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Our Long Nightmare is Over At Last: Stop the Cap! Ponders the Failed Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger

Phillip "Victory is Ours" Dampier

Phillip “Victory is Ours” Dampier

It has been 14 months since we heard for the first time Comcast was planning to acquire Time Warner Cable. It was the night of February 12, 2014. I still remember where I was the moment I first learned the news.

Stop the Cap! has maintained a civil relationship with Time Warner Cable for the most part over our seven-year struggle fighting usage caps, lousy broadband, and high prices. We fought one major battle with the company in April of 2009, when Time Warner executives planned a compulsory usage cap experiment on customers in Rochester, N.Y., Austin and San Antonio, Tex., and Greensboro, N.C.

Just as we had done with Frontier Communications a year earlier, we successfully beat down their efforts to impose usage allowances on customers already paying a significant chunk of money for broadband Internet access. After that battle ended, Time Warner Cable changed their position on usage caps and stated emphatically that customers should always have the option of unmetered/unlimited access. They have kept their word. In fact, their optional usage cap experiments have been a spectacular flop, attracting less than 1% of their customer base and delivering the message we’ve tried to get across the industry for years: customer hate usage caps, usage-based billing, and speed throttles.

Comcast is a company that long ago stopped listening to their customers. It applied an arbitrary usage cap on all their customers in retaliation for a FCC decision that disallowed them from running hidden speed throttles on peer-to-peer Internet traffic. Comcast lied about throttling traffic, paid homeless people to stack a hearing on the issue to keep company critics out of the room, and slapped the caps on in the fall of 2008 with the flimsy excuse it represented “fairness” to customers. Only later, we would learn usage caps were never about “fairness” or good traffic management. It’s just a way to deter customers from spending too much time on the Internet, especially if that time is spent watching online videos. Too much time spent watching Netflix might convince you your cable TV package isn’t necessary any longer.

comcast twcComcast customer service horror stories reached a level unparalleled by other cable companies when a Comcast predator-installer was convicted of raping and strangling to death 23-year old Comcast customer Urszula Sakowska,  whose lifeless body was found in a bathtub inside her Chicago-area home back in 2006. But Triplett’s violent service calls didn’t stop there. He also faced charges in the death of 39-year old Janice Ordidge, a Comcast customer in Hyde Park. Those two Comcast customers lost their lives. In 2009, another Comcast installer set a Pennsylvania customer’s house on fire. Other installers stole jewelry right out of customers’ homes. Others have exposed themselves in front of female customers or fallen asleep on their couches.

Billing errors are the stuff of legend at Comcast. Offshore call centers with language barriers, inept customer service, and long, long, long lines at cable stores with windows only partially manned by agents sitting behind bullet-proof glass also helped cultivate a customer relationship that can best be described as “perp and victim.”

Comcast isn’t just a bad cable company, it’s a menace. We didn’t have to spend hours proving our case. Fortunately, Comcast’s appalling reputation preceded it. Outside of two executive suites in Philadelphia and New York, nobody was for supersizing Comcast. Just to make sure our regulators knew this, we traveled to Buffalo in June of last year to testify at a Public Service Commission hearing on the subject of the merger. We didn’t mince words.

Sure, there were non-profit groups like the Boys & Girls Club that absolutely sullied their reputation pushing for the merger (Comcast wrote large checks to the organization so you need not give the group a single penny of your money in the future). “Civil Rights” organizations like the Urban League, NAACP, and others that used to defend minority rights now concern themselves with defending the interests of giant cable companies, just as long as they get a nice check in the mail with Comcast’s name on it. Among the worst of all – Shakedown Al Sharpton who will either be your merger deal’s best friend or will go away and leave victims of racism in peace, if you cut his organization a big fat check. (Now that the merger has collapsed, perhaps Comcast-owned MSNBC will end the thinly veiled quid-pro-quo arrangement it has with the man that gives him an hour a night to perform a talent train wreck.)

My own state assemblyman, Joe Morelle, who served as New York’s interim assembly speaker for about five minutes literally plagiarized his letter in support of the Comcast merger (after cashing their check) almost word-for-word from Comcast press releases and congressional testimony. Say it ain’t so, Joe!

morelleN.Y. State Assembly Leader Joe Morelle: “The combination of Comcast and Time Warner Cable will create a world-class communications, media and technology company to help meet the increasing consumer demand for advanced digital services on multiple devices in homes, workplaces and on-the-go.”

 

cohenDavid Cohen, executive vice-president, Comcast: “The combination of Comcast and TWC will create a world-class communications, media, and technology company to help meet the insatiable consumer demand for advanced digital services on multiple devices in homes, workplaces, and on-the-go.”

 

There was not a doubt in my mind that replacing Time Warner Cable with Comcast would be a disaster for Time Warner Cable customers. Despite promises Comcast would upgrade Time Warner’s network, it would also upgrade customer bills, resorting in higher priced service, higher modem fees, and lousy customer service. Comcast vice president David Cohen also made it clear usage caps would be a part of our life within five years. No amount of protesting or rational argument would stop Comcast from being Comcast. Don’t like it? Just try to cancel.

Time Warner Cable can be bad but it is no Comcast.

Malone: Waiting in the wings?

Malone: Waiting in the wings?

Life will be just fine without Comcast, but danger lurks on the horizon. Still interested in the possibility of taking over Time Warner Cable is the smaller Charter Communications, now effectively controlled by cable magnate John Malone (he owns his own castles). Malone has a long history of enriching himself at the expense of customers with no other choices for cable/broadband service. He used to control Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), a cable company that literally threatened city officials who didn’t do what TCI wanted.

We remain unsure exactly what will happen next. Charter could bid aggressively to buy Time Warner Cable, Time Warner Cable could go it alone, or Time Warner Cable could start buying other cable companies (like Charter).

