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Comcast Makes Surprise $31 Billion Bid for UK’s Sky Satellite Service

Comcast Corporation today made a surprise $31 billion bid to acquire Sky, the British-based satellite TV, internet, and wireless provider, disrupting a rival bid from 21st Century Fox, which spent years trying to acquire the 61% of Sky it doesn’t already own.

Comcast’s bid of £12.50 a share to acquire Sky outright is significantly higher than the £10.75/share offer Fox made to take total control of the satellite venture. A third player – Disney, has been in talks with Fox to acquire a substantial number of its assets, including its minority ownership stake in Sky, for $52 billion. But Comcast’s bid may change everything.

That three American companies are now competing to acquire Europe’s largest media company and biggest pay-TV broadcaster, with more than 23 million subscribers, could create concern among some regulators about foreign ownership of the media. A bid from Comcast is likely to be less controversial than dealing with Rupert Murdoch, however, who already has extensive media holdings in the United Kingdom.

There are three distinct possible bidders for Sky now:

  • Comcast, which prefers to take 100% ownership but will accept a majority stake shared with Fox (or possibly Disney).
  • Disney wants minority stake in Sky through its $52+ billion acquisition of some of Fox’s assets, including Fox’s part-ownership in Sky.
  • Fox, which has sought to take full control of Sky for several years but has met with resistance was originally the most likely buyer. But more recently, Rupert Murdoch has recently shown a willingness to sell some of Fox’s assets, including Sky, if the price is right.

Sky’s share price leaped more than 20% today to £13.47—well above the Comcast offer—as investors believe there will be a bidding war over Sky. Because many hedge funds and investors expect Fox will increase its bid to match Comcast, in turn boosting the value of Sky’s stock, investors are accumulating shares at a rapid pace and driving up share prices further.

Sky has become increasingly valuable because it isn’t just a satellite TV provider. Sky also develops its own original productions, has valuable sports rights deals, and sells broadband and mobile phone service. American media companies are consolidating, preferring to own both the pipes that deliver internet content and the content itself. Acquiring Sky would allow Fox, Disney, and/or Comcast to showcase its own productions in Europe and to a lesser extent import Sky products into the United States.

Regulators in the United Kingdom are likely to press any buyer to protect the independence of Sky News, a well-regarded 24-hour news channel. Many expect regulators to insist that Sky’s buyer  agree to fund Sky for at least 10 years and guarantee its editorial independence.

Comcast Grabs $1,000 from Checking Account of Non-Subscribing North Dakota Resident

Phillip Dampier February 1, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Video 6 Comments

Comcast took more than $1,000 out of a West Fargo, N.D., resident’s checking account, despite the fact she isn’t a customer and Comcast doesn’t offer cable service in North Dakota.

Becky Phelps is stuck in limbo after the cable giant took the money and is now dragging its feet refunding it, according to a report by Valley News Live. Customer service has proven itself unhelpful because Phelps cannot produce a Comcast account number she never had.

“They kept asking for an account number and I was like, ‘I don’t have an account with you guys. Why am I being charged?’,” said Phelps. The customer service agent quickly disconnects the call after that, leaving Phelps frustrated and out a lot of money. “That money was set for other bills. It’s made it really tough for us because we’ve had to dig into what savings we have, just to cover those differences.”

Her bank has run into a similar brick wall with Comcast reversing the charge, despite the fact the cable company now willingly admits her debit card information was probably stolen.

Comcast claims it has referred the matter to its fraud team, but little has happened since.

Banks strongly recommend if you see unauthorized purchases on your account, call the bank immediately and initiate a chargeback. Because Phelps’ debit card number was compromised, funds were immediately removed from her checking account. If the purchases appeared on a credit card, a customer service representative could start a chargeback and advise you not to pay the disputed amount. But it gets more complicated with debit cards because Comcast already has Phelps’ money.

Valley News Live reports Comcast stole $1,000 out of her checking account for cable service she does not have in a state Comcast does not serve. (2:44)

Washington State Issues Ripoff Alert About Comcast’s Service Protection Plan

Phillip Dampier January 30, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 4 Comments

Washington’s Attorney General on Monday issued a consumer alert targeting Comcast for billing customers for its Service Protection Plan (SPP) without consent.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced in December new evidence obtained as part of his ongoing lawsuit against the cable and internet giant revealed that Comcast may have signed up more than half of all SPP subscribers without their consent. Since Ferguson filed an amended lawsuit, the Attorney General’s Office received more than 100 complaints from Comcast customers, including 74 about the SPP. Of those, more than 50 claim Comcast added the plan to their account without their consent.

Comcast markets the $5.99/mo plan as insurance against surprising service call fees or inside wiring replacement costs. But Ferguson accused Comcast of not clearly disclosing that its service plan does not cover one important and common expense customers with wiring problems could encounter — repairing defective wiring “wall-fished” inside walls. In many cases, SPP customers were told to hire an independent electrician to manage wall-fish installations and repairs.

Ferguson initially filed a $100 million lawsuit against Comcast in August 2016 alleging deceptive conduct and racking up more than 1.8 million violations of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act. More than half a million Comcast subscribers in the state subscribe to its SPP, delivering Comcast more than $73 million in revenue  from 2011-2015. Ferguson claims many customers were told they would be enrolled for free, only to later discover an ongoing $5.99 fee on each monthly bill.

