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Comcast: ‘We Were Against Net Neutrality Before We Clamed to Be For It’

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Should this merger be approved, Comcast will control 40-50 percent of all broadband access nationwide.[1] That offers Comcast market power that can be used to discriminate against others.

Comcast paid homeless people to "hold their seats" at an FCC hearing in 2008. (Image: Free Press)

Comcast paid homeless people to “hold their seats” at an FCC hearing in 2008. (Image: Free Press)

Comcast’s recent past contains several disturbing incidents that came as a result of its market power and its vast resources to influence telecommunications public policy debates:

  • In 2008, Comcast admitted to paying homeless people in Boston to pack an FCC meeting on Net Neutrality, keeping company critics out of the room.[2]
  • The company that now promises to abide voluntarily to Net Neutrality regulations is also one of the few found culpable for violating the principle. In mid-2008, the FCC ruled that Comcast’s policy of interfering with peer-to-peer file traffic was a violation of Net Neutrality rules. When customers found out, the company voluntarily ended the speed throttling, imposing usage caps instead.[3]
  • This month, Comcast reportedly stepped in and ordered the removal of news content critical of its Net Neutrality policies from a publication in which it has an ownership interest.[4]
  • In May 2011, a Comcast manager threatened to pull funding from a Seattle-based media advocacy group that criticized the company for hiring a former Republican FCC official, Meredith Attwell Baker, just after she supported the NBC Universal deal.[5]
  • Comcast has aggressively pursued agreements with over-the-top (online video) competitors that effectively force them to sign special connection agreements that mitigate the deteriorating quality of streamed video Comcast customers receive from services like Netflix.[6] Comcast’s size gives it de facto control over its customers’ online experiences.

While we note Comcast has agreed to temporarily abide by Net Neutrality principles, the Commission should know Comcast has a long record lobbying against Net Neutrality on philosophical grounds.[7]

Comcast agreed to abide by Net Neutrality principles as a condition to win approval of its acquisition of NBCUniversal, approved by the FCC in 2011. But as Brian Fung from the Washington Post noted, its agreement with the government will expire just four years from now[8]:

But what Comcast doesn’t say is that its commitment to “full” net neutrality expires in 2018. After that, it will no longer be legally bound to follow the 2010 rules, and it’ll be free to abandon that commitment literally overnight.

Just one year earlier, Comcast was before the United States Court of Appeals – D.C. Circuit suing the FCC over its authority to enforce Net Neutrality policies. Comcast won its suit.[9]

If Comcast now feels favorable towards Net Neutrality, it should voluntarily agree to abide by its guiding principles in perpetuity.

[1]http://broadcastingcable.com/news/washington/judiciary-raises-programming-broadband-control-issues-comcasttwc/130396
[2]http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlny/homeless-comcast-will-pay-to-attend-fcc-hearings_b7915
[3]http://www.dailydot.com/politics/net-neutrality-violations-history/
[4]http://www.republicreport.org/2014/comcast-affiliated-newsite-censored-my-article-about-net-neutrality-lobbying/
[5]http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-tech/post/comcast-yanks-funds-for-nonprofit-after-tweet-about-fcc-bakers-jump/2011/05/19/AF7aGG7G_blog.html
[6]http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304899704579391223249896550
[7]http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB125354032776727741
[8]https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140724/13525627992/comcast-ramps-up-ad-campaign-claiming-to-support-net-neutrality-even-as-it-really-supports-killing-it.shtml
[9]http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/EA10373FA9C20DEA85257807005BD63F/$file/08-1291-1238302.pdf

More Proof of Comcast’s Monopoly Tendencies: Spending Big to Kill Community Broadband Competition

When the community of Batavia, Ill., a distant suburb of Chicago, decided they wanted something better than the poor broadband offered by Comcast and what is today AT&T, it decided to hold a public referendum on whether the town should construct and run its own fiber to the home network for the benefit of area residents and businesses. A local community group, Fiber for Our Future, put up $4,325 to promote the initiative back in 2004, if only because the town obviously couldn’t spend tax dollars to advertise or promote the idea itself.

Within weeks of the announced proposal, both Comcast and SBC Communications (which later acquired AT&T) launched an all-out war on the idea of fiber to the home service, mass mailing flyers attacking the proposal to area residents and paying for push polling operations that asked area residents questions like, “should tax money be allowed to provide pornographic movies for residents?” The predictable opposition measured in response to questions like that later appeared in mysterious opinion pieces published in area newspapers submitted by the incumbent companies and their allies.

no comm broadband

Comcast spent $89,740 trying to defeat the measure in a community of just 26,000 people. SBC spent $192,324 — almost $3.50 per resident by Comcast and just shy of $7.50 per resident by SBC. Much the same happened in the neighboring communities of St. Charles and Geneva. 

According to Motherboard, the scare tactics worked, cutting support for the fiber network from over 72 percent to its eventual defeat in two separate referendums, leaving most of Batavia with 3Mbps DSL from SBC or an average of 6Mbps from Comcast.

Much of the blizzard of mailers and brochures Comcast and SBC mailed out were part of a coordinated disinformation campaign. Both companies also knew their claims would go largely unchallenged because Fiber for Our Future and other fiber proponents lacked the funding to respond with fact check pieces of their own mailed to residents to expose the distortions.

When it was all over, it was back to business as usual with Comcast and SBC. The latter defended its reputation after complaints soared about its inadequate broadband speeds.

Kirk Brannock, then midwest networking president for SBC, told city council members in the area that “fiber is an unproven technology.”

“What are you going to do with 20Mbps? It’s like having an Indy race car and you don’t have the racetrack to drive it on. We are going to be offering 3Mbps. Most users won’t use that,” he said.

risky

“All the subscribers got these extraordinary fliers. Ghosts, goblins, witches. I mean, this is about a broadband utility. Very scary stuff. This is real. This is comical, but this is very real,” Catharine Rice of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice said of the fliers at an event discussing municipal fiber earlier this year. “They have this amazing picture, and then they lie about what happened. They’re piling in facts that aren’t true.”

In communities that won approval for construction of publicly-owned fiber networks, the battle wasn’t over. Tennessee’s large state cable lobbying group unsuccessfully sued EPB to keep it out of the fiber business. In North Carolina, Time Warner Cable effectively wrote legislation introduced and passed by the Republican-dominated General Assembly that forbade community broadband expansion and made constructing new networks nearly impossible. In Ohio, another cable industry-sponsored piece of legislation destroyed the business plan of Lebanon’s fiber network, forcing the community to eventually sell the network at a loss to Cincinnati Bell.