What we hope will happen is Time Warner Cable will refocus its energy on expanding its Maxx upgrade program as quickly as possible to reach all Time Warner Cable markets with faster broadband and a better cable TV experience. We also hope the company will stand by its word that compulsory usage caps are off the table.

I’d like to thank all of our readers who took the time to get involved in the fight and helped make a difference. Wall Street and Washington, as well as Comcast CEO Brian Roberts are all shocked the merger deal collapsed after a torrent of criticism from consumers. It also left state regulators cautious about how to proceed. New York’s Public Service Commission delayed making a decision eight times, recognizing the merger as a hot potato.

Our experience demonstrates that ordinary citizens can wield considerable power when unified and involved. We’ve proved that with multiple victories on the usage cap front as well as the AT&T/T-Mobile merger and Net Neutrality.

Let the fight for better broadband continue!

Stop the Cap! Calls on Comcast to End Its Usage Caps/Usage Billing Trials, Restore Unlimited Service

Phillip "Comcast lost its case for usage caps" Dampier

Phillip “Comcast lost its case for usage caps” Dampier

With today’s announcement Comcast intends to bring unlimited 2Gbps broadband to as many as 18 million homes across its service area, one thing is clear — if Comcast is not worried about the impact of that many potential customers consuming 2Gbps of bandwidth, there is absolutely no justification to impose usage caps and allowances on any Comcast customer.

A frequent justification for usage caps and usage billing is to guarantee fair access for all customers on a shared, congested network. Another is to help defray the cost of broadband expansion. But Comcast’s new super-speed tier will have no usage cap and customers are invited to use it as much as they like for a fixed price. Clearly, a customer maxing out a 2Gbps connection to upload and download enormous amounts of content, say on a peer-to-peer network, will have a far greater impact on Comcast’s infrastructure than a user with a basic 25Mbps Internet connection. Yet today in Atlanta, Comcast is asking its 25Mbps customers to stay within a 300GB usage allowance, if they want to avoid an overlimit penalty of $10 for each 50GB block of additional usage.

Comcast does not like Stop the Cap! calling Comcast’s “data usage trials” what we believe them to be: “usage caps.”

In response to our testimony before the New York Public Service Commission last year regarding its application to acquire Time Warner Cable, Comcast objected to our claim it was placing usage allowances or limits on its broadband customers.

“Comcast does not have ‘data caps’ today,” Comcast told the PSC in its filing. “Comcast announced almost two years ago that it was suspending enforcement of its prior 250GB excessive usage cap and that it would instead be trialing different pricing and packaging options to evaluate options for subscribers—options that reflect evolving Internet usage and that are based on the desire to provide flexible consumption plans, including a plan that enables customers who want to use more data the option to pay more to do so as well as a plan for those who use less data the option to save some money.”

Yet Comcast’s desire to offer “flexible” usage plans becomes very inflexible when customers ask for unlimited service. Comcast has refused to offer such an option in several trial markets where usage caps are once again being tested.

courtesy-notice-640x259Last May, Comcast vice president David Cohen emphatically stated usage caps and usage-based billing were all about “fairness,” telling investors: “People who use more should pay more, and people who use less should pay less.”

Those signing up for 2Gbps service will be in a position to use far more bandwidth and data than any other Comcast customer subscribing to a lower speed broadband tier, yet will not be asked to pay more for using more or pay less for using less. They will be signing up for a simple to understand unlimited usage plan most Comcast customers want that will carry no billing surprises. At the moment, that is the only unlimited tier residential plan a Comcast customer in Atlanta will be able to buy.

Also turned on its head is the idea that customers who use the most bandwidth or cost Comcast the most should be contributing more to help Comcast pay for network upgrades, but once again this will not be the case for 2Gbps customers in Atlanta. They will cost Comcast a fortune as the company rips out its existing HFC (coaxial cable) infrastructure and replaces it with fiber to the home service. Yet the 25Mbps customer still using decades-old coaxial cable is effectively being asked to limit their Internet usage to avoid additional charges while the 2Gbps modern fiber customer is not.

It clearly makes no sense, but will rake in dollars for Comcast as usage continues to grow.

If Comcast’s network can sustain up to 18 million 2Gbps users with no usage cap, it has more than enough capacity to take the limits off every Comcast broadband customer. Comcast must shelve its usage billing trials immediately and remove all usage allowances from residential broadband customers in various test markets where they have been in place for more than a year. Google, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Charter, and many other broadband providers have found no defensible reason to slap usage limits on their broadband customers. If they can provide comparable speeds and service without a cap, so can Comcast.

Comcast should clearly state it is in the business of providing the best possible customer experience using 21st century infrastructure more than robust enough to sustain usage demands, and compulsory usage caps and consumption billing are incompatible with the company’s goal to provide top-quality, worry-free Internet access.

If Comcast wants to test voluntary discount programs for light users, we have no objection. But customers should always have access to an affordable unlimited option without having to watch usage meters or worry about bill shock.

Comcast needs to do the right thing today and end all compulsory data usage trials across the country and commit to providing unlimited, allowance-free broadband service.

“Free State Foundation” Sock Puppetry: Big Telecom Front Group Hosts Net Neutrality Bashing Session

Walden

Walden

When a group advocating broad-based deregulation and less government suddenly takes a laser-focused, almost obsessive interest in a subject like Internet Net Neutrality, it rarely happens for free.

Randolph May’s Free State Foundation claims to be a non-profit, nonpartisan think tank to promote the free market, limited government, and rule of law principles. But in fact it primarily promotes the corporate interests of some of the group’s biggest financial backers, which include the wireless and cable industry.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), no stranger to big checks from cable companies himself, was in friendly territory at the group’s annual Telecom Policy Conference, a largely consumer-free affair, where he served as keynote speaker. Walden used the occasion to announce a solution to the Net Neutrality problem — defunding the FCC sufficiently to make sure it can never enforce the policy.

