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Charter/Spectrum Launches ‘Choice’, a True A-La-Carte Video Package for $25

Phillip Dampier February 22, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Video 4 Comments

Charter Communications has introduced internet-delivered cable television packages that its cable TV subscribers have requested for years, including one offering a true a-la-carte lineup of network TV channels and the customer’s choice of 10 cable channels for $25 a month.

Spectrum Choice was soft-launched this week and is a companion to a larger internet-delivered package of TV services targeting cord-cutters called Spectrum Stream, which is also available in many areas.

Although Spectrum customers can visit the order page to sign up for Spectrum Choice immediately, when we tested it this afternoon we found the website was not able to complete an order. It turns out Spectrum is initially “hand-selecting” about 100,000 customers in selected areas for Spectrum Choice, but won’t disclose exactly where those areas are. We know from some reviews, it is available in parts of Ohio.

For now, would-be customers can try building their own package from at least 65 cable networks, including several networks Spectrum usually bundles into higher cost Silver and Gold packages. For example, Turner Classic Movies, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and FX Movie Channel are all available to choose. Spectrum Choice also offers all three major cable news networks as well as Spectrum News (where available). ESPN, ESPN II, FOX Sports, NBC Sports Network, and NFL Network are also available for sports fans. Even Music Choice is included.

Spectrum Choice customers are not tied down with a bloated package of channels, except for the included large bundle of local stations, which includes ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW, MyNetworkTV, PBS, and independent/foreign language over the air stations. The availability of public television is a rarity among online cable TV alternatives. In most areas, digital subchannels like Grit and MeTV are also included, depending on what networks are provided by stations in your area. You will also get several shopping channels, C-SPAN I, II, and III, and local Public, Educational, and Government Access channels as seen on your local cable system.

If you visit their website can complete an order online, you are qualified to receive their service. If there is no option to move forward to complete an order, you are not qualified to sign up at this time, but check back later or call Spectrum and ask.

The service relies on the Spectrum TV app (available on iOS, Android, Roku, and Xbox One) and the Spectrum website to stream video programming to customers, and no set-top box is required. DVR service is not worth the effort or cost. It requires a traditional DVR set top box and you can only watch recorded shows on the television connected to the DVR. Be aware there are also restrictions viewing some channels outside of the home, just as Spectrum’s cable TV customers already understand:

Linear OOH: Watching a live channel while away from home
VOD OOH: Watching on-demand content while away from home
TVE App Name: TV Everywhere App Name – Independent apps used by programmers or viewing on their websites
VOD Parity: Cable TV and Spectrum Choice customers get access to the same on-demand programming options.

Details (click the name of the package for more information):

Spectrum Choice TV

    If you don’t mind Charter/Spectrum choosing your channel lineup, a second option offers more channels for about the same price.

  • 7-day money back guarantee/trial, then $15 for the first month
  • To get the service, you must have an internet-only plan or an internet + voice plan from Spectrum. You cannot be a current traditional cable TV subscriber
  • After the first month, the service costs $25 per month for the first two years, including the Broadcast TV Surcharge, but excluding tax
  • After 24 months, price increases to $30 a month
  • Your assigned Spectrum TV username and password will also work on websites that authenticate you as a qualified cable TV customer
  • Premium channels are $7.50 each for HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Starz, and Starz Encore or bundle all-five for $15 a month for two years. Epix is also available a-la-carte.

Spectrum Stream TV

  • $21.99 a month (not including $3 Broadcast TV Surcharge) for 25+ pre-selected channels including local stations and major basic cable networks
  • All features included with Choice TV work similarly except the lineup is not a-la-carte. But you may get more channels at a comparable price.
  • After two years, the price increases to $26.99. Starting in year three, the price rises again to $34.99.
  • The same $15 promotion for five premium movie networks noted above applies, if interested.

Spectrum’s promotion of Stream TV. (1:00)

N.Y. Attorney General Overcomes Charter’s Legal Objections to Slow Internet Lawsuit

Phillip Dampier February 20, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 6 Comments

Charter Communications will have to face a courtroom to answer accusations the cable company intentionally sold internet service at speeds it knew it could not provide to its customers in New York.

New York State Supreme Court Justice O. Peter Sherwood rejected a motion by the cable company to dismiss New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s 2017 lawsuit accusing Time Warner Cable (now owned by Charter) of systematically shortchanging as many as 640,000 New York internet customers by falsely advertising internet speeds it knew it could not deliver, often with at least 900,000 outdated company-provided cable modems incapable of supporting the higher speeds the company promoted.

