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Viacom Demands 100% Rate Increases for Hundreds of Small Cable Systems, Military Bases

viacom networksSmall cable systems across the country and on overseas military bases are being granted hourly reprieves that are keeping up to 24 Viacom-owned cable channels on the air after negotiations to extend an agreement with their program buyer stalled.

Cable operators belonging to the National Cable TV Cooperative, which represents independent cable systems on cable programming matters, report Viacom is demanding an unprecedented 100 percent rate increase for its networks and a guaranteed rate hike of 10% annually on each of its channels.

Viacom’s demands would cost each subscriber at least $4 a month, noted Jack Capparell, general manager of Service Electric’s cable system in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. Service Electric is a private, family owned cable business with 250,000 subscribers in central and northeastern Pennsylvania and northwestern New Jersey.

The impasse also affects cable systems serving American military bases. Americable has notified subscribers in Yokosuka, Atsugi, Iwakuni, and Sasebo, Japan Viacom was likely to cut off 10 of its cable channels to military families sometime today. Allied Telesis, which offers service to Air Force bases in Japan is also expected to lose programming.

cableoneNCTC members complain Viacom requires cable systems to carry nearly all of its lineup, including lesser-known channels few customers have even heard of, much less want. Even if a cable system chooses not to air a Viacom channel, Viacom’s contracts require cable providers to pay for them if they want to carry Viacom’s most popular networks.

Some cable systems are breaking away from NCTC’s negotiations and opening one on one talks with Viacom. Metrocast secured an agreement for its customers earlier today by negotiating directly with Viacom.

viacomFor most affected cable operators, there is a ‘wait and see what happens’ approach. Others, including Cable ONE, have already moved to replace the Viacom networks with other channels.

“Viacom asked for a rate increase greater than 100%, despite the fact that viewing is down on 12 of their 15 networks – some by more than 30% since 2010,” said Cable ONE. “We asked Viacom to either reduce their rates or allow us to drop some of their less popular networks to reduce the total cost. They refused these reasonable requests.”

Logo_Service-ElectricEarlier today, Cable ONE didn’t wait for Viacom to pull the plug. They pulled it themselves.

“Cable ONE has let these networks go and expects to add many top-rated networks you’ve requested and expand several other highly requested networks to our most popular level of service. Some of the new networks include BBC America, Sprout, Investigation Discovery, the Blaze, Hallmark Channel, National Geographic, TV One, Sundance, and more,” said the company, which expects to publish a full list of the new networks on Wednesday.

Viacom responded with a news release tailored for each affected provider:

GCI_Color_LogoWe are offering Service Electric a double-digit discount off of our standard rate card. It is a better deal than HUNDREDS of other TV providers in the country have agreed to. We have been actively trying to get a deal done with Service Electric for months and they have refused to negotiate in any meaningful way. And now, on top of this, Service Electric is throwing out numbers which simply aren’t true. Our expiring deal with Service Electric is nearly five years old. In that time, we have been great partners and given Service Electric more channels, more on demand content and access to our content beyond the TV – at no additional cost. We don’t understand why Service Electric has chosen to negotiate in this manner. And now, as a result of their lack of interest in coming to a mutually beneficial agreement, you are at risk of losing 19 Viacom networks. We are serious about getting a deal done.

Virtually the entire state of Alaska is also affected.

“We’ve unified to fight for Alaskans and to work toward a fair, long-term agreement that keeps prices stable for our customers,” said Paul Landes, GCI senior vice president. “Viacom wants a rate increase that is 40 times that of the rate of inflation. Alaska pay TV providers, along with 700 small to mid-sized operators nationally, are saying ‘no’ to Viacom’s take all 26 channels or nothing demands.”

GCI is joined by Alaskan providers MTA and KPU in the dispute.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Cable ONE Viacom Channels Removed New Channels Added 4-1-14.mp4

Cable ONE released this video earlier today informing customers they were dropping Viacom networks. (1:00)

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Three Wireless Competitors in Alaska is ‘Too Many’; Who Will Buyout ACS?

With Verizon Wireless poised to launch 4G LTE service in Alaska for the first time, Alaska Communications (ACS) and AT&T are hurrying wireless broadband expansions to protect their market turf. But Wall Street investors are unhappy, especially with ACS’ investments in its landline network and the recently announced suspension of its dividend payout. Some are now asking whether ACS’ lucrative wireless business should be up for sale, primed for a buyout by AT&T or Verizon Wireless.

