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The Capitol Forum’s Insightful Review of the Comcast-Time Warner Merger Deal: A Tough Sell

be mineWall Street is increasingly pessimistic about Comcast and Time Warner Cable pulling off their merger deal as regulators stop the clock to take a closer look at the transaction.

The Capitol Forum, an in-depth news and analysis service dedicated to informing policymakers, investors, and industry stakeholders on how policy affects market competition, specializes in examining marketplace mergers and their potential impact on American consumers and the general economy. The group has shared a copy of their assessment — “Comcast/Time Warner Cable: A Closer Look at FCC, DOJ Decision Processes; Merits and Politics May Drive Merger Challenge, Especially as Wheeler Unlikely to Embrace Title II Regulation for Net Neutrality” — with Stop the Cap! and we’re sharing a summary of the report with our readers.

The two most important government agencies reviewing the merger proposal are the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. The FCC is responsible for overseeing telecommunications in the United States and is also tasked with reviewing telecom industry mergers to verify if they are in the public interest. The Department of Justice becomes involved in big mergers as well, concerned with compliance with antitrust and other laws.

In many instances, the two agencies work separately and independently to review merger proposals, but not so with Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Sources tell Capitol Forum there is a high level of coordination and information sharing between DOJ and the FCC, potentially positioning the two agencies in a stronger legal position if they jointly challenge the merger. Readers may recall AT&T’s attempt to buy T-Mobile was thwarted in 2011 when the FCC followed the DOJ’s lead in jointly challenging the merger on competition and antitrust grounds. With a united front against the deal in Washington, AT&T quickly capitulated.

comcast cartoonDespite a blizzard of Comcast talking points claiming the cable industry is fiercely competitive, Capitol Forum’s report indicates the DOJ staff level believes the cable industry suffers dearly from a lack of competition already, and allowing further marketplace concentration would exacerbate an already difficult problem.

Capitol Forum reports the DOJ’s staff is inclined to “take an aggressive posture with regards to [antitrust] enforcement.”

The DOJ would certainly not be walking the beltway plank to its political doom if it ultimately decides to oppose the merger.

Few on Capitol Hill are likely to fiercely advocate for a cable company generally despised by their constituents. The Capitol Forum report notes that Comcast faces powerful opposition and its political support is overstated. Comcast’s lobbying efforts and ties to President Obama and several high level Democrats have also been widely exposed in the media, which makes it more difficult for D.C.’s powerful to be seen carrying Comcast’s water.

In fact, the report indicates a regulatory challenge against Comcast and Time Warner Cable would face considerably less political opposition than what the FCC faces if it reclassifies broadband as a “telecommunications service,” protecting Net Neutrality and exposing the industry to stronger regulatory oversight.

The report suggests FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler, who seems intent on opposing reclassification of broadband under Title II, may appease his critics by taking a stronger stance on the Comcast/Time Warner deal instead.

Wheeler has already expressed concern about the state of competitiveness of American broadband. He considers providers capable of delivering at least 25Mbps part of broadband’s key market, which in many communities means a monopoly for the local cable operator.

Understanding “The Public Interest” and the Implications of a Combined Comcast/Time Warner Cable on Competition

comcastbuy_400_241The FCC will review the transaction pursuant to Sections 214 and 310(d) of the Communications Act of 1934, in order to ensure that “public interest, convenience, and necessity will be served thereby.”

The merger proposal must also demonstrate it does not violate antitrust laws.

It is here that merger opponents have a wealth of arguments to use against Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Despite Comcast’s insistence the deal would have no competitive implications, the Capitol Forum reports the merger’s potential anticompetitive effects are “widely recognized and evidence from the investigation could provide DOJ and FCC with a solid foundation to challenge the merger.”

Although the two cable companies don’t directly compete with each other (itself a warning sign of an already noncompetitive marketplace), the report finds “a wide array of anti-competitive effects and several antitrust theories” that would implicate the cable company in a Clayton Act violation.

Comcast is betting heavily on its surface argument that by the very fact customers will not see any change in the number of competitors delivering service to their area, the merger should easily clear any antitrust hurdles. That argument makes it more difficult for the DOJ to fall back on the usual market concentration precedents that would prevent such a colossal merger deal. To argue excessive horizontal integration — the enlarging of Comcast’s territory — the DOJ would first have to prove Comcast’s size in comparison with other cable companies is a reason for the courts to shoot down the deal. Or it could bypass Comcast’s favorite argument and move to the issue of vertical integration — one company’s ability to control not just the pipes that deliver content, but also the content itself.

octopusHere the examples of potential abuse are plentiful:

  • Comcast would enjoy increased power to force cable programmers to favor Comcast in cable programming pricing and policies while allowing it to demand restrictions on competitive online video competitors or restrict access to popular cable programming;
  • Comcast could impose data caps and usage-based pricing to deter online viewing while exempting its own content by delivering it over a Wi-Fi enabled gateway, game console or set top box, claiming all are unrelated to Comcast’s broadband Internet service or network;
  • Force consumers to use Comcast set top boxes that would not support competing providers’ online video;
  • Use interconnection agreements as a clever way to bypass the paid prioritization Net Neutrality debate. Netflix and other content producers would be forced to compensate Comcast for reliable access to its broadband customers;
  • Noting AT&T has declared U-verse can not effectively succeed in the cable television business without combining its customer base with DirecTV to qualify for better volume discounts, there is clear evidence that a super-sized Comcast could command discounts new entrants like Google Fiber could never hope to get, putting them at a distinct price disadvantage.

The FCC’s scrutiny of Comcast’s merger deal has already uncovered evidence previously unavailable because of non-disclosure agreements which show Comcast’s heavy hand already at work.

The report notes Michael Mooney, a senior vice president and group general counsel at Level 3, told the Capitol Forum the dispute earlier this year between Netflix and Comcast could have been resolved in about five minutes had Comcast added a port to relieve congestion at an interconnection point. The cost? Just $5,000. Had Comcast been willing to spend the money, millions of Comcast customers would have never experienced problems using Netflix.

Whether Comcast is ultimately deemed too large to permit another consolidating merger or whether it is given conditional approval to absorb Time Warner Cable remains a close call, according to the Capitol Forum, despite the fact consumers have urged regulators for something slightly more concrete – a single sentence, total denial of its application.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Capitol Forum The Consumer Welfare Test.mp4

The Capitol Forum broadly explores how the “consumer welfare standard” has become a part of the antitrust review process over the last 30 years. Sometimes, a strict antitrust test is not sufficient to protect “the public interest” of consumers, and allows the dominant player(s) to harm competition. In the digital economy, corporate mergers that empower companies to restrict innovation can prove far more damaging than classic monopoly abuse. (15:52)

Cable Lobby Forgot to Mention It’s the Sole Backer of Sock Puppet Group ‘Onward Internet’

onward-internetWith millions at stake charging content producers extra for guaranteed fast lanes on the Internet, some lobbyists will go to almost any length to throw up roadblocks in opposition to Net Neutrality.