Walden, ignoring four million Americans who submitted comments almost entirely in favor of Net Neutrality, said the idea of the FCC overseeing an open and free Internet represented “regulatory overreach that will hurt consumers.”

Big Telecom Funded

Big Telecom Funded

Walden serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Walden told the audience he will be spending his time in Congress taking a hard look at the FCC, its budget request, and its policies after Net Neutrality became official FCC policy. Walden’s plans to punish the agency include a limit on FCC appropriations, making enforcement of Net Neutrality more difficult, if not impossible. Longer term, he hopes to bleed the agency dry by depriving it of resources to manage its regulatory mandate.

Walden’s third largest contributor is Comcast. He also receives significant financial support from the American Cable Association and Cox Cable. He spoke to a group that depends heavily on contributions from the same telecom industry Walden’s campaign coffer does.

According to tax filings by two cable and wireless lobbying groups, the Free State Foundation has cashed almost a half a million dollars in checks written by the groups in the last five years. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) paid FSF $280,000. The wireless lobby, represented by CTIA-The Wireless Association, managed $213,000 in contributions. These two groups are likely among FSF’s most substantial donors.

In 2012, Free State Foundation reported a total of $797,500 in contributions. After Stop the Cap! and other groups began reporting on the connection between the Free State Foundation’s agenda and its Big Telecom sponsors, the group began hiding its donor list. That earned FSF an “F” for donor transparency by PCWorld.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Free State Foundation Seventh Annual Telecom Policy Conference March 2015.mp4

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) delivered the keynote address at the 7th Annual Telecom Policy Conference of the Free State Foundation. Despite receiving nearly a half million dollars in contributions from the cable and wireless lobbies, the group did not think to invest in a tripod to keep the camera steady. (38:42)

California Delays Consideration of Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger, Charter Realignment Until May

comcastbuy_400_241Californians get a reprieve from the menacing Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger with an announcement from the California Public Utilities Commission it is putting further consideration of the merger deal on hold until later this spring.

Consumer groups loudly protested the PUC for holding its single public hearing on the merger in San Francisco, which has been served almost exclusively by Comcast for years. Most of the impact of the merger will be felt in Los Angeles, where Time Warner Cable provides service to around 1.8 million customers. The deal also involves Charter Communications customers in the region, who will also end up as Comcast customers if the deal is approved.

The PUC eventually agreed to hold a meeting in Los Angeles, but then scheduled it for Good Friday. Now it has changed the date for the four-hour public input session to April 14, one day before tax returns are due. No specific information about the time of the meeting could be located on the CPUC website, but we do know it will be held in the auditorium of the Public Utilities Commission’s building at 320 West 4th St. in downtown Los Angeles.

That the CPUC seems to be heading towards approving the deal does not come as much of a surprise. The CPUC has been surprisingly friendly to the communications companies it regulates, in the past approving questionable statewide video franchise reforms on behalf of AT&T and generally permitting most of the merger and consolidation transactions that arrive at the commission for review.

An advising administrative law judge attached a long list of recommended temporary conditions that should be included in any approval, covering everything from lobbying about municipal broadband to discount Internet service for the poor. Although Comcast claims it is willing to accept many of the short-term conditions, it also signaled objections to some of the most significant requirements, a potential sign Comcast might exercise its legal options in the future to be rid of the deal’s most onerous conditions.

Independent consumer groups not financially aligned with the cable industry are almost universally opposed to the merger as are many Californians.

It Takes More Than the Population of Atlanta to Cover AT&T Executives’ Lavish $55 Million in Salaries

Phillip Dampier March 11, 2015 AT&T, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News 3 Comments

fat cat attThe city of Atlanta has a population of just under 450,000. Assuming each resident subscribed to AT&T U-verse and paid an average of $100 a month apiece, that would total around $45 million, ten million less than what AT&T lavished on its top four executives in 2014:

  • AT&T CEO (and President and Chairman) Randall Stephenson’s 2014 compensation reached $24 million (up 3%);
  • Chief Financial Officer John Stephens’ total compensation shot up to $10.1 million (up 36%);
  • Head of AT&T’s Mobility (wireless) division Rafael de la Vega’s got a 14% raise to $10.1 million;
  • Chief Strategy Officer John Stankey strategized a way to grab a 33% pay raise for himself: $10.2 million.

While its top executives enjoy their Money Party, AT&T announced this week it would take a charge of $130 million to cover the “retirement” of nearly 3,000 workers who took the hint it was time to go. Fewer workers means more money for Randall & Co.

AT&T separately announced it has introduced rate increases for 2015 to boost needed revenue for its U-verse television and broadband platform. It also announced a 15% cut in investments in its network expansion and upgrade efforts for 2015.

Comcast: Bill First, Ask Questions Later (or Never); Attorney Pelted With Collection Letters/Calls for Non-Service

comcast collectionsA Pennsylvania attorney that didn’t pay his $215 Comcast bill was hounded by Comcast’s collections crew despite never getting cable service at his new address.

Wayne resident Edmond Tiryak would seem like a poor target for cable company harassment. He’s a lawyer after all. But even he withered after a month of unrelenting phone calls and letters demanding he pay his bill for non-service.

Tiryak had a peaceful 25-year relationship with Comcast until he moved last October. After three weeks of no-show appointments, waits on hold of up to 40 minutes and lots of excuses, Comcast never bothered to hook up service at his new address. But that didn’t stop the cable company from billing Tiryak $215 for his first month, in advance.