Alaska Communications has soft launched its LTE 4G service in 10 cities: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Palmer, Seward, Soldotna, Wasilla and Whittier.

AT&T operates a mix of LTE and slower HSPA+ networks in Alaska and is expanding 4G service to Prudhoe Bay and Deadhorse for the benefit of short-term oil company employees working on the North Slope. But the company is also still expanding its existing 3G network along more remote Alaskan highways.

They are coming.

The investment frenzy is seen by many as a defensive maneuver to keep existing customers happy before Verizon Wireless arrives in Alaska sometime next year.

ACS and GCI, Alaska’s homegrown phone and cable companies now jointly operate their wireless operation together. AT&T is their principle competitor. But Verizon Wireless’ impending arrival in Alaska has shown it is no shrinking violet. There are persistent rumors Verizon is trying to acquire ACS’ wireless operations. Verizon has also announced partnerships with Copper Valley Telecom and Matanuska Telephone Association to potentially expand LTE service in those communities as well.

Investors hope ACS considers any Verizon offer carefully. Wireless is a revenue center for the landline phone company, which continues to see declines in home phone and business customers.

Since June, ACS lost just shy of 2,000 residential landlines and 753 business lines. The company still has 57,000 residential customers and 81,000 business customers.

ACS faces the same problems other phone companies do: network upgrades require significant investments, and investors question whether it will ultimately pay off. Many are also unhappy ACS suspended its dividend payout, refocusing $8 million on debt payments.

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Alaska Communications Pounds GCI Cable Over Usage Caps, Overlimit Fees

Alaska Communications has found a marketing angle to combat Alaska’s dominant cable operator — GCI, which has slapped arbitrary usage caps and overlimit fees (up to $30/GB) on its customers. ACS has made cap-free Internet browsing a hallmark of their marketing campaign:

Alaska Communications vs. the Cable Company

Why Alaska Communications Home Internet is the best choice.

No Nasty Surprises on Your Bill

Tired of nasty surprises on your cable company’s Internet bill from the cable company? With Home Internet Service from Alaska Communications, there are no overage charges. Surf, stream, download, watch, and play – all without worry of “extra fees” for going over your bill. With Alaska Communications Home Internet Service, you won’t go over – it’s unlimited!

No Data Limits

Say you hopped online just a bit more this month – surfing, watching your favorite streaming movies, or maybe the kids were trying to win the online tournament of their favorite game while you were posting to your favorite social media site. We don’t think your Internet should be capped or “throttled.” That means, if you get close to your data limit, the cable company will slow down your Internet to limit your connection. With our Home Internet Service, you’ll get to use the Internet the way you want to – at the speeds you deserve!

ACS recognizes the truth for most broadband customers: They loathe usage caps and throttled broadband speeds, overlimit fees and bill shock. Nobody should have to learn what a gigabyte is and be forced to watch a usage gauge before deciding whether or not to use the Internet as they wish. We congratulate ACS for delivering consumers a better choice in broadband and a worry-free Internet experience. We hope this will send a message to GCI  that Internet Overcharging is unacceptable.

Stop the Cap! recommends our Alaskan readers patronize the state’s largest cap-free ISP: ACS.

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Time Warner Cable & Comcast Sued for Violating Ex-Customers’ Privacy

Time Warner Cable and Comcast are facing class action lawsuits filed in California federal court alleging both cable operators retain Social Security numbers, credit card information and contact information after customers stop doing business with the companies.

The two lawsuits claim Comcast and Time Warner Cable are in violation of the 1984 Cable Communications Policy Act which, among other things, requires cable operators to ”destroy personal information when it is no longer needed for the purposes for which it was collected (and there are no pending requests for access).”

According to the plaintiffs, both companies are retaining personal information about their ex-customers indefinitely, and are not sending required annual privacy notices to former customers disclosing this fact.

The CCPA allows individuals to collect $100 for each day the cable company is in violation of the law.

The lawsuit argues that this non-essential information exposes former customers to possible identity theft or illicit action by company employees that could potentially lead to unauthorized charges or account withdrawals.

That fear is not far-fetched. Just two weeks ago, GCI — a cable company in Alaska, found itself contacting at least 400 customers who had their personal financial information stolen by an employee.  Some customers were also contacted by their credit card issuers over incidents of unauthorized credit card charges.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KTUU Anchorage GCI Warns Customers of Fraud 5-24-12.mp4

KTUU in Anchorage reports a GCI employee accessed cable customer account information to commit identity theft and credit card fraud.  (3 minutes)

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Alaskan Wireless Competitors Join Forces to Fend Off Verizon Wireless and AT&T

Ordinarily, General Communication Inc., or GCI, and Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. (ACS) compete with one-another for a share of Alaska’s television, broadband, phone, and wireless marketplace. But when Verizon Wireless unveiled plans to build and operate its own network in the state, GCI and ACS set aside some of that rivalry to pool resources for construction of what they claim will be Alaska’s fastest wireless network.