The sudden appearance of Onward Internet, a group that erects enormous “Internet suggestion boxes” at busy intersections in New York and San Francisco is a case in point.

At least a half-dozen 20-somethings, some dressed for a science fiction convention, staff the displays while encouraging people to write and toss in their own ideas about what they expect from the Internet over the next decade.

A higher bill and usage caps, unsurprisingly, were not among the suggestions. But it is doubtful the mysterious people behind Onward Internet are interested in hearing that.

Advocacy group ProPublica spent weeks trying to find who was paying for the youthful exuberance, giant black boxes, and hopelessly optimistic YouTube videos telling viewers the Internet was made to move data, and how amazing it was your Internet Service Providers valiantly kept up with the demand, helped connect industries and even topple dictatorships. Well, not corporate dictatorships in this country anyway.

With that kind of “feel good” message, ProPublica undoubtedly smelled industry money, especially after seeing lines like, “The Internet is a wild, free thing; unbounded by limits, unfettered by rules, it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the Internet continues to advance.” But it took a leak from a worker hired to file permits and buy space in San Francisco for the street displays to finally blow the whistle.

Onward Internet = the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, America’s largest cable industry lobbyist.

This appears to be a repurposed dumpster.

This appears to be a repurposed dumpster.

You couldn’t find a bigger critic of Net Neutrality if you tried.

The NCTA played coy with ProPublica when the group first confronted the cable lobby with the evidence.

“What led you to the conclusion that this is an NCTA effort,” asked NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz.

Busted, Dietz followed up with a statement suggesting the NCTA needed to keep its involvement top-secret because it might ‘bias’ the feedback they received:

“We’ve kept NCTA’s brand off Onward Internet because we want to collect unbiased feedback directly from individuals about what they want for the future of the Internet and how it can become even better than it is today,” Dietz told ProPublica. “The cable industry is proud of our role as a leading Internet provider in the U.S. but we feel it’s important to hear directly from consumers about how they envision the future so we can work hard on delivering it.”

“We had always intended to put the NCTA brand on it but we wanted to collect as much unbiased feedback as we could for a few weeks before putting our name on it,” Dietz later told VentureBeat.

The NCTA is hoping unwitting consumers submit comments they can use to oppose Net Neutrality and Title 2 reclassification of broadband as a “telecommunications service.”

Because if that happens, the Money Party may end before it even begins.

The NCTA’s astroturf effort is nothing new. A panoply of well-funded, telecom-industry backed sock puppet groups muddy the waters on these issues everyday, from Broadband for America to various think tanks and bought and paid for researchers.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Onward Internet Decide the future of the Internet 10-8-14.mp4

Onward Internet is hoping you will share comments they can use to prove you oppose Net Neutrality. The NCTA is a strong opponent of Net Neutrality, which allows LOLCATS, movies, and dictatorship toppling to occur without paying even MORE money to the cable company for a fast lane that should have been fast in the first place, considering how much we are spending on it. Now Big Cable also want usage caps and allowances. The revolution has been capped. (1:22)

Home Invasion Victims Sue Comcast Over Home Security System That Only Protected… Comcast

Phillip Dampier October 9, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Video No Comments
Vincent Sisounong and Blessing Gainey were charged with attempted murder.

Vincent Sisounong and Blessing Gainey were charged with attempted murder.

A Kirkland, Wash. family nearly lost their son in a brutal home invasion that Comcast’s home security system failed to deter and now the family is taking the cable company to court.

Leena Rawat and her family depended on Comcast’s home security system to keep their home intruder-proof, and that is precisely what the company and its contractor, Pioneer Cable, promised.

But the night two teenage neighbors went looking for blood, they had no trouble bypassing Comcast’s unarmed basement sensor and entering the family’s home.

Within minutes, the two men grabbed 18-year old Deep and began torturing him while his family slept.

“They were going to play a game with him tonight – and the game would be that he would be fighting for his life,” Rawat told KING-TV in Seattle. “He was full of blood from head to toe, with gashes. He was in the worst situation possible that a mother wants to see her child in.”

The intruders’ impromptu mission: to chop off one of Deep’s arms and legs with various cutting tools while robbing the family home.

Police say Vincent Sisounong and Blessing Gainey began the attack in Deep’s bedroom, then dragged him to the basement, where Sisounong instructed Gainey to hack at Rawat’s leg down to the bone, and then stabbed Rawat himself. Court documents said Sisounong told detectives that he wanted the victim to “fight for his life,” and when asked if the experience was enjoyable, he said, “yeah.”

Rawat eventually managed to break free, prompting Gainey to leave the scene. But Sisounong chased after Rawat as he ran to the bathroom, further slashing him with a knife. Rawat mustered enough strength to punch the intruder in the face and escape, but not before the men stole keys, electronics, and money before walking out the door.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KIRO Seattle Police Suspects tried to kill for pleasure and greed 11-4-13.flv

KIRO-TV in Seattle reported on the home invasion back in early November 2013 and learned horrified neighbors were arming themselves to protect against another random attack. (2:27)

During the incident, the only alert that something might be wrong came from the family’s car alarm that accidentally went off during a struggle for the keys. At no time did Comcast’s alarm system activate or signal police an intrusion was underway. Authorities were summoned only after Deep arrived, bleeding and badly injured, on a neighbor’s doorstep.

Vincent Sisounong, 21, and Blessing Gainey, 19, were located by authorities after matching fingerprints were found inside the Rawat home and both were charged with first-degree attempted murder and first-degree burglary.

When interviewed by police, Sisounong said he “really wanted” to kill the teenager, court documents said, noting that neither man knew the Rawat family.

“I just say God was there that night,” said an incensed Leena. “God, but not Comcast security. It’s been very tough. It was not a one night thing. It’s changed our life.”

That night and every night, the one thing Comcast’s security system manages to protect more than anything else is the cable company itself.

The traumatized family quickly learned Comcast was disavowing any and all responsibility for the failure of their alarm system, and Comcast’s contracts include clauses that require customers to waive all liability, even if Comcast is later found negligent. In fact, customers who sign Comcast’s contract must also side with the cable company and against their own insurance company during any claims process.

