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FCC Chairman Gives Green Light for More Cable Mergers; Calls and Reassures Cable Execs Some Deals Are Okay

Wheeler

Wheeler

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler personally called the chief executives of some of America’s largest cable operators, including Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable, to reassure them that the agency does not object to future cable industry consolidation.

Wheeler said any new merger deal would be assessed on its own merits, and cable executives should not assume the agency is against future cable mergers just because it objected to the Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal.

The Wall Street Journal reports Wheeler sought to “clear the air” in response to industry hand-wringing over whether future buyouts and acquisitions could get passed the FCC. Wheeler reassured executives they were over-reading the commission’s intent.

Wheeler did suggest he would like to see more competition among cable companies, an idea that has been dead on arrival since the cable industry began colluding to agree to stay out of each other’s territories two decades ago. Although Wheeler would like to see competition increased by cable operators competing head to head for customers, it is much more likely the industry will seek further consolidation to reduce the prospect of competition, not increase it.

The larger the cable operator, the greater the economy of scale — especially for cable programming costs. A potential new entrant would likely be discouraged from entering the business, discovering it had no prospect of getting cable programming at prices comparable to what the largest cable operators pay.

Deregulation: New Jersey Regulators Unanimously Vote to Let Verizon Do Pretty Much Anything It Wants

verizonThe New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) unanimously approved an agreement this week exempting Verizon from most basic landline service regulations, prompting immediate outrage from consumer, senior and labor groups who predict it will lead to rate increases and deteriorating service.

The agreement removes pricing oversight regulations for residential basic telephone service, single-line business telephone service, nonrecurring charges for residential service connection and installation, and residential directory assistance services. That will allow Verizon to charge whatever the market will bear after a transition period. While that may not be a big problem for cell phone users and those who have dropped Verizon for cable company phone service or a broadband-powered Voice over IP alternative, it will leave rural New Jersey residents vulnerable if Verizon abuses its pricing privileges in areas where there are no alternatives.

“Today’s back room deal is bad for seniors, bad for workers at Verizon, and bad for the millions of businesses and homes that rely on affordable, reliable phone service,” said Seth Hahn, the CWA’s New Jersey legislative and political director. “In fact, it’s bad for everyone in New Jersey except Verizon. Something changed between 2011 when Governor Christie said seniors need protections and now I fear it’s the hundreds of thousands of dollars Verizon has funneled to various entities to help Christie’s political ambitions.”

Under the new deal, Verizon will cap its current basic residential rate of $16.45 for what it calls a five-year transition period. Verizon can increase the cost by only $6 during the first five years. After that, the sky is the limit.

Landline service quality - disconnected.

Landline service quality – disconnected.

The change is likely to push many of New Jersey’s 100,000 remaining landline customers to competitive alternatives which often cost considerably less, but those with medical conditions, rural residents and seniors will likely be trapped using Verizon’s copper wire landline service indefinitely.

It’s the second major victory for Verizon. Last March, the Christie Administration let Verizon off the hook with no penalties for reneging on its commitment to wire 100% of New Jersey with fiber optics by 2010. New Jersey ratepayers paid as much as $15 billion in surcharges and higher rates for a statewide fiber network that was supposed to reach every home and business. Verizon kept the money and many parts of New Jersey never got the promised upgrades. Now those areas still using decades-old copper wiring are likely to experience an increase in service problems as Verizon continues to decrease its budget to maintain landline infrastructure.

Local officials, particularly those in rural counties, were angry the BPU approved a deregulation measure that will leave consumers exposed to deteriorating service as Verizon focuses on its more lucrative wireless business.

“Who will protect the public interest now,” Greg Facemyer, a councilman in Hopewell Township, Cumberland County told The Star-Ledger by email. “This is a sad day for the senior citizens, students and farmers in small underserved communities like Hopewell Township. Where do New Jersey residents turn when their phones don’t work. This is a clear public safety issue. Spotty wireless coverage is not a reliable alternative to Verizon’s statutory obligation to New Jersey residents.”

bpuStefanie Brand, director of the New Jersey Rate Counsel saw the vote as a rush to Verizon’s business and profit agendas.

