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Charter Communications Quietly Eliminates Usage Caps That Were Rarely Enforced Anyway

charter spectrum logoCharter Communications has quietly dropped usage caps and allowances from the company’s terms and conditions, once again giving Charter broadband customers unlimited access to the Internet.

Like Cox Cable, Charter almost never enforced their usage caps, which were specified as 100GB for its “base” service, 250GB for “Plus” and “Max” tiers and 500GB for “Ultra” service. Customers threatening to cancel service over usage cap matters were assuaged with a commitment by retention specialists that the caps were just a “guideline” and would not be enforced except in the most egregious instances of customer “overuse” of the Internet.

In place of the caps, Charter has returned to boilerplate language found in almost every ISP’s Acceptable Use Policy:

Excessive use of bandwidth that in Charter’s sole opinion, places an unusually large burden on the network or goes above normal usage [is prohibited]. Charter has the right to impose limits on excessive bandwidth consumption via any means available to Charter.

Customers routinely exceeding a terabyte of usage a month have never been contacted by Charter, so such usage apparently does not place a burden on their network. However, Charter also reserves the right to cut your speeds through “reasonable network management tools,” some that may now be forbidden by the FCC’s Net Neutrality policy:

Charter uses a variety of reasonable network management tools and practices consistent with industry standards. In the event the periods of congestion necessitate such management, Charter has available the following tools and practices (without limitation and as may be adjusted over time): (i) use of an upper limit of bandwidth allocated for uploading of files during congested periods; (ii) Subscriber Traffic Management (STM) technology to temporarily lower the priority of traffic with the greatest impact on peak congestion; (iii) spam filtering and detection techniques; and (iv) measures to protect the security and integrity of its network, resources and subscribers. In limited instances if employed, these techniques may affect the throughput rate at which subscribers may send and receive data, the ability of users to establish session connections within the network, or result in the delay of certain traffic during times of peak congestion.

Charter has “simplified” their Internet offers down to two for most customers: 60/4Mbps for Spectrum Internet ($59.99) and 100/5Mbps for Internet Ultra ($109.99). A source at Charter tells Stop the Cap! the company is conducting very limited trials raising speeds to 100/25Mbps for its base package and boosting its Ultra tier to 300/50Mbps, in case fiber competitors arrive. Those tests are not expected to become widespread however as the prevailing view at Charter is to wait until it deploys DOCSIS 3.1 and then raise speeds to 300/50Mbps for its entry-level package and 500/300Mbps for Ultra.

Starting in January, Charter began notifying its broadband-only customers it was raising prices $5 a month (from $54.99 to $59.99).

CRTC Orders Northwestel to Cut Rates for DSL Service in the Northern Territories by 10-30%

northwestelMore than three years after Canadian regulators required Bell Canada’s northern subsidiary, Northwestel, to undertake a $233 million modernization and upgrade plan, the CRTC has ruled the company is overcharging consumers for Internet access and has ordered rate cuts.

Customers in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon pay some of the highest prices in the world for DSL Internet access, more than three times higher than what comparable broadband costs in southern Canada. The CRTC has found those prices unjustifiable, especially after its 2011 finding that Northwestel enjoyed strong financial performance while chronically underinvesting in its network.

The CRTC decision requires the company to cut prices for its DSL Internet 5 (5Mbps/512kbps) and DSL Internet 16 (16Mbps/768kbps) in N.W.T. and Yukon by 30% this May. Northwestel’s budget plans DSL Internet Lite (768/128kbps) and DSL Internet 2 (2.5Mbps/384kbps) will be reduced in price by 10 percent.

Customers of Northwestel’s most popular DSL plans pay between $65-90 a month for 2.5 or 5Mbps service with usage caps of 40 and 125GB per month, respectively.

Customers will also no longer face a $20/month broadband-only surcharge if they don’t want landline service and Northwestel’s overlimit fee, now $2-3/GB in the Northwest Territories, will be cut by at least $0.50/GB.

“Although we recognize the exceptional situation that exists in Northwestel’s territory, we must not let these challenges hinder the development and affordability of telecommunications services in the North,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, the CRTC’s chairman, in a March 4 release. “Access to reasonably priced Internet services plays an essential role in the North’s economic and social development. With this decision, we are reducing the gap between what consumers pay for Internet services in the northern and southern parts of Canada.”

Because of the company’s past pricing practices, Northwestel will not be permitted to increase residential Internet rates until the end of 2017 at the earliest, and will need CRTC approval for any other rate increases.

northwestel-operating-map

Northwestel’s operating service area includes the Yukon, Northwest Territories, northern British Columbia and Nunavut.

