bundle. Time Warner Cable also enhanced its phone service by adding the European Union nations, Mexico, and several popular Asian calling destinations as part of the local calling area, making those calls free of charge.

Charter’s own plan is less feature-rich and customers have to buy an add-on plan to cover international long distance, making the product considerably less attractive to customers. Some customers also find the cost of the phone service has increased under Spectrum, a problem acknowledged by Winfrey, who noted Time Warner Cable’s low-price voice offer in prior year quarters had been discontinued, resulting in higher voice downgrades and relationship churn.

Charter’s Plans for Legacy Charter Customers and Newly-Adopted Time Warner Cable and Bright House Customers

charter spectrum logoRutledge made clear that despite any product changes or rebranding, the long term goal of Charter Communications is to see revenue grow. Whether that will come from gradual repricing of cable products and services to a higher rate or from improved products and services that attract new upgrade business is not yet certain. But Rutledge outlined key areas Charter expects to focus on in the next few years:

  • Charter will complete the all-digital transition at Time Warner Cable and Bright House over the next two years, but it will resemble the kind of service legacy Charter customers get today, not TWC Maxx;
  • Over the next five years or so, with relatively small infrastructure investments, Charter plans to implement DOCSIS 3.1 which will be able to deliver symmetrical multi-gigabit speeds to all 50 million homes and businesses in their service area;
  • Charter plans to aggressively market and grow its services for commercial customers, targeting businesses large and small, at prices that more closely resemble residential service pricing, instead of the price premium Time Warner Cable has traditionally charged its commercial customers;
  • Charter is activating its MVNO agreement with Verizon, which will allow Charter to create and market its own wireless/cellular service using Verizon’s nationwide network. The company is also exploring using millimeter-wave (5G) service to offer better broadband coverage in large commercial spaces like malls and rural properties currently not wired for cable service. Expect the company to create its own wireless/cellular bundle first, because it will rely entirely on Verizon’s network, keeping Charter’s costs low.

Charter’s New Hard Line on Promotions for Time Warner Cable/Bright House Will Drive Customers to the Exit

charter-twc-bhCharter Communications is taking a hard line against extending promotional pricing for Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers and Wall Street predicts a major exodus of customers as a result.

UBS analyst John Hodulik predicts Charter’s new ‘Just Say No to Discounts’-attitude will result in customers saying ‘Cancel’ and he estimates a massive loss of at least 75,000 Time Warner Cable television customers in the third quarter as a result, with many more to follow.

Charter Communications’ executives have ordered a hard line against giving existing customers discounts and perpetually renewing promotional pricing, a practice Time Warner Cable has continued since the days of the Great Recession to keep customers happy.

Time Warner Cable and to a lesser extent Bright House have learned antagonized, price-sensitive customers were increasingly serious about cutting cable’s TV cord for good when the cost becomes too high to justify. Time Warner Cable dealt with this problem by giving complaining customers better deals, often repeatedly. That mitigated the problem of customer loss, allowed the company to retain and grow cable television customers and even helped minimize the practice of promotion shopping common in competitive service areas.

For years, Time Warner and Bright House customers learned they could enroll in a year-long promotion with the cable operator and then switch to a year-long new customer promotion from AT&T U-verse or Verizon FiOS and then jump back to the cable company with a new promotion. In many cases, they even got a gift card worth up to $300 for their trouble. Charter Communications thinks their new “pro-consumer policies” of not charging rapacious equipment fees and sticking to “simplified” prices will delight customers enough to keep their loyalty. Good luck.

Licensed to print money

Licensed to print money

Wall Street doesn’t believe Charter’s reputation or their ‘New Deal’ for TWC and BH customers will be perceived as making things better, especially for cable television and its cost. As customers roll off promotions at Time Warner Cable, the bill shock of watching rates rise up to $65 a month will speak for itself. The higher the price hike, the more likely it will provoke a family discussion about dropping cable television service for good.

In Los Angeles and Texas, where Charter premiered its new “simplified pricing” for Time Warner Cable customers, the response has been underwhelming, with many customers deriding it as “simply a price hike.”

David Lazarus, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, characterized the transition from TWC to Charter this way: “Meet the new cable company. Same as the old cable company.”

