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Angry Comcast Customer in Illinois Assaults Technician Over the Quality of Work Done in His Home

angry guyA customer angry over the performance of a Comcast technician in his Berwyn, Ill. home stood in his doorway and blocked the technician from leaving until the work met his satisfaction.

Police say things deteriorated from there. When the technician said he attempted to leave to avoid escalating what was already a heated verbal altercation, Thomas Guel, 37, of the 1900 block of South Elmwood Ave., allegedly pushed the technician and slapped him in the face.

Authorities charged Guel with unlawful restraint and battery.

In our view, such confrontations are unacceptable and unconscionable. It is never appropriate to become verbally or physically abusive to a worker invited into your home. If you are dissatisfied with the work being done by a technician and they are unresponsive after bringing your concerns to their attention, thank them for their time and politely ask them to leave. Then contact your provider and ask for a supervisor to intervene and handle the situation.

The Comcast technician did the right thing by seeking to end the confrontation by leaving. Had he been allowed to, this story would have never been written.

Canada Prepares to Say Goodbye to the 3-Year Cellphone Contract; June 3rd is the Deadline

Signing a three year contract usually meant a cheaper device.

Signing a three year contract usually meant a cheaper device.

Canadians still stuck on an old three-year wireless contract may be able to leave their current carrier penalty-free as soon as June 3rd as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) deadline on lengthy wireless contracts takes full effect this Sunday.

In June 2013, the CRTC banned three-year cell phone contracts in its wireless code to give customers a chance to switch providers more often without an expensive early termination fee to deter them. The commission set a two-year transition period which will end June 3.

But it turns out wireless carriers have not made the process of leaving penalty-free easy and the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) expects the ombuds office will be forced to intervene on behalf of consumers. Some providers have applied creative interpretations of the wireless code the industry earlier sued to block on the grounds it created retroactive interference with contractual rights. The Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the wireless industry’s lawsuit last week. The CCTS is notifying providers what it expects from them.

There are two primary groups of customers affected by the June 3rd deadline:

  • Those who signed a three-year contract before June 3, 2013:

These customers will see their three-year contracts cut to two years, and all will expire June 3. They can leave their current provider without any early termination fees or penalties.

  • Those who signed a three-year contract between June 3-Dec. 3, 2013:

crtcThings get more complicated for customers in this window. While carriers quickly introduced new two-year plans, there are a number of customers who managed to sign a three-year contract during this transition period. These longer contracts have also been cut to 24 months by the CRTC, but an early termination fee may still apply if the contract has not run a full two years and carriers will be permitted to get back their device subsidy if you have not yet paid off your device.

If you like your current carrier, you can stay on your existing contract and nothing will change. If you are ready to leave for another provider, you will need to calculate the termination fee you are likely to owe when you cancel service.

If you accepted a device subsidy to reduce the cost of your device, here is the formula to determine your payoff amount:

Jane Smith signed a contract with Rogers in the late fall of 2013. She is now about 20 months into her contract, which the CRTC has now automatically shortened from its original three years to two. For our purposes, let us say she received a device subsidy of $240 (the exact amount of the device subsidy you received is available from your provider.)

Carriers like Vidéotron offer customers discounts if they bring their old device along.

Carriers like Vidéotron offer customers discounts if they bring their old device along.

To calculate the payoff amount to buy out and cancel the contract, take the original device subsidy and divide it by 24. In our example, that equals $10. That means for each month Jane has been in her contract, she has repaid $10 towards the $240 subsidy she received. In this example, she has made 20 payments under contract, which means she has paid back $200 and still owes an additional $40. When she cancels service to switch to Bell (or whatever other carrier she chooses), her exit fee will be $40.

The CRTC also allows carriers to collect an Early Termination Fee (ETF) from customers who paid for a device upfront or brought their own when they signed a contract. These no-subsidy customers must either wait until 24 months have passed from the contract signing date or pay an ETF of the lesser of $50 or 10% of the minimum monthly charge for the remaining months of the now two-year contract.

Bill Smith brought his old iPhone to Telus and signed a three-year contract at the same time Jane did. The CRTC has already lopped off one year of his contract. He will hit the 24 month mark four months from now, but wants to leave to switch to Vidéotron Mobile today. The minimum monthly charge on his Telus bill is $65. For the remaining four months on his contract, he has to pay 10% of $65 for his termination penalty, which amounts to $26 total — his ETF.