The larger Comcast grows, the more financial resources it can bring to bare against any would-be competitors. Even in 2004, the company was large enough to force would-be community competitors to steer clear and stay out of its territory.

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Albania Says Goodbye to Usage Caps: 1-100Mbps Broadband in the Land of Sheep

ABCom is Albania's largest ISP.

ABCom is Albania’s largest ISP.

Albanians no longer have to watch usage meters while browsing the Internet and downloading movies and music. The country’s largest ISP – ABCom – has eliminated data caps on all but its cheapest broadband plans (4Mbps service with a 2GB cap: $4.81 for 15 days or 4Mbps service with a 5GB cap: $9.69 for 30 days). Now residents of Tirana, Durrës, Shkodër, Elbasan, Vlorë, and Gjirokastër can browse the Internet at self-selected speeds between 1-100Mbps with no usage-based billing or fixed caps.

It is remarkable progress for Europe’s poorest country. For much of the 20th century, Albania was infamous for its oppressive Communist dictatorship under the leadership of Enver Hoxha, a man who felt Stalin was the Soviet Union’s last true Communist leader and who courted and later cut ties with both the U.S.S.R. and the People’s Republic of China over what he called their “revisionist Marxist-Leninist” policies that betrayed true socialism. Hoxha’s idea of a worker’s paradise was to force huge numbers of both blue and white color workers into the fields every summer to help harvest the country’s strawberry crop.

During Hoxha’s 40 years in power, telecommunications for most Albanians consisted of a portable radio (and occasionally an imported television). Only 1.4 out of 100 had basic telephone service. If more wanted it, they could not get it. A long waiting list guaranteed an installation date years in the future. Albania began its transformation into a democracy with just 42,000 telephone lines, despite a population of nearly three million.

After the Communist government fell in 1991, life changed little in rural Albania. Peasants found initiatives to improve rural telephone service so irrelevant they knocked out service to about 1,000 villages after commandeering telephone wire to build fences to keep their sheep herds from straying. Even in the capital city Tirana, telecommunications infrastructure was decrepit at best. Even the wealthiest Albanians had to contend with rotary dial telephones produced in a forgotten factory in Bulgaria or Romania. Many preferred refurbished telephones rebuilt with scrap parts obtained from Italy.

Today, like many other countries lacking wired infrastructure, Albanians depend mostly on their cell phones to communicate. In 2012, there were 312,000 landlines in use, but 3.5 million cell phones were active. More than a half million wireless users rely entirely on their phones for Internet access.

no limit internet

“Are you ready for unlimited Internet with guaranteed 100Mbps speed?”

In 1998, ABCom launched its Internet Service Provider business, initially selling DSL and wireless broadband. With Albania’s economy always in difficulty, the country chose the cheaper path followed by North America — adopting Hybrid Fiber-Coax (HFC) network technology instead of fiber to the home, common elsewhere in southern Europe. HFC Internet access is better known by most of us as broadband from our local cable company. Expansion of wired broadband has been very slow in Albania. The concept of delivering television, broadband, and phone service over ABCom’s cable system in a triple play package only began in 2009.

The biggest attractions to wired broadband include no data caps and more reliable fixed broadband speeds the country’s wireless providers cannot deliver. Because of wide income disparity, ABCom offers a large range of speed plans for different budgets: 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, 30, and 100Mbps.

In response, competition from wireless providers has stepped up recently. Vodafone Albania is offering five mobile Internet options for users of its 3G network. Customers can opt to pay for daily, weekly or monthly bundles. The 40MB daily bundle costs $0.58; the 250MB weekly bundle costs $2.91; the 500MB monthly bundle costs $4.85, and the 1GB monthly bundle costs $7.76. The speeds are much slower than the plans offered by ABCom, however.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ABCom Mesazh Promocional nga ABCom March 2013.mp4

ABCom produced this television ad introducing its new triple play TV, broadband, and telephone package for Albanian customers. (Albanian) (0:31)

Stop the Cap!’s Testimony Before the N.Y. Public Service Commission on Comcast-TWC Merger

lousy-tshirt-640x640For the benefit of new visitors, text items in bold are clickable links. A complete video from this event will be posted as soon as possible.

Good evening. My name is Phillip Dampier from Stop the Cap!, a Rochester-based all-volunteer consumer group fighting for better broadband service and against Internet usage caps.

This is a critical moment for New York. The Internet has become a necessity for most of us and the future is largely in the hands of one company capable of delivering 21st century broadband to the majority of upstate New York. That company isn’t Verizon, which has ended FiOS fiber expansion while abandoning most of its upstate customers with slow speed DSL. Indeed, as their market share will attest, our broadband future is held in the hands of Time Warner Cable.

Comcast could have become a big player in New York had it chosen to compete head to head with Time Warner. But large cable operators avoid that kind of competition, preferring comfortable fiefdoms that only change hands at the whim of the companies involved. As local officials from across New York have already discovered, no major cable operator will compete for an expiring franchise currently held by another major cable operator.

Ironically, Comcast is using that fact in its favor, noting that since neither company competes directly with the other, making Comcast larger has no impact on competition. But that should hardly be the only test.

At issue is whether this merger is in the public interest. This year, for the first time in a long time, the rules have changed in New York. In the past, the Commission had to prove the merger was not in the best interests of New Yorkers. Now the onus is on Comcast to prove it is. It has fallen far short of meeting that burden.

Let’s start with Comcast’s dysfunctional relationship with its customers. With more than 75 citizen comments filed with the Commission so far. Comcast’s reputation clearly precedes it. The consensus view is perhaps best represented by one exasperated Clinton-area resident who wrote, I quote, “No. No no no. HELL no.

dream onThat kind of reaction is unsurprising considering Consumer Reports ranked Comcast 15th out of 17 large cable companies and called their Internet service and customer relations mediocre. Every year since 2007, Comcast’s CEO acknowledges the problems with customer service and promises to do better. Seven years later, the American Customer Satisfaction Index reports absolutely no measurable improvement. In fact, ACSI has concluded Comcast had the worst customer satisfaction rating of any company or government agency in the country, including the IRS.

In order to sell this $45 billion boondoggle to a skeptical public, Comcast has hired 76 lobbyists from 24 different firms and will reportedly spend millions trying to convince regulators and our elected leaders this deal is good for New York. If the deal gets done, Comcast’s biggest spending spree won’t be on behalf of its customers. Instead, Comcast has announced a $17 billion share buyback to benefit their shareholders. Imagine if this money was instead spent on improving customer service and selling a better product at a lower price.

don't careThe only suitable response to this merger deal is its outright rejection. Some may recommend imposing a handful of temporary conditions in return for approval – like the kind Sen. Al Franken accused Comcast of reneging on after its earlier merger with NBCUniversal. But this is one of those cases where you just can’t fit a round peg into a square deal for consumers, no matter how hard you try.