“I am certainly disheartened that they didn’t at least allow more time,” Brand said. “I think the public has a lot to say about this and I thought it would have been a good idea to have the public’s input.”

Verizon says it is the only telecom company in New Jersey subject to the outdated regulations now being dropped. The company says its competitors have done business without price regulations and oversight and have an unfair advantage.

“Something smells at the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and it’s not May flowers,” responded Daniel Benson, a representative of the 14th district of the New Jersey General Assembly. “At a time when Verizon isn’t maintaining its infrastructure, as evidenced by service declines throughout New Jersey, I don’t believe further deregulation is a sensible policy response. If the agreement is approved, many will be left defenseless to Verizon’s demands and get hit directly where it hurts — their pocketbooks. To add insult to injury, no public hearings are scheduled — those affected can’t even voice concerns on how changes would affect them.”

Zombie Merger: Charter Communications Still Pursuing Bright House Networks Merger Originally Left for Dead

Phillip Dampier May 21, 2015 Bright House, Charter, Competition, Consumer News No Comments

zombie boardBright House Networks customers in central Florida are not excited by the news Charter Communications is still pursuing Bright House Networks, and both companies recently agreed to extend the deadline by 30 days for a final deal to be placed on the table.

Charter had bid $10.4 billion to acquire Bright House, which serves customers mostly in the south, including the cities of Tampa and Orlando.

“We look forward to completing the transaction as planned, and our teams are working together to make that happen,” Charter chief executive Tom Rutledge said. Reuters had recently reported Bright House was preparing to “abandon” the Charter deal, believing it was better off with sn existing cooperation agreement with Time Warner Cable.

One reason the merger talks are moving forward could be a sense Bright House’s owners have received that Time Warner Cable is still ready to sell itself to a new buyer after its merger with Comcast collapsed. One of those potential buyers remains Charter itself.

“It’s not great news for Orlando if Charter buys Bright House Networks,” says Mike Donahue, a Bright House customer for over a decade. “I had Charter when I lived in Missouri and they were terrible. I realize Charter is somewhat different today, but consumer ratings still land Charter near the bottom while Bright House has been closer to the top.”

Charter’s ongoing interest in acquiring Bright House may be to use it as a leveraging tool in its pursuit of Time Warner Cable.

Acquiring Bright House would give Charter a stronger balance sheet, allowing it to borrow more money to make a cash-rich offer for Time Warner Cable, analysts said.

Comcast Blames Victim’s Family, Not Its Alarm System, for Failure to Alert Police Their Son Was Being Tortured

comcast home

If it works properly

Comcast has blamed its customer for the failure of its home security system to detect a break in and alert police before intruders terrorized and tortured their son.

Last fall, Stop the Cap! told readers about the plight of the Rawat family, in Kirkland, Wash., who depended on home security services provided by Comcast and now wished they didn’t.

In November 2013, police say Vincent Sisounong and Blessing Gainey planned a home invasion to steal vehicles, electronics, and money from the family. To achieve their plan, the 21 and 19-year old had to defeat Comcast’s Xfinity Home security system. According to a lawsuit now being heard in a bench trial this week, the two men didn’t have to do anything because the system never worked properly.

After entering the Rawat home, the two planned to find the family’s 18-year old son Deep and “chop off one of his arms and legs with various cutting tools” as an intimidation tactic. The attack started in Deep’s bedroom. The two men dragged him to the basement, where Sisounong instructed Gainey to hack at Rawat’s leg down to the bone, and then stabbed Rawat himself. Court documents said Sisounong told detectives that he wanted the victim to “fight for his life,” and when asked if the experience was enjoyable, he said, “yeah.”

vin

Sisounong (L) and Gainey (R)

For nearly half an hour, the struggle between the two intruders and Deep continued inside the home and finally ended when the intruders walked out the door. At no time did Comcast’s security system sound. The family had to ask neighbors to call police.

