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Let This New Bot Negotiate With Online Chat Reps for a Lower Comcast Bill

Phillip Dampier November 16, 2016 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Video 1 Comment

trimIf you’re tired of robotic responses from Comcast’s customer service department, Trim has introduced a great new way to retaliate with a free automated bot tool to deal with Comcast while you do something else.

The Chrome browser extension interacts with Comcast’s online chat support to negotiate a lower bill for you when your internet service slows to a crawl, there is a service outage, or if you just need a better deal.

“Our bot is best for checking for discounts and seeing if you can get a customer service credit,” Thomas Smyth, co-founder & CEO of Trim tells Stop the Cap!

That means if you have a long story to share about how Comcast botched your install or their usage meter cannot possibly have measured 30GB of usage while you were on that Caribbean cruise, it is still better to tell the story yourself (or take your complaint straight to the FCC). But when you suffer a multi-hour outage or think you’re paying too much for service and dread the thought of talking to some customer service representative in the Philippines, you can give Trim a try.

Smyth says an average interaction with the Trim bot gets customers an average $10 service credit, perhaps if only to get you (or the bot) off their backs.

Considering how much customers loathe the thought of dealing with Comcast’s customer service, one wonders how we survived without it.

“We couldn’t believe that in a world of email and chatbots, you still had to pick up the phone and call Comcast in order to lower your bill,” Smyth says.

Tackling the biggest of the bully boys appears to be the reason Comcast is getting the bot treatment first, but there are plenty more where they come from.

“We’d love to expand to other cable/phone companies soon,” Smyth tells us. “User-supervised chatbots are the future of customer service.”

And why not, considering how many offshore online agents already rely on cut and paste responses to customer inquiries. Turnabout is fair play.

Comcast, meet the Trim Bot, the latest way to get service credits and a lower bill without actually having to do much of anything. (30 seconds)

Charter/Spectrum Relocating Northeast Regional HQ to Rochester, N.Y.

Artist rendition of Charter's new regional headquarters in Rochester, N.Y.

Artist rendition of Charter’s new regional headquarters in Rochester, N.Y.

The northeast region of Charter/Spectrum, encompassing six states, will soon be managed from a new regional headquarters office to be opened in Rochester, N.Y.

Elected officials across western New York joined Gov. Andrew Cuomo to congratulate Charter Communications for its decision to