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Sprint Offering $15/Mo Unlimited Call/Text/Data Plan to New Customers… Until Friday

Sprint debuted its new $15/month Unlimited Kickstart plan on June 7th, and will stop taking new orders for it tomorrow evening, making it one of Sprint’s shortest-lived plans ever.

The plan, intended to steal customers from competitors, offers those bringing a qualified device (or buying one) the opportunity of paying just $15 a month for unlimited talk, texting, and data, with some caveats:

  • Video streams are throttled to support up to 480p, music streams are limited to 500 kbps, and gaming streams don’t exceed 2 Mbps.
  • Customers on this plan are subject to speed throttles, known at Sprint as “data deprioritization” when towers are congested, regardless of usage.
  • Customers must enroll and maintain autopay.
  • Requires customers to sign up for a new line, port an existing number, and either bring your own device or buy one from Sprint.

Unlimited Kickstart gives Sprint a chance to report a big boost in new customer signups during its next quarterly report to Wall Street. But the company claims the plan also allows customers of other carriers the opportunity of sampling Sprint’s upgraded network, or return to Sprint as an ex-customer to see how the network has improved. There are no contracts, and the offer also extends to other family members — each line up to four will cost just $15/month.

Sprint will attempt to upsell customers to its Unlimited Freedom plan, which offers more features at a higher price.

“At Sprint, we’ve worked incredibly hard to improve our network,” the company claimed in a press release. “In fact, Sprint’s national average download speed increased 34.5 percent year-over-year, more than any other national carrier. Plus, we’ve increased our investment to make our coverage, reliability and speed even better as Sprint prepares to launch the first mobile 5G network in the U.S. in the first half of 2019.”

The company claims interest in the offer is extremely heavy, but the press release announcing it also mentioned an expiration date for enrollees of Friday night (June 15) at 11:59pm EDT, which means time is running out. Customers have to sign up for the offer online, which isn’t particularly intuitive. A Live Chat button is located on the web page which may offer some help to those trying to enroll. If you own a qualified phone already, or acquire a new one, you will need to acquire a Sprint SIM card to activate the plan no later than June 22, 2018.

Breaking News: N.Y. Fines Charter $2 Million for Failure to Meet Broadband Targets

The New York State Public Service Commission today fined Charter/Spectrum $2 million after the company failed to meet its obligations to expand its cable network to more than ten thousand homes and businesses the company committed to serve in the time allotted. In addition, the PSC warned the company, which claimed in a response to the state’s “show cause” order that it was not obligated to meet the terms of its 2016 merger agreement, faces the threat of having its merger with Time Warner Cable revoked, which could end Spectrum’s ability to operate in New York State.

“As a condition of our approval of Charter’s merger two years ago, we required Charter to make significant investments in its network,” said Commission chair John B. Rhodes. “Our investigation shows that Charter failed to meet its obligations to expand the reach of its network to unserved and underserved customers at the required pace and that it failed to justify why it wasn’t able to meet its obligations. Furthermore, since the company has taken the unfortunate position of refusing to adhere to all conditions set forth in our initial decision two years ago, we now demand the company unconditionally accept all of the conditions as the Commission unambiguously required in 2016, or run the risk of more severe consequences.”

In its order regarding Charter’s failure to meet its buildout obligations, the Commission rejected 18,363 addresses — including 12,467 in New York City and 4,096 in the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Schenectady, Albany, and Mt. Vernon — to which Charter claimed it expanded network as part of its required buildout requirement. The Commission found that these addresses were already passed by Charter or another company providing high speed broadband, or that Charter was separately required to pass the addresses pursuant to state regulations and/or franchise agreements.

As a result, Charter must revise its overall 145,000 addresses-buildout plan to remove the rejected addresses and file a revised buildout plan for going forward within 21 days. In its initial 2016 order approving Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable, the Commission required that Charter extend its network to pass within its statewide service territory, an additional 145,000 unserved and underserved residential housing units and/or businesses within four years.

About a year later, it became evident that Charter had failed to meet its May 2017 target. To get the company back on track, the Commission approved a settlement under which Charter was required to pass 36,771 eligible premises by December 2017, and meet regular six-month milestones or else pay up to $1 million for each miss, and up to $1 million should the company fail to correct any miss within three months.