Culver City resident Jack Cohen provides good evidence of what happens when customers get their first bill from Charter, and it is higher than expected. Cohen received his first bill for $162, $22 more than his last Time Warner Cable bill of $140 a month, because his promotion with TWC expired. As a result, he canceled cable television after Charter wouldn’t budge on pricing. Cohen said “cancel” and never looked back. He now pays the new cable company $40 less than he gave Time Warner Cable, because he now only subscribes to broadband and phone service. Charter’s ‘simplified pricing’ cost the cable company more than the $22 extra they were originally seeking.

Lazarus learned when his own TWC promotional package expires in December, Charter had a great Christmas present waiting… for themselves. Lazarus’ $65 promotion will rise to $120 a month — almost double what he used to pay. But Charter also offered Lazarus a better deal he can refuse, a new Charter-Spectrum package of the same services for the low, low price of $85 a month — still a 30% rate hike.

In Texas, customers coming off promotions are learning first hand how Charter intends to motivate customers to abandon the Time Warner Cable packages Charter promised they could keep — by making them as unaffordable as possible and offering slightly less expensive Charter/Spectrum packages as an alternative.

“But it’s still $45 more than what I was paying Time Warner Cable for the same damn thing,” complained Ty Rogers to a Charter retention specialist, after his Time Warner Cable shot up once Charter took over. He is waiting for Google Fiber to arrive and then plans to cancel everything with Charter.

Charter’s billing practices also are dubbed the weirdest in the cable industry by The Consumerist, because Charter loves to hide taxes, surcharges, and fees by rolling them into other charges on the bill and cannot be accurately accounted for:

Charter breaks out federal, state, or local taxes and fees for some services (TV) but not for others (voice). Also, depending where you live and when you signed up for services, the taxes, fees, and surcharges that do appear may be listed under different sections of the bill or not at all.

While their procedure does result in many fewer line items for consumers, it does produce more confusing bills overall, and make it harder to compare against other providers in a truly apples-to-apples kind of way.

‘No, no, no,’ counters Charter/Spectrum to FierceCable.

“Our internet packages are competitively priced, but we offer faster starting speeds and don’t charge an additional modem lease fee on top of the cost of service (that is an additional $10 at legacy TWC),” Charter spokesman Justin Venech said. “That pricing is better and more attractive to customers. Our video packages are simpler and more robust. For example, our Spectrum Silver package includes over 175 channels plus premium channels HBO, Showtime and Cinemax while a comparable TWC package would have charged extra for premiums.  We don’t add on additional fees and taxes to our voice product that our competitors do, and our equipment pricing for video set-top boxes are much lower with Spectrum than our competitors or legacy TWC or BHN.  Our new Spectrum pricing is $4.99 for a receiver vs over $11 at legacy TWC.”

“That assumes, like every cable company always does, that we want HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax, don’t already own our own cable modem, and are not dancing in the streets over an even bigger television package filled with crap we don’t want,” said Rogers. “Charter also takes away Time Warner’s excellent long distance phone service, which let me call almost all of Europe without any toll charges or an extra cost calling package. I paid Time Warner $10 a month and could talk to someone in France all night long if I wanted. With Charter, it’s more for less.”

Rogers’ promotion included his DVR in the promotion, so comparing Charter’s $4.99 vs. TWC’s $11 for a DVR made no difference to him either.

“You can argue all day about the ‘value’ you are offering, but you can’t argue your way out of a bill that is $45 higher than last month,” Rogers complained.

Overall, the latest spate of cable mergers and AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV has been bad news for consumers, who face fewer competitive prospects and a new, harder line on promotional pricing. AT&T customers are discovering AT&T is more motivated to get U-verse TV customers to switch to DirecTV and less interested in providing discounts. The cable competition knows that, making fighting for a better deal much tougher if Charter’s only competitor in an area is AT&T. Cable operators also understand there is a built-in reluctance to switch to satellite by a significant percentage of their customers.

Charter’s pre-existing customers not a part of the TWC/BH merger are not too happy with Charter’s Spectrum offers either. At least 152,000 video customers said goodbye for good to the cable operator’s television packages.