 

Residents in the northwestern and north-central regions of Canada have complained for years about poor service and high prices charged by Northwestel for Internet access.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC North Northwestel gets slammed in Whitehorse 6-20-13.flv

Back in the summer of 2013, Northwestel was the subject of a CRTC public hearing that got heated after customers and competitors complained the company had a de facto monopoly. (2:53)

At a 2013 hearing, Blais heard from a number of angry residents upset about Northwestel’s performance.

“I know you are frustrated; we heard it from the interveners, but we’ve pushed things considerably,” Blais said at the time.

kfn logo“The DSL package that I pay for out at Lake Lebarge is absolutely ridiculous in comparison to high-speed in town,” said Jeremy Jones. “[Northwestel charges] $90 for [5Mbps DSL with a usage cap of] 125GB. The only way to increase it would be to put in another phone line and second modem and that would have ended up being another $100+ per month. We’ve decided it is cheaper just to go over it if we need to.”

Customers are also frustrated by the fact the company receives over $20 million annually in federal subsidies, but those benefiting the most from Northwestel’s finances are its shareholders.

Native communities in isolated areas of northern Canada have learned it is better to build their own networks than wait for promises from Northwestel to be fulfilled.

The K’atl’Odeeche First Nation built its own fiber network on its reserve in Hay River, N.W.T. after Northwestel reneged on an agreement to improve existing DSL service. Today, the native community gets better Internet access than the rest of Hay River, and the community is willing to share their enhanced Internet connectivity with Northwestel for the benefit of others nearby if the company would agree to connect to it.

“We saved them millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades and I think it’s only fair that they lease a small portion of that infrastructure for them to meet their CRTC mandate,” said Lyle Fabian, the IT manager for the First Nation.

Fabian believes other First Nations should strive for broadband self-sufficiency by also building their own networks to take control of their digital future. In almost every case, Fabian said, those networks will deliver better service than what is on offer from Northwestel.

While the CRTC-ordered rate cuts will help customers in the Yukon and Northwest Territories almost immediately, Internet access in satellite-based Nunavut will continue to be exorbitantly expensive until the CRTC completes a review of those rates. Nunavut residents pay $179.95 a month for 5Mbps/512kbps service with a 30GB usage cap.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/First Mile -- First Mile Community Stories Tour Katlodeeche First Nation Community Network 5-23-12.mp4

Henry Tambour from K’atl’odeeche First Nation in the Northwest Territories of Canada gives a 2012 tour of the first phase of the locally owned and operated fiber network. The community of 300 elected to take control of their broadband future back from Northwestel. (4:12)

Lawsuit Plaintiff Byron Allen: Comcast Uses ‘Least Expensive Negro’ Al Sharpton to Cover Up Discrimination

Allen

Allen: Comcast thinks “Give Sharpton $50,000 and a bucket of chicken and we’re good.”

A $20 billion racial discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of black-owned media companies has uncovered alleged ties between executives of Comcast and Time Warner Cable and public officials who have allegedly helped cover up cable industry discrimination, price-fixing, collusion, and illegal payoffs.

Byron Allen, chairman and CEO of Entertainment Studios, in a blitz of eyebrow-raising interviews, accuses the two cable giants of putting minority-owned channels in the back of the bus, while falsely claiming black celebrities are the owners of minority networks that are actually controlled by former Comcast executives and private equity firms.

“Comcast has, in essence, created a ‘Jim Crow’ process with respect to licensing channels from 100 percent African American–owned media,” the suit reads, according to The Huffington Post. “Comcast has reserved a few spaces for 100 percent African American–owned media in the ‘back of the bus’ while the rest of the bus is occupied by white-owned media companies.”

The lawsuit, filed against Time Warner Cable, Comcast, the Urban League, the NAACP, former FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, claims the defendants are taking payoffs from the two cable giants and colluding to promote their business agendas and give minority support to their mergers and acquisitions.

“The industry spends about $50 billion a year licensing cable networks in which 100 percent African American-owned media receives less than $3 million per year in revenue from that $50 billion stream of money that is spent to acquire content,” he said.

Under normal circumstances, many African-American civil rights organizations would immediately raise a ruckus over the imbalance, but Allen alleges Comcast and Time Warner Cable have bought their silence, and in the case of Al Sharpton, his loyalty and support.

Byron Allen accuses Comcast of locking out 100% black-owned networks.

Byron Allen accuses Comcast of locking out 100% black-owned networks.

“Instead of spending real money with real, 100 percent African American-owned media, it is easier to give [Sharpton] $50,000 to give them a cover,” he said. “‘Give [Sharpton] $50,000 and a bucket of chicken and we’re good.'”

Allen called Sharpton the “least expensive negro” Comcast could find, and rewarded his loyalty with a $750,000 annual salary hosting a barely watched nightly show on Comcast-owned MSNBC.

“Why is Sharpton on TV every night on MSNBC? Because he endorsed Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal,” Allen said. “He signed the memorandum of understanding back in 2010. He endorsed the merger. Next thing you know we’re watching him on television trying to form a sentence. Every night we have the privilege of watching adult illiteracy.”