Rhodes

Earlier this year, Commission staff, audited Charter’s compliance filing of proposed passings to be counted toward its December 2017 target, and determined that 14,522 passings should be
disqualified, which meant that the company failed to meet its required target. In its May response to the Commission, Charter argued that not all of the Commission’s 2016 merger order applies to the company as part of its rationale for including ineligible addresses. Given the company’s continued intransigence, the Commission today ordered that the company unconditionally accept all of the conditions and requirements spelled out in its 2016 order or face subsequent Commission action.

With today’s decision, the Commission ordered Charter to pay $1 million in accordance with the settlement agreement for failing to satisfy the December 2017 target and failing to demonstrate that it missed the target due to circumstances beyond its control. The Commission similarly  found that Charter did not “cure” this miss by March 16, 2018, nor did it demonstrate that it had good cause for its failure to do so, requiring an additional $1 million payment to the state.

Frontier’s Troubles Mount: Company Rejects Low-Ball Offers for Assets, Worries About Its Debt

Phillip Dampier June 14, 2018 Consumer News, Frontier No Comments

Frontier’s acquired service area in central Florida is depicted in orange.

Frontier Communications failed to attract any credible bids for its Florida service area it hoped to sell to raise cash to help pay down its massive debts, now reaching 23 times the size of the market value of its outstanding shares of stock.

Frontier’s money problems come largely from its 2016 $10.54 billion acquisition of Verizon Communications’ wireline operations in California, Texas and Florida (CTF). That added to Frontier’s debt, which now amounts to $17.8 billion, racked up mostly through acquisitions and merger activity.

After acquiring the ex-Verizon service areas, customers fled because of Frontier’s poor performance. Customers complained about lengthy service interruptions, inaccurate billing, and poor customer service. Frontier executives originally trumpeted the CTF acquisition as a crown jewel in the company’s portfolio. To some analysts, it now appears to be an albatross around the company’s neck, threatening to create serious financial problems when some of the company’s bond-financed debts mature in 2021 and 2022.

In February, a source told Bloomberg News the company could not expect to sell off its territories in one transaction, because there weren’t likely to be any buyers. Instead, Frontier offered buyers pieces of its network with the hope of attracting regional telecom companies, private equity and hedge fund investors, or local fiber optic service providers. In late May, Frontier revealed it had received multiple bids for pieces of its Florida operation, but no offer was adequately high enough to proceed.

Now that an asset sale appears to be unlikely, Frontier executives are in talks with their bondholders to figure out what will come next. It is a critical moment for the company, which is currently paying over $1.5 billion in interest annually, at an average interest rate of 8.1%. Refinancing debt could prove costly as interest rates have risen. Another option is bankruptcy reorganization, which other telecom companies have done to shed debt.

Frontier’s executives are in a difficult position. If they set the asking price for their assets too high, there will be no buyers. If they adjust prices downwards, it could attract fire sale buyers and signal the marketplace the company is desperate, weakening the value of its remaining assets.

“The Florida sale wasn’t going to de-lever the company meaningfully, but it would have given them a little more flexibility to handle their 2021 and 2022 maturities,” Lindsay Gibbons, an analyst at Creditsights, Inc., told Bloomberg News. “The problem is that they have a weak negotiating position. If they sold Florida for less than what they paid, it wouldn’t look good and it puts a watermark on the other asset values.”

Comcast Bids $65 Billion in Cash to Acquire Fox Media Assets

(Reuters) – Comcast Corp offered $65 billion on Wednesday for 21st Century Fox’s media assets, emboldened by AT&T prevailing over the Trump administration’s attempt to block a merger with Time Warner, Inc..

The all-cash offer for Fox’s movie and TV studios and other assets including the X-Men franchise, opens a war with Walt Disney, which has bid $52 billion in stock. Comcast described the bid as 19 percent higher than Disney’s bid today. The transaction does not include the FOX television network, network owned-and-operated local television stations, or its cable news channels Fox News and Fox Business.

Comcast is expected to lead a wave of traditional media companies trying to combine distribution and production to compete with Netflix Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google. The younger firms produce content, sell it online directly to consumers and often offer lucrative targeted advertising.