Comcast quickly blamed the family for not installing and using its system properly, despite the fact its installation was planned and performed by a Comcast subcontractor.

This week, the torture victim and his parents, Leena and Manoj Rawat, argued that Comcast and its contractor Pioneer Cable Contractors, Inc. improperly installed the Xfinity Home system. A recommendation from the installer placed the system’s motion detector in the basement, where it provided no protection when the family was home. The installer allegedly told the family they did not need window sensors because the motion detector was a suitable alternative. Although window sensors are usually constantly monitored, motion detectors are not when a family is home to prevent false alarms.

“This advice runs counter to every standard in the industry,” Rawat family attorney Ken Friedman argued during his opening arguments Monday. “The system as set up was useless, or in some cases worse than useless, because it provided a false sense of security.”

Friedman is also fighting to overcome Comcast’s terms and conditions, which require customers to protect Comcast’s interests above their own at all times, even when the company is found negligent. To emphasize the point, Comcast places it in bold, extra-large capital lettering:

Comcast's security contract lets the company walk away from responsibility for virtually everything.

Comcast’s security contract lets the company walk away from responsibility for almost everything.

YOUR DUTY TO PROTECT/INDEMNIFY THE COMPANY APPLIES EVEN IN THE CASE OF THE COMPANY’S OWN NEGLIGENCE.

“If their argument is to be accepted, they could put in empty black boxes throughout the house and say, ‘That’s your system.’ And then something goes wrong, and they say, ‘We never promised you it would work,’” said Friedman.

A better option?

A better option?

The Rawat’s lawsuit alleges negligence, breach of contract and express and implied warranties, and a violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

Comcast’s response is that their alarm system was never at fault.

“The malicious attack by the two criminals was motivated by pure evil and warrants every last second of punishment that they receive,” Comcast attorney Timothy Pastore said. “However, what happened to Deep Rawat is not the result of anything that Comcast or Pioneer did or did not do.”

Pastore claimed the family specifically ordered the alarm as it was installed, and it was working properly. The fault lied with the family because they failed to arm the system’s motion detectors by setting it to the “away” mode while they were asleep.

But if they had done as Pastore suggested, the motion sensor would have sounded the alarm if any family member moved around inside the home. The window sensors were designed to work at all times and would not sound unless a window was opened or broken.

Simple Website Flaw Discovered by 18-Year Old Exposed Personal Data of Millions of Charter Customers

Phillip Dampier May 20, 2015 Charter, Consumer News No Comments

cyber hackA security flaw exposed the personal data of millions of Charter Communications customers nationwide, including payment details, account holders’ names and addresses, and specifics about the equipment used to receive Charter service.

Eric Taylor, 18, discovered the simple website flaw which could be exploited to expose private account information with the use of a simple header modification using a browser plug-in.

The flaw was similar to one discovered recently in Verizon’s online customer service portal. But Taylor claims Charter’s vulnerabilities exposed “way way way more” private customer information.

Fast Company, which first published the story about the security breach, notified Charter in advance of publishing the story, allowing the company to close the breach within hours before it became widely known.

Charter immediately downplayed the security risks involved.

charter-communications“The vast majority of Charter customers use a version of the site on which this security vulnerability was not an issue,” a company spokesperson explained, noting the number of customers affected was less than one million. The company is auditing its systems, he said, and has so far “seen no evidence of any password or data hacks.” The exposed data did not include credit card numbers.

Taylor and other security researchers believe the flaw was more serious than Charter was willing to admit.

“In theory, anyone with minor programming skills could code an automated program that scans every Charter IP and returns the customers billing info,” Taylor explained. Because ISPs like Charter distribute Internet services through blocks of IP addresses, an ambitious hacker could have incrementally added the number 1 to the end of a targeted address and see a different Charter customer’s account details each time.