The two companies have agreed to form The Alaska Wireless Network LLC, a jointly-funded statewide wireless network to be used by customers of both companies. GCI will own two-thirds of the network and manage its daily operations, while ACS maintains a one-third interest.  The companies claim they needed to join forces because of the enormous construction costs required to build next generation wireless technology across Alaska.

Both companies will continue to market their own cell phone plans, but since both companies will share the same cell towers, coverage will be identical while accessing the new wireless network.

“By combining our respective wireless assets, GCI and Alaska Communications can provide a state-of-the-art Alaska wireless network owned and operated by Alaskans for Alaskans,” said Alaska Communications president and CEO Anand Vadapalli and GCI president and CEO Ron Duncan.  ”We believe that The Alaska Wireless Network will provide the fastest, most geographically extensive, and most reasonably priced wireless services for Alaska subscribers, allowing us each to compete more effectively in the retail market.”

Verizon Wireless believes otherwise. Demian Voiles, vice president for Verizon Wireless Alaska, took a minor shot at the combined network stating Verizon planned to construct an Alaskan network that would rival the kind of coverage Verizon Wireless is recognized for in the lower 48 states.  Voiles said Verizon’s arrival in 2013 will provide Alaskans “the choice they need” in wireless phone companies.

The deal between GCS and ACS requires federal regulatory approval before it can proceed.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KTUU Anchorage Alaska Wireless Network 6-5-12.mp4

KTUU in Anchorage investigates how GCI is teaming up with its biggest rival — Alaska Communications — to jointly construct a new statewide wireless network to compete with Verizon and AT&T.  (2 minutes)

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Verizon Wireless Heads to Alaska, Providers on the Ground Expect AT&T to Suffer the Most

Verizon Wireless is expected to enter the Alaskan mobile market sometime in 2013-2014, according to incumbent competitors, who expect Verizon’s largest impact will be to bleed AT&T of customers.

Alaska’s two primary local providers — Alaska Communications, Inc. (ACS) and General Communications, Inc. (GCI), are telling shareholders to relax because they don’t expect to see Big Red in the Alaskan market for at least 2-3 years.  Both companies reported net losses for the quarter, and GCI lost 2,400 subscribers recently when more than 4,000 soldiers at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks were deployed to Afghanistan.

Both ACS and GCI have been using the current poor economic climate and their respective stockpiles of cash-on-hand to retire debt or reissue long-term-debt at more favorable low interest rates.  Both companies are also hurrying to outdo each other’s 4G wireless network deployments before Verizon Wireless shows up, making use of spectrum it acquired last August to enter the Alaskan market.  Government rules require Verizon to sign-on its new network by June 13, 2013.  But Verizon admits it will take up to five years after that to completely build a new network from scratch.

Right now, Verizon Wireless customers taking their phones to Alaska roam on ACS’ network, for which the company is compensated with an increasing amount of extra revenue.  ACS boosted earnings in part on that roaming revenue, even as it lost more of its own customers.  When Verizon switches on its own network, that roaming revenue will rapidly decline, but ACS executives reassured shareholders their knowledge and experience of construction seasons in Alaska guarantee Verizon won’t be able to get its network together until 2013 at the earliest.

But when Verizon opens their doors, Ron Duncan, CEO of GCI expects a hard fight on his hands.

“We recognize ultimately they’ll be a significant competitor, although I see AT&T share more at risk because Verizon’s main claim to fame when they get to Alaska is going to be devices. We’ll still outpace them on coverage. We’ll continue to be the only ones with statewide coverage,” Duncan said. “People who want to buy the coverage buy from us today; people who want devices buy from AT&T because AT&T gets much better devices than we do.”

Just months after Verizon announced they were headed north, both ACS and GCI accelerated plans to roll out respective “4G” networks for wireless customers, although each company is deploying different standards.