AT&T won a court victory over skeptical U.S. antitrust regulators on Tuesday when a federal judge allowed it to buy Time Warner for $85 billion, which was widely taken as a green light for Comcast to submit its expected bid.

Comcast may face more difficulty than AT&T and other would-be acquirers, though, since Comcast already has its own TV and movie studios in the NBC Universal division, a content overlap AT&T-Time Warner lacked.

Shares of Comcast, Fox and Disney were barely changed in after-hours trade.

Comcast in a statement outlined an offer that was similar to Disney’s, including a commitment to the same divestitures. It said that it would agree to litigate any action taken by the Justice Department to block the deal.

In a letter to the Fox board, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said, “We are also highly confident that our proposed transaction will obtain all necessary regulatory approvals in a timely manner and that our transaction is as or more likely to receive regulatory approval than the Disney transaction.”

Justice Department lawyers who tried to stop AT&T’s $85 billion deal expect consumers will lose out as bigger companies raise prices, and some lawyers saw that as a concern in a Comcast-Fox deal which would put two movie studios and two major television brands under one roof.

“One cannot ignore the fact that there’s less independent content to go around,” after the AT&T deal, said Henry Su, an antitrust expert with Constantine Cannon LLP.

Still, the AT&T court fight gave Comcast valuable information about how to structure a Fox deal, said David Scharf, a litigation expert with Morrison Cohen.

“Any deal that’s coming down the pike that’s not baked yet knows the government’s playbook. They know what the government is concerned about,” he said. “They can learn how to structure a deal to make it more palatable.”

Disney itself has “surgically” structured a transaction that “might be doable,” avoiding Fox Broadcasting and big Fox sports channels, U.S. antitrust chief Makan Delrahim said last week.

Comcast may have a tough time winning over Fox’s largest shareholder, Rupert Murdoch’s family. They own a 17-percent stake and would face a multi-billion dollar capital gains tax bill if he accepted an all-cash offer from Comcast, tax experts have told Reuters.

Craig Moffett, an analyst with MoffettNathanson, said in a research note that Disney could prevail for other reasons.

“Disney has the superior balance sheet, cost of debt, equity and rationale to emerge victorious over Comcast in a bidding war,” Moffett said.

Reporting by Sheila Dang in New York and Diane Bartz in Washington; Additional reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; Writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Maju Samuel and Lisa Shumaker.

CNBC reports Comcast has officially submitted its $65 billion all-cash offer to acquire assets of 21st Century Fox. Disney is also a contender and may respond by sweetening its own offer. (2:29)

AT&T/Time Warner: The Big Bundle is Back! Introducing the $522/Mo Telecom Bill

Phillip Dampier June 13, 2018 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Video 3 Comments

Your bundle is bigger than ever.

A-la-carte TV is still dead. Long live the super-sized bundle!

If AT&T and Time Warner wanted to deliver a message to the cable industry as a result of their now-approved blockbuster merger deal, it is one that promises hundreds, if not thousands of more TV channels, movies and shows headed your way in the coming days, bundled into super-sized pricier packages of television, telephone, and internet service.

Despite the fact consumers claim they want to pick and pay only for the entertainment options they specifically want, in reality people are paying for more bundled packages and services — usually from multiple online streaming services — than ever before, with no possibility they will ever watch everything these services have to offer.

AT&T and Time Warner are well aware customers are now subscribing to cable television -and- streaming video services like Hulu and Netflix. But many customers are also buying streaming live cable TV alternatives, despite the fact they already subscribe to a cable television package. Given the option of selling you an inexpensive package of a dozen cable channels you claim to want or selling you much larger and more expensive bundles of services many are actually buying, AT&T will follow the money every time.

What will be different as a result of this merger is where you buy that programming. Before, you may have purchased AT&T Fiber internet access, AT&T wireless mobile phone service, a HBO GO subscription through DirecTV Now, a cable TV alternative, and Netflix. Now, with the exception of Netflix, all of that money will go directly to AT&T. The company will also be able to enhance their bottom line by monetizing content viewed over mobile devices. After taking control of Time Warner’s vast entertainment offerings, which range from HBO to Turner Broadcasting networks like CNN and TNT, AT&T will generously bestow liberal (or possibly free) access to this content for its broadband and wireless customers, while those served by other providers will have to pay up to watch. AT&T will ultimately set the terms of its licensing agreements. AT&T Wireless customers with unlimited data plans already have a sample of this with a free year of DirecTV Now, which customers of other wireless companies have to pay to watch.