Calling Comcast to the debate the veracity of the bill turned out to be an exercise in futility. Comcast’s offshore call center insists they know best — Tiryak has cable service because the computer says he does. The fact Tiryak lives at the address and claims he doesn’t is beside the point. The only important matter is how Tiryak would like to pay – Visa, Mastercard, Discover? The fact he still doesn’t have service is, well, incidental.

A reasonable person would refuse to pay and insist on an investigation by a supervisor to verify Comcast is MIA at the Tiryak residence. But Comcast has a collections department that could wear down Vladimir Putin and they know how to use it.

Two months later, the attorney pleaded with Inquirer business columnist Jeff Gelles to help get Comcast off his back.

“By the time he contacted me in January, Tiryak had given up in frustration and was just fighting to get the $215 bill erased,” Gelles wrote. “Even four letters to Comcast’s president hadn’t done the trick.”

Some quick media attention is an excellent way to get Comcast’s attention, at least for a little while, and Tiryak was initially pleased to report the charges had been zeroed out.

Phillip "Comcast channels Genghis Khan" Dampier

Phillip “Comcast channels Genghis Khan” Dampier

But then Comcast’s collections department changed their mind after dreaming about that $215 in lost revenue, and started calling Tiryak again.

Gelles forwarded on the complaint about the resumed harassment collection calls to Comcast and received yet another promise all would be made right.

“It’s astonishing to me that they would take a really good customer, who’s been with them 25 years, and basically just treat me as if I’m nothing – as if I’m useless to them,” Tiryak told Gelles.

A long-standing pattern of Comcast customer complaints suggests Tiryak should not be surprised.

Gelles gently reminded readers in Comcast’s hometown that the free market works best when customers have an alternative when stuck in an abusive relationship with the cable company. But deregulated capitalism hands out gold stars for monopoly building consolidation. Tiryak, like so many others, landed on Comcast’s Park Place and now they have to pay.

The solution to the chronic dyspepsia resulting from repeated exposure to Comcast isn’t Verizon, which has capitulated on further expansion of its competing FiOS fiber to the home service to focus on counting Verizon Wireless coin. Instead of phantom competition that never arrives, the FCC’s recent decision to provide checks and balances for cocky, deregulated behemoth cable companies like Comcast might be the best answer for now.

Despite industry claims that an apocalypse would result from applying any “utility-style” regulation like that used to keep AT&T in check during its monopoly years, consumer advocates suggest Comcast’s passive-aggressive behavior could be managed with one phone call to a state regulator.

Geldes asked the former director of consumer services for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission about how the agency would handle Tiryak’s complaint, if it were empowered to do so:

Under PUC rules, he says, after a utility investigates a dispute, it has to ask whether the consumer is satisfied. “If the customer says no, the company is required to give the PUC’s number for making an informal complaint,” he says. That is usually enough to solve most issues, he says. The agency also monitors nagging problems like long hold times for calls and occasionally intervenes.

Telephone companies used to dread the prospect of dealing with a customer complaint escalated to the New York Public Service Commission. Repair crews were often dispatched within an hour and generous service credits and apologies were routine. But the impact lived on for years after that. Customer service agents looking up account information on a customer who previously complained to the PSC about anything would find their computer terminal lit up like a Christmas tree, alerting them they were dealing with a customer that doesn’t play.

Recalling that era makes one wonder if regulating the biggest bad boys on the block — cable companies running wild — might not be such a bad idea after all.

Nothing else has worked.

How to Score a Better Deal From Time Warner Cable and Save Over $700 a Year: 2015 Edition

In 2012, Stop the Cap! helped thousands of readers slash their Time Warner cable bills by more than $50 a month with less than 10 minutes of effort. This year, it will take you longer to read this article than it will to get a better deal from Time Warner Cable.

Many of our readers have contacted us to let us know their promotional rate has expired and have sought help scoring more savings from Time Warner Cable. This year, we decided to enlist the help of Stop the Cap! volunteers who are also Time Warner Cable customers to see what kind of savings we could negotiate from the cable company that dominates much of the northeast, Texas, southern California, and parts of the midwest. We’re happy to report even greater savings (more than $700 annually for some) are there for the asking. Even better, it took some of us less than five minutes to win a better deal and by using social media, we never had to argue with anyone — great news if you don’t like negotiating on the phone.

When your Time Warner Cable promotion expires, expect to receive a letter like this in the mail, gradually increasing your rates.

When your Time Warner Cable promotion expires, expect to receive a letter like this in the mail, gradually increasing your rates.

Our volunteers for this effort came from Rochester, N.Y. (myself), Greensboro, N.C.,  Flower Mound, Tex., Los Angeles, Calif., and Portland, Maine. Two of us are triple play customers with 50/5Mbps broadband, Preferred TV (the 200+ channel package), and Time Warner home phone service. Two others are double play customers with Preferred TV and 30/5Mbps service, and our volunteer in Portland is a broadband-only customer.

We used three methods to contact Time Warner to discuss our current bills:

  • Calling Time Warner Cable’s office and asking for a lower rate or to cancel service;
  • Tweeting a message to Time Warner threatening to change providers;
  • Posting a complaint about our cable bill on the company’s Facebook page.

Dealing with customer churn – the rate of customers coming and going – is always a concern at cable companies. New customer promotions are costly and often include a cash rebate. It is much less expensive for Time Warner to lower the bills of current customers than trying to win back wayward ex-customers with promotions later on. The company maintains several specialized customer retention call centers around the country that pay employees around $14 an hour + a bonus for each customer they keep. Employees are trained to deal with hostile callers and pleas for lower bills by escalating unresolved service problems to technical specialists, issuing service credits, and cutting rates.

bill shockBut telephone retention specialists also have an incentive to cut back on your package before they cut the price. Just as we found three years ago, the two volunteers that phoned for a better deal were significantly less happy with the outcome than those who relied on social media.