With respect to television, volume discounts have a huge impact on cable programming costs and competition. The biggest players get the best discounts, smaller ones are stunned by programming rate hikes and new competitors think twice about getting into the business.

AT&T said last week its 5.7 million customer U-verse television service was too small to get the kind of discounts its cable and satellite competitors receive. AT&T’s solution is to buy DirecTV, which might be good for AT&T but is bad for competition.

Frontier Communications has also felt the volume discount sting after adopting several Verizon FiOS franchises. When it lost Verizon’s volume discounts, Frontier began a relentless marketing effort to convince its customers to abandon FiOS TV and switch to technically inferior satellite TV.

Combining Comcast and Time Warner Cable will indeed help Comcast secure better deals from major programmers (including Comcast itself). But Comcast is already on record warning those savings won’t be shared with customers.

Comcast’s executive vice president David Cohen summed it up best: “We are certainly not promising that customer bills will go down or increase less rapidly.”

Is that in the public interest?

xfinity_blowsComcast suggests this merger will make its cable television market share no larger than it had in 2002 when it bought the assets of AT&T Cable. But this is 2014 and cable television is increasingly no longer the industry’s biggest breadwinner. Broadband is, and post-merger Comcast will control 40-50 percent of the Internet access market nationwide.

So what do Time Warner Cable customers get if Comcast takes over? A higher bill and worse service.

Several months before Comcast sought this merger, Time Warner announced a series of major upgrades under an initiative called TWC Maxx. Over the next two years, Time Warner Cable plans to more than triple the Internet speeds customers get now at no additional charge. Those upgrades are already available in parts of New York City, Los Angeles, and Austin.

A Time Warner Cable customer in Queens used to pay $57.99 for 15 megabit broadband. As of last month, for the same price, they get 50 megabits.

In contrast, Comcast’s Internet Plus plan delivers just 25 megabits and costs $69.95 a month – nearly $12 more for half the speed. Who has the better broadband at a better price? Time Warner Cable.

New York State’s digital economy depends on Internet innovation, which means some customers need faster speeds than others. Time Warner Cable’s Maxx initiative already delivers far superior speeds than what Comcast offers, despite claims from Comcast this merger would deliver New York a broadband upgrade.

isp blockTime Warner’s new top of the line Internet service, Ultimate 300 (formerly Ultimate 50), delivers 300 megabit service for $74.99 a month. Comcast’s top cable broadband offer listed on their website is Extreme 105, offering 105 megabit speeds at prices ranging from $99.95 to $114.95.

Is the public interest better served with 300 megabits for $74.99 from Time Warner Cable or paying almost $40 more for one-third of that speed from Comcast? Again, Time Warner Cable has the better deal for customers.

But the charges keep coming.

At least 90 percent of cable customers lease their cable modem from the cable company, and Comcast charges one of the highest lease rates in the industry – $8 a month. Time Warner Cable charges just under $6.

So I ask again, is this merger really in the public interest when broadband customers will be expected to pay more for less service?

Then there is the issue of usage caps, a creative way to put a toll on innovation. Usage caps make high bandwidth applications of the future untenable while also protecting cable television revenue.

If the PSC approves this transaction, the vast majority of New York will live under Comcast’s returning usage cap regime. There is simply no justification for usage limits on residential broadband service, particularly from a company as profitable as Comcast. Verizon FiOS does not have caps. Neither does Cablevision. But the majority of upstate New Yorkers won’t have the option of choosing either.

In 2009, Time Warner Cable lived through a two week public relations nightmare when they attempted an experiment with compulsory usage caps on customers in Rochester. After Stop the Cap! pushed back, then CEO Glenn Britt shelved the idea. Britt would later emphasize he now believed Time Warner should always have an unlimited use tier available for customers who want it.

Whether intended or not, Time Warner actually proved that was the right idea. In early 2012, the company introduced optional usage caps in return for discounts. They quickly discovered customers have no interest in having their Internet usage measured and limited, even for a discount. Out of 11 million Time Warner Cable broadband customers, only a few thousand have been convinced to enroll.

comcast sucksComcast doesn’t give customers a choice. In 2008, a strict 250GB usage cap was imposed on all residential customers with disconnect threats for violators. Since announcing it would re-evaluate that cap in May 2012, it now appears Comcast has settled on a new residential 300GB usage allowance gradually being reintroduced in Comcast service areas starting in southern U.S. markets.

Comcast executive vice president David Cohen cutely calls them “usage thresholds.” At Stop the Cap! we call it Internet Overcharging.

Cohen predicts Comcast will have broadband usage thresholds imposed on every city they serve within five years. Whether you call it a cap or a threshold, it is in fact a limit on how much Internet service you can consume without risking overlimit fees of $10 for each 50GB increment over your allowance.

Unlike Time Warner Cable, Comcast isn’t offering a discount with its usage cap, so those who use less will still pay the same they always have, proving again that usage caps don’t save customers money. (See below for clarification)

At the end of May I watched CNBC interview Comcast CEO Brian Roberts who implied during a discussion about Comcast’s usage caps that usage growth was impinging on the viability of its broadband business. Moments later, Time Warner Cable ran an ad emphasizing its broadband service has no usage caps. Both companies are making plenty of money from broadband.

This merger is bad news for customers faced with Comcast’s legendary bad service, its forthcoming usage caps, or the higher prices it charges. Even promised innovations like their much touted X1 set top platform comes with a gotcha Comcast routinely forgets to mention. Customers have to pay a $99 installation fee.