“Personal information leakage as a result of such a vulnerability opens customers up to being attacked on other services such as email providers, cellular providers, and work-related functions with many untold consequences,” said Hector “Sabu” Monsegur, a former black hat hacker and security consultant.

Wireless Lobby Head Hints No 5G Service in United States Unless Industry Gets ‘Exclusive Use’ Spectrum

The CTIA is the wireless industry's lobbying group

The CTIA is the wireless industry’s lobbying group

The wireless industry is threatening to withhold upgrades to 5G service unless the United States adopts a spectrum policy that provides wireless carriers with more frequencies.

CTIA president Meredith Baker told attendees at the Accenture conference that the wireless industry wants a new national spectrum plan to clear more frequencies for the exclusive use of mobile providers.

“When and how we introduce 5G in the United States depends, in part, upon whether we keep our spectrum policy as forward-looking as our industry,” Baker said. “The question we face is will the U.S. continue to embrace licensed spectrum – the approach that has made us the global leader in 4G.”

Baker is frustrated with the FCC’s ongoing effort to create “shared-use” spectrum that can be cleared for mobile use in certain sections of the country while still being used for other purposes elsewhere. In some cases, spectrum identified for possible dual-use is used by various government agencies, but only in certain parts of the country. The wireless industry generally does not favor shared-use spectrum policy because it can complicate wireless network buildouts.

Baker

Baker

Baker continues to advocate a more forceful approach of “spectrum clearing,” which can force users off existing frequencies to clear it for mobile exclusivity.

“Clearing spectrum will never look easy, particularly years before an auction,” she said. “To be fair, it will never be easy. But it can be done and needs to be done if we are to remain the global leader in mobility.”

The FCC is currently involved in an effort to repack the UHF television dial into a smaller space to make room for more spectrum for the wireless industry. Some companies, notably AT&T, are growing impatient about the process and want faster exclusive use of those frequencies after an incentive auction is held in 2016.

In a filing sent to the FCC, AT&T objects to creating more spectrum rights for secondary and unlicensed users and applications on the frequencies they intend to use. Once the auction is complete, it could take three years or more for AT&T and other spectrum winners to upgrade their networks to use the new frequencies in the 600MHz band. In the meantime, the FCC has proposed allowing low-power television stations and translators, wireless microphones, and other similar unlicensed equipment to continue using those frequencies until the new license holders are ready to become operational.

attAT&T considers that an intrusion on its spectrum and has told the FCC it strongly objects allowing any secondary or unlicensed user to use their spectrum “without so much as [paying AT&T] a lease” or getting consent from AT&T. AT&T wants everyone off their frequencies no later than 39 months after the issuance of a Channel Reassignment Public Notice that will identify new channel assignments for full power and Class A television stations that have been reassigned to different channels. AT&T also wants the right to jump ahead of the proposed three years of transition for licensed stations and make it possible to start kicking off all unlicensed users of its frequencies within 120 days notice.

The wireless industry argues without wireless-friendly policies, there will be insufficient incentive to invest in 5G network upgrades.

Critics contend that is just another of the wireless industry’s empty threats. Opponents contend AT&T will invest in network upgrades the moment the company believes it will generate additional profits.

Patrick Drahi’s Altice Buys Suddenlink in Surprise $9.1 Billion Deal That Is Likely Bad News for Customers, Employees

Drahi (center) surrounded by executives.

Drahi (center) surrounded by executives.

The billionaire owner of France’s largest cable operator has acquired St. Louis-based Suddenlink in a surprise $9.1 billion deal, and it is likely only the first move for the Altice Group in the U.S. cable business. But it may not be a welcome one for customers, employees, and suppliers of America’s seventh largest cable company about to be introduced to the notorious “Drahi Method” of conducting business that French newspaper La Parisien calls “brutal.”