GCI

GCI’s cell phone network is a combination of some of its own infrastructure, the acquisition of Alaska Digitel, and a resale agreement to use parts of AT&T Wireless’ coverage it acquired from Dobson Communications Systems.  In and around Fairbanks, Anchorage, Glennallen, Valdez, Prudhoe Bay, Wasilla, and Kenai, GCI offers CDMA service.  In those communities and many other rural regions in western Alaska, GCI relies on AT&T Alascom GSM networks.  GCI pitches its CDMA network’s 3G wireless data capabilities, which offer faster wireless data speeds, if you can get coverage.  For wider coverage in Alaska’s smaller communities, GCI markets GSM phones, which currently only offer 2G EDGE/GPRS data speeds.  If you use a cell phone mostly for voice calls, the wider coverage afforded by GCI’s GSM network is a popular choice.  But if you want faster data, CDMA 3G data speeds are required.

Eventually, GCI’s 4G network may help deliver coverage and faster speeds in both urban and rural areas, particularly as GCI plans to invest up to $100 million to construct more of its own network, instead of relying on resale agreements and acquisitions.

GCI has chosen HSPA+ for 4G service on the GSM network, and will introduce the service in Anchorage later this month.  That’s the same standard used by AT&T and T-Mobile in some areas.  It’s not as fast as LTE service from Verizon Wireless, but is much cheaper to deploy because cell sites need not be linked with fiber optic cables — an expensive proposition.

ACS

Alaska Communications has a large 3G CDMA network in Alaska all its own.  Its coverage is primarily in eastern Alaska adjacent to major cities like Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks, and where it does provide 3G data coverage, the company claims it extends further out than GCI.  ACS doesn’t offer much coverage in small villages and communities in western Alaska, however.

ACS expects to skip incremental upgrades and launch its own 4G LTE service in the future.  It may help the company regain its second place standing, lost to GCI last year, and protect it from Verizon Wireless poaching its customers.

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GCI Spokesman Openly Lies to Media About Internet Overcharges – We Have the Bills

GCI delivers unlimited downloads of customers' money.

GCI spokesman David Morris either does not know what his own company does to abuse its customers or he openly lied about it in statements to the media:

GCI said it hasn’t yet charged anyone fees for exceeding the data limits (some customers dispute this), but the company began contacting its heaviest data users this summer to move them to new, limited plans. The company is also upgrading Internet speed for its customers this year at no extra cost.

GCI said it hasn’t decided when to enforce the data limits on everyone else. The crackdown might not happen until next year, according to Morris.

Apparently Morris is living in a time warp, because “next year” is this year.

After our article earlier this morning, Stop the Cap! started receiving e-mail from angry GCI customers with bills showing outrageous overlimit fees running into the hundreds of dollars GCI claims they are not charging.

Our reader Steve in Alaska sums it up:

“GCI is a bad actor that abuses its customers with bait and switch broadband, baiting customers with expensive unlimited bundled plans and then switching them to limited plans with unjustified fees,” he writes. “A legal investigation exploring whether this company is violating consumer protection laws is required, especially after misrepresenting the nature of these overcharges in the Alaskan media through its spokesman.”

GCI is apparently iterating the credit card industry’s tricks and traps.

Our reader Scott’s latest broadband bill shows just how abusive GCI pricing can get:

GCI: the Grinch That Stole the Internet (click to enlarge)

Scott was floored by GCI’s Festival of Overcharging, which turned a $55 a month bill for broadband into nearly $200.  It exemplifies everything we’ve warned about over the past two years with these pricing schemes:

Well it finally happened, I got hit with GCI internet bill shock, $196.58 total for my 8Mbps plan with 25GB usage.

My usage prior to this has always been around 15-20GB/mo according to them — just the usual web surfing/e-mail with a little online gaming over the weekends (Eve Online) but not much.

Something ratcheted up my usage to nearly twice that (I did buy one game off Steam for digital delivery), which still would have been perfectly reasonable given the $75.00/mo plan I chose — that’s double what most people pay for unlimited in the lower 48 states. I only moved to this plan because their $135/mo bundle plan wasn’t affordable due to the required overpriced digital phone + taxes.

I tried calling their customer service and just got the company line about how expensive it was to provide their service, and I must have an open Wi-Fi router or “downloaded” too many YouTube videos, iTunes, or other content. He also stressed five or six times lots of customers go over their limits thanks to Netflix streaming and you really can’t use it with GCI Internet service.

To date I’ve never gotten a straight story from them on how this is managed, or from their marketing material which never mentioned overage until recently, or their reps that used to say you’d get a phone call to warn you if you went over their limits. The rep I spoke to most recently claims you’re supposed to call them daily or every other day – or login to a special portal online to monitor usage.