Attwell-Baker is a defendant for her highly visible warp speed trip through D.C.’s revolving door, as the former Republican FCC commissioner seemed to be writing her resignation letter seconds after voting in favor of the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger, quickly accepting a high paid lobbying job with the cable company.

“President Obama promised us transparency, hope, and change,” he said. “And what happened in the Obama administration is former commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker voted for the merger of Comcast NBCU and then 90 days later took a much higher paying job with Comcast after granting them the merger. That was betraying the public’s trust as a public service.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/HuffPost Byron Allen 2-27-15.mp4

Watch the HuffPost Live interview with Byron Allen, who reveals who really owns the minority channels Comcast brags about. (7:37)

“President Obama has been bought and paid for. He has taken donations from Comcast. Comcast is his biggest contributor,” he added. “AT&T is one of his biggest contributors. Listen, Obama, your own FTC is investigating AT&T for throttling. How can you even consider them to buy DirectTV when you’re suing them? Is it because you took donations? Yes, Obama. Don’t even think about letting them merge until they settle this lawsuit and that lawsuit.”

Sharpton

Sharpton, in addition to being a regular supporter of Comcast’s various business agendas, also hosts a nightly show on Comcast-owned MSNBC, for which he is paid $750,000 a year.

“AT&T spent more money on Al Sharpton’s birthday party than they have on 100 percent African-American owned media combined,” Allen said. “He (Sharpton) should return the money because AT&T doesn’t even celebrate Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday. The employees there take it as a sick day.”

Apart from Allen’s inflammatory appearances on cable news, his lawsuit does bring to light several important new facts about Comcast’s claims it supports minority-owned channels. Allen’s lawsuit alleges many of those channels are actually secretly owned and controlled by former Comcast executives, private equity firms, and Wall Street banks.

  • Aspire is controlled by Leo Hindery and Leo Hindery is not black. They don’t pay Aspire any subscription fees. Aspire is free,” said Allen.
  • “Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs’ network Revolt TV is controlled by a private equity firm called Highbridge Capital. The person who runs Highbridge Capital is a former Comcast executive named Payne Brown. Highbridge Capital is owned by JP Morgan. On the board of JP Morgan is Steve Burke, the number two executive at Comcast,” said Allen.

These revelations are important because Comcast promised to create and carry minority-owned channels as part of several conditions mandated by regulators to approve the 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal. Allen claims Comcast has broken its commitment and instead created “token front” networks or minority network “window dressing” that feature well-known African-American celebrities that pose as owners of the networks, but in fact they are controlled by white-owned businesses.

The lawsuit claims Comcast carries only one 100% African-American owned and controlled network — the Africa Channel. But dig a little deeper and you find the network is owned by a former Comcast/NBCU executive that played a critical part organizing minority group support for the NBCUniversal buyout.

Comcast and Sharpton’s organization both dismissed the lawsuit as inflammatory and frivolous.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Sharpton called black pawn in white game 3-1-15.flv

Byron Allen appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources and called Sharpton “a black pawn in a very sophisticated white economic chess game. He’s being used by his white masters at Comcast and AT&T. He just needs to shut up and get in the bleachers.” (7:12)

Rogers Cable Dumping Usage Caps for More Customers; New Ignite Plans for Unlimited Video Streaming

rogersThe cable company that used to make you think twice about every online video you watch doesn’t want you to think about that anymore.

Rogers Cable, eastern Canada’s largest cable company, has traditionally been one of the stingiest usage cappers in the Canadian broadband business. But now the company is marketing the fact many of its Internet plans are now usage-cap free.

Today, Rogers introduced Rogers Ignite Unlimited, 100/10 and 200/20Mbps Internet plans that come with unlimited usage, subscriptions to Rogers NHL GameCentre LIVE and shomi, Rogers’ TV Everywhere service.

“We’ve redesigned our plans to give our customers unlimited usage options with consistent, reliable speeds so they can surf more, stream more and share more without worrying about going over their limit or getting a spotty connection,” said Robert Goodman, senior director, Rogers Communications.

Goodman says the new plans are specifically designed to handle the increasing bandwidth demands of video streaming, which can quickly chew through any customer’s usage allowance. Rogers’ officials admit that 50 percent of the traffic on its broadband network is now video streaming and that customers’ Internet usage has spiked by 60 percent annually.

That growth, without a corresponding increase in usage allowances, offers a natural deterrent to cord-cutting and online viewing. Viewers who exceed their usage allowance face stiff overlimit penalties.