The acquisition of Suddenlink represents a modest first step for a company that hopes to divide its business half in Europe and half in the United States. Incorporated in Luxembourg for tax-savings purposes, most of Altice’s interests in the cable business are in France and its overseas territories. Numericable is Altice’s cable brand in Luxembourg, France, and parts of Portugal and recently acquired SFR is Altice’s fiber broadband and mobile brand in French-speaking Europe.

suddenlink logoMoroccan-born billionaire businessman Patrick Drahi sees investing in cable as a great opportunity to build needed cash flow from America’s pervasive broadband duopoly. Altice is heavily in debt, financing a whirlwind of acquisitions including Israeli cable and mobile providers, Portugal’s largest telecom company, a mobile carrier in the Dominican Republic, in addition to SFR, France’s second largest wireless company, all mostly paid for with debt and junk bonds. That’s a long way from Drahi’s early days in cable, when he sold service door to door for his small regional Internet and cable-TV company in France’s Alsace region.

Suddenlink's national service area

Suddenlink’s national service area

His mentor is Dr. John Malone, America’s former cable magnate, who followed a similar pattern of buying up cable companies across the United States in the 1970s and 80s to create Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), then America’s largest cable company (it was later sold to Comcast). Drahi shares Malone’s philosophy for cash flow-generating acquisitions: “Always start with cable.” He has plenty of opportunities in the United States, which unlike Europe is largely a cable broadband duopoly in big cities and a monopoly everywhere else. While Drahi confronts revenue erosion from European telecom price wars among phone, broadband, and television companies, he has plenty of room to raise the rates on captive customers on the other side of the Atlantic.

The average Suddenlink customer lives in a small to medium-sized city in West Virginia, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana or Arizona. Suddenlink is well-positioned to sell its 1.5 million customers broadband service, because the alternative is usually low-speed DSL from companies like Frontier, Windstream, CenturyLink or AT&T. Drahi will sell all the services Suddenlink traditionally has, but customers can expect to pay a higher price.

Drahi has decided to focus on his high-end customers and has stopped competing to win customer volume based on price. The customers that pay the most for service also get the best customer service. If lower-end customers feel ignored and decide to leave, that is increasingly an accepted fact of life by Altice management. As a result, Numericable-SFR continues to lose mobile and market share in Francophone markets because customers have found better deals elsewhere. But the company is still keeping its best customers well-pampered and they have stayed, so far.

Life will be anything but pampered for Suddenlink employees and suppliers, who will soon be targeted for Drahi’s traditional culling of the herd and vicious cost cutting. European capitalists look in awe at “the Drahi Method,” a program of ruthless cost controls, job cuts, and threats visited on every acquired company. The French press is buzzing about Drahi’s latest acquisition in the United States, and wonder if Drahi’s slash and burn management style was better suited to America’s greed era of the 1980s and not the Obama’s ‘we are better than that’ era of the 2010s. But they know the story of how Drahi takes over is always the same.

Suppliers complain Drahi's companies don't pay their bills.

Suppliers complain Drahi’s companies don’t pay their bills.

After each acquisition is complete, Altice flies in a small team of executives who live to slash costs. It’s what Le Echos calls “helicopter management.” Many middle and upper management at the acquired companies are terminated instantly, replaced with relocated Drahi loyalists. Salary freezes are imposed on those remaining and are indefinite. Job cuts in customer service are frequently next and are sometimes severe. In fact, the company’s relationship with its employees is so bad, the French trade union CFDT has taken several actions against Altice-owned SFR-Numericable over pay freezes and terminations they call unjust for a company collecting a profit margin of more than 25%, even during a price war.

But the worst is reserved for the suppliers that provide everything from coaxial cable to paper for the office printer.

“Suppliers are fifth wheel,” complained one French company that considered itself extorted to hand over a 40% discount just to get their past due invoices paid. One told Le Monde the best a supplier can hope for from an Altice-run company is to barely survive. Many more die than live.