Hodulik predicts there are more where that came from as the rest of the country gradually discovers what Charter has in store for them.

Time Warner Cable’s Dirty Little Secret: Cable TV Copy Protection

Time Warner's Enhanced DVR works fine, but those avoiding TWC equipment run into DRM problems.

Time Warner’s Enhanced DVR works fine, but those avoiding TWC equipment run into DRM problems.

If you’re accustomed to using Time Warner Cable’s DVR box, you probably don’t realize how heavy-handed Time Warner Cable can be with copy protection, but as set-top box alternatives proliferate, more customers are encountering the frustration of digital rights restrictions.

For several years, customers using alternatives to Time Warner’s set-top boxes or who wanted to store their DVR recordings on another hard drive quickly discovered the cable operator heavily enforces copy protection mechanisms designed to thwart digital archival copies of programs recorded from cable television.

Copy Control Information (CCI) is an invisible flag sent in digital television signals that is designed to give control to copyright owners over how their shows can be duplicated. Since at least 2007, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers have been frustrated if they use their own DVR or devices like TiVo. When customers attempt to copy their recorded shows to other devices or playback units in their home, the CCI flag often stops the copy cold.

ZatzNotFunny has covered this issue for years, noting Time Warner Cable, Bright House, and Cox have been particularly unfriendly to third-party set-top boxes like TiVo.

Among cable operators, the most common flags are Copy Freely and Copy Once. Many cable operators set their basic cable network CCI flags to “copy freely,” while premium pay movie channels like HBO are set to “copy once” — primarily to allow time-shifting devices like a DVR to record the show. Once your DVR has a copy of a show with a restricted flag, it cannot be copied again.

Digital Rights Management policies are part of the nation’s struggle between Hollywood-inspired copy protection and the public’s right to make and store recordings of programming for their own personal use. Some telecom companies like Verizon and Comcast have come down more in favor of consumers, while Time Warner Cable and Bright House (which have traditionally shared engineering practices and programming contracts for at least a decade) are far more responsive to Hollywood. The result for subscribers with $200 cable bills is endless frustration, especially if they choose not to use the pricey set-top boxes and DVRs supplied by the TWC or Bright House.

CableCARD and TiVo users, as well as those relying on Extenders for Windows Media Center like the Xbox 360 are often stymied by CCI flags, especially when a consumer tries to watch a show in one room and finish it in another using Multi-Room Viewing features.

ZatzNotFunny rates TWC, Bright House and Cox as unfriendly to alternative set top boxes like TiVo. (Image: ZatzNotFunny)

ZatzNotFunny rates TWC, Bright House and Cox as unfriendly to alternative set-top boxes like TiVo. (Image: ZatzNotFunny)

Wikipedia supplies insight into the available CCI options cable operators can choose to use for cable television channels:

  • 0x00 – Copy freely – Content is not copy protected.
  • 0x01 – Copy No More – A copy of the content has already occurred and no more copies are permitted.†
  • 0x02 – Copy Once – One recording can be made, but it cannot be copied to another device.†
  • 0x03 – Copy Never – the content can be recorded and viewed for 90 minutes after transmission, and is not transferable.†
  • 0x04 – Content is Copy Once for digital output, but would have Macrovision 7 Day Unlimited restriction applied on the analog outputs. This affects content viewed either on an HDTV with component cabling or on a standard definition TV. It also affects content saved to VCR or DVD when the recorder is connected to an analog output on the DVR.†
  • 0x07 – Content is Copy Never for digital content (deleted after 90 minutes) and Macrovision 7 day/24 hour for content recorded from analog channels. Content cannot be transferred via TiVoToGo transfers or MRV, and cannot be saved to VCR or DVD.†

† – Any live stream with a CCI flag set higher than 0x00 is to be encrypted or protected in a way that only trusted platforms that will obey the flag (Such as Microsoft’s PlayReady system used in Windows Media center) can access it.

A Time Warner Cable customer known as MachineShedFred noticed this problem first hand and wrote about it in a complaint to Time Warner Cable back in March, and Stop the Cap! reader Chris N. pointed us to this ongoing issue:

The only software that allows me to use the CableCARD hardware that you officially support and distribute is Windows Media Center, which Microsoft is no longer developing, and is no longer distributing.  All other DVR software available for every platform will not work, as they cannot decrypt the video stream due to the abuse of the CCI flag.