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

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

The first duty of every Comcast home security customer is to protect Comcast, as made clear in particularly bold, all-capital letter print:

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

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

Comcast’s response:

“We want to take this opportunity to extend our sympathies to the Rawat family. However, after a review of our records, we are confident that our home security system functioned properly.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KING Seattle Comcast Sued Over Home Security System Failures 10-1-14.flv

KING-TV in Seattle talked with Leena Rawat about how Comcast let her and her family down on the worst night of their lives. (2:29)

Time Warner Cable’s LA Dodgers Dispute Giant Win for KDOC-TV; Paid to Carry Must-Watch Games

Struck Out

Struck Out

For most of the current baseball season, Los Angeles Dodgers fans who don’t subscribe to Time Warner Cable have been shut out, unable to watch the games shown exclusively on the extremely expensive SportsNet LA cable network, jointly owned by the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable.

Most of Time Warner’s southern California competitors balked at the asking price: about $4 a month per subscriber. Had they agreed to carry the network, subscribers would ultimately pay for it during the next round of rate hikes, whether they watched sports or not.

Time Warner Cable has a 25-year, $8.35 billion dollar contract to manage the network, and observers believe they have struck out.

“They rolled the dice and lost big time,” said Jimmy Schaeffler, head of consulting firm the Carmel Group.

With networks like ESPN commanding whatever they set as an asking price, sports team owners have rushed to get a piece of the lucrative sports network pie. Even individual teams are now demanding their own exclusive networks, hoping to charge top dollar to companies agreeing to carry them.

Angry cable customers watching their bills skyrocket can primarily blame sports programming for much of the endless increases. Around 20 regional and national sports channels now comprise 20% of the wholesale cost of cable television — a high percentage considering the average cable system now carries over 200 channels. While some basic cable networks are lucky to get 10 cents a month per subscriber, regional Fox Sports North demands $4.67 a month from each subscriber, whether they watch the network or not. Smaller independent cable systems usually pay even more.

sports fees

In southern California, the average cable subscriber pays $20 a month for seven sports channels. There was little interest raising that to more than $24 a month to carry what Dodgers team president Stan Kasten called, “a Dodger-only channel with Dodger-only content 24/7.”

“We’ve been approaching a tipping point in sports programming costs for years and the Los Angeles market has sent a strong message that we’ve reached it,” Andy Albert, senior vice president of content acquisition at Cox Communications, one of the distributors that declined to carry SportsNet LA, told the Wall Street Journal.

kdocThe embargo has cost both the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable plenty of advertising and subscription revenue. Ratings are dramatically down from an average of 228,000 viewers when the baseball games were shown on widely carried Prime Ticket, to just 55,000 today on SportsNet LA. Advertising rates have been slashed to compensate for the lack of an audience.

The cost of the dispute between Time Warner Cable and its competitors also included bad public relations, which attracted the attention of regulators at the FCC and area elected officials, who have loudly complained that viewers are increasingly caught in the middle of these disputes.

The pressure worked, and Time Warner Cable announced in mid-September it would broadcast the six final Dodgers games of the season locally for free on KDOC-TV, an independent channel based in Orange County mostly known for airing endless reality shows and reruns of off-network series. On a good day, KDOC attracts at most 18,000 viewers. But the station is doing better today — grabbing an average of 259,000 viewers last week during one Dodgers game — essentially the same audience the Dodgers used to have before SportsNet LA came along. Even better for the station, Time Warner Cable is paying KDOC to carry the games.

KDOC management is now desperately trying to figure out how to keep its new audience after baseball season ends, running promotions for its various shows as often as possible. The station is easy enough to find over-the-air and on every significant cable, satellite, and telco-TV operator. But with more than three dozen high power, low power, and digital sub-channels to choose from across Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, and Orange County, airing stale series and courtroom drama shows may not be enough.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KDOC Los Angeles New Years Show Eve Show of FAIL 12-31-12

Many Los Angeles residents became familiar with KDOC after the station attracted national media coverage for its infamous 2013 New Year’s special hosted by actor and comedian Jamie Kennedy. As viewers watched the slow motion train wreck unfold with D-listers like Shannon Elizabeth, they were treated to endless technical issues, dead air, sudden commercials in the middle of interviews, open mics, unbleeped profanity, a stand-up routine not suitable for children or broadcast television, and special musical guests like rappers Bone Thugs-n-Harmony who dropped F-bombs on live television. Nobody at KDOC thought of pulling the plug, despite violating just about every FCC content regulation. It finally ended with an inebriated Macy Gray hoping to hurry along the festivities and, as the credits rolled, a sudden on-stage fight. Kennedy thanked fast-food chain Carl’s, Jr. for sponsoring the event, which undoubtedly caused extreme discomfort until they could disavow their involvement. An exasperated KDOC engineer assembled this montage of the disaster, which is definitely not suitable to watch at work. (6:23)

Comcast’s Streampix and Verizon’s Redbox Instant Gasping for Air; Netflix Killers They Are Not

Rumors abound of the imminent death of Redbox Instant.

Rumors abound of the imminent death of Redbox Instant.

Comcast’s Streampix and Verizon’s Redbox Instant have not lived up to the expectations of their respective owners and the two Netflix-like services have quietly been partly decommissioned or have stopped accepting new customers altogether.

Loathe to admit the services are roadkill on the TV Everywhere highway, Comcast claims it is simply downsizing its Streampix service and Verizon issued a terse “no comment” to GigaOm’s Janko Roettgers in response to rumors Redbox Instant would begin shutting down for existing customers on Oct. 1.

But truth be told, neither service made a competitive dent in Netflix, either because they were poorly marketed or found no audience. Comcast denies it is even trying to compete against Netflix. But it did admit in a regulatory filing Streampix found very few takers at its $4.99/month asking price.

“Though Comcast sought to create excitement around Streampix by offering the online version through a unique online site and app, and offered Streampix to a small number of XFINITY broadband-only customers in one region, these attracted minimal interest,” Comcast wrote.

Streampix will be a shadow of its former self, continuing on mostly in name-only.

“Going forward, Streampix will simply be part of the XFINITY TV app and website like other video-on-demand offerings,” said Comcast in the filing. The Google Play and Apple App stores seem to confirm as much when customers looking for the Streampix app instead find: “Streampix has moved to XFINITY TV Go. Comcast customers with Streampix should download XFINITY TV Go to view Streampix content.”

Comcast launched Streampix in February 2012 as a streaming-only offering, but added download capability in late 2013.

When customers balked at paying Comcast another $5 a month for the streaming add-on, Comcast began giving it away to customers who subscribed to multiple premium channels or high value triple play packages as part of ongoing promotions.

Comcast's XFINITY Streampix admittedly didn't draw much interest from customers.

Comcast’s XFINITY Streampix admittedly didn’t draw much interest from customers.