Stop the Cap! will submit a more comprehensive filing with the PSC outlining all of our objections to this merger, and there are several more. We invite anyone in the audience to visit stopthecap.com for this and other matters related to cable television and broadband. We appreciate being invited to share our views with the Commission and hope to bring a consumer perspective to this important development in our shared telecommunications future. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TWC News Hearing on Comcast 6-16-14.mp4

Time Warner Cable News covered the Public Service Commission hearing in Buffalo, which included testimony from Stop the Cap!’s Phillip Dampier. Also appearing was a representative from the National Black Chamber of Commerce advocating that telecom companies merge as fast as possible. The Chamber has received significant support from Comcast for several years now and representatives routinely testify in favor of Comcast’s business initiatives. (2:30)

Clarification: Comcast has different trials in different cities:

Nashville, Tennessee: 300 GB per month with $10/50GB overlimit fee;

Tucson, Arizona: Economy Plus through Performance XFINITY Internet tiers: 300 GB. Blast! Internet tier: 350 GB; Extreme 50 customers: 450 GB; Extreme 105: 600 GB. $10/50GB overlimit fee;

Huntsville and Mobile, Alabama; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Georgia; Central Kentucky; Maine; Jackson, Mississippi; Knoxville and Memphis, Tennessee and Charleston, South Carolina: 300 GB per month with $10/50GB; XFINITY Internet Economy Plus customers can choose to enroll in the Flexible-Data Option to receive a $5.00 credit on their monthly bill and reduce their data usage plan from 300 GB to 5 GB. If customers choose this option and use more than 5 GB of data in any given month, they will not receive the $5.00 credit and will be charged an additional $1.00 for each gigabyte of data used over the 5 GB included in the Flexible-Data Option;

Fresno, California, Economy Plus customers also have the option of enrolling in the Flexible-Data Option.

Comcast suggested customers can enroll in a cheaper usage plan in some of these markets. Yes they can, but only if they downgrade to Economy Plus service which offers speeds only up to 3Mbps. Their $5 discount is not available on any other plan.

Comcast Tries to Prove Its Usage Meter is Accurate Before Slapping the Caps Back On

Keeping an eye on the scale

Keep an independent eye on the scale

Without independent verification by an unbiased third-party, providers’ usage meters can measure any amount of usage — correct or not — with no recourse for those facing overlimit fees or service suspension.

That is why companies like Comcast depend on the patina of credibility a third-party company can offer when certifying Internet traffic measurement tools as accurate, even if that company has a vested interest handing Comcast the results it wants to see.

NetForecast just completed its third paid study of Comcast’s Internet meter declaring it amazingly accurate with an error rate of just -0.75 to 0.36%.

NetForecast claims it performed independent traffic measurements using real user traffic in subscribers’ homes as well as its own in-house PC and server.

“Based on our measurement results, Comcast subscribers should be able to rely on Comcast’s meter accuracy,” NetForecast says.

Comcast subscribers should also be able to rely on the fact that any cable company that involved with its usage measurement meter has a clear agenda to use it as part of a nationwide return to usage caps or usage-based billing.

NetForecast is no substitute for utilizing a financially uninvolved third-party to oversee any measurement tool that could expose customers to additional charges.

The country has been through this before.

Offices of Weights and Measures represent one of the country’s oldest efforts at consumer protection and trace their origins to the Code of Hammurabi, the Magna Carta and the United States Constitution. Most states created their own bureau to verify all sorts of measurement tools from scales to gas pumps in the early 1900s after an epidemic of widespread fraud shortchanged citizens.

Measure with confidence.

Measure with confidence.

By 1910, the California Legislature was engaged in a battle with the railroads over the accuracy of scales used to weigh railway cars. Railroad tariffs for hauling goods were based on the weight or measurement of the commodity carried. The railroad industry occasionally hired so-called “independent” third parties to certify the accuracy of railway scales to fend off government regulation and oversight after reports of widespread fraud reached the legislature. It didn’t solve the problem.

In 1920, 52.4% of railroad scales, including those “certified” accurate were found to be well out of tolerance. When the industry knew the state of California’s Office of State Superintendent of Weights and Measures would oversee testing a year later, every scale tested in 1921 was suddenly accurate within tolerance.

The problem of accurate measurement was not limited to the railroads. Californian cattle and livestock ranchers faced dishonest hay balers that ginned up the cost of hay by sneaking in heavy debris like rocks and using inaccurate scales to charge higher prices. The 1919 Hay Baling Act was passed to ensure accuracy in the sale of hay and to stop the fraud and abuse the hay balers denied ever existed.

In Maryland, the fraud came from scales used by grocers and gas pumps — both rigged by their respective owners to deliver bigger profits at the consumer’s expense.

In the 1971 Report of the 56th National Conference on Weights and Measures, E.E. Wolski, manager of quality control at the Colgate-Palmolive Company considered it unthinkable that anyone other than a truly independent, financially uninvolved third-party should monitor the accuracy of measurement tools.

This Maryland gas pump is being verified for accuracy by the Weights & Measures program run by the state government.

This Maryland gas pump is being verified for accuracy by the Weights & Measures program run by the state government.

“I do not think anyone will be so naïve as to even suggest that an elimination or reduction of inspection or enforcement would result in anything other than a return to the situation which made the need for them so apparent,” said Wolski. “It is a well-known fact that where enforcement drops off, so does compliance.”

In one state where private companies were permitted to self-certify, inaccuracy turned out to be rampant.

“I was informed that the average gallon was about a half pint short and that an average pound had been a little less than an ounce short,” Wolski said. “The shortages had been statewide and were almost universal.”

The state-employed director that finally established independent oversight of weights and measurements in light of the widespread fraud Wolski talked about was firm in his conclusion that “everybody, literally everybody (and that includes you and me), needs to know that someone is there watching what he does.”

Any financial interest in the outcome of a weight or measurement involving money is a temptation to cheat consumers, one that has effectively only been tempered all the way back to the days of King Solomon by truly independent oversight, typically by a state or local authority. That authority is on display today in the form of a compliance sticker found on commercial scales, gas pumps, and other measurement tools, attesting to their accuracy.

While it is nice Comcast at least bothers to investigate the accuracy of its usage meter, consumers should not be asked to trust the findings of a third-party paid to produce results. Consumers should insist that a truly independent regulator of weights and measurements regularly test and verify usage meters wherever they could be used to suspend a customer’s account or result in extra fees.

Verizon’s Idea of a “Modest Rate Increase” in New Jersey: 440%; $15 Billion Collected for Phantom Fiber

Verizon-logoWhile the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities was able to quickly settle its differences with Verizon by granting the phone company’s wish to walk away from its commitment to offer 45Mbps broadband across the state, New Jersey ratepayers are out $15 billion in excess phone charges levied since 1993 for promised upgrades many will never get.

The Opportunity New Jersey plan the state government signed with Verizon was supposed to expand advanced broadband across the state in return for “a modest amount of pricing flexibility” in the fees Verizon charged customers in New Jersey. But Verizon is not a modest company and a new report shows the phone company used the agreement to boost rates as much as 440% — primarily through ancillary surcharges including inside wire maintenance, wire investment, an investment recovery fee, a local number portability surcharge, merged local calling area charge, and various other charges for phone features including Caller ID, Call Waiting, etc.