Either way this company has no sense of customer service, nor does it operate in the interest of Alaskan consumers that are cut off from the lower 48 and need reliable and affordable Internet services.

Stop the Cap! recommends making a copy of David Morris’ comments and notifying GCI you are not paying their overage fees because they are “obviously in error,” at least according to the company’s own spokesman.  Then get on the line with the State of Alaska’s Consumer Protection Unit and the Better Business Bureau and demand your overlimit fees be credited or refunded.  We’ve even got the complaint form started for you.  GCI values its A+ Better Business Bureau rating, so chances are very good they’ll take care of you to satisfactorily close the complaint.

GCI’s claims that with Internet usage limits, the company can deliver its customers faster speeds.  But Stop the Cap! argues those speeds are ultimately useless when GCI allows you to use as little as 3 percent of your service before those overlimit fees kick in.

A Broadband Reports reader ran the numbers before speed upgrades made them even worse:

Yes, GCI is overcharging customers and they have been on their unbundled tiers for a very long time. Now GCI wants to overcharge the rest by setting limits on ultimate package tiers that previously were labeled as “unlimited downloads”. I thought I’d post the more revealing information about how GCI is ripping off residential customers.As an academic argument let’s compare what data transfer is possible vs. what GCI now expects customers to use on its [formerly] “unlimited downloads” tiers.

1 Mbit = 1,000,000 bits

1,000,000 bps * 60 = 60,000,000 bpm
60,000,000 bpm * 60 = 3,600,000,000 bph
3,600,000,000 bph * 24 = 86,400,000,000 bpd

Now that we have a baseline measure of the total data transfer possible from a 1Mbps line PER DAY, let’s convert bits to bytes and gigabytes.

8 bits = 1 byte
86,400,000,000 bits / 8 bits = 10,800,000,000 bytes

Now let’s convert this to gigabytes

1,000,000,000 bytes = 1GB
10,800,000,000 bytes / 1,000,000,000 bytes = 10.8 GB

This means that 10.8GB of data transfer is possible with a 1Mbps connection operating 24/7 PER DAY.
NOTE: This figure doesn’t take into account network overhead or other loss.

Ultimate package speed tiers.

(Total Throughput possible PER DAY)
4Mbps = 10.8 * 4 = 43.2 GB
8Mbps = 10.8 * 8 = 86.4 GB
10Mbps = 10.8 * 10 = 108.0 GB
12Mbps = 10.8 * 12 = 129.6 GB

(Total Throughput possible PER MONTH)
Assume 30 days = 1 month

4Mbps = 43.2 * 30 = 1296 GB = 1.296 TB
8Mbps = 86.4 * 30 = 2592 GB = 2.592 TB
10Mbps = 108.0 * 30 = 3240 GB = 3.240 TB
12Mbps = 129.6 * 30 = 3888 GB = 3.888 TB

Now this is what GCI expects its customers to use.
4Mbps = 40 GB
8Mbps = 60 GB
10Mbps = 80 GB
12Mbps = 100 GB

GCI expected utilization factor (actual/possible usage)
40 / 1296 = 0.0308 = 3.08 %
60 / 2592 = 0.0231 = 2.31 %
80 / 3240 = 0.0246 = 2.46 %
100 / 3888 = 0.0257 = 2.57 %

It should be no surprise that as technology continues to develop, the true costs of broadband have continued to fall.

Given the true cost of bandwidth today, GCI’s forced bundling, and the price it’s asking this is pathetic.

Some might choose to ignore it or want to be a water carrier for GCI and similar ISPs, but advertising a service and expecting less than 3% usage is overbilling. It’s overcharging and also manipulative because the general population doesn’t understand it and can be easily duped into believing whatever they’re told to believe by an ISP.

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Alaskan Broadband Ripoff: Internet Overcharging GCI Sparks New Outrage From Angry Customers

GCI, an Alaskan Internet Service Provider, is getting pummeled by angry customers as they continue to learn the company has launched an Internet Overcharging scheme that limits their broadband use.  Some customer claim the company is actively trying to trick those previously enrolled in unlimited plans into limited service tiers with tantalizing “free speed upgrades.”

Stop the Cap! reader Thomas was one of more than a dozen readers who complained to the Anchorage Daily News about the broadband ripoff.

He is outraged by the bait and switch tactics employed by GCI that sold customers on expensive bundled service packages that promised “unlimited Internet” service the company is now trying to take away.