Critics of Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable suspect Comcast’s real intention was to launch the service to markets outside of its service area to compete for premium over-the-top video customers without cannibalizing its cable television revenue. With the merger under scrutiny at the state and federal levels, some suspect Streampix’s public demotion is a maneuver to protect the deal from a potential political liability over Comcast’s growing dominance in the cable and broadband business.

The troubles with Verizon’s Redbox Instant service go well beyond the realm of public policy debates. Since launching in mid-2013, the service has attracted only minor interest from the public. Critics contend a marketing deal with Redbox was wrong from the start. Redbox’s success comes from renting DVDs from kiosks, not competing with Netflix. Verizon hoped a promotional tie-in offering online viewers up to four free DVD rentals a month from Redbox kiosks would bring the two services closer together. Redbox Instant also rented current movie titles on a pay-per-view basis, and hoped it could convince kiosk users disappointed with out of stock DVDs or otherwise poor pickings to go online and stream a pay-per-view video instead.

But customers would have to be psychic looking for something to stream – Redbox does not publish online movie availability on its kiosk-service website. Unsurprisingly, kiosk users have stayed loyal to renting movies through the kiosk and online viewers usually won’t bother renting a DVD from a kiosk, even with a voucher.

Free trials of Redbox Instant service brought an underwhelming number of customers converting to paid subscriptions. That might be attributed to the heavy overlap of titles available from Redbox Instant and competitors Netflix and Amazon.com, making three services redundant for many. Although Redbox’s parent has invested $70 million in the service, it is dwarfed by the massive content acquisition budgets available to its larger competitors.

It would take a larger subscriber base to change that for the better, but Redbox Instant seems intent on sabotaging its success, still refusing to enroll new customers three months after a security breach. It seems Redbox Instant’s website was an excellent resource for credit card thieves to verify if stolen card numbers were still valid. Current customers are still able to use the service, but reportedly cannot update or change their credit card information, meaning they will lose service if their credit card expires or the credit card number changes.

no new users

A notice on Redbox Instant’s website prevents new users from enrolling.

Company executives have told investors they are not happy with Redbox Instant’s subscriber numbers. Not allowing new customers to sign up while gradually losing old ones because of an expired credit card could go a long way to explain this. Redbox’s parent company previously warned it has the right to pull out of the venture if the numbers don’t improve, and they won’t if the website remains locked down.

When Roettgers asked Redbox and Verizon to comment on a reddit rumor that the service was to close down on Oct. 1, the only reply was “no comment.” Roettgers believes that is telling, because no company would want such a false rumor to spread unchallenged. With Oct. 1 less than 24-hours away, we won’t have long to wait to see what happens next.

Roettgers would not be surprised to see Redbox Instant downsize itself with an end to its subscription video plan and move forward exclusively as a paid, video-on-demand service. It already powers Verizon’s On Demand video store. Having a traditional television partner like Verizon FiOS TV could help Redbox survive in an already crowded marketplace of online, on-demand video stores like iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon, and others.

In a larger context, the industry’s belief in “if we build it, they will come,” appears to be untrue, especially cable and telephone company efforts developing their TV Everywhere platforms. Content and viewing limitations that confine online viewing largely to the home, a barrage of online video advertising, subscription fees, and the lack of quality content have all hurt efforts to deliver a good user experience that can promote customer loyalty. Nothing now or on the horizon appears to be anything like a Netflix-killer app.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Bibb Says Comcast Has Little Confidence in Streampix 2-21-12.mp4

Two years ago, Porter Bibb, managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, panned the then-new XFINITY Streampix service for streaming the same television shows and movies customers can already see on Netflix and other services. From Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg West,” originally aired Feb. 21, 2012. (4:30)

Netflix Aggravates Canada’s Identity Crisis: Protection of Canadian Culture or Big Telecom Company Profits?

netflix caThe arrival of Netflix north of the American border has sparked a potential video revolution in Canada that some fear could renew “an erosion” of Canadian culture and self-identity as the streaming video service floods the country with American-made television and movies. But anxiety also prevails on the upper floors of some of Canada’s biggest telecom companies, worried their business models are about to be challenged like never before.

Two weeks ago, the country saw a remarkable Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hearing featuring a Netflix executive obviously not used to being grilled by the often-curt regulators. When it was all over, Netflix refused to comply with a CRTC order for information about Netflix’s Canadian customers.

Earlier today, the CRTC’s secretary general, John Traversy, declared that because of the lack of cooperation from Netflix, all of their testimony “will be removed from the public record of this proceeding on October 2, 2014.” That includes their oral arguments.

“As a result, the hearing panel will reach its conclusions based on the remaining evidence on the record. There are a variety of perspectives on the impact of Internet broadcasting in Canada, and the panel will rely on those that are on the public record to make its findings,” Mr. Traversy wrote in a nod to Canada’s own telecom companies.

Not since late 1990’s Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, who defended Canadian content with her support of a law that restricted foreign magazines from infiltrating across the border, had a government official seemed willing to take matters beyond the government’s own policy.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais threw down the gauntlet when Netflix hesitated about releasing its Canadian subscriber and Canadian content statistics to the regulator. Mr. Blais wanted to know exactly how many Canadians are Netflix subscribers and how much of what they are watching on the service originates in Canada.

With hearings underway in Ottawa, bigger questions are being raised about the CRTC’s authority in the digital age. Doug Dirks from CBC Radio’s The Homestretch talks with Michael Geist at the University of Ottawa. Sept. 19, 2014 (8:40) You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Netflix has operated below regulatory radar since it first launched service in Canada four years ago. The CRTC left the American company with an impression it had the right to regulate Netflix, but chose not to at this time. The CRTC of 2010 was knee-deep in media consolidation issues and did not want to spend a lot of time on an American service that most Canadians watched by using proxy servers and virtual private networks to bypass geographic content restrictions. But now that an estimated 30% of English-speaking Canada subscribes to Netflix, it is threatening to turn the country’s cozy and well-consolidated media industry on its head.

Ask most of the corporate players involved and they will declare this is a fight about Canada’s identity. After all, broadcasters have been compelled for years to live under content laws that require a certain percentage of television and radio content to originate inside Canada. Without such regulations, enforced by the CRTC among others, Canada would be overwhelmed by all-things-Americans. Some believe that without protection, Canadian viewers will only watch and listen to American television and music at the cost of Canadian productions and artists.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Netflix vs the CRTC 9-22-14.flv

Kevin O’Leary, Chairman, O’Leary Financial Group is furious with regulators for butting into Netflix’s online video business and threatening its presence in Canada is an effort to protect incumbent business models. From BNN-Canada. (8:45)

A viewer watches Netflix global public policy director Corie Wright testify before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in Ottawa (Image: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press)

A viewer watches Netflix’s Corie Wright testify before the CRTC. (Image: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press)

But behind the culture war is a question of money – billions of dollars in fact. Giant media companies like Rogers, Shaw, and Bell feel threatened by the presence of Netflix, which can take away viewers and change a media landscape that has not faced the kind of wholesale deregulation that has taken place in the United States since the Reagan Administration.