Tom Allibone, the president of LTC Consulting joined forces with New Networks’ Bruce Kushnick to analyze more than 30 years of Verizon New Jersey phone bills and discovered when it comes to tallying up rate increases, Verizon’s addition skills are akin to taking out a bag of M&M’s and only counting the yellow ones.

“This Verizon New Jersey bill from April 2002 […] has an “FCC Subscriber Line Charge”, which was $6.21 cents per line. Verizon’s quote doesn’t include this charge in their analysis of no increases between 1985 to 2008,” Kushnick writes. “The FCC Line Charge (it has many names), is on every local phone bill and the charge started in 1985. You can’t get service without paying this charge and the money does NOT go to fund the FCC but is direct revenue to Verizon New Jersey.”

verizonnjrateincreaseAfter adding up various other surcharges, Kushnick’s bill increased a lot.

“Add up the ‘Total Monthly Charges’ for 2 phone lines— It’s ugly,” Kushnick said. “While the cost of the ‘monthly charges’ was $25.62, there’s an extra $17.70 cents — 70%. I thought that Verizon said there were no ‘increases.’”

“Anyone who has ever bought a bundled package of services from Verizon (or the other phone or cable companies) knows that they all play this shell game; the price of service you have to pay is always 10-40% more than the advertised price. That’s because the companies leave out the cost of these ancillary charges and taxes in their sale pitch,” he added.

Verizon raised local residential service rates 79% in 2008, according to Kushnick. Business customers paid 70 percent more. Caller ID rates increased 38% — remarkable for a service that has a profit margin of 5,695%. But Verizon did even better boosting the charge for a non-published number by 38% — a service that has a 36,900% profit margin as of 1999 — the services are even cheaper to offer now.

Telephone service is one of those products that should have declined in price, especially after phone companies fully depreciated their copper wire networks — long ago paid off. Companies like Verizon have cut the budgets for outdoor wire maintenance and the number of employees tasked with keeping service up and running has been reduced by over 70 percent since 1985, dramatically reducing Verizon’s costs. But Verizon customers paid more for phone service, not less.

The cost of service might not have been as much of an issue had Verizon taken the excess funds and invested them in promised upgrades, but that has not happened for a significant percentage of the state and likely never will. Instead, they just increased company profits. More recently, Verizon has directed much of its investments into its more profitable wireless division.

Even though Verizon achieved total victory with the Christie Administration-dominated BPU, the company is still making threats about any future plans for investment.

“It’s important that regulators and legislators support public policies that encourage broadband growth in New Jersey rather than ones that could jeopardize the state’s highly competitive communications industry, or risk future investments by providers like Verizon,” wrote Sam Delgado, vice president of external affairs.

The New Guilded Age is Pay-Per-View; Comcast-TWC Merger Like a Throwback to An Earlier Era

gildedA merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast is just one more step towards undermining our democracy, worries former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

In a blog entry republished by Salon, Reich sees increasing evidence that the trust-busting days at the turn of the 20th century are long over, and Americans will likely have to relearn the lessons of allowing capitalism to run amuck.

It was the Republican Party of the 1890s that had the loudest voice in Washington protesting the concentration of business power into vast monopolies that had grown so large, they not only hurt consumers but threatened to undermine democracy itself.

Republican Senator John Sherman of Ohio was at the forefront of acting against centralized industrial power, which he likened to the abusive policies of the British crown that sparked America’s revolution for independence.

“If we will not endure a king as a political power,” Sherman thundered, “we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life.”

The merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable is just the latest example America is in a new gilded age of wealth and power that no longer prevents or busts up concentrations of economic power, observes Reich.

“Internet service providers in America are already too concentrated, which is why Americans pay more for Internet access than the citizens of almost any other advanced nation,” Reich argues.

Reich

Reich

Reich worries about the implications of allowing Comcast to grow larger, considering how much the current company already invests in Washington to get the government policies it wants:

  • Comcast has contributed $1,822,395 so far in the 2013-2014 election cycle, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics — ranking it 18th of all 13,457 corporations and organizations that have donated to campaigns since the cycle began. Of that total, $1,346,410 has gone to individual candidates, including John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Harry Reid; $323,000 to Leadership PACs; $278,235 to party organizations; and $261,250 to super PACs;
  • Comcast is also one of the nation’s biggest revolving doors. Of its 107 lobbyists, 86 worked in government before lobbying for Comcast. In-house lobbyists include several former chiefs of staff to Senate and House Democrats and Republicans as well as a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. Nor is Time Warner Cable a slouch when it comes to political donations, lobbyists, and revolving doors. It also ranks near the top.
Atwell-Baker

Atwell-Baker

The Center for Responsive Politics expanded on the revolving door issue between the cable industry and the Federal Communications Commission that will be responsible for approving the Comcast-Time Warner merger.

It found one of the most prominent travelers to be former FCC commissioner-turned Comcast lobbyist Meredith Atwell-Baker. Always a friend of the cable industry, the Republican commissioner hurried out the door two years into her four-year term after getting a lucrative job offer from Comcast in June 2011. Despite claims she stopped participating in votes relating to Comcast after getting her job offer, she was a strong supporter of Comcast’s merger with NBCUniversal and favored the cable industry’s approach towards preserving a barely noticeable feather-light regulatory touch.

Atwell-Baker never contemplated her move might be seen as a conflict of interest, but then again, it represented nothing new for Washington. At the time, the only condition limiting her was a two-year ban on lobbying the FCC. But that does not apply to Congress so Atwell-Baker spent her time as Comcast’s senior vice president of government affairs trying to influence the House and Senate on 21 bills that could affect Comcast’s bottom line.

Just as shameless — Michael Powell, who served as FCC chairman during the first term of the George W. Bush Administration. After leaving the FCC he took the lucrative position of top man at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the cable lobby. The Center found several other former FCC employees heading into the private sector, advising Big Telecom companies on how to best influence regulators:

  • Rudy Brioche, was an adviser to former commissioner Adelstein before moving to Comcast as its senior director of external affairs and public policy counsel in 2009. Brioche was so valued by the FCC, in fact, that he was brought back to join the commission’s Advisory Committee for Diversity in the Digital Age in 2011;
  • James Coltharp, who served as a special counsel to commissioner James H. Quello until 1997, is now a Comcast lobbyist;

comcast twcOnce out of the public sector for several years, some lobbyists see their value deteriorate as they get increasingly out of touch with the latest administration in power. So several seek a refresh, temporarily leaving their lobbying job to return to public sector work.

The Center offered David Krone as a potential example. Krone formerly held leadership and lobbying positions with companies like AT&T, TCI Communications and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. After 2008, he was hired by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to advise him on telecommunications matters. Today he is Reid’s chief of staff. If and when Reid leaves office, Krone can always join the parade of ex-Hill staffers back to the lucrative world of lobbying.