Howard Maker, chief executive officer of the CCTS, said, “The calculation is maybe a bit challenging, because not all customers’ contracts will indicate what the device subsidy is.”

Some customers have used the impending end of their contracts as a tool to negotiate a better deal, but it can be tough finding one. After the demise of the three-year contract, last fall many Canadian cell providers raised the monthly price of service on two-year contracts to recoup lost profits.

Drahi Readies His Next Move: “If I Buy Five Smaller Cable Companies, I Am as Big as Time Warner Cable”

Drahi

Drahi

Patrick Drahi, the billionaire ruthless cost-cutting owner of Altice SA told a French parliamentary hearing he didn’t go ahead with a serious bid for Time Warner Cable because he lacked enough management talent to run a huge cable company in a country he only recently entered.

“I didn’t follow up on the exchanges we had on Time Warner Cable that were mentioned in the media because we were not ready,” Drahi told a French parliamentary hearing on Wednesday.

Drahi testified French-owned banks were ready to help finance a deal that would have stolen Time Warner Cable away from Charter Communications. Instead, Drahi has decided to spend a little time digesting his acquisition of Suddenlink to gain experience in the U.S. cable market before he moves on other cable operators. Drahi believes he will be the only buyer left to cut major cable consolidation deals.

“Time is on our side” for the U.S. expansion,” Drahi said. “The two leaders Comcast and Charter will not be able to buy anything else because of their size so we will have an open boulevard ahead of us. If I buy five small operators, I can be as big as Time Warner Cable.”

The five most-likely cable operators Drahi will pursue, according to a business editor at RFI, the French overseas broadcaster: Cablevision, Cox, Mediacom, WOW!, and Cable One. Cox and Mediacom are privately held and Cablevision is tightly controlled by its founding Dolan family, so Drahi will likely have to sweeten deals to convince all three to sell.

Reuters reports Drahi is especially interested in the smaller, less profitable operators because they are ripe for his brand of cost management and consolidation-related savings.

“Even better, that means we will have room to improve them,” Drahi said.

Drahi remained enthusiastic about Cablevision, despite the fact it serves one of the most competitive markets blanketed by Verizon FiOS in the United States.

“It’s good actually since it means they know how to compete,” Drahi said.

Drahi’s reputation is well-known in Europe based on his earlier acquisitions. Altice favors telecom and cable companies seen as poorly managed or undervalued which Drahi targets for massive cost-slashing to improve profitability. The investments he does make are largely to benefit high-end customers he values the most.

Quid Pro Quo: Boys & Girls Club That Supported Comcast/TWC Merger Gets $8 Million from Comcast CEO

After sending 25 letters of support for the Comcast-TWC merger, the Boys & Girls Club is getting $8 million to construct the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club (Roberts is the founder of Comcast.)

After sending 25 letters of support for the Comcast-TWC merger, the Boys & Girls Club is getting $8 million to build the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club in Germantown, Penn. (Roberts is the founder of Comcast.)

One of Comcast’s most enthusiastic supporters for its (failed) merger deal with Time Warner Cable has just received a multi-million dollar donation from Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast to build a new state-of-the-art facility in Germantown, a neighborhood in Philadelphia.

The Boys & Girls Club and its various chapters pelted state and federal regulators with letters supporting Comcast at a time when the company was seeking approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable. Just a few weeks after the merger left the headlines, Comcast has announced it will spearhead a $40 million campaign to renovate six clubs in the region. Senior executive vice president David Cohen will serve as campaign chair.

An $8 million contribution from Comcast’s CEO and the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation will cover much of the construction costs for the Germantown facility, which the non-profit group will name the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club, in honor of Comcast’s founder.

For much of the 14 months the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger was being reviewed by regulators, Comcast repeatedly name-dropped the non-profit as a supporter of the transaction. The group’s various chapters sent not less than 25 letters of support for the deal:

“We believe that a company as committed to community service as Comcast deserves our support and our gratitude,” wrote Joseph and Lisabeth Marziello, the CEOs of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, in a letter to the FCC. “We are confident that if Comcast extends its footprint into the areas now served by Time Warner Cable, nonprofit agencies in those communities will reap the benefits.”

Asking nonprofit groups to write letters of support is “good politics” for Comcast, said Free Press’ Matt Wood, because it gives the merger a “public-interest veneer.”