Thomas first learned GCI had slapped limits on his broadband account… from Stop the Cap! GCI never bothered to inform him, or many other customers, about the new usage limits.  After he read our earlier story, he called GCI and learned he was a victim of Internet Overcharging.

GCI’s limits range from 40-100GB on plans ranging in price from $45-105 per month.

GCI, like most Internet Overchargers, tries to blame its customers for the imposed limits.

GCI estimates that 5 percent of its Internet customers are consuming 70 percent of the company’s available bandwidth. These users share a portion of their Internet cable with other GCI customers, and they have been slowing down the other households’ Internet speed, GCI spokesman David Morris told the Anchorage newspaper.

In an effort to prove their contention that usage limits improve service, GCI handed out free speed upgrades along with usage allowances and attempted to conflate the two.

In reality, most broadband slowdowns come from overselling access and being unwilling to invest in appropriate capacity upgrades to meet the growing needs of customers.  For companies like GCI, imposing usage limits to scare users away from high bandwidth services is cheaper and more profitable than meeting customer demand.

“Most of the under-30 crowd that I know use Netflix and Hulu streaming services so we can watch what we want, when we want. Cable TV does not give us the flexibility we want,” Sean Hogan, an Anchorage accountant, told the newspaper.

“I’m getting charged $180 per month and I don’t even want the phone or cable,” said Mike White, an Anchorage customer who upgraded his data-usage plan recently because he was worried about violating GCI’s limits.

GCI claims its new limits allow customers to do many things they had no interest in doing under their old unlimited plans, like sending millions of e-mail messages or browsing tens of thousands of web pages.  To make the limits sound generous, they made a chart:

Usage Comparison
Example 5,000 MB 20,000 MB 40,000 MB 100,000 MB
Email
(4 KB)
Text Only 1.25 Million 5 Million 10 Million 25 Million
Email with Picture (1 MB) Average
quality photo
5,000 20,000 40,000 100,000
Webpages
(100 KB)
Facebook,
eBay
50,000 pages 200,000 pages 400,000 pages 1 Million pages
Music Downloads
(4 MB)
3 minute
song
1,250 songs 5,000 songs 10,000 songs 25,000 songs
Streaming Audio
(1 MB/min)
Pandora
Internet Radio
80 hours 320 hours 640 hours 1,600 hours
Streaming Video
(2 MB/min)
YouTube 40 hours 160 hours 320 hours 800 hours
Movie
Downloads
Standard Definition 7.5 movies 30 movies 60 movies 148 movies

Of course, these limits ignore the reality customers do most or all of these things, and if they use their high speed connection to download files or watch the increasing amount of video content delivered in High Definition, they’ll blow through some of GCI’s limits with little effort.

Despite GCI’s claims of generosity, its customers think otherwise, and many are moving to curb their usage to avoid potential penalty fees or service termination the company could impose with enforcement of their caps:

Morris said that most of GCI’s customers will discover that their Internet usage is far below the new limits. Depending on the plan, the limits range between 50 and 125 gigabytes per month.

Chris Bruns, an Anchorage father and college student, isn’t so sure. “I’m in the high-30 (gigabyte) range every month,” he said.

GCI’s cheapest substitute for an unlimited plan is 40 gigabytes — the equivalent of downloading and watching 60 movies per month on your computer.

Bruns found out recently — after calling GCI to ask some questions about his family’s Internet speed and usage — that his previously unlimited plan, called Ultimate Xtreme, now had a 40 gigabyte ceiling.

“I was pretty miffed. It came as a surprise,” he said.

“When we signed up, we specifically got the unlimited plan because we knew we used it a lot,” he said.

He said he has since curbed the family’s Internet usage to be on the safe side. He said he and his wife regularly download movies for themselves and cartoons for their two children on Netflix to watch on their computer. Using Netflix is a way to keep the kids from seeing “garbage” on TV, Bruns said.

Ed Sniffen, a consumer-protection attorney in the Alaska Department of Law, may a victim of GCI’s bait and switch broadband himself.

Sniffen said he has had an unlimited-data plan with GCI and didn’t know on Tuesday afternoon whether he received a notice about the new policy. He said anyone who has a concern should contact the Law Department’s consumer-protection office.

The story in the newspaper prompted an enormous response — some 265 comments and counting.  A sampler:

GCI provides terrible service compared to companies in the lower 48 at exorbitant prices. They are a monopoly that needs to be tweaked.

GCI’s Network costs are FIXED. They are raping and pillaging us.