Will elected officials give a receptive ear to Comcast’s arguments in favor of its merger? Most likely, considering every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee (except deal critic Sen. Al Franken), has recently received campaign contributions from the cable giant, according to OpenSecrets:

gilded-age.gjf_Comcast PAC donations to Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats

  • Chuck Schumer, New York: $35,000
  • Patrick Leahy, Vermont, Chairman: $32,500
  • Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island: $26,500
  • Chris Coons, Delaware: $25,000
  • Dick Durbin, Illinois: $23,000
  • Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota: $22,500
  • Dianne Feinstein, California: $18,500
  • Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut: $11,500
  • Mazie Hirono, Hawaii: $5,000
  • Al Franken, Minnesota: $0

Comcast PAC donations to Republicans

  • Orrin Hatch, Utah: $30,000
  • Chuck Grassley, Iowa, Ranking Member: $28,500
  • John Cornyn, Texas: $21,000
  • Lindsey Graham, South Carolina: $13,500
  • Jeff Sessions, Alabama: $10,000
  • Mike Lee, Utah: $8,500
  • Ted Cruz, Texas: $2,500
  • Jeff Flake, Arizona: $1,000

Reich thinks its time to return to the trust-busting days of President Teddy Roosevelt, who found the transportation infrastructure of the 20th century and the fuel used to power it increasingly controlled by a handful of giant players that abused monopoly power to set unjustifiable prices and suppress competition. Getting Congress, increasingly flush with now-unlimited corporate money, to agree to its own refresh a century later may prove a tougher sell.

 

Surprise: Some Alabama Customers Unhappy About AT&T’s Experiment Ending Landline Service

att-logo-221x300AT&T customers in Carbon Hill, Ala. received an unwelcome surprise in their mailbox recently when AT&T informed them they will be part of an experiment ending traditional landline service in favor of a Voice over IP or wireless alternative.

Affected customers are involuntary participants in what AT&T calls an “exciting opportunity for our customers and for our company,” but many residents want no part of it.

The Wall Street Journal reports Carbon Hill city clerk Janice Pendley says some people in the former mining town are not pleased.

“Some of them like their landline, and they like it just the way it is,” she says.

AT&T’s experiment will force new and existing customers to switch to its more-expensive U-verse broadband platform, use a mobile phone, or a home landline replacement that works over AT&T’s cellular network. The FCC has granted AT&T permission to impose its experimental plan to end traditional landline service in two communities where regulatory protections for landline customers are weak to non-existent — Alabama’s Carbon Hill and Delray Beach, Fla.

Carbon Hill is a small town of around 880 households in extreme western Walker County. It is the kind of rural town AT&T would likely never consider for a U-verse upgrade. AT&T embarked on a second major push to extend U-verse into more communities last year, but also indicated it would strongly advocate for a wireless replacement for its landline network in the rest of its service areas. Because Carbon Hill is an experiment, AT&T will offer U-verse to at least part of the community regardless of the usual financial Return on Investment requirements AT&T usually imposes on its U-verse expansion efforts.

carbon hillAT&T is pushing forward despite the fact it  has no idea how it will offer service to at least 4% of isolated Carbon Hill residents not scheduled to be provided U-verse and not within an AT&T wireless coverage area. There are also no guarantees customers will be able to correctly reach 911, although AT&T says the technology “supports 911 functionality.” Serious questions among consumer advocates remain about whether the replacement technology will support burglar alarms, pacemakers and even systems used by air-traffic controllers.

The difficulties service Carbon Hill relate to its rural makeup and income profile. In Delray Beach, it is all about customer demographics. Half of the city is home to residents over 65 years old — the group most likely to prefer their existing landline service. Many are likely to be unhappy about a transition to new technology that will not work in the event of power interruptions, will require the installation of new equipment, or will be tied to a wireless platform that some say reduces the intelligibility of telephone conversations and often introduces audio artifacts like echo, background noise, and dropouts.

In both cities, customers only offered wireless-based service will no longer have access to DSL or wired broadband service of any kind. The wireless alternative from AT&T comes at a high cost and a low usage allowance.

The benefits to AT&T are unquestionable, however. The company will win almost universal deregulation as a Voice over IP or wireless telephone provider. Legacy regulations on customer service requirements, pricing, and obligations to provide affordable phone service to any customer that requests it are swept away by the new technologies. Competitors are also worried AT&T will be able to walk away from regulations governing open and fair access to AT&T’s network.

ip4carbon hillThe Wall Street Journal reports:

The all-Internet protocol “transition holds many promises for consumers, but losing access to affordable voice and broadband services cannot be part of that bargain,” wrote Angie Kronenberg, general counsel of Comptel, in a letter to the FCC last month on behalf of the small-carrier trade group, several companies and public-interest groups.

AARP said it believes AT&T’s plan has “numerous problems.” The technology might not be reliable enough or fail when calling 911 in an emergency, the advocacy group for seniors told regulators in its comment letter. The FCC is reviewing hundreds of comments received in response to AT&T’s request.

EarthLink piggybacks on the “incumbents as little as economically possible” and has laid nearly 30,000 miles of fiber-optic cables throughout the U.S. to help it reach more than a million customers, says Rolla Huff, a former EarthLink chief executive. Still, the company needs access to the connections built by AT&T and Verizon into buildings.

Telecom carriers such as Windstream in Little Rock, Ark., and sellers of broadband data services like EarthLink and XO Communications LLC, of Herndon, Va., have had the right to buy last-mile access at regulated prices since the last major overhaul of federal telecom laws in 1996.

tw telecomIf AT&T ends its traditional network, those competing service providers will have to negotiate with AT&T for access at whatever price AT&T elects to charge.

A preview of what is likely to happen has already been experienced by TW Telecom, an independent firm selling phone and Internet services to businesses over more than 30,000 miles of fiber lines. But that fiber network means nothing if a customer’s last mile connection is handled by a local phone company no longer subject to regulated pricing and access rules.

In Tampa, where Verizon has deployed FiOS as an unregulated replacement for its older, regulated copper-based network, TW Telecom learned first hand what this could ultimately mean:

Rochester Telephone Corporation was born in 1921 after a merger between the Rochester Telephonic Exchange, a branch of the Bell Company of Buffalo and locally-owned independent Rochester Telephone Company, which was not allowed to use Bell's long distance network.

Rochester Telephone Corporation was born in 1921 after a merger between the Rochester Telephonic Exchange, a branch of the Bell Company of Buffalo and locally owned independent Rochester Telephone Company, which was not allowed to use Bell’s long distance network.