Pennsylvania’s Sens. Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R) went out of their way to mention the group in a letter to FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler:

We have seen firsthand Comcast’s record as an outstanding corporate citizen. Comcast assists 1,200 non-profits through its foundation, serves hundreds of thousands of young people through the Boys and Girls Club of America, and has invested $57 million in training for workers to keep them competitive in today’s economy.

Lost in the millions of dollars now changing hands was the impact of the proposed merger on consumers, including the kids that use the Boys & Girls Club facilities. Comcast has raised prices on its broadband service repeatedly and made participating in its Internet Essentials discount program too cumbersome for many income-challenged residents to participate. But the Boys & Girls Club came out ahead.

Stop the Cap! continues to urge our readers to consider donating only to non-profits that focus on their mission, not on quid pro quo back-scratching that works against the best interests of the very people who give their time and money to non-profits. It’s clear the Boys & Girls Club is already getting plenty of help from Comcast. They don’t need yours.

“The French Slasher” Patrick Drahi/Altice Likely to Target Cablevision, Cox, Mediacom Next for Quick Buyouts

THE FRENCH SLASHER: Patrick Drahi's cost-cutting methods are legendary in Europe. He could soon be bringing his style of cost management to America.

THE FRENCH SLASHER: Patrick Drahi’s cost-cutting methods are legendary in Europe. He could soon be bringing his style of cost management to America.

Patrick Drahi and his Luxembourg-based Altice SA appears to be out of the running to buy Time Warner Cable, but are likely to quickly turn their attention to acquiring several of America’s remaining medium-sized cable companies: Cablevision, Cox, and Mediacom.

“While it is still possible that Altice counters on TWC, we do not believe that it can match Charter [and backer John Malone’s] funding firepower and will ultimately lose out,” wrote Macquarie Capital’s Kevin Smithen. “In our opinion, Altice is more likely to turn its attention to Cablevision or privately held Cox or Mediacom, in an effort to gain more fixed-line scale in order to compete against Charter and Comcast.”

Last week, cable analysts were surprised when Drahi swooped in to acquire Suddenlink, one of America’s medium-sized cable operators.

“Altice’s decision to buy Suddenlink (at an unsupportably high price) creates even more uncertainty in an industry where virtually every element of the story is now in flux,” said MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett.

Cablevision recently seemed to signal it was willing to talk a merger deal with Time Warner Cable, but that now seems unlikely with the Charter acquisition heading to regulator review. Drahi met last week with Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus about a possible deal with the second largest cable company in the U.S., which seems to indicate he is serious about his plans to enter the U.S. cable market.

“On paper, Cablevision was already overvalued,” Moffett said. “And Altice’s acquisition of Suddenlink, which has no overlap with Verizon FiOS, would suggest that they are quite cognizant of the appeal of a carrier without excessive fiber competition. The spike in Cablevision’s shares only makes that overvaluation worse. Then again, if Altice is willing to overpay for one investment, might they not be willing to overpay for another?”

Drahi has been topic number one for the French telecom press for months after his aggressive acquisition and cost-cutting strategies left a long trail of unpaid vendors and suppliers, as well as employees forced to bring their own toilet tissue to work. Customers have also started leaving his French cable company after service suffered as a result of his investment cuts.

As a new wave of cable consolidation is now on the minds of cable executives, several Wall Street analysts have begun to call on the cable industry to consolidate the wireless space as well, buying out one or more wireless companies like Sprint or T-Mobile to combine wired and wireless broadband.

“Unlike Europe, we continue to believe that the U.S. is not yet a ‘converged’ market for wireless and wireline broadband services but that this trend is inevitable in the U.S. due to increasing need for small cells, fiber backhaul and mobile video content caching closer to the end user. In our view, Altice believes in convergence and so mobile will be a strategic objective in the long-term,” Smithen wrote.

Other Wall Street analyst/helpers have pointed out there are other cable targets ripe for acquisition: WideOpenWest Holding Cos (a/k/a WOW!) and Cable One have a combined 1.92 million video subscribers.

Analysis: Charter Communications Will Acquire Time Warner Cable/Bright House – What It Means for You

charter twc bhAs expected, Charter Communications formally announced its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in a deal worth, including debt, $78.7 billion.

The deal brings Dr. John Malone, a cable magnate during the 80s and 90s, back into the top echelon of cable providers. Malone orchestrated today’s deal as part of his plan to dramatically consolidate the American cable industry. Malone’s Liberty Broadband Corp. assisted in pushing the deal across the finish line with an extra $5 billion (supplied by three hedge funds) in Charter stock purchases.