“This new evidence makes clear that Comcast’s conduct is even more egregious than we first realized,” Ferguson said. “The extent of their deception is shocking, and I will hold them accountable for their treatment of Washington consumers.”

 

Ferguson

 

Comcast’s fight to keep Washington’s Attorney General from hearing how it markets its SPP

In May 2017, King County Superior Court Judge Timothy Bradshaw ordered Comcast to provide the Attorney General’s Office with “telephone calls that exist in which [Comcast] sold the SPP to Washington consumers.” In response to the court order, Comcast turned over to the Attorney General’s Office recordings of calls between Comcast and 1,500 Washington consumers whom Comcast signed up for the SPP.

The Attorney General’s Office analyzed a random sample of recorded sales calls between Comcast and 150 Washingtonians. Comcast did not even mention the SPP to nearly half the sample. Additional consumers in the sample explicitly rejected the SPP, but Comcast signed them up anyway. Consequently, Comcast enrolled more than half of these subscribers without their consent.

Even when Comcast actually mentioned the SPP on the sales call before signing consumers up for the SPP, Comcast continued to engage in deception. Comcast deceptively failed to disclose the SPP was a monthly recurring charge to 20 percent of the Washingtonians in the sample. Rather, Comcast often told subscribers the SPP was added for “free” to their account.

According to Comcast’s own data, more than 75% of SPP subscribers sign up via the telephone. Comcast operates call centers in Washington state, Colorado, Minnesota and Texas, as well as throughout the world in the Philippines, Mexico and Guyana. Comcast paid call center staff up to $5 for every SPP sale they made.

Comcast does not instruct its employees to send customers any information about the SPP via email, text message, mail, or refer the customer to Comcast’s website while the call is occurring and the customer is considering whether to enroll in the SPP. Rather, Comcast only provides oral representations about the SPP.

The Attorney General’s Office alleges this pattern of deception is a systemic issue throughout Comcast’s marketing and “sale” of the SPP, and represents potentially tens of thousands of new violations of the Washington state Consumer Protection Act.

Comcast had spent over a year fighting the Attorney General’s Investigative Demand notice that required the company to preserve and produce recordings between Comcast employees and customers who bought the SPP. In May 2017, Comcast’s attorneys finally admitted the company deleted 90% of the call recordings it was originally compelled to produce.

Damages

Ferguson is seeking full restitution of the $73 million Comcast collected from Washington subscribers along with penalties that will cost Comcast over $100 million if the company is found to be liable.

Ferguson is still enlisting affected customers in his legal effort. Check your bill — if you believe you’re being charged for the SPP without your consent, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

GOP Tax Cut Law Will Deliver $14.4 Billion to Comcast for Mergers, Share Buybacks by 2021

Phillip Dampier January 18, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

The Republican-pushed corporate tax rollback will bring a $14.4 billion increase in available cash flow for Comcast to use for future mergers and acquisitions or share buybacks by 2021, even as the cable company has no plans to share its tax savings bonanza with subscribers in the form of lower rates.

MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett noted Comcast will likely only spend the largess on two things — acquiring other companies to further concentrate the media marketplace or, more likely use its newly available cash flow on a blockbuster share buyback program, which will boost Comcast’s stock price and deliver dramatically higher bonuses to the company’s top executives.

Moffett believes Comcast is following in the footsteps of Time Warner Cable a decade ago, shortly after the company was split away from Time Warner, Inc. The former Time Warner Cable fueled interest in its stock by committing to keep its leverage at a stable 3.25 x EBITDA, which means it would not be spend a lot of money or take on a lot of debt to upgrade its cable systems, make expensive acquisitions, or cut rates for subscribers. As a result, Comcast’s free cash will quickly accumulate, which it will either use to buy other companies, return to investors in the form of a dividend payout, or buy back large numbers of shares of its own stock, making shares already owned by investors more valuable. Since most executive compensation packages tie bonuses to the share price of the company’s stock, and often include stock share awards for executives, top officials can take home tens of millions of dollars in bonuses.

The Trump Administration claimed the dramatic cut in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% would create new investment, result in new job creation and higher pay. But at Comcast, its existing investment plans developed before the tax cut law was passed remain largely unchanged, the company laid off nearly 1,000 workers in the last month, and so far has only committed to giving qualified employees a one-time $1,000 bonus, which will cost the company a one time charge of less than $150 million — about 1.04% of Comcast’s tax cut cash haul.

Comcast Adds 4G Backup to Cover Internet Outages for Businesses

Phillip Dampier January 11, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Wireless Broadband 2 Comments

Comcast’s Business division has introduced the first automatic 4G backup internet connection service for commercial customers who experience an internet outage or network problem.

Comcast’s Connection Pro ($29.95/mo) offers automatic switching to a backup 4G LTE wireless internet service that will keep business customers connected to the internet until Comcast’s wired broadband connection is repaired and goes back online.

“Internet connectivity is critical for any business. Losing their connection – even shortly – can be disruptive,” said Jeff Lewis, vice president, data product management, Comcast Business. “Comcast Business understands that businesses need a redundant back-up solution to help stay connected and provide greater peace of mind in the event of a power or internet outage.”

The service targets small businesses and retailers and is marketed as a backup for cash registers/credit card point of sale terminals, email, and cloud services, and includes battery backup to maintain connectivity for up to eight hours in the event of a power outage.

Business customers can also access an online control panel to remotely monitor outages at individual business locations.

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