“GCI said it hasn’t yet charged anyone fees for exceeding the data limits…” — GCI lies. Just a few months ago I was charged nearly $100 for exceeding the bandwidth limit. Since then, I’ve upgraded my package to a ridiculous amount of bandwidth (at a ridiculous price) just so I can avoid that problem.

This is crazy. You go anywhere in the lower 48 and almost every Internet provider out there has some sort of unlimited plan, and it doesn’t involve payment with an arm, a leg, a kidney, or a first-born child. GCI needs to get this crap sorted out.

I got an offer to double my Internet speed and usage for a few bucks extra, and free cable (the good package, not the basic cable). Two months later, I still haven’t seen anyone show up to do anything, and I’m still getting charged out the tail end for overage charges. I keep requesting to up my Internet (I have a college student who takes some Internet classes) but they never do it. The only reasons I switched from ACS were because when it rained we had no phone OR internet (they said the problem was with our lines – our landlord at the time needed to fix it, but the contractor said it was ACS’s line problem – THEY needed to fix it.)  If there was another alternative to phone/Internet, I would so be there.

I was out and out LIED to by a GCI Rep. I was told if I changed my plan I would receive higher speeds with NO OTHER CHANGE for the same price. I questioned the GCI rep about this in detail several times before agreeing. The next day I no longer had unlimited downloads. I was LIED to and RIPPED OFF by GCI.

GCI’s statement that they have not charged overlimit charges is incorrect as over ten individuals that I know including myself have been hit with bills ranging from $300 to $2000 for one month of service.

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Senator Ted Stevens – His Final Flight Was Sponsored By Telecom Lobbyists & D.C. Insiders

Stevens

Sen. Ted Stevens death last week in a plane crash has shined a light on increasingly cozy relationships between Alaska’s most powerful politicians and the special interests that court their support.  Winning favor with a politician that can control and direct financial resources from Washington can secure your company millions in taxpayer dollars and legislative favors in America’s most rural state.

When he died, the former Alaskan senator was on his way, as an invited guest, to an isolated lodge owned and maintained for the use of executives at Alaska’s largest broadband provider — GCI.  Time alone in the Alaskan wilderness delivered the ultimate captive audience for those the company sought to influence and Stevens was always a company favorite.

Accompanying Stevens on the doomed flight were GCI’s senior lobbyist Dana Tindall and William D. Phillips Sr., a lawyer, lobbyist and former chief of staff for Mr. Stevens.  Both also perished in the crash.

Even after Stevens was voted out of office after being initially found guilty in a federal corruption trial, special interests like GCI continued to court Stevens, who all-too-willingly mixed business and pleasure — including the ill-fated fishing trip sponsored by the Alaskan telecom company.

Stevens didn’t go quietly out of politics after losing to Democrat Mark Begich in 2008.  The New York Times noted he split his time between Washington and Alaska, providing “consulting” services and worked on resource issues.

His close connections to beltway politics kept him in favor among Alaska’s corporate interests, many of whom had supported Stevens financially and rhetorically for decades.

Tindall’s close relationship to Stevens paid GCI dividends in favors and support — both of which they returned in the form of generous campaign contributions, as the Times reports:

Ms. Tindall, 48, did not work for Mr. Stevens, but several people said they had a strong mutual respect and a warm rapport. She is credited with helping the company she worked for, GCI, grow rapidly in Alaska at the same time that Mr. Stevens was influential in telecommunications issues in Congress. He frequently brought members of the Federal Communications Commission to Alaska and helped steer money toward improving communications in rural areas. Another of his former chiefs of staff, Greg Chapados, is a vice president at GCI.

Tindall

“Senator Stevens was instrumental in helping get a satellite project started so that people in Alaska could watch same-day television and live events,” said Mike Porcaro, a radio personality and advertising executive whose clients include GCI. Mr. Porcaro recalled not being able to watch live network television in Alaska as late as the 1970s. “We went from the 1800s to the 20th century in one day, mostly because of him,” Mr. Porcaro said.

Executives at GCI were generous campaign contributors to Mr. Stevens. Since 1994, Ms. Tindall was the most generous, donating $7,100 to his campaigns, records show. But in 2007 and 2008, as the corruption case surrounded Mr. Stevens, Ms. Tindall and other GCI executives gave less. Ms. Tindall initially gave $1,000 that year, though she later reduced the amount to $400.

Roberta Graham, a public relations executive and a close friend of Ms. Tindall’s, said Ms. Tindall and Mr. Stevens were “kindred spirits,” similarly tenacious and dedicated to their work.