TW Telecom approached Verizon in 2012 to seek last-mile access to a Tampa, Fla., building being converted into a bank from a restaurant. Verizon had installed only FiOS at the building.

Verizon said no, telling TW Telecom to build its own connection or pay Verizon thousands of dollars to do the job. TW Telecom declined to pay and lost the customer’s business.

“When it happens, it’s devastating,” says Kristie Ince, who oversees regulatory policy at TW Telecom. Similar snarls have cost the company at least six customers since then. Other carriers say they have had similar clashes.

In Illinois, Sprint’s business phone network has run into a barricade manned by AT&T. Sprint needs AT&T to interconnect calls placed on Sprint’s network intended for AT&T’s customers. The two companies cannot agree on an asking price under the deregulation scheme so Sprint converts its Voice over IP calls to older technology still subject to regulation just so calls will successfully reach AT&T’s customers. AT&T promptly converts those calls back to Voice over IP technology as it completes them.

AT&T said it has “no duty” to connect its Internet protocol traffic with Sprint’s.

If the FCC keeps IP-based traffic deregulated, if and when the old landline network is decommissioned, AT&T will have the last word on access, potentially putting competitors out of business.

Our great-great grandparents experienced similar problems in the early days of telephone service, when high rates from the local Bell telephone subsidiary provoked local competition. But Bell companies routinely refused to handle calls placed on competitors’ networks, forcing customers to maintain a telephone line with both companies to reach every subscriber. Additionally, only Bell-owned providers had access to the long distance network – a competitive disadvantage to competing startups.

Regulatory changes, a handful of mergers and the eventual establishment of the well-regulated Bell System eventually solved problems which threaten to return if AT&T has its way.

AT&T Deregulation Wallops Californians In Their Wallets; Rates Up 222%, Despite Competition Claims

special reportStop the Cap! reader Steve L. has heard enough of AT&T’s promises that deregulation would bring more competition and better deals to Californians.

The Carlsbad resident is staring at the fruits of AT&T’s labor — winning deregulation of phone rates in 2006: a  basic phone bill that has increased from $5.70 a month before deregulation to $21.25 effective Jan. 2, 2014. That represents a 272 percent increase for basic measured (pay-per-minute) local telephone service. As if that was not enough, AT&T is also raising the per-minute rate for semi-local calls for the second time in two years. Earlier this year, AT&T slashed customers’ calling allowances by 25 percent, reducing the 225 minutes a month of toll-free calling down to 168 minutes in January.

Customers living in large, spread out cities in California are accustomed to Zone Usage Measurement (ZUM) charges for calls placed to numbers more than 12 miles from the local telephone exchange. But they may get bill shock after noticing how much the per-minute rates have increased:

  • ZUM 1/2 (12-15 miles): Calls have doubled in price over the last 36 months. Prior to 2013, calls cost three cents per minute. AT&T raised prices to four cents in January and will raise them again to six cents per minute on Jan. 1;
  • ZUM 3 (15-16 miles): Calling prices have increased from five cents a minute in 2012 to six cents a minute in 2013 and will be seven cents per minute in 2014.

attcarlsbad“After surcharges, fees, and taxes, my bill will be nearly $30 per month for measured rate service, representing a near doubling of cost in just a 22-month period,” Steve writes. “I have no other choice than AT&T for a true powered landline, but I am rejecting this latest increase and plan to test and move to a VoIP system.”

The constant parade of rate increases from the state’s largest local telephone company began shortly after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) unanimously approved sweeping deregulation of telephone rates in August 2006. Then Republican Commissioner Rachelle Chong was the driving force behind the effort, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Chong embraced AT&T’s attitude about telecommunications deregulation, promising consumers would not face abusive rate hikes or bad service. Under the old system, AT&T telephone rates were capped in California. AT&T had to approach the CPUC and justify any proposed increases. Without solid evidence, the company’s rate increase requests were rejected. Under deregulation, AT&T was permitted to set rates at-will.

“By the end of the 2010, these rate caps will no longer be necessary,” Chong promised as the new rules were being phased in. “The market will be so competitive it will discipline prices.”

Not quite.

att_logoAT&T’s rates have shot up as much as 222 percent for the average Californian’s measured rate phone service. Some customers, including our reader, found rates nearly three times higher than they were before deregulation. In the last few years, AT&T has increased prices on landline service and calling features even more dramatically across the state:

  • AT&T Flat-Rate landline service jumped 115 percent since 2006, from $10.69 to $23 a month;
  • Call Waiting, a popular phone feature, is up nearly 180 percent;
  • Anonymous Call Rejection fees have almost quadrupled;
  • Lifeline Service for California’s most disadvantaged is up 28 percent.

“My belief is that AT&T is essentially harvesting,” Dane Jasper, chief executive of Sonic.net, a competing broadband Internet service in Santa Rosa that tosses in domestic phone service for free, told the newspaper. “They jack up the rate by a pretty egregious amount … because if people leave, well, where are they going? AT&T mobile phone service in at least half the cases. So they’re happy to have them leave or happy to have them stay.”

rate hikesAT&T defends the increases by suggesting rates were artificially restrained by rate regulators under the old system, and the new higher prices reflect economic reality and the deregulated marketplace. But AT&T’s rate increases have blown past other service providers in the state. Verizon’s flat rate service only increased 18 percent since deregulation. Independent providers SureWest and Frontier Communications have only raised prices by about six percent.

With these kinds of rate increases, customers like Steve are making hard choices about whether to keep or ditch their landline service. Ironically, AT&T’s argument to decommission traditional landline service is based on the premise customers are abandoning landline service. AT&T advocates moving customers to its deregulated U-verse platform in urban areas and switch rural customers to wireless-only service.

Chong paid a personal price for her erroneous predictions of consumer savings. In December 2009, the Democratically controlled State Senate refused to hold hearings on Chong’s reappointment to the CPUC, ending her term. AT&T and Verizon strongly backed Chong and lobbied hard for her confirmation. AT&T even turned out its notorious “dollar-a-holler” sock puppet brigade of non-profit groups that showered the legislature with letters supporting her reappointment, without bothering to disclose AT&T had made substantial direct or indirect contributions to the groups in the past.

Murray Bass, head of a small nonprofit in Northern California, initially wrote lawmakers saying Chong was a strong voice for low-income seniors. But in an interview, he admitted he’d endorsed her at the suggestion of executives at AT&T, which had given his group money.