AT&T plans to offer the best deals to customers who bundle everything through AT&T. The “quad play” bundle of TV, internet, home phone, and wireless phone will offer customers discounts on each element of the package, but some may experience sticker shock even with the discounts.

The Wall Street Journal noted a premium AT&T customer could pay more than $500 a month for AT&T’s best package — that’s more than $6,000 a year. Most bundled AT&T customers will pay about half that — around $246 a month for a package of 100 Mbps internet, a home phone line, wireless phone and a limited TV package bundling Time Warner content, including HBO. The entry level ‘poverty’ package will still cost around $115 a month.

By controlling each element of the package, AT&T can discourage a-la-carte package pickers by substantially raising the price of standalone services, to encourage bundling. That explains why many customers take a promotional TV offer priced just $10-20 more than the $70 broadband-only package some customers start with. If broadband-only service costs $40 a month and the TV package also costs $40 a month, those leaning towards cord-cutting would find it much easier to pass on cable television.

With Comcast on the verge of picking up much of 21st Century Fox’s content library and studio, Comcast will be able to defend its own turf creating similar giant bundles of content to keep its customers happy. Wall Street is already putting pressure on Verizon to respond with an acquisition of its own to protect its base of FiOS and Verizon Wireless customers.

Companies likely left out in the cold of the next wave of media and entertainment consolidation include online content companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, which will be stuck licensing someone else’s content or bankrolling many more original productions. Charter Communications, which has a small deal with AMC for content, is also stranded, as are smaller cable companies like Cox, Altice, and Mediacom. Independent phone companies like CenturyLink, Windstream, Consolidated, and Frontier are also in a bad position if Wall Street determines telecom companies without content divisions are in serious trouble.

Netflix stands alone as the behemoth content company, and is not likely to be impacted by the current wave of consolidation. Hulu will most likely end up in the hands of a telephone or cable company, most likely Comcast, if it successfully acquires Fox’s ownership share of Hulu.

For customers, your future choice of provider is about to get more complicated. In addition to pondering speed tiers and wireless coverage maps, you will also have to decide what content packages are the most valuable. Your choices will range from basic company-owned networks to third-party services like Netflix and Hulu, as well as full cable TV lineups ranging from DirecTV Now to XFINITY TV. Then get ready for the bill, which will likely include charges for most, if not all, of these services.

The Wall Street Journal explains the current wave of media consolidation. (2:44)

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  • dhkjsalhf: "Another classic case of businesses being much smarter than governments." I don't know whether this was sarcastic or not, but I feel it's a sentiment...
  • New Yorker: It makes no sense. I wonder sometimes if raising the limits on how much money rich people giving to candidates could make it more expensive to buy of...
  • New Yorker: Will New York go through with the threat? As an upstater I have seen infrastructure projects drag on in cost and time (eg. 1.5 yrs to repair a tiny b...
  • Matthew H Mosher: Another classic case of businesses being much smarter than governments....
  • Matthew H Mosher: Doesn't matter. Rural NY will remain left behind....
  • Dylan: Hopefully this does not happen as I would like to see Charter continue with its current plans of upgrades in NY, like the 200mbps upgrade. Maybe Chart...
  • Phillip Dampier: If they withdraw the granted merger, Spectrum will not be able to continue business in New York. The franchises, which are still in the name of Time W...
  • John: Charter will not pack it in, the regionality of their franchises and their future value are too important. Franchises in NY are not exclusive, the onl...
  • Fred Hall: Too bad Sprint's network sucks in 99% of the places I live/travel to....
  • Fred Hall: First - as I've said before, $2M is pocket change for Charter/Spectrum. They should just chalk it up to the cost of doing business. Second - so what...
  • Paul Houle: I think the third package was designed to pop eyes. First it is closer to a "quad play" than a triple play bundle. The "triple play" bundle of home ...
  • Phillip Dampier: $40-50 sounds suspiciously low. Are you sure that isn't a promotional rate which customers may not be able to get after a year or two? AT&T's bun...

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