No other cable company in the US abuses the CCI flag in this manner, and every other cable subscriber in the US that isn’t on Time Warner has a wide choice of solutions for enjoying their service better than we can as your subscribers.  Why are you restricting the choices of your subscribers for no reason?  It’s clearly not contractual from the media networks, as they would have pushed for the same stipulations with at least one of your competitors.  Yet, anyone outside of TWC’s monopoly can use any other software they want.

When even Comcast allows their subscribers more subscriber-friendly choices, you know you’re doing it wrong.  Please revisit this ridiculous policy and cease the overuse of the CopyOnce CCI flag that unduly burdens your subscribers by forcing them to replace perfectly good hardware, or replace YOU.

word-saladSome believed this problem could eventually resolve itself with Charter Communications’ buyout of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Would Charter bring their own policies to affected TWC/BH customers, or will Charter customers soon have to contend with the CCI CopyOnce flag loved by Time Warner Cable as well.

An official complaint to the FCC brought a cryptic non-answer answer from William Wesselman, Time Warner Cable’s regulatory compliance counsel. Wesselman implied the liberal use of the CCI  CopyOnce flag was the result of restrictions in contracts with major programmers, which seems unlikely because other cable operators — larger and smaller — have successfully navigated around this issue. Wesselman’s answer implies as Time Warner Cable and Bright House are brought into the Charter hegemony, “the policies of the two companies will ultimately become the same.”

Of course, he never defines which policy Charter, TWC and BH customers across the country will eventually get by sometime in 2017.

Mr. Wesselman’s full response:

At this time, TWC and Charter continue to integrate their two systems into one. Both TWC and Charter, like other distributors of multichannel video programming, negotiate the distribution rights for the content it carries independently with individual rights holders. These bilateral commercial negotiations take into consideration many different factors, include the content protection and digital rights management requirements of the rights holder; applicable law, license and regulations; and the interests of subscribers. Each of these commercial negotiations, and the terms of the agreements that result, are unique to the specific distributor and programmer involved. As the integration of the two companies continues, Mr. X will notice that the policies of the two companies will ultimately become the same based on our agreements.

twc-letter

Arris Will Manufacture Next Generation of Charter Set-Top Boxes: WorldBox 2.0

charter-spectrumArris will manufacture the next generation of set-top boxes for Charter Communications, supporting hybrid IP/QAM video and the legacy technology still in place at Charter-acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

WorldBox 2.0 will support both a traditional and cloud-based user interface, as well as new content options and video features that could eventually bring a cloud-based DVR service for Charter customers. Charter is dealing with at least three different cable system architectures — its own network and those of its two recent acquisitions: Bright House and Time Warner Cable. Charter will be expanding its current downloadable conditional access (DCAS) capability to both those cable companies, expanding Digital Rights Management (DRM) to cable television channels. Time Warner and Bright House reportedly rely on an older CAS system.

Charter is strengthening video security to remotely switch on and off cable TV service for new/disconnecting customers without having to send a truck to the customer’s home.

“While Charter is focused on providing a secure video product on all devices, WorldBox 2.0 provides the same advanced video experience consumers are demanding on traditional television sets, and gives Charter the flexibility to deploy a single platform across our entire expanded network,” said Jim Blackley, Charter executive vice president of engineering and IT, in a statement. “Our ongoing work with Arris – in developing this platform, including the downloadable security component – and the establishment of the warrant program, speaks to the strength of our long-standing relationship and the value of ARRIS’s expertise in large-scale, next-generation deployments.”

Charter’s appreciation for Arris is reflected in an agreement the cable company has with the set-top box vendor to buy up to six million shares of Arris stock over the next 24 months, depending on how much business Charter provides the company.

Charter’s WorldBox 1.0 originally debuted in 2015 with the assistance of Cisco, but Charter has clearly shifted towards Arris. There has been considerable consolidation in the set-top box marketplace over the last year. Cisco sold its cable equipment business to Technicolor and Arris has grown larger after acquiring its competitor Pace.

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