The companies expect to win regulator approval and close the deal by the end of 2015.

“No one has ever had a better sense of the multichannel world than John [Malone],” Leo Hindery, a veteran cable-industry executive, told the Wall Street Journal. “Obviously he sees in Charter and Time Warner Cable a way to perpetuate a legacy that is unrivaled.”

But the man who may have made today’s deal ultimately possible was FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Last week, he personally called cable executives at Charter and Time Warner Cable to reassure them the FCC was not against all cable mergers just because it rejected one involving Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

But Wheeler warned he would only approve deals that were in the public interest.

“In applying the public interest test, an absence of harm is not sufficient,” Mr. Wheeler said.

Consumer groups are wary.

“The cable platform is quickly becoming America’s local monopoly broadband infrastructure,” said Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner. “Charter will have a tough time making a credible argument that consolidating local monopoly power on a nationwide basis will benefit consumers. Indeed, the issue of the cable industry’s power to harm online video competition, which is what ultimately sank Comcast’s consolidation plans, are very much at play in this deal.”

“Ultimately, this merger is yet another example of the poor incentives Wall Street’s quarterly-result mentality creates,” Turner added. “Charter would rather take on an enormous amount of debt to pay a premium for Time Warner Cable than build fiber infrastructure, improve service for its existing customers or bring competition into new communities.”

new charter

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Inside the Charter Plan to Buy Time Warner Cable 5-26-15.flv

A panel of Wall Street analysts discusses the chances for Charter’s plan to buy Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Some analysts continue to frame regulator approval over video programming costs, while others argue broadband is the key issue the FCC and Justice Department will consider when reviewing the merger. From Bloomberg TV. (5:36)

A heavily indebted Charter Communications will not own the combined entity free and clear. At the close of the deal, Time Warner Cable shareholders will own up to 44% of the new company, Liberty Broadband up to 20%, Advance/Newhouse (Bright House) up to 14%. Charter itself will own just 22%, but will be able to leverage voting control over the entity with the help of Malone’s Liberty, which will get almost 25% of the voting power. That will give Charter just enough of a combined edge to control the destiny of “New Charter.”

As with the aborted deal with Comcast, lucrative golden parachutes are expected for Time Warner’s top executives who will be departing if the deal wins approval. In their place will be Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge and a board compromised of 13 directors (including Rutledge himself). Seven directors will be appointed by independent directors serving on Charter’s board, two designated by Advance/Newhouse and three from Liberty Broadband, again giving Rutledge and Malone effective control.

Current Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers will see major changes if Charter follows through on its commitment to bring Charter’s way of doing business to both operators.

No More Analog Television

all digitalCharter told investors at today’s merger announcement it will accelerate the removal of all analog television signals on TWC and Bright House cable TV lineups to free capacity for faster Internet products, more HD channels, and “other advanced products.”

Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus told investors earlier this month TWC was already well-positioned with excess spectrum from moving lesser-watched analog channels to digital service and using “Switched Digital Video,” a technology that conserves bandwidth by only sending certain cable channels into neighborhoods where customers are actively watching them. This allowed Time Warner Cable customers to avoid renting a cable box for lesser-watched, cable-connected televisions in the home.

Charter’s plan requires a cable box on every connected television, at an added cost. The standard lease rate for the digital decoder box is $6.99 per month, and those customers on the lowest basic tier will likely receive at least two devices for up to two years for free, or five years for customers on Medicaid. Customers who subscribe to higher tiers of service or premium channels may receive only one device for free for one year before the monthly lease rate applies. For a home with an average of three connected televisions, this will eventually cost an extra $21 a month. DVR boxes cost considerably more.

No More Modem Lease Fee, But Only Two Choices for Internet Service

The good news is Charter does not apply any modem lease fees and there is a good chance if you already purchased your own modem, Charter will continue to let you use it. The bad news is that if you were used to sticking with a lower-speed broadband tier to save money, those days are likely coming to an end. Charter’s “simplified” menu of broadband options cuts Time Warner’s six choices and Bright House’s five options to just two:

  • 60/4Mbps for Spectrum Internet ($59.99)
  • 100/5Mbps for Internet Ultra ($109.99)

Charter_Spectrum_Mobile_Internet-finalThis is likely to be a red flag for regulators concerned about broadband affordability. Although it is likely Charter may offer concessions by grandfathering existing Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers under their current plans, Charter has nothing comparable to Time Warner’s “Everyday Low Price Internet” for $14.99 a month or a 6Mbps Basic broadband alternative far less expensive than Charter’s entry-level Internet tier. Bright House customers are not likely to experience something similar. The entry-level 15Mbps broadband-only plan is $65 a month without a promotion, according to Bright House.