Before Netflix, the big Canadian networks didn’t object too strongly to the content regulations. After all, CRTC rules helped establish the Canadian Media Fund which partly pays for domestic TV and movie productions. Canada’s telephone and satellite companies also have to contribute, and they collectively added $266 million to the pot in 2013, mostly collected from their customers in the form of higher bills. Netflix doesn’t receive money from the fund and has indicated it doesn’t need or want the government’s help to create Canadian content.

“It is not in the interest of consumers to have new media subsidize old media or to have new entrants subsidize incumbents,” added Netflix’s Corie Wright. “Netflix believes that regulatory intervention online is unnecessary and could have consequences that are inconsistent with the interests of consumers,” Wright said, adding viewers should have the ability “to vote with their dollars and eyeballs to shape the media marketplace.”

That is not exactly what the CRTC wanted to hear, and Wright was off the Christmas card list for good when she directly rebuffed Mr. Blais’ requests for Netflix’s data on its Canadian customers. Wright implied the data would somehow make its way out of the CRTC’s offices and end up in the hands of the Canadian-owned broadcast and cable competitors that know many at the CRTC on a first name basis.

Does Netflix pose a threat to Canadian culture? Matt Galloway spoke with John Doyle, the Globe & Mail’s television critic, on the Sept. 22nd edition of CBC Radio’s Metro Morning show. Sept. 22, 2014 (8:31) You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Mr. Blais, obviously not used to requests being questioned, repeated demands for Netflix’s subscriber data to be turned over by the following Monday and if Netflix did not comply, he would revoke Netflix’s current exemption from Canadian content rules and bring down the hammer of regulation on the streaming service.

Blais

Blais

The deadline came and went and last week Netflix defiantly refused to comply with the CRTC’s order. A Netflix official said that while the company has responded to a number of CRTC requests, it was not “in a position to produce the confidential and competitively sensitive information, but added it was always prepared to work constructively with the commission.”

Now things are very much up in the air. Many Canadians question why the CRTC believes it has the right to regulate Internet content when it operates largely as a broadcast regulator. Public opinion seems to be swayed against the CRTC and towards Netflix. Canadian producers and writers are concerned their jobs are at risk, Canadian media conglomerates fear their comfortable and predictable future is threatened if consumers decide to spend more time with Netflix and less time with them. All of this debate occurring within the context of a discussion about forcing pay television companies to offer slimmed down basic cable packages and implement a-la-carte — pay only for the channels you want — is enough to give media executives heartburn.

To underscore the point much of this debate involves money, American TV network executives also turned up at the CRTC arguing for regulations that would compensate American TV stations for providing “free” programming on Canadian airwaves, cable, and satellite — retransmission consent across the border.

Netflix does not seem too worried it is in trouble in either Ottawa or in the halls of CRTC headquarters at Les Terrasses de la Chaudière in Gatineau, Québec, just across the Ottawa River. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Heritage Minister Shelly Glover have made it clear they have zero interest in taxing or regulating Netflix. Even if they were, the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement may make regulating Netflix a practical impossibility, especially if the U.S. decides to retaliate.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Canadian Press CRTC vs Netflix 9-19-14.mp4

Dwayne Winseck, Carleton School of Journalism and Communication, defended the role the CRTC is mandated to play by Canada’s telecommunications laws. (1:41)

Extortion As a Business Model: Copyright Enforcer Wants to Lock Your Web Browser Until You Pay

logo-rights-corpA for-profit company that believes it can earn billions from web users who illegally download music, movies and television shows wants the power to lock your web browser until you provide a credit card number to settle allegations you illegally download copyrighted content.

Rightscorp strongly believes in its business plan, which demands nuisance settlements from web users caught sharing or downloading copyrighted content. The company believes it has struck gold scaring Bittorrent users with service suspension and the threat of a costly lawsuit unless they agree to pay a $20 “fine” to “settle” the alleged copyright infringement. The fine amounts are seen as low enough to guarantee a quick settlement without involving an attorney.

“Based on the fact that 22% of all Internet traffic is used to distribute copyrighted content without permission or compensation to the creators, Rightscorp is pursuing an estimated $2.3 billion opportunity and has monetized major media titles through relationships with industry leaders,” the company recently told investors.

Using “unique and proprietary patented technology,” Rightscorp says it can identify the infringement of digital content such as music, movies, software, books and games. Rightscorp’s success getting paid depends heavily on the added weight Internet Service Providers can bring when they send on notices that claim those who don’t settle risk having their Internet service shut off. Rightscorp calls their settlement offers “reasonable,” especially when compared with the possible financial consequences of a verdict in favor of the copyright holder as defined in the Digital Millennium Copyrights Act (DMCA), which can be as high as $150,000.

Rightscorp splits any proceeds 50/50 with itself and copyright holders. ISPs get nothing for cooperating.

The company has successfully extracted settlements from more than 100,000 Americans so far as cooperating ISP’s like Charter Communications forward Rightscorp’s legal threats to their broadband customers:

Dear Sir or Madam:

Your ISP has forwarded you this notice.
This is not spam.
Your ISP account has been used to download, upload or offer for upload copyrighted content in a manner that infringes on the rights of the copyright owner.
Your ISP service could be suspended if this matter is not resolved.
You could be liable for up to $150,000 per infringement in civil penalties.

The file 09 – Beyond.mp3 was infringed upon by a computer at IP Address xx.xxx.xxx.xx on 2013-06-24 02:59:08.0 .

We represent the copyright owner.
This notice is an offer of settlement.

If you click on the link below and login to the Rightscorp, Inc. automated settlement system, for $20 per infringement, you will receive a legal release from the copyright owner.

Click on this link or copy and paste into your browser:

https://secure.digitalrightscorp.com/settle/****

Rightscorp, Inc. represents the following ‘copyright owner(s)’ Round Hill Music (‘RHM’).

RHM is the exclusive owners of copyrights for Daft Punk musical compositions, including the musical compositions listed below. It has come to our attention that Charter Communications is the service provider for the IP address listed below, from which unauthorized copying and distribution (downloading, uploading, file serving, file ‘swapping’ or other similar activities) of RHM’s exclusive copyrights listed below is taking place.