“Today’s decision by the New York Supreme Court marks a major victory for New York consumers — rejecting every single argument made by Charter-Spectrum in its attempts to block our lawsuit,” said Schneiderman. “This decision ensures that our office can continue to hold Charter-Spectrum to account for its failure to deliver the reliable internet speeds it promised consumers, ripping you off by promising internet speeds it simply could not deliver.”

Charter’s Defense: Spectrum’s Ad Claims for Fast Internet Service are: “Prototypical instances of non-actionable puffery.”

Charter’s lawyers attempted a variety of legal strategies to get Schneiderman’s lawsuit tossed, including undermining the cable company’s own marketing efforts. Lawyers argued the court should ignore Charter’s claims it sold a “blazing fast, super-reliable connection” that could “stream Netflix and Hulu movies and shows effortlessly” as nothing more than “prototypical instances of non-actionable puffery.”

Scheniderman’s office claimed it was much more than that.

N.Y. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

“Spectrum-TWC failed to maintain enough network capacity in the form of interconnection ports to deliver this promised content to its subscribers without slowdowns, interruptions, and data loss,” stated Schneiderman. “It effectively ‘throttled’ access to Netflix and other content providers by allowing the ports through which its network interconnects with data coming from those providers to degrade, causing slowdowns. Spectrum-TWC then extracted payments from those content providers as a condition for upgrading the ports As a result, Spectrum-TWC’s subscribers could not reliably access the content they were promised, and instead were subjected to the buffering, slowdowns and other interruptions in service that they had been assured they would not encounter.”

Charter also claimed it was not legally responsible for meeting its own advertised speeds because the company only sold speeds “up to” a level, without guaranteeing customers would get the speeds it advertised.

Even if a judge found Charter lacking in its legal defense, lawyers for the company more broadly argued that under FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s net neutrality order, state courts and regulators had no power to regulate or oversee broadband providers because “regulation of broadband internet access service should be governed principally by a uniform set of federal regulations, rather than by a patchwork of separate state and local requirements,” according to Charter’s attorney Christopher Clark.

Justice Sherwood uniformly rejected all of Charter’s arguments to dismiss the case:

  • Improper state venue for the lawsuit: “Spectrum-TWC fails to identify any provision [of law] that preempts state anti-fraud or consumer-protection claims, or reflects any intention by Congress to make federal law the exclusive source of law protecting consumers from broadband providers’ deceptive conduct.”
  • False advertising: “This court finds that, contrary to defendants’ contentions, the FCC’s goal of promoting competition through [the Internet Transparency Rule], the FCC stated that the rule was intended to ensure consumers had the “right to accurate information, so [they] can choose, monitor, and receive the broadband internet services they have been promised. New York’s Executive Law and Consumer Protection Act […] require that [providers] refrain from fraud, deception, and false advertising when communicating with New York consumers.
  • Netflix/YouTube slowdowns: The issue of interconnection agreements between content providers and Spectrum-TWC are matters for the court to consider because it is not an attempt to regulate those agreements. “Rather, the complaint simply alleges that Spectrum-TWC misled subscribers by claiming that specific online content would be swiftly accessible through its network, while it was simultaneously deliberately allowing that service to degrade […] and failing to upgrade its network’s capacity to meet demand for this content.”
  • “Up to” speeds: Spectrum-TWC claimed that advertising speeds “up to” a certain level was not misleading because consumers understood this to mean the maximum speed, not average speed. In Spectrum’s argument, it claimed “reasonable consumers understand this is not a promise of ‘minimum’ performance, but rather ‘maximum’ performance.” But the judge disagreed. “Defendant’s theory is contrary to New York law regarding ‘up to’ claims” when those speeds are “functionally unattainable as a result of the defendants’ knowing conduct.”

Schneiderman’s office is seeking civil fines and restitution from Spectrum-TWC for customers in New York.

Charter Seeks Favorable Licensing Terms for New Mobile/Rural Wireless Broadband Service

There are three tiers of Citizens Broadband Radio Service users – incumbent users (usually military) that get top priority access and protection from interference, a mid-class Priority Access License group of users that win limits on potential interference from other users, and unlicensed users that have to share the spectrum, and interference, if any.