Sometimes, the hardball tactics against suppliers and vendors seem to backfire on the company. Les Echos shares the embarrassing story of the major SFR-owned mobile store that had a big problem. This past January, the demonstration display where customers can sample the latest tablets and smartphones was curiously empty, except for a few employees milling around a coffee machine placed there to take up some of the empty space. Where were the phones and tablets to show off to make the sale? The distributor who supplies SFR had not been paid. No payment, no phones.

Drahi's company even stiffed Cisco, which sent this warning note suspending shipments pending payment.

Drahi’s company even stiffed Cisco, which sent this warning note suspending shipments pending payment.

 

Just a few months before announcing his deal to acquire Suddenlink, a large group of French suppliers went to French authorities to seek a broad-based mediation to stop Drahi’s promises of payment in return for future discounts.

Les Echos reports Drahi spared no one from the cut.

“Cleaning companies, network equipment manufacturers, call centers, manufacturers of smartphones, TV, everybody goes,” it reported. Drahi’s managers even dared to challenge the local power company, Dalkia, threatening to cancel their energy services contract unless the company was granted an immediate 80 percent discount. Le Figaro reported the company ignored the contracts it had already signed with the energy company.

An empty bag: No phones at the SFR store.

An empty bag: No phones at the SFR store.

“It’s vicious,” one supplier told Les Echo. “For them, everything can be renegotiated, even contracts already signed and running.”

An IT company also accused Drahi’s company of refusing to pay for past work unless it received a 30% discount. The firm said no and threatened to sue. It is now facing bankruptcy because its business overwhelmingly depends on Numericable and SFR.

The cuts can also seem petty.

Last December, office workers in Saint-Denis found themselves without paper for the office printers. Numericable SFR management had not bothered to pay its office suppliers and they cut the company off. This year, employees report they often have to bring their own toilet paper to work as the company has stopped stocking employee restrooms, apparently part of another cost-cutting measure.

The problem of unpaid invoices has grown so bad the cable operator is increasingly responsible for suppliers clogging the only Commercial Court in Paris with cases large and small, including those from Pace – the company that provides set-top boxes for Drahi’s cable companies, M6 – a television channel not paid for its programming, STS – a major software company, Orange – a major telecom operator, and even the workers who solicit customers to buy cable service going door to door, who say they have not been paid either. In fact, Numericable-SFR has been hauled into court with stunning regularity, losing almost every case, and forced to pay costs, including court fees and interest. The company has already been convicted 12 times for unpaid bills and in several other cases, it only agreed to settle minutes before a trial began.

Altice’s willingness to put itself deeply in debt just to make more acquisitions was enough for Moody’s to throw a caution flag in February, warning investors the company was under review for a credit downgrade.

Altice1“Today’s rating action is prompted by significant uncertainties about the funding of the envisaged €1.95 billion share repurchase program and its impact on Numericable-SFR’s liquidity, leverage and operational flexibility. Moody’s views the potential transaction as aggressive given that the company closed the large acquisition of SFR only recently and is still in the early stage of integrating the acquired asset,” the ratings agency said.

One might forgive Drahi’s desire to economize, considering his recent acquisition of SFR left Altice in debt for more than $12 billion and owing $55 million in interest payments a month. But Drahi continues his acquisitions unabated by those economic realities.

Another problem is Drahi’s crackdown on who is authorized to pay suppliers and other vendors. Under SFR’s old owner, about fifty employees were authorized to sign checks over €100,000 across all of France. Today, any check over €10,000 must be signed by at least one of just three employees. Silicon reports the crackdown became even more severe last winter.

“Since December, any investment must be approved by the investment committee,” a source told Silicon. “All projects are blocked, all expenses must be justified, even 50 Euros. It is set to ‘stop and go’.