Charter is rumored to be testing speed boosts for those two tiers for deployment in areas where they face fiber competitors. The first phase would raise Spectrum speeds to 100/25Mbps and Ultra to 300/50Mbps with plans to further increase speeds when DOCSIS 3.1 arrives — likely to 300/50Mbps for Spectrum and 500/300 for Ultra, at least where Google Fiber, U-verse with GigaPower, and Verizon FiOS offers competition.

Recently, Charter has followed Time Warner Cable’s marketing script and is actively promoting the fact the company has no data caps on broadband service, but Charter had a history of loosely enforced “soft caps” for several years in the recent past, so we’re not convinced data caps are gone for good at Charter.

Pricing & Service

billCharter enjoys a higher rate of revenue per customer than either Time Warner or Bright House, which is a sign customers are paying more. It is likely Charter’s reduced menu of choices is responsible for this. Although customers do get a better advertised level of service, they are paying a higher price for it, with no downgrade options. Ancillary equipment rental fees for television set-top boxes are also a likely culprit.

Charter also tells investors its merger with Time Warner and Bright House will bring “manageable promotional rate step-ups and rate discipline” to both companies. That means Charter will likely be less generous offering promotions to new and existing customers. Like Time Warner and Bright House, Charter will gradually raise rates on customers coming off a promotion until they eventually reset a customer’s rates to the regular price. But while Time Warner, in particular, was receptive to putting complaining customers back on aggressively priced promotions after an old promotion ended, Charter is not.

Charter customers tell us the company’s customer service department is notoriously inconsistent and promotional rates and offers can vary wildly. For some, Charter only got aggressive on price after they turned in their cable equipment and closed their accounts.

As far as service is concerned, CEO Thomas Rutledge has managed significant improvements while at Charter. What used to rival Mediacom in Consumer Reports’ annual ranking of the worst cable companies in America is now ranked number nine (Bright House took fourth place, Time Warner Cable: 12th).

But the presence of Malone in this deal, even peripherally, is a major concern. Malone-run cable companies are notorious for massive rate increases and poor customer service. Sen. Al Gore routinely called his leadership style of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), since sold to Comcast, the Darth Vader of a cable Cosa Nostra and Sen. Daniel Inouye from Hawaii once remarked in a Senate oversight hearing that Malone’s executives were a “bunch of thugs.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Charter CEO Comfortable With Price Paid for Time Warner 5-26-15.flv

Watch Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge stumble his way through an answer to a simple question: What are the public benefits of your merger with Time Warner Cable that the deal with Comcast didn’t offer? Did you like his answer? (5:28)

Charter Communications Near Agreement to Acquire Time Warner Cable, Bright House in $60+ Billion Deal

charter twc bhCharter Communications could announce as early as tomorrow its intention to acquire Time Warner Cable for nearly $55.1 billion in cash and stock and Bright House Networks as part of a separate transaction worth north of $10 billion to create the country’s second largest cable operator under the Charter Spectrum brand.

Bloomberg News reports Charter will offer $195 a share — $100 in cash and the rest in Charter stock for Time Warner. The deal will load down Charter in debt. Several Wall Street banks spent more than two weeks assembling a large financing package, but even that would not be enough to seal a deal. Dr. John Malone’s Liberty Broadband, Charter’s largest shareholder, has agreed to inject $5 billion in Charter stock purchases to help fund the deal.

Unlike the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal, this one includes a $2 billion deal breakup fee, payable if the merger falls apart. Analysts predict a possible rival bid for Time Warner Cable by Drahi’s Altice SA as well as antitrust concerns.

The deal would quadruple the size of Charter Communications overnight and would represent a massive change for Time Warner Cable customers. Charter uses a simplified pricing approach with fewer choices for Internet and television service, but that could come at a significantly higher price than what Time Warner Cable customers are used to paying. Charter is now advertising “no data caps” which is good news, although how long that lasts is anyone’s guess.

The future of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade program is in doubt if Charter successfully buys the company. Charter’s proposal to acquire Time Warner Cable in 2014 offered a more modest upgrade plan.

Stop the Cap! will go into more detail about what subscribers can expect as more details become available.

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.”

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