This unauthorized copying and/or distribution constitutes copyright infringement under the U.S. Copyright Act. Pursuant to 17 U.S.C. 512(c), this letter serves as actual notice of infringement. We hereby demand you immediately and permanently cease and desist the unauthorized copying and/or distribution (including, but not limited to downloading, uploading, file sharing, file ‘swapping’ or other similar activities) of recordings of Daft Punk compositions, including but not limited to those items listed in this correspondence.

RHM will pursue every available remedy including injunctions and recovery of attorney’s fees, costs and any and all other damages which are incurred by RHM as a result of any action that is commenced against you. Nothing contained or omitted from this letter is, or shall be deemed to be either a full statement of the facts or applicable law, an admission of any fact, or a waiver or limitation of any of RHM’s rights or remedies, all of which are specifically retained and reserved. The information in this notification is accurate.

We have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of herein is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or by operation of law. I swear, under penalty of perjury, that I am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the exclusive rights that have been infringed. While RHM is entitled to monetary damages from the infringing party under 17 U.S.C. Section 504, The RHM believes that it may be expeditious to settle this matter without the need of costly and time-consuming litigation.

In order to help you avoid further legal action from RHM, we have been authorized to offer a settlement solution that we believe is reasonable for everyone.

To access this settlement offer, please copy and paste the URL below into a browser and follow the instructions for the settlement offer:

https://secure.digitalrightscorp.com/settle/****

Very truly yours,

Christopher Sabec
CEO
Rightscorp, Inc. 3100 Donald Douglas Loop, North, Santa Monica, CA 90405 Telephone: (310) 751-7510

After initially scaring a consumer with an infringement notification, the settlement web page that appears after the customer reaches for a major credit card is more soothing:

Liability Release & Settlement Receipt

IMPORTANT: Please print and retain this document for your records. It releases you from liability for the below mentioned infringement and serves as official notice of settlement.


Reference # TC-bb4f723e-****
Title Beyond
Filename 09 – Beyond.mp3
Timestamp 2013-06-24 02:59:08.0
Infringement Source Torrent
Infringers IP Address 68.190.**.***
Infringers Port 51413

Round Hill Music for itself, for its past, present and future directors, shareholders, members, managers, officers, employees, agents, attorneys, representatives, partners, trustees, beneficiaries, family members, heirs, subsidiaries and affiliates, and for its and their predecessors, successors and assigns (collectively the “Releasor”);

Hereby finally, unconditionally, irrevocably and absolutely releases, acquits, remises and forever discharges Joe Smith, 123 Main Street Anytown USA and such person’s family members and heirs (collectively the “Releasee”);

From any and all manner of actions, suits, debts, sums of money, interest owed, charges, damages, judgments, executions, obligations, costs, expenses, fees (including attorneys’ fees and court costs), claims, demands, causes of action and liabilities, that arise under the United States Copyright Act, in each case whether known or unknown, absolute or contingent, matured or unmatured, presently existing or hereafter discovered, at law, in equity or otherwise, that the Releasor may now have or that might subsequently accrue against the Releasee arising out of or connected with (directly or indirectly) the specific Infringement of musical composition(s) referenced above;

Provided however, that this release shall not, and shall not be deemed to, constitute a release with respect to any other past, present or future infringements by Releasee other than the specific Infringement of musical composition(s) referenced above.

Settlement Date 2013-07-29 00:00:00.0
Transaction Id 54205*****
Settlement Amount 20

noticeRightscorp does not appear to be spending its limited resources actually pursuing suspected violators in court. The threat of further action alone appears to have been enough for many to voluntarily pay the firm after receiving their first violation notice. Little, if anything, has happened to those who ignore Rightscorp’s settlement messages unless their ISP suspends access.

As long as payments roll in, there is money to be made in the enforcement business.

Rightscorp now wants to further automate its copyright enforcement process by asking cooperating ISPs to lock customers’ web browsers until payment to Rightscorp has been made.

Rightscorp CEO Christopher Sabec said the company is working with more than 70 ISPs, including five in the top 10, but industry observers believe “working with” more likely means those ISPs are forwarding Rightscorp’s infringement notices to their subscribers, nothing more. Charter Communications leaves the infringement notices intact, including the settlement offer. Comcast reportedly heavily redacts the notices and strips out the settlement offer and links, eliminating the prospect of Rightscorp winning a quick and near-effortless financial settlement.

Sabec believes ISPs don’t have a choice not to work with Rightscorp because of technology that Sabec claims offers reasonable certainty of infringement, even if the offender changes IP addresses. With that standard met, Sabec says ISPs are legally compelled to take action, including cutting off Internet access at Rightscorp’s request if they do not want to become a co-defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit.

“We’re showing the ISPs that they have this potential liability,” said Rightscorp chief operating officer Robert Steele. “Their shield for liability is contingent on terminating repeat infringers. Prior to our company, there was no way to hold them accountable.”

solution

Steele told Ars Technica the days of Rightscorp having the power to instantly cut off your Internet access may not be too far off:

In the future, the company hopes to get more ISPs to comply—and it will expect more of those that are already cooperating, said Steele. Ultimately, Rightscorp is hoping for a scenario in which the repeat infringers it identifies aren’t just notified by e-mail. Instead, Steele hopes to see those users re-directed to a Rightscorp notice right at the moment they open their Web browsers.

“You wouldn’t be able to get around the re-direct page, and you’d have to pay a fine to return to browsing,” he explained. The company is in discussions with four ISPs about imposing such a re-direct page, according to Steele. But the details about which ISPs cooperate with Rightscorp, and how much they cooperate, is a secret that the company guards closely.

partner isps

Their “partner” ISPs include defunct Qwest, which has been known as CenturyLink since 2011 and Charter Communications — the only major cable operator listed.

grandeWhether ISPs will grant unprecedented access to a third-party company trying to turn off their customers’ broadband while maintaining a financial interest in extracting settlements from those customers is doubtful.

Last week, Texas-based independent ISP Grande Communications informed the Austin-based U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas that Rightscorp was engaged in shenanigans. In a strongly worded advisory to the court, Grande’s lawyers accused Rightscorp of using improper DMCA subpoenas to extract identifying information about alleged copyright offenders — a practice ruled improper more than a decade ago in RIAA v. Verizon, because no judge typically reviews the subpoena application. Rightscorp’s subpoenas rely entirely on the signature of an ordinary district court clerk in California:

Internet service provider and cable operator Grande Communications Networks LLC advises the Court that, one (1) business day after Grande filed its Motion to Quash Subpoena in this proceeding seeking to quash a subpoena served by Rightscorp, Inc. (the “Subpoena”), counsel for Rightscorp, Mr. Dennis J. Hawk withdrew the Subpoena.