Charter Communications wants to license a portion of the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band to launch a new wireless broadband service for its future mobile customers and potentially also offer its own rural broadband solution.

The CBRS band has sat largely unused except by the U.S. military since it was created, but now the Federal Communications Commission is exploring opening up the very high frequencies to attract wireless broadband services with Priority Access Licenses that will assure minimal interference.

One of the most enthusiastic supporters of CBRS is Charter/Spectrum, which has been testing a 3.5 GHz wireless broadband service using CBRS spectrum in Centennial and Englewood, Col., Bakersfield, Calif., Coldwater, Mich., and Charlotte, N.C. Those tests, according to Charter, reveal the cable company “can provide speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps at significant distances,” which it believes could become a rural broadband solution for customers outside of the reach of its wired cable network.

But Charter’s interest in CBRS extends well beyond its potential use to reach rural areas. Charter’s primary goal is to offer wireless connectivity in neighborhoods for its forthcoming mobile phone service. Charter plans to enter the wireless business this year, selling smartphones and other wireless devices that will depend on in-home Wi-Fi, CBRS, and a contract with Verizon Wireless to provide coverage everywhere else.

Charter wants to keep as much data usage on its own networks as possible to reduce costs. It has no interest in building a costly, competing LTE 4G or 5G wireless network to compete with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. But it is interested in the prospect of using LTE technology on CBRS frequencies, which are likely to be licensed at much lower costs than traditional mobile spectrum.

Primary Economic Areas

There are several proposals on the table on how to license this spectrum. Large wireless companies want Priority Access Licenses (PALs) based on Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) — 416 wireless service areas the FCC established as part of its spectrum auctions. PEAs are roughly equivalent to metropolitan areas and typically cover multiple counties surrounding a major city. Major wireless carriers are already familiar with PEAs and their networks cover large portions of them.

Charter is proposing to license PALs based on county lines, not PEAs, which will likely reduce the costs of licensing and, in Charter’s view, will “attract interest and investment from new entrants to small and large providers.” If Charter’s proposal is adopted, its costs deploying small cell technology used with CBRS will be much lower, because it will not have to serve larger geographic areas.

The FCC envisioned licensing PALs based on census tract boundaries, which would result in licenses for areas as small as portions of neighborhoods. That proposal has not won favor with like wireless companies or cable operators. The wireless giants would prefer licenses based on PEAs, but companies like AT&T seem also amenable to the cable industry proposal.

Charter’s proposed CBRS network would likely allow the cable company to offload a lot of its mobile data traffic away from Verizon Wireless, reducing the company’s data costs. Charter’s deployment costs are relatively low as well, because the backhaul fiber network used to power small cells is already present throughout Charter’s service areas.

Just how far into rural unserved areas Charter’s CBRS network can reach isn’t publicly known, but it would likely not extend into the most difficult-to-serve areas far away from Charter’s current infrastructure. But if the FCC establishes county boundaries and a requirement that those companies obtaining priority licenses actually serve those areas, it could help resolve some rural broadband problems.

Charter Spectrum Will Only Talk to Theresa Peartree’s Dead Ex-Husband About Her Account

Phillip Dampier February 9, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News 8 Comments

He’s dead. Death notice for Richard Peartree published in the Democrat & Chronicle on Oct. 13, 1992.

Charter Communications’ inability to exercise common sense judgment in helping their customers is demonstrated once again by what we call: The Case of Mrs. Peartree and Her Curious Cable Bill. 

Theresa Peartree, a retiree living in Rochester, N.Y., and a customer of “the cable company” under its various names for more than 30 years, has a problem.

Spectrum won’t talk to her. About anything.

Peartree called the cable company to ask why her bill has increased a few dollars a month starting last fall. Spectrum effectively told her it’s none of her business because the account is in the name of her ex-husband, who died in 1992.

Time Warner Cable and Greater Rochester Cablevision — the former names of what today is Spectrum, understood Peartree’s situation and were willing to talk to her about her account, although nobody bothered to suggest she change the name on the account along the way. Spectrum will not talk to her, until she obtains a certified copy of her ex-husband’s death certificate and walk it down to the company’s notoriously overpacked customer service center on Mt. Hope Avenue in the city. Peartree is 89 years old and walks with a cane.