“Their ‘review’ of my package quickly turned into an interrogation about whether I needed this movie channel or that Internet speed,” said Stop the Cap! volunteer Denise, who insisted on a better deal or her next phone call would be to sign up for service from Verizon. “Before they talk price, they want you to cut back on services.”

Cerise, a broadband-only customer in Portland had the same experience.

“I wanted a better deal than the $60 I am paying them for 15Mbps Internet-only service and they wanted to cut my speed to 6Mbps before we would even talk price,” Cerise said. “They knew my only other choice was DSL from FairPoint.”

My experience with Twitter was even easier than it was three years ago. Time Warner acceded to my request for a better deal in a message left on my voicemail: a rate cut of $63 a month with no change in service. I never had to speak with anyone and the new rate has already been applied to my account.

Sam, a triple play customer in Los Angeles took a phone call from Time Warner after his wife blasted the company on its Facebook page about a “new special promotional rate” that was “neither special or promotional” in her eyes.

“Their letter in the mail makes it sound like they are doing you a favor, but it’s really just the dead-end road back to paying normal prices.”

Time Warner Cable promotions run typically 12 or 24 months, after which the company mails a letter inviting you to experience a new “promotional rate” reset to a higher price, but not one that will usually deliver bill shock. A year after that less generous promotion expires, in most cases rates reset to regular pricing.

How to Negotiate

Because our experiences consistently found that interacting with Time Warner’s social media team is more effective at winning the best possible deal, we again strongly recommend you do not call Time Warner looking for a better deal. Instead, engage them through Twitter or Facebook. But before that happens, get organized:

1. Visit Time Warner Cable’s current plans and promotions web page. Your goal is to note the current promotions available and find the package that most closely resembles the services you have now. You can get a current copy of your Time Warner bill from the My Services section of Time Warner’s website.

Second, visit the competition. Check your phone company for any promotional offers for services like U-verse or FiOS, or satellite television promotions many telephone companies bundle with DSL. Familiarize yourself with the packages you would consider signing up for and jot down the prices.

Are you overpaying for premium movie channels? If you are paying more than this, you are.

Are you overpaying for premium movie channels? If you are paying more than this, you are.

Third, be flexible. The best promotional deals go to those who sign up for Time Warner Cable’s triple play packages. If you are a double play customer, adding phone service may actually cost you less on certain promotions than the best double play offers, even if you never use the phone line. If you have landline service from the phone company, Time Warner’s triple play offers will certainly save you in the long run, because unlimited long distance and local calling can often be added for as little as $10 a month. You can also consider switching to Ooma, a top-rated landline provider that works over your broadband connection and costs as little as $5 a month.

Fourth, ask about free or discounted upgrades to your existing service. Time Warner Cable has several attractive promotions for services that many customers dismiss as too expensive. Whole House DVR lets you watch DVR recordings on other televisions in the home. Some promotions add this feature for just a few dollars extra a month — less than maintaining two DVRs in the home. Also consider a broadband speed upgrade to 30/5 or 50/5Mbps. Attractive promotions are usually available for these as well.

Fifth, be willing to drop premium movie channels before you start negotiations. Time Warner raised the price of add-on HBO to $16.99 in January and other premium channels typically cost around $13 a month each. You are better off dropping them before negotiating for a better deal. After your new deal is in place, you can visit Time Warner’s website and add back the premiums you want at new promotional prices:

  • A 12-month premium promotional package combining HBO, Cinemax, Starz, and Showtime runs $29.99 a month and can be ordered online;
  • HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz can be had a-la-carte for $9.99 a month each for one year (The Movie Channel is inexplicably not included and costs $15.99/mo — you won’t miss it) and you may also qualify for a $50 rebate by adding Starz before March 31, 2015.

Finally, unless you live in a Time Warner Cable Maxx city (New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Kansas City, etc.), it usually doesn’t pay to negotiate over modem rental fees. Time Warner has waived modem fees in certain cases in Los Angeles, but we recommend you invest in buying your own modem and be rid of the modem rental fee  for good. If you are not in a Maxx market, we still recommend the Motorola SB6141, which will work at speeds up to 100Mbps on Time Warner’s network. If Maxx is coming to your area and you want even faster speeds, we recommend the ARRIS/Motorola SB6183 ($130+). It is approved to work at 300Mbps speeds in Maxx-upgraded areas.

Now you are ready to reach out!

twitter_logo

Sign up for a Twitter account.

tweet

Once registered and logged in, click the button that appears like a quill pen at the upper right corner of your screen and a new window will appear where you can compose a message of 140 characters or less. You will address your message to @TWC_Help (note the underscore – you can cut and paste that address into your message or use Twitter’s search function – type in TWC and you should be able to find and select it there). Here is a sample Tweet we came up with, but you can compose your own, of course:

twc_help

After clicking the Tweet button, your message will be read by Time Warner’s social media team. Sometime later, you will receive a response asking for your contact information and account number. This should be sent in a private “Direct Message,” not as an open Tweet:

response

Click the three dots and find the option Share via Direct Message. Click it, add TWC_Help as a recipient and click Next. A conversation window will appear with their message and a space for your private response. Include your Account Number and PIN from your Time Warner Cable bill and a callback number, as shown below.

direct message

 

Time Warner should call you back within the next three days. If you do not receive a reply to your Tweet, send another one during regular business hours. They may have missed your first message.

facebook_logoYou can also try Facebook to lodge your rate protest.

Visit the Time Warner Cable Facebook page and find the box (as shown highlighted below) where you can write a public message on the page.

As with Twitter, you want to get straight to the point and tell Time Warner you are paying too much for cable service and have a better offer from a competitor. Let them know you are willing to consider their counter-offer, if it arrives soon.