The abrupt withdrawal of the Subpoena is consistent with the apparent desire of Rightscorp and its counsel to avoid judicial review of their serial misuse of the subpoena power of the federal courts. In addition, the withdrawal comes only after Grande was forced to expend considerable resources handling the Subpoena (and attempting to discuss it with Rightscorp’s counsel) and then preparing and filing the Motion to Quash.

As detailed in Grande’s Motion, the Subpoena presented an extraordinarily undue burden (over 30,000 subscriber lookups) and was issued to a cable operator without an order as required by the Cable Communications Act. Even more egregiously, it appears that the Subpoena is only one of approximately one hundred (100) or more similar subpoenas issued by Rightscorp to regional Internet service providers located across the country (presumably chosen because they are less likely to contest the subpoenas than national Internet service providers with larger in-house legal departments) upon the signature of the Clerk of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, seeking the personally identifiable information of thousands of individuals beyond the jurisdiction of the California courts, despite the fact that such subpoenas may not be sent and issued under 17 U.S.C. § 512(h) to an Internet service provider acting as a conduit under law that has been established for a decade.

Under the circumstances, this Court or the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California may consider ordering Rightscorp and its counsel to show cause why they should not be sanctioned for misusing the federal court’s subpoena powers. Such an order would be appropriate in connection with Grande’s request for costs and attorney’s fees in the Motion.

Beyond any doubt, Rightscorp and its counsel failed and refused to “take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or expense” on Grande. Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(d)(1). As Grande has explained, before the Motion was filed, Rightscorp’s counsel’s only response to Grande’s efforts to confer was a threat that “[w]e expect compliance by the service providers” and that Rightscorp “does not pay to obtain the address details on infringers.”

In addition, Rightscorp’s conduct also raises concerns under Rule 11, and, regardless, may present appropriate circumstances for the imposition of sanctions under the Court’s inherent powers.

The next business day after the Motion was filed, Rightscorp’s counsel made a hasty retreat. If Rightscorp believed it had a good faith basis for the Subpoena, it would have asserted its position before this Court.

But Rightscorp must know that its position and practice would not survive judicial review. If Grande had not challenged the Subpoena, Rightscorp would have improperly obtained the personally identifiable information of hundreds (or thousands) of Texas Internet subscribers using an invalid procedure, without the notice to any of them that would have followed from the court order that Rightscorp refused to seek to obtain, and without the slightest requirement of any showing to the California court whose signature Rightscorp improperly utilized. It appears clear that Rightscorp and its counsel are playing a game without regard for the rules, and they are playing that game in a manner calculated to avoid judicial review. Hopefully, they will not be permitted to continue much longer.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Rightscorp Piracy 5-1-14.flv

CNBC talked with Rightscorp CEO Christopher Sabec about copyright infringement, Net Neutrality, and whether or not copyright holders should simply cut the cost of their content as a disincentive to piracy. (5:28)

Kentucky Wakes Up: AT&T Dereg Bills Will Not Bring Better Broadband, Will Make Rural Service Worse

luckykyQuestion: How will ripping out landline infrastructure in Kentucky help improve broadband service for rural areas?

Answer: It won’t.

This is not for a lack of trying though. AT&T has returned to the Kentucky state legislature year after year with a company-written bill loaded with more ornaments than a Christmas tree. In the guise of “modernizing” telecom regulation, AT&T wants to abolish most of it, replaced by a laissez-faire marketplace for telecommunications services not seen in the United States since the 1910s. AT&T claims robust competition will do a better job of keeping providers in check than a century of oversight by state officials. But customers in rural Kentucky have a better chance of sighting Bigfoot than finding a competitive alternative to AT&T’s telephone and DSL service. AT&T retains a monopoly in broadband across much of the state where cable operators like Time Warner don’t tread.

This year, Senate Bill 99, dubbed “The AT&T Bill” received overwhelming support from the Kentucky Senate as well as in the House Economic Development Committee. AT&T made sure the state’s most prominent politicians were well-compensated with generous campaign contributions, which helped move the bill along.

Since 2011, AT&T’s political-action committee has given about $55,000 to state election campaigns in Kentucky, including $5,000 to the Senate Republican majority’s chief fundraising committee and $5,000 more to the House Democratic majority’s chief fundraising committee. The company spent $108,846 last year on its 22 Frankfort lobbyists.

That generosity no doubt helped Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover find his way to AT&T’s talking point that only by “modernizing” Kentucky’s telecom laws would the state receive much-needed broadband improvements.

Hoover

Hoover

Hoover is upset that the state’s House Democratic leadership stopped AT&T’s bill dead in its tracks, despite bipartisan begging primarily from AT&T’s check-cashers that the bill see a vote. Speaker Greg Stumbo, whose rural Eastern Kentucky district would have seen AT&T’s landline and DSL service largely wiped out by AT&T’s original proposal, would hear none of it.

He has been to AT&T’s Deregulation Rodeo before.

“When I served as attorney general, I dealt with deregulation firsthand to protect consumers as much as possible,” he wrote in a recent editorial. “In most cases, deregulation led to worse service and less opportunity to correct the problems customers invariably faced. It is now our job as House leaders to continue defending Kentucky’s consumers.”

Stumbo, like many across Kentucky, have come to realize that AT&T’s custom-written legislation gives the company a guarantee it can disconnect rural landline service en masse, but does not guarantee better broadband as a result.

“In fact, there is nothing in the legislation guaranteeing better landline, cell or Internet service,” Stumbo noted.

Hoover declared that by not doing AT&T’s bidding, Kentucky was at risk of further falling behind.

“This decision by Stumbo and House Democrat leadership, like many others, has unfortunately had a real effect on the lives of Kentuckians as we will go, at minimum, another year before these private businesses can focus on increasing broadband speed throughout the commonwealth,” he wrote. “It is another year in which we risk falling further behind our neighboring states and others in the competitive world of economic development.”

Stumbo

Stumbo

Stumbo responded the Republicans seemed to have a narrow vision of what represents progress. Hoover and his caucus voted against the House budget that included $100 million for a broadband improvement initiative spearheaded by Gov. Steve Beshear, Rep. Hal Rogers, and private interests.

By relying entirely on a deregulated AT&T, rural Kentucky residents may lose both landline and DSL service and be forced to wireless alternatives that come at a high price.

“There are citizens, many of whom are elderly or on fixed income, who depend on their landline or cannot afford more expensive options; these are the people I am fighting for,” said Stumbo. “I do not want to get a call from a family member who lost a loved one because that person could not reach a first responder in time.”