GCI can afford to wine and dine Alaska’s politicians from the rate hikes they will visit on their broadband customers with a proposed Internet Overcharging scheme that will limit customers to how much Internet access they can enjoy.

That abusive pricing is something Senator Stevens would have undoubtedly supported, even if he lacked an understanding of its implications.

The late senator embarrassed himself in 2006 when he sought to defend his friends in the telecommunications industry against Net Neutrality.  At one point, Stevens reduced the Internet down to a “series of tubes.”

But then companies like GCI didn’t contribute generously to his campaign for his broadband knowledge — they just wanted to make sure he was a safe vote in their column.

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GCI Rip-Off: Alaskan Broadband Customers Face Wrath of Cable Company for “Excessive Use”

Broadband customers face dramatically higher prices for Internet service from a telecom company that wants to define for Alaskans an “appropriate” amount of “fair usage” of the Internet.

GCI, Alaska’s largest cable company, is currently embarked on a so-called “education” campaign over the summer telling residential customers it might be time for them to log off, or face the consequences of enormously higher broadband bills.

For one Anchorage coffee shop, that added up for several hundred dollars for just a single month of usage — all because they offer free Wi-Fi to their customers.

“People use it for their second space. Their home office,” Kaladi Brothers Coffee COO Dale Tran told KTVA news. “We’ve always offered an open network in our cafes, and after hours some people come by and park out front.”

Tran says the result was a bill from GCI several hundred dollars higher than expected.

GCI Communications Manager David Morris says at least two percent of their 110,000 customers are using “too much” service and violating the company’s “fair use” policies.  Morris also warned customers with wireless equipment that if they don’t take steps to lock down their routers with passwords and security, they could be exposed to a huge bill from GCI for providing free Internet service to the entire neighborhood.

Morris claims the company wants to specifically define what it considers “fair use,” claiming it will make things more equitable for everyone.

But GCI’s Internet Overcharging scheme will never save a single customer a penny.  Instead, customers will see only skyrocketing bills should they not fit within GCI’s arbitrary definition of “fair use”:

The company’s website states, “For a large majority of customers, normal usage activities are not expected to exceed the plan profiles defined below”:

Plan Name Usage
Ultimate Xtreme 40,000 MB
Ultimate Xtreme Family 60,000 MB
Ultimate Xtreme Entertainment 80,000 MB
Ultimate Xtreme Power 100,000 MB

GCI customers are not happy.  One reader of the AK Community forum provided additional insight:

To add a little dimension to this before I start ranting, here are the respective rates for the above service plans:

Plan Monthly Rate
Ultimate Xtreme $39.99
Ultimate Xtreme Family $49.99
Ultimate Xtreme Entertainment $69.99
Ultimate Xtreme Power $99.99

Now, those prices are misleading because they are only for the internet service portion of the “bundle.”  What they’re not telling you (anywhere on the web site that I can find, in fact) is that in order to receive that price, data transfer rate, and monthly bandwidth, you must also pay for GCI’s digital cable television service ($57.99 when part of a bundle), local phone service ($15.49 a month), and long distance service ($5.99 a month plus taxes and surcharges).

Without factoring in the various FCC fees and whatnot, the above information brings the total cost of GCI’s fastest, highest monthly bandwidth package to $179.46 per month!  That’s actually the cost they quoted me on the phone, too, so at least we know their “customer service” staff are at least intelligent enough to figure out an adding machine.

Oh, and did I mention that those speeds and transfer rates are not available for standalone cable modem [subscribers]?

[...] What happens when you do go over?  BAM!  $5.12 per gig tacked on to your bill!  I don’t know about you guys, but I’m sick of getting ripped off by GCI.  Those of you who live outside of Alaska can confirm this, but GCI is just about the only cable company that still meters their customers’ bandwidth.  I have friends who tell me that they’re paying $49.00 a month for 8Mb/s transfer rate and unlimited bandwidth!

What GCI is doing is highway robbery.  How are they getting away with it?  I’ll tell you: no competition.  For very high speed broadband internet, they’re the only show in town, so they can charge whatever they want to anybody who wants more than 3Mbps (standard speed DSL service from Alaska’s other big telecom provider, the phone company).

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KTVA Anchorage GCI Fair Internet Use Crackdown 6-2-10.flv

KTVA-TV in Anchorage ran this report about GCI’s plans to force many of their broadband customers to pay more if they enjoy the Internet “too much.”  (3 minutes)

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