They are likely to respond asking for your account information, including the account number and PIN as shown on your monthly bill. Again, send this information privately using the Facebook Messenger. Include your best contact number.

twc facebook

Here is where your write your public complaint about your cable bill and ask for a better deal. You should keep this short and to the point, and do not post your account information here. Wait for their reply and respond in a private message.

 

Our Results

Was $175. Now $112.

Was $175. Now $112.

Myself – Rochester, N.Y.: Full package of every cable television channel on offer, no premiums, Whole-House DVR with five cable boxes, 50/5Mbps broadband, Unlimited Home Phone: $112/mo, down from a fading promotional price now resetting to $175 (had been gradually increasing from $110 since 2014)

Tania, Greensboro, N.C.: Double play of all cable television channels, no premiums, DVR and one traditional set-top box with 30/5Mbps broadband: Was paying $156. Offered $99 with free upgrade to 50/5Mbps and Whole House DVR; offered and declined Unlimited Home Phone for extra $10/month. This promotion essentially matched AT&T U-verse introductory pricing for comparable services with slower broadband.

Denise, Flower Mound, Tex.: Started by calling Time Warner to cancel over $175 cable bill covering all cable channels, one premium, DVR with extra set-top boxes, 50/5Mbps broadband. Representative wanted her to cancel HBO and drop Internet speed to a lower 15Mbps tier to bring price to $125 range. She threatened to call Verizon, representative told her to ‘go ahead.’ On the second attempt Denise used Twitter and representative phoned back the next day with a message her bill was instantly cut to $120 and she will receive a one time $30 inconvenience credit for the rudeness she experienced over the phone. She keeps HBO and all of her other services and was offered to call back to discuss free Whole House DVR service.

Sam, Los Angeles: Used Facebook to contact Time Warner Cable about his $215 cable bill. Sam appreciated the fact TWC Maxx had arrived in Los Angeles and boosted his broadband speed to around 200Mbps, but didn’t appreciate the $25 a month rate reset that occurred this month as his promotional rate ended. Sam has a full cable television package, three premium movie channels, fast Internet, and Home Phone Unlimited. He also has two DVR boxes, two standard cable boxes, and rented his cable modem. Sam told Time Warner he would rather spend his money with Netflix, Amazon, and Sling’s $20 cable television over the Internet package and he was prepared to cut the cord. Time Warner cut his bill instead. He’s temporarily dropping all of his premium movie channels to score a promotion of $129 a month, drop the second DVR in favor of Whole House DVR service, and he is buying his own modem. He will add back his premiums on the aforementioned $30 a month promotion, which also gives him Starz and a $50 rebate.

Cerise, Portland, Me.: Our broadband-only volunteer, Cerise had the most trouble securing a better deal. Time Warner Cable initially wouldn’t budge beyond offering the same rate new customers get for one year: $34.99/mo + modem rental fee for 15/1Mbps service. Stop the Cap! intervened before Cerise considered her alternative – 6Mbps DSL from FairPoint Communications. After we pointed out Earthlink was selling identical broadband service on Time Warner’s network for $29.95 a month for six months, Time Warner’s “no” turned into “yes” and they agreed to match that price. If they don’t match that price again next year, Cerise can make a phone call and jump ship to Earthlink for their $29.95 promotion and then jump back to Time Warner six months after that. Cerise is also buying her own modem.

Let us know about how your negotiations went in the comment section below.

CNBC (Comcast)’s Magic Box of Tricks and Traps: The Hit on Tumblr Founder David Karp Debunked

Uh oh... deer in headlights moment for Tumblr founder David Karp.

Uh oh… deer in headlights moment for Tumblr founder David Karp.

Net Neutrality opponents today made hay about an underwhelming, sometimes stumbling debate performance by Tumblr founder David Karp, who was inexplicably CNBC’s go-to-guy to explain the inner machinations of the multi-billion dollar high-speed Internet connectivity business.

TechFreedom, an industry-funded libertarian-leaning group spent much of the day hounding Karp about his “painful, babbling CNBC interview.”

“Those pushing #TitleII have NO FREAKING CLUE what it means,” tweeted TechFreedom’s Berin Szoka.

BTIG Research devoted a whole page to the eight minute performance, where Karp faced interrogation by two CNBC hosts openly hostile to Net Neutrality and another that expressed profound concern the Obama Administration would over-enforce Net Neutrality under Title II regulations. CNBC is owned by Comcast, a fierce opponent of mandatory Net Neutrality.

“Given the importance of Net Neutrality and the central role played by Tumblr’s Karp in getting us to this point, we thought it was very important for everyone to watch his interview earlier today on CNBC in its entirety,” wrote Rich Greenfield, noting the “best parts” (where Karp appeared like a deer frozen by oncoming headlights) were encapsulated into an extra video clip.

Greenfield referred to a Wall Street Journal piece in February that suggested access means everything when it comes to D.C. politics:

“In a lucky coincidence, Tumblr Chief Executive David Karp, who attended the meeting in New York, found himself seated next to Mr. Obama at a fundraiser the following day hosted by investment manager Deven Parekh.

Mr. Karp told Mr. Obama about his concerns with the net-neutrality plan backed by Mr. Wheeler, according to people familiar with the conversation. Those objections were relayed to the White House aides secretly working on an alternative.”

That was sufficient for some to imply Karp was a powerful influence over the president’s sudden pronouncement last November that strong, all-encompassing Net Neutrality was the was to go.

CNBC’s hosts grilled Karp, asking him to prove a negative, set up false premises for Karp to defend, and repeatedly cut his answers off. At the same time, Karp was clearly unprepared and often did not have his facts in order.

Stop the Cap! sorts it all out.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Tumblr Net Neutrality 2-24-15.flv

Nobody’s shining moment on the Net Neutrality debate on CNBC featuring an unprepared David Karp, founder of Tumblr vs. the B-team at CNBC – lackeys with an agenda who can’t wait to interrupt. Truth comes in last place. (8:18)

CNBC Claim: “If you talk to AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, he will say right now they have more capital expenditures than any company in America … and if you turn it into a utility it will not be profitable to continue investing like that.”