“There’s an essential conflict of interest when a regulated — or supposedly regulated — entity is intervening on behalf of a regulator that’s friendly to them,” said Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, a group that opposed Chong.

SUPPORTERS OF COMMISSIONER CHONG WITH TIES TO AT&T

Organization  Funding Received  Letter Signatory (-ies)
Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA) The AT&T Foundation gave APAPA $25,000 in 2007. On the APAPA website, AT&T is listed as a top-tier event sponsor with a $50,000 donation in 2009. Joel Wong, Bay Area Chapter PresidentNorm De Young, VP Outreach and Chair of APAPA’s GovernmentRelations Committee (spoke on behalf of Filipino Progress)
CA Small Business Association (CBSA) AT&T is a corporate sponsor of the Small Business Roundtable (CBRT), the advocacy wing of CBSA, which has received $37,500 from AT&T since 2006.    The AT&T Foundation  underwrites  CBRT’s education fund, tech training and website.  Both CBSA and CBRT are active in CPUC proceedings, and CBSA endorses candidates and lobbies public officials.The California Small Business Education Foundation received a 3-year $1.125 million grant from the AT&T foundation.  Betty Jo Ticcoli, the letter’s signatory, is its Chair and CSBA is a member.CSBA is a member of the California Utilities Diversity Council (CUDC) along with AT&T and Verizon. Betty Jo Toccoli
California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce (CHCC) $30,000 from AT&T corporate since 2006, millions more from the Foundation.  Black, Hispanic & Asian Chambers are sharing a 1.25-year $287,000 CETF grant.   AT&T is a corporate member statewide and of several local Hispanic Chambers.  AT&T sponsors CHCC’s annual convention and underwrites local events such as FestivALL, sponsored by the Silicon Valley Hispanic Chamber.Member of  CUDC. Kenneth A. Macias, Chairman of the BoardJoel Ayala, President & CEO
City of Firebaugh $633,000 CETF grant. Jose Antonio Ramirez, City Manager
Cristo Rey High School Sacramento Received a $25,000 grant from AT&T Foundation in 2009. Joan Evans, VP for Advancement
Fresno-Madera Area Agency on Aging (FMAAA) $50,000 SBC Foundation Grant in 2002; $20,000 in 2003; AT&T has sponsored FMAAA’s Scamnot.org website since 2005. Jo Johnson, Executive Director
Latino Community Foundation $25,000 CETF grant. Aida Alvarez, Chairperson
Latino Institute for Corporate Inclusion (LICI) AT&T is a corporate partner of LICI; LICI’s IRS form 990 shows  income of $19,742 in 2008 and it has received $17,500 from AT&T corporate according to AT&T’s 77-M filing with the state, more from the AT&T foundation.Member of CUDC. Ruben Jauregui, President & CEO
Latino Journal $17,500 from AT&T since 2006; AT&T, Verizon and the CPUC are strategic partners in the Journal-sponsored California Education Summit, which AT&T underwrites.Member of CUDC. Jose L. Perez
Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) $25,000 from AT&T Foundation. Magda Menendez, Administrator
Other Connections Between AT&T and Chong Supporters
OCA – Organization of Chinese Americans Sacramento AT&T is a corporate partner of national org and both AT&T and Verizon sponsor Asia Week and other heritage events Joyce Eng, President
Tools of Learning for Children Big AT&T logo on website. Told the Los Angeles Times, “he’d endorsed [Chong] at the suggestion of executives at AT&T, which has given his group money.” Murray T Bass, MA, CFP
United Way of Butte & Glenn Counties President Preston Dickinson is former Director of External Affairs for AT&T. W. Jay Coughlin, Executive Director

 Notes

  • 1.  CUDC – The California Utilities Diversity Council is a collaboration between the CPUC , the utility companies and other industry participants  to promote diversity in the utility industry.  AT&T is a gold sponsor of CUDC’s annual convention.
  •  2.  CETF – CETF is a private non-profit corporation created by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and funded entirely by AT&T and Verizon.  Commissioner Chong is Chair of the CETF Board of Expert Advisors and its Accessibility Committee.  CPUC President Michael Peevey is Chairman of the CETF Board of Directors. The CETF board is appointed by the CPUC, AT&T and Verizon.

Sources:

  • AT&T Foundation IRS form 990
  • The Utility Reform Network

History Repeats: Revisiting Dr. John Malone’s Big Cable “B-Movie” Treatment of Jefferson City, Mo.

Phillip Dampier November 14, 2013 Charter, Competition, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, History, Liberty Media, Public Policy & Gov't, Time Warner Cable, Video Comments Off on History Repeats: Revisiting Dr. John Malone’s Big Cable “B-Movie” Treatment of Jefferson City, Mo.

tciAs Dr. John Malone positions his pieces on the cable industry’s chess board to win back the title of King of Big Cable, it is important to consider history.

Malone’s growing interest in a combined Charter-Time Warner Cable, under his effective control, is the first step towards re-envisioning Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) — America’s largest cable operator in the 1980s and early 1990s. Although most of the original TCI Cable systems are now owned by Comcast, Malone’s notorious way of doing business may soon affect millions of Charter and Time Warner Cable subscribers in the not-too-distant future.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Senate Hearings Alan Garner Jeff City MO 3-90.flv

How bad was life with TCI as your local cable company? Listen to Alan Garner, then-City Attorney for Jefferson City, Mo., who testified before Congress in March, 1990 about the uniquely abusive, allegedly criminal behavior of out of control TCI executives. (5:04)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Senate Hearings Danforth Alan Garner Jeff City MO 3-90.flv

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) was so stunned by the events in Jefferson City, he first asked if TCI’s threats were documented and on learning they were the basis of $35 million in court-ordered damages, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee remarked, “you got thugs around there.” Under detailed questioning by Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) Garner talks about the “B-Movie” threats from TCI executives who warned city officials “we know where you live,” constant rate hikes, take-what-we-give-you service, and the fact TCI was willing to rip down cable lines and leave the city without cable service if they were denied a franchise renewal. (14:12)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Senate Hearings Burns Alan Garner Jeff City MO 3-90.flv

A befuddled Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) asked Garner why the city would still want to stay involved in the cable franchise process after the city’s horror story. Garner explained cable operators use public property to wire service to customers. Without local oversight, Garner believed TCI would still be scattering cable lines across neighbors’ backyards, across sidewalks, and draped over fences. TCI had a unique way of managing local service complaints, according to Garner. It threw service orders into a random cardboard box and let cable repair crews fish them out one by one. The ones furthest back in the box were the oldest, and the least likely to ever be chosen. TCI only listened to city officials when they had some oversight and enforcement powers. (3:13)

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