Rogers is not expected to lose any money dropping usage caps from its higher-end Ignite plans, which do not come cheap. The least expensive plans still keep usage caps with a $1.50/GB overlimit fee. Customers bundling multiple services together will pay less than these broadband-only prices:

  • Internet 30 ($64.99): 30/5Mbps with 100GB allowance
  • Rogers Ignite 60 ($74.99): 60/10Mbps with 200GB allowance
  • Rogers Ignite 100u ($84.99): 100/10Mbps with unlimited usage
  • Rogers Ignite 250u ($94.99): 250/20Mbps with unlimited usage

Frontier Communications CEO Maggie “6Mbps is Plenty” Wilderotter is Out; Dan McCarthy Takes Over in April

Wilderotter is out.

Wilderotter is out.

Frontier Communications CEO Maggie Wilderotter will be replaced in April by the company’s current chief operating officer in a sudden transition of power one Wall Street analyst called “oddly timed.”

Wilderotter has led Frontier Communications for more than a decade, growing the phone company’s footprint through the acquisition of Verizon and AT&T landlines in more than two dozen states. Her business strategy has been to refocus the company away from traditional telephone service towards Internet services, without aggressive infrastructure upgrade spending on a scale undertaken by companies like AT&T and Verizon. The majority of Frontier customers still receive slowband Internet service that does not meet the FCC’s minimum 25Mbps threshold to qualify as broadband.

Under her leadership, Frontier paid careful attention to its dividend, which reliably paid investors for holding Frontier stock. But the company also piled on debt through its landline acquisitions, and is now shopping the junk bond market to finance as much as $7.9 billion of its recently announced $10.5 billion purchase of landline assets in California, Florida and Texas from Verizon.

Frontier has positioned the management change in a press release as a “planned transition,” but the sudden change in the middle of the company’s largest ever landline acquisition has raised some eyebrows on Wall Street. Elevation analyst Stephen Sweeney said the management change adds a “degree of risk” and should concern shareholders.

But at least one shareholder was pleased to learn Wilderotter was going to be replaced.

“‘Oddly timed or not, I’m hard pressed to imagine a more incompetent, self-aggrandizing CEO than the one now leaving,” said RG Perrin. “May I remind [readers] that, once-upon-a-time, Frontier’s forebear, Citizens Utilities, comprised electric, gas, water, and telephone utilities, and, moreover, had a rating from the Value-Line Investment Survey of A++ for financial strength. Now look at this poor excuse of a joint-stock company. This is what thirty or so years of doltish management can achieve, including the ten put in by the departing CEO, Maggie Wilderotter. Thanks for the memory, and goodbye, at long last.”

frontierWilderotter is expected to leave the CEO role by April, replaced by Daniel McCarthy. She will stay with the company as executive chairman of the Board of Directors.

McCarthy has been with Frontier Communications since 1990 and has served as its chief operating officer since 2012. McCarthy led the team that negotiated the recent Verizon landline purchase and has been an advocate of the company’s growth into 28 states with nearly 15 million possible customers.

But Frontier’s success at holding customers and attracting new ones has not been good. As of the end of 2014, Frontier had 3,214,800 residential customers, 304,700 business customers, 2,373,900 broadband customers and 586,600 video customers. Its most loyal customers do not have other choices for broadband service and many live in rural communities with limited cable competition. Many disconnect service as their legacy 1-3 year contract commitments with the company expire. Many others require “winback” or customer retention promotions to stay.

McCarthy

McCarthy is in.

The company’s broadband products are increasingly unattractive in areas where the company faces significant competition from cable operators that are increasing Internet speeds and offering discounted bundled service packages. Frontier still relies on traditional ADSL to reach most of its customers, with gradual expansion into bonded DSL and VDSL service in more populated areas.

The majority of its fiber to the neighborhood and fiber to the home-serviced customers came through acquisitions of Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse service areas. The company has refused to embark on similar upgrades for its legacy customers and has sought instead to compete on price. As a result, more than 80% of Frontier’s legacy residential base, excluding Connecticut, purchases slowband at the basic speed tier, which is 6Mbps in most areas.

While Frontier has committed more than $10 billion to acquire Verizon customers, it spends only a fraction of that on upgrades to its existing network. In the last quarter, Frontier’s capital expenditures were $159 million and the company spent an extra $33 million trying to “flash cut” AT&T customers in Connecticut to its billing platform. The company accepted $133 million in Connect America Fund payments, paid for by ratepayers, to expand or upgrade broadband to just 164,000 households. The company will allocate nearly four times that amount to cover the total integration costs of the latest $10 billion Verizon transaction, which will not bring improved broadband to anyone.

Frontier also announced last month it would not commit to any significant expansion of U-verse outside of the existing AT&T service area it acquired in Connecticut. It previously stated it has no plans to expand its acquired FiOS service areas. This means long-term Frontier customers should not expect any significant improvements in service in the near term, especially as the company’s attention turns to its latest acquisitions, which will add 3.7 million voice connections, 2.2 million broadband connections, and 1.2 million FiOS video connections.

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