The inherent delays and austerity measures eventually also reach customers, according to ex-employees who say getting a replacement box or new cable strung can be a major problem when suppliers stop shipping and the company stops buying. It can also annoy customers that discover calling customer service no longer means talking to an employee in France. Drahi found call centers in Tunisia and Morocco that would do the same work for a fraction of the price.

Drahi said his Suddenlink acquisition is only the start. He has reportedly also shown an interest in acquiring Time Warner Cable, and shares of Cablevision stock were also increasing this afternoon suspecting that company could also be a target.

Stop the Cap! Declares War on Cox’s Usage Cap Ripoff in Cleveland; It’s About the Money, Not Fairness

Stopping the money party from getting started, if we can help it.

Stopping Cox’s money party from getting started, if we can help it.

Stop the Cap! today formally declares war on Cox’s usage cap experiment in Cleveland, Ohio and will coordinate several protest actions to educate consumers about the true nature of usage-based billing and how they can effectively fight back against these types of Internet Overcharging schemes.

Time Warner Cable quickly learned it was deeply mistaken telling customers that a 40GB monthly usage allowance was more than 95% of customers would ever need when introducing a similar concept April 1, 2009 in test markets including Rochester, N.Y., Austin and San Antonio, Tex., and Greensboro, N.C. The company repeatedly suggested only about five percent of customers would ever exceed that cap.

Six years later, it is likely 95% of customers would be paying a higher broadband bill to cover applicable overlimit fees or be forced to upgrade to a more expensive plan to avoid them. Before Time Warner realized the errors of its way, it claimed with a straight face it was acceptable to charge customers $150 a month for the same unlimited broadband experience that used to cost $50.

Cox’s talking points for customers and the media frames usage caps as a fairness enforcement tool. It is a tired argument and lacks merit because nobody ever pays less for usage-capped broadband service. At best, you pay at least the same and risk new overlimit charges for exceeding an arbitrary usage allowance created out of thin air. At worst, you are forced by cost issues to downgrade service to a cheaper plan that comes with an even lower allowance and an even bigger risk of facing overlimit fees.

Industry trade journal Multichannel News, which covers the cable industry for the cable industry does not frame usage caps in the context of fairness. It’s all about the money.

“If you’re a cable operator, you might want to strike [with new usage caps] while the iron is hot,” said MoffettNathanson principal and senior analyst Craig Moffett, a Wall Street analyst and major proponent of investing in cable industry stocks.

Multichannel News warned operators they “must tread carefully in how they deliver the usage-based message.” Instead of getting away with punitive caps, Time Warner Cable had to “rethink” its definition of fairness, keeping prices the same for heavy users of bandwidth but offering discounts to customers whose usage was lighter. No money party for them.

So how did Cox frame its message in the pages of an industry trade journal to fellow members of the cable industry? Was it about fairness or collecting more of your money. You decide:

Customers will be notified of their data usage and any potential overages beginning in mid- June but won’t have to pay for overages until the October billing cycle, a Cox spokesman said. That gives customers the chance either to alter their usage or step up to a more data-intensive plan.   The additional charges serve as a temporary step-up plan for certain consumers, the spokesman said — they can keep their current level of service and pay the additional fee during months when usage spikes, like when their kids come home from college.

cox say noThe Government Accounting Office, charged with studying the issue of data caps, found plenty to be concerned about. Consumers rightfully expressed fears about price increases and confusion over data consumption issues. In short, customers hate the kind of usage-based pricing proposed by Cox. It’s a rate hike wrapped in uncertainty and an important tool to discourage consumers from cutting their cable television package.

It’s also nakedly anti-competitive because Cox has conveniently exempted its television, home phone, and home security products from its usage cap. Subscribe to Cox home phone service? The cap does not apply. Use Ooma or Vonage? The cap does apply so talk fast. If a customer wants to use Cox’s Home Security service to monitor their home while away, they won’t eat away their usage cap. If they use ADT to do the same, Cox steals a portion of your usage allowance. Watch a favorite television show on Cox cable television and your usage allowance is unaffected. Watch it on Netflix and look out, another chunk is gone.