State residents watching the debate have increasingly noticed discrepancies between what AT&T wants and what it is promising Kentucky.

“No one has ever been able to satisfactorily explain to me how allowing phone companies to abandon landline service will help expand broadband Internet, especially since DSL service requires phone lines,” said H.B. Elkins, Public Information Officer at KYTC District 10.

Matt Simpson recognizes that Senate Bill 99 and other similar measures will not change the economic realities of AT&T’s for-profit business.

“Without regulation, the for-profit companies like AT&T are going to invest in the most profitable areas,” he wrote. “If they thought they could make a huge profit providing broadband in rural areas, they would already be doing it. Deregulation is not going to change that profit calculation. They will still view rural broadband as unprofitable, and they still won’t do it. The bill was a total giveaway to the industry, with no offsetting benefit to the consumers.”

Michael Yancy summed up his views more colorfully.

“The ‘AT&T bill should be classified as a sheep bill. It was all about pulling the wool over the eyes of the public,” Yancy said. “Anyone who thinks the people of Kentucky will benefit from more of the same, needs to make inquiries into moving the Brooklyn Bridge to the Ohio River.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KET Phone Deregulation Kentucky Tonight 1 2-19-13.mp4

Kentucky Educational Television aired a debate between AT&T and the Kentucky Resources Council on the issue of telephone deregulation in 2013. The same issues were back this year in AT&T’s latest failed attempt to win statewide deregulation and permission to switch landline customers in rural Kentucky to less reliable wireless service. In this clip AT&T argues it should be able to shift investment away from landline service towards wireless because wireless is the more popular technology, but not everyone gets good coverage in Kentucky. (Feb. 19 2013) (3:00)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KET Phone Deregulation Kentucky Tonight 2 2-19-13.mp4

In this second clip, AT&T claims customers who want to keep landline service can, but Kentucky Resources Council president Tom Fitzgerald reads the bill and finds AT&T’s claims just don’t hold up under scrutiny. The carrier of last resort obligation which guarantees quality landline phone service to all who want it is gone if AT&T’s bill passes. Customers can be forced to use wireless service instead. (Feb. 19 2013) (4:33)

Charlotte Taxpayers, Tourists Will Pay $33.5 Million for Improvements to Time Warner Cable Arena

charlotte-time-warner-cable-arena

Time Warner Cable Arena – Charlotte, N.C.

Taxpayers and tourists in North Carolina will be on the hook for $33.5 million in improvements for the “outdated” 10-year old Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte.

The Charlotte Hornets will spend the public’s money over the next ten years renovating restaurants and bathrooms and make several other improvements inside the stadium.

Time Warner Cable won the naming rights for the stadium by cutting a deal with the Hornets (then known as the Bobcats) to allow games to air on satellite and regional cable sports networks, especially Fox Sports Net South. The stadium is largely the financial responsibility of Charlotte-area taxpayers, but a wealthy basketball team and the area’s largest cable operator take most of the credit.

The city is contractually obligated to spend taxpayer dollars on renovations and city officials took credit for reducing the original request for $50 million down to $33.5 million. Deal critics contend taxpayers are footing the bill while the NBA team enjoys a free ride.

The city signed an agreement in 2005 that includes language compelling the city to be concerned with the image of the team and its sponsors. Specifically, the city agreed to maintain the arena as among the NBA’s “most modern” stadiums. Just a decade after opening, the Hornets contend the stadium no longer meets that obligation. Now taxpayers and tourists will pony up millions from a hotel/motel occupancy tax and a car rental tax to cover renovations, including those for tony, corporate-reserved hospitality suites.

Some city council members claimed to feel trapped into voting for the deal, which was approved in a 9-2 vote. The council’s two Republicans voted no.

“If we break a contract, who will believe our word?” at-large council member Claire Fallon, a Democrat, told the Charlotte Observer. “Who will believe us? I have to vote for it.”

But Republican councilman Ed Driggs believes the city has signed a sucker’s deal.

“Many don’t believe public money should be used to subsidize a for-profit business,” Driggs said. “How do we rationalize the terms of this? We pay all capital costs … and receive no proceeds. What kind of partnership is this?”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WBTV Charlotte Charlotte City Council votes to upgrade TWC arena 9-8-14.mp4

Eyebrows were raised when several council members, including the mayor pro tem, voted in favor of the Time Warner Cable Arena deal but against a public works project potentially financed by the federal government to expand the city’s Gold Line streetcar public transit system. WBTV in Charlotte reports. (2:31)

United Arab Emirates Internet Provider du Announces Upgrade to 1Gbps for All

du's call center is 91%  female and 100% staffed by citizens of the UAE. (Photo: The National)

du’s call center is 91% female and 100% staffed by citizens of the UAE. (Photo: The National)

Broadband users across the United Arab Emirates will soon find their Internet connections upgraded to 1Gbps as the country transforms its broadband services to deliver world-class speeds without steep price increases.

ISP du announced this month it had successfully completed tests to upgrade its network to deliver 1,000Mbps service to its customers, delivering a faster data experience over a substantially improved bandwidth backbone.

“Offering 1Gbps speeds is yet another incredible triumph of our team’s efforts and a significant milestone in our progression towards offering unmatched user experience,” said Saleem AlBalooshi, executive vice president of network development and operations at du. “As always, this is designed around our customers and they stand to benefit from this initiative.”

Customers in the United Arab Emirates already enjoy substantially better telecommunication service at a lower cost compared to North America.

UAE mobile users already receive VoLTE 4G service, which allows customers to talk and browse the Internet simultaneously on a substantially upgraded LTE network. The ISP has offered wireless customers HD Voice — a better quality voice calling experience — at no extra charge since 2012. The company has also extended the technology to its older 3G mobile networks and supports HD quality landlines as well. This year, the company will deploy its LTE-A Carrier Aggregation technology to combine bandwidth available at different frequency bands to improve wireless speeds and reliability.

In April, the country introduced new regulatory policies requiring providers to sell access to their networks at reasonable wholesale prices, spurring competition and letting residents choose between different providers for the first time. Despite the open access rules, investment continues to pour into the UAE’s telecom networks for expansion and upgrades, even as customers see their bills decline.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/UAE Weekly Interview Featuring Osman Sultan CEO du 4-20-14.mp4

UAE Weekly features du’s CEO Osman Sultan who explains how du is very different from ISPs in other countries, especially in the USA and Canada. Sultan explains du doesn’t use offshore call centers, doesn’t frustrate customers with constant rate increases and usage restrictions, offers nationwide Wi-Fi, and believes in using competition to please customers, not alienate them with tricks and traps. From Dubai CITY TV-7. (April 21, 2014) (21:39)

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