Fact: AT&T does invest heavily in its network but also enjoys very healthy returns on that investment. In 2014, AT&T was expected to end the year spending about $21 billion, primarily on its highly profitable wireless network. Last week, USA Today published a list of the top 12 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 that boosted capital spending by 40% or more in the past 12 months and spent at least 15% of revenue on capital expenditures. AT&T was not on it. Outside of claims from telecom companies and their lobbyists, there are no plans by the FCC to turn broadband into a regulated utility.

Karp Claim: “There is a tremendous amount of throttling going on right now.”

CNBC Question from Alternate Universe of Fair, Balanced Journalism:

CNBC Question from Alternate Universe of Fair, Balanced Journalism: “In general, do you think heavy-handed government regulation is a good thing or a bad thing for an industry?”

Fact: “Throttling” is not well-defined here. There is intentional throttling among certain wireless companies, usually under the guise of “fair access policies” and usage caps, and there is throttling as a side effect of congestion in two areas: backbone connectivity among certain ISPs and wholesale traffic handlers and last mile congestion among providers, especially those offering DSL in rural areas, where multiple customers share access to a limited capacity middle mile network. There is no evidence that any significant wired providers are intentionally throttling the speeds of services except as part of a fair access policy or a purposeful lack of investment in network upgrades.

CNBC Claim: “You have a monopoly because it is really expensive to build the pipes so you have not had multiple people who will build pipes to the door.”

Fact: The capital cost required to offer wired broadband service to each home is a clear deterrent for many providers, but not an insurmountable one as Google and community-owned providers have demonstrated. The cable industry won early protection from competition in exclusive franchise agreements that calmed investor fears that the enormous cost of wiring communities for cable might not be repaid if a competition war broke out. AT&T later fought for and won statewide franchising agreements and considerable deregulation in many states where it provides U-verse, arguing regulatory burden reduction would enhance competition. But the same large cable and phone companies that achieved deregulation for themselves have lobbied heavily to regulate and banish community-owned providers from getting off the ground by encouraging the passage of restrictive state laws making such competition nearly impossible.

CNBC Question: “In general, do you think heavy-handed government regulation is a good thing or a bad thing for an industry?”

Our reply: Really?

Karp: I think a bright line rule that sort of spells out these foundational principles that we believe in… I think the Bill of Rights is a good thing… even without getting into the weeds, spelling out something like the First Amendment that says this is a truth that we believe… (cut off).

CNBC: I don’t see how that is an answer at all comparing this to the Bill of… I understand the Bill of Rights but… has there been a problem up to this point where you feel that people… that Net Neutrality has been violated.

Karp: We’ve had instances where companies like Comcast have tried to block whole protocols and shut off consumers access to new innovative parts of the Internet.

Traffic congestion problems on many major ISPs were limited to Netflix traffic, until Netflix began paying for peering connections with problem ISPs.

Traffic congestion problems on many major ISPs were limited to Netflix traffic, until Netflix began paying for peering connections with problem ISPs.

Fact: In 2007, Comcast installed new software or equipment on its networks that began selectively interfering with some of Comcast’s customers’ TCP/IP connections. The most widely discussed interference was with certain BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing communications, but other protocols were also affected. The case led to an effort by the FCC to introduce open Internet traffic rules in 2010 which Comcast later defeated in court. At no time did Comcast completely block access – it simply impeded it, reducing customer speeds only while using those services.

A CNBC host then challenged Karp to prove a negative on AT&T’s plans to pull back investment in its network expansion.

“How has it been disproven that he’s not actually going to pull in on his buildout of more infrastructure?”

Fact: On Nov 7, 2014 – a week before President Obama unveiled his support for strong Net Neutrality policies – AT&T announced at least $3 billion in capex reduction (or “pull in” to quote CNBC) for 2015 in a press release on its acquisition of Mexico Wireless Provider Iusacell:

AT&T’s VIP-related capital investment levels will peak in 2014, as the company has said previously. As a result, AT&T expects its 2015 capital expenditure budget for its existing businesses to be in the $18 billion range. This will bring the company’s capital spending as a percent of total revenues to the mid-teens level — consistent with its historical capital spending levels.

Even after AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was announcing cutbacks in capex, his office was releasing press releases claiming a major expansion of AT&T’s gigabit fiber upgrades for U-verse, claims Stop the Cap! have found to be grossly exaggerated.

Stephenson made the mistake of putting the cart in front of the broadband horse, making it impossible to credibly claim he was reducing his capex budget because of a Net Neutrality policy that had not even been announced yet.

CNBC Claim: “It doesn’t mean someone will pay for it if they are losing money as a result.”

Fact: None of the providers mentioned by CNBC have lost any money provisioning broadband service. In fact, broadband is becoming the new profit center of the industry, netting higher revenue after adjustments for cost than any other part of the cable package.

Another exchange:

CNBC: “If you look at Netflix traffic, sometimes it is 80 percent of the network’s nighttime load.”

Karp: “The consumers are paying for it and Netflix is already paying for it.”

CNBC: “I am not a Netflix user and it ticks me off I have to subsidize everybody that is doing that. Why do I have to pay for that?”

Fact: The CNBC host is being disingenuous and inaccurate. Although Netflix traffic can constitute 80% of the evening traffic load, the customers accessing Netflix paid both Netflix and their ISP for that traffic. Whether or not the CNBC host uses Netflix or not is irrelevant. Assuming she is a Comcast or Time Warner Cable customer, last mile congestion that could impact her enjoyment of the Internet was never an issue under DOCSIS 2, has been rendered a non-issue under the current DOCSIS 3 standard, and will remain a non issue going forward.