While Cox starts rationing your Internet usage, it isn’t lowering your price. A truly fair usage plan would offer customers a discount if they voluntarily agreed to limit their usage. But nothing about Cox’s rationing plan is fair. It’s compulsory, so customers looking for a worry-free unlimited plan are out of luck. It’s punitive, punishing customers for using a broadband connection they already paid good money to buy. It’s arbitrary — nobody asked customers what they wanted. It doesn’t even make sense. But it will make a lot of dollars for Cox.

Cox claims it only wants usage caps to help customers choose the “right plan.”

The right plan for Cox.

To escape Cox’s $10 overlimit fees, a customer will have to pay at least $10 more to buy a higher allowance plan — turning a service that costs less to offer than ever into an ever-more expensive necessity, with few competitive alternatives. Will Cox ever recommend customers downgrade to a cheaper plan? We don’t think so. Customers could easily pay $78-100+ for broadband service that used to cost $52-66.

Back in 2009, the same arguments against usage caps applied as they do today. Industry expert Dave Burstein made it clear usage caps were about one thing:

“Anybody who thinks that’s not an attempt to raise prices and keep competitive video off the network — I have a bridge to sell them, and it goes to Brooklyn,” Burstein said.

He’s in the Money… Time Warner Cable CEO Takes Home $34.6 Million in Compensation for 2014

Phillip Dampier May 19, 2015 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable No Comments

Money-Stuffed-Into-PocketTime Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus was paid $34.6 million in 2014, four times the amount he earned in 2013, thanks to generous stock awards.

Marcus’ pocket change base salary of $1.5 million represented a pay raise of 50% over the $1 million he took home in 2013, according to a statement filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission. Marcus’ real money came from stock awards worth $24.7 million, which represented more than 10 times the amount of his stock bonus the year before.

Time Warner Cable paid their top executives handsomely in 2014, in part to convince them to stay with the company as its merger with Comcast worked its way through the regulatory process. Marcus oddly won an extra incentive bonus in 2014 — $7.95 million if he agreed to stay with Time Warner long enough to collect an $80 million golden parachute severance package if the merger with Comcast was approved.

Unsurprisingly, Time Warner Cable praised itself for the effectiveness of its ‘Stay and Get Paid’ effort, showering top executives with cash bonuses to ‘tough it out’ through 2014.

“The company’s executive team remains in place and—as evidenced by the company’s 2014 operating and financial results—was intently focused on achieving the company’s short and long-term goals despite the uncertainty and challenges during the pendency of the transaction,” TWC said in its proxy.

Evidently that also means Time Warner was not in a position to find replacements willing to accept less than $34 million in compensation that would be capable of delivering similar results.

China to Invest $177 Billion Between 2015 and 2017 to Expand Fiber/4G Wireless Broadband Across the Country

China Mobile, China United Network Communications and China Telecom will invest $177 billion to expand fiber optic service and mobile telecommunications infrastructure in China between 2015 to 2017, according to China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

At least $70 billion will be spent this year alone to add another 80 million fiber to the home connections and expand the latest generation of LTE 4G wireless Internet to more than 1.3 million cell towers and small cells that will cover almost every city in China. In contrast, providers in the United States only spend an average of $30 billion annually on all broadband technologies, only a fraction of that for fiber optic Internet services for residential customers.

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By the end of 2017, every household in a significant-sized Chinese city will be equipped with a minimum of 10Mbps fiber to the home broadband for around $16/mo. First tier cities will get a minimum of 30Mbps Internet speed and second tier cities will receive broadband at a guaranteed speed of at least 20Mbps. Most customers served by China Telecom in Shanghai can already buy speeds up to 200Mbps for about $43 a month.

Chinese providers intend to upgrade their wireless networks to make sure that 4G networks completely cover every urban area as well as even the most rural communities.

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