Spectrum’s customer service told Peartree it was easy to get a copy of a death certificate because “they’re a public record.” But most Spectrum customer service representatives are not attorneys or legislators, because if they were, they would have realized the advice they were giving about death certificates in New York was dead wrong.

So Mrs. Peartree and Spectrum are at an impasse. She took her plight to a local talk radio show and finally to David Andreatta, a feisty and occasionally exasperated columnist for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, where he usually covers the insanity of local and state politics.

He visited with Peartree and listened in on the legal advice being given by the cable company’s call center employee.

Andreatta knows Spectrum’s claim that death certificates are public records was not quite right:

No, they’re not. In New York, they’re semi-public. If the deceased person has been dead for 50 years, his or her death certificate is public record. If not, only spouses, parents, children or siblings of the deceased are entitled to the death certificate. Exes don’t count.

Others eligible to obtain a death certificate under the law are those with a medical need, a documented lawful claim to receive a benefit or a court order from a state judge.

Peartree has none of those. Her declaration that, “TV is my life,” is a metaphor. Her cable isn’t a “medical need” and her desire to learn why she’s being charged $4 a month more isn’t a “benefit.”

Peartree (Photo courtesy of: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle/Shawn Dowd)

In short, Peartree is trapped by Spectrum. She cannot even close her account because they won’t talk to her. The only chance she has, assuming the public shaming of Spectrum proves ineffective in getting them to budge, is to present herself as a hardship case at the Monroe County Office of Vital Records in hopes of getting them to produce a copy.

But in Monroe County, where the county government prides itself on holding the line on the property taxes (already among the highest in the country) but makes up the difference by charging astronomical fees for almost any county service, that photocopy will cost her $40 — ten times the amount her bill increased last fall.

“They take my money every month,” she told Andreatta, showing him her checkbook with hers being the only name on the account. “They take my money, but they won’t answer my questions.”

“I know they say you can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers, Spectrum, but believe this: Richard is dead and the house you think is his isn’t his,” Andreatta wrote. “It would take a few minutes for your customer service rep to transfer the account in Richard’s name to Peartree’s and tell her why her bill rises $4 a month.”

But so far they won’t. But we can at least answer her question. The additional fees are the result of an increase in Spectrum’s bill padding Broadcast TV Surcharge ripoff and a more recent rate increase on certain cable equipment rental fees.

Andreatta is somehow not surprised:

Ever since Time Warner was rebranded as Spectrum, more readers have asked me to write about their problems with the cable TV and internet provider than any other topic.

I’ve always declined, mostly because their problems were so generic. Their internet was slow. They didn’t want to pay for channels they didn’t watch. That four-hour window for home service.

It was, like, join the club. Cable companies by any name have always been a racket, regularly ranking below airlines, banks and drug makers in opinion polls. What could I do about it?

Charter/Spectrum: We’ll Offer Gigabit Speed Nationwide by the End of 2018

Spectrum markets where gigabit speed is already available.

Charter Communications is accelerating the deployment of the next generation cable broadband standard DOCSIS 3.1 so that it can offer almost every customer gigabit download speed by the end of this year.

“We plan to be 1 Gbps everywhere and marketing 1 Gbps everywhere this year, which is [also includes] taking up a significant portion of our business to minimum speeds of 200 Mbps at the same price we were charging for 60 Mbps a year ago,” said Thomas Rutledge, CEO of Charter Communications, on a Feb. 2 investor conference call. “And we plan to do that as quickly as we can, but because of the all-digital rollout and some of the other operational issues we have, we haven’t fully planned out [200 Mbps speed for] the whole country yet.”

Charter’s biggest challenge is expected to be swapping legacy modems inadequate for the task of delivering 200 Mbps and higher speeds to residential customers. Many Charter customers are still using modems originally provided by Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, generally considered adequate for supporting top speeds only between 50-100 Mbps. But Charter is planning to offer faster internet speeds to position itself as a viable broadband competitor in markets where fiber competitors have poached subscribers and the future threat of 5G speeds up to 1 Gbps are on the horizon. That could require a substantial modem exchange program, especially in cities that were never upgraded to Time Warner Cable Maxx before Charter acquired Time Warner Cable.

Charter’s migration for Time Warner Cable/Bright House customers continues, while Charter Legacy markets stall

In 2017, Charter intentionally focused most of its time and money integrating its acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers into Charter’s billing, provisioning, service, and retention systems. This came, Rutledge admitted, at the expense of long-time Charter customers who saw new product launches and upgrades delayed because of the ongoing integration effort.