The traffic dispute between Comcast and Netflix only affected Netflix viewing. The CNBC host need not subsidize Netflix or anyone else. Netflix offers free peering services and equipment to any ISP that wants it. Comcast refused to take part, demanding financial compensation instead. It then raised rates on customers anyway. Her beef is with Comcast, not Netflix.

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Philadelphia Daily News Columnist Helps Beleaguered Comcast Customers by Calling CEO’s Mom

momcast

Image from the Philadelphia Daily News

Comcast customers in Philadelphia, home to Comcast’s world headquarters, get no better treatment from the cable company than anyone else. But customers in the city of Brotherly Love now at least have a small edge on the rest of America.

A Philadelphia Daily News columnist just so happens to have the direct phone number of Comcast CEO’s 92-year old mom and is willing to use it.

“I grew up in a neighborhood where even the really bad kids could be brought back in line when someone tattled on them to their moms,” wrote columnist Ronnie Polaneczky. “That’s why I picked up the phone and called the 92-year-old mother of Comcast Corporation’s chairman and CEO Brian Roberts. We all know that Roberts’ company has been very, very bad. Comcast is in the news every other day with another irate customer’s tale of horrible treatment from the behemoth cable provider.”

Polaneczky decided to use the nuclear option after reading an email sent by Diana and Jason Airoldi, recent Philly transplants from Washington, D.C. The Airoldi’s had an appointment with Comcast to install service Dec. 23. It was now Feb. 1 and after multiple broken promises they were still waiting.

“In almost the same amount of time it took Noah to float the Ark, the country’s biggest cable company and home Internet-service provider hasn’t been able to turn on the Internet and cable in the Airoldis humble South Street apartment,” the columnist noted.

But they were by no means alone. There were also sad stories from:

  • Sandy and Charles Arnold, who have tried since Dec. 14 to get Comcast cable and Internet at their Ocean City home;
  • Bridie Gallagher, a senior citizen who has tried for months to get the overcharge on her bill fixed;
  • And Christine Yelovich, whose odyssey into the Comcast’s multiple circles of service hell should only be told with a horror-movie soundtrack playing behind it.

Answer: Call Mama

Suzanne Roberts, the 92-year old mother of Brian, accomplished more for the Airoldi family in one day than the entire Comcast juggernaut could manage in more than a month. By day’s end, the Comcast trucks descended on the neighborhood and the family was finally connected.

Unfortunately, Comcast does not offer 1-800-SUZANNE for beleaguered customers, who have developed a seething dislike for the cable company. One horror story after another, accompanied by news of PR disasters that routinely spread across the country faster than measles all testify to Comcast’s bottom of the barrel customer ranking as among the most hated companies in America.

comcast service cartoonEven PR damage control marketing experts now consider Comcast hopeless.

“The stories that come out about them are just unbelievable in terms of the torture – not just bad service, but torture – they inflict on customers,” said Chris Malone, managing partner of Fidelum Partners in Newtown Square, a specialist in fixing the reputations of companies that shoot themselves in the proverbial foot. “I feel quite confident that if their services were offered more broadly, their ranking would be much lower.”

Malone told Polaneczky the reason more Americans hate Comcast than BP — the company that threatened the Gulf of Mexico’s entire ecosystem after recklessly allowing more than 200 million gallons of oil to spill and stain the beaches from Louisiana to Florida — is the cable company’s relentless greed.

‘At the root of Comcast’s problem,’ Malone says, is that ‘the company is focused on maximizing financial benefits at the expense of its customers and employees,’ who know that “the company does not have their best interests in mind.”

Even Comcast’s new customer service czar, Charlie Herrin — head of “customer experience,” hired to “ensure that we are delighting our customers at each touch point,” has waved the white flag, seemingly admitting the company is an unmitigated mess.

Despite annual commitments from Comcast management starting in 2007 that Comcast was “redoubling” its efforts at improving customer service, the pesky fact that twice nothing is still nothing left Herrin sheepishly lowering expectations:

“In fact,” Herrin said, “it may take a few years before we can honestly say that a great customer experience is something we’re known for.”

A few years?

polaneczky1

Polaneczky

These facts should be penetrating the offices of every state and federal regulator contemplating the public interest benefits of approving a merger deal between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Sweeping aside the Comcast-ghostwritten letters non-profit, civil rights, and political groups have sent to regulators (while running to the bank to cash Comcast’s checks), the columnist for the Daily News is scratching his head pondering why anyone would even think of letting the bad become bigger to get even worse.

“If Comcast is badly serving so many customers now, why should it be allowed the opportunity to badly serve millions more?,” she asked. “After my column ran, I got a call from Jeff Alexander, the regional spokesman for Comcast’s local operations. He apologized for what had happened to the Airoldis and invited me to visit some of Comcast’s shiny new retail stores, where customers can pay bills, return cable boxes and such. ‘Sure,’ I said, to be agreeable. But honestly, who cares?”

The most useful thing Polaneczky got from Alexander was his direct e-mail address with an invitation to forward complaints to his personal attention to resolve. So why not use it?

“Email me ([email protected]) about your Comcast problems,” Polaneczky wrote. “Detail the ways the company has been torturing you, and I will pass your stories along to Alexander, who seems like a very nice man. I can’t guarantee results. Lord knows your complaints have been cheerfully heard then ignored before. But I can promise that if Alexander doesn’t resolve your problems, I’m calling Mama Roberts again. I have her number on speed-dial.”

Perhaps Mama should come out of retirement and take on the job Perrin seems be ready to quit. It probably wouldn’t take “years” to see improvements if the CEO’s mom carried a big stick around Comcast’s Philadelphia headquarters. She should start in her son’s executive suite.

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