It will take until 2019 to fully integrate all of Charter’s customers onto a single platform that will no longer distinguish if a customer was a long-standing Charter customer or a former TWC or BH subscriber.

Customers willing to abandon their legacy Time Warner Cable or Bright House plans in favor of a Spectrum plan are also dragging their feet. As of the end of 2017, 51% of TWC and Bright House customers were still sticking with their original plan, refusing to switch to Spectrum pricing and packaging. As customers face Spectrum’s new plans, some are canceling service. Time Warner Cable residential video customers dropped by 2.5% over 2017. Charter Legacy customers dropped by 1%, while legacy Bright House customers declined by 0.5%.

Legacy Charter areas saw subscribers running out of patience. The company lost 10,000 video customers in the last quarter versus a gain of 20,000 customers a year ago. Company officials blame the complications associated with absorbing millions of acquired customers for the results.

“In 2016 and 2017, we delayed a number of new product launches through the integration, particularly at legacy Charter within our fundamental structured operating model and business rules now in place, we will more aggressively launch new products nationwide,” said Rutledge.

Charter is also spending a considerable amount of its financial resources buying back its stock. During the fourth quarter, Charter accelerated its buyback program repurchasing 13.5 million shares in Charter Holdings stock totaling $4.7 billion at an average price of $347 per share. For all of 2017, Charter bought back $13.2 billion worth of its own stock.

Digital television conversions drag on…

Charter did not restart its digital television conversion program until June of 2017, and 30% of Time Warner Cable and 50% of Bright House Networks customers are still watching analog cable television as a result. Company officials promise digital conversion will be completed nationwide by the end of this year, the first step the company will take to make dramatic broadband speed increases possible.

“Our video products in those markets will improve,” Rutledge said. “Internet speeds will increase further and all-digital will drive more efficient operations in the field including electronic disconnects, self-installation and a reduction of unauthorized connections.”

Among the most significant improvements is the introduction of the Worldbox set-top box, which will be available nationwide by the end of 2018, but generally only to new video customers. The new box runs faster and is less expensive than the traditional set-top box, and better integrates on-demand and streaming video services.

Worldbox will also highlight Spectrum’s new Spectrum Guide, an improved on-screen program guide and content portal. The new guide will also include support for third-party streaming services like Netflix.

Charter has also begun to deploy an improved Wi-Fi router known as Wave 2, which claims to offer faster speeds and better signals throughout a customer’s home. Availability is reportedly spotty, but improving.

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  • jeff: if u tell the system u want to be a new customer it will let u add the choice option after selecting internet only. if current customer with tv it do...
  • EJ: Kaniki we all know what is happening. They charge that because they can. In most areas there one competitor is inferior so they can charge to much and...
  • Todd: And 300M to Charter/Spectrum is peanuts. They increased ELP Internet from $14.99 to $19.99. I'm not a math major, but let me see if I have this righ...
  • Todd: I got called with this offer yesterday, actually. The problem with this, is yes, at $22, it seems like a good deal, and I'd almost consider it. Exce...
  • Quinn: Spectrum is awful. I very much preferred dealing with them when it was just Time Warner. At least if I spent some time I could get myself a good promo...
  • kaniki: and yet, they still do nothing about the things that people need more.. Like an internet service that they can afford.. Cable is a luxury, but, a lot ...
  • L. Nova: In the long run it is cheaper for CenturyLink to partner with streaming providers Netflix, Amazon, Sling TV & HULU and the hardware streaming box ...
  • Frances: Currently we only get 100Mpbs which is the new standard to my understanding. So I contacted spectrum about if that was the standard why are we being ...
  • KevinS: The service failed for the basic fact that CenturyLink fails to provide any form of broadband internet to bundle with the service and phone. Or..is t...
  • Matthew: They are making huge improvements. Gig speeds are coming soon for WNY. Time Warner would even upgrade WNY to 300 meg. Node splits are going on ever...
  • RochMN: Tried calling Charter Business to update the service from 60 Mbps. Was told it will be $99.99 for upgrade and then $199.99 per month after! I cannot b...
  • Racerbob: As an almost 20 year user of Time Warner/Spectrum internet service, I have seen it all. But right now, in my home, Spectrum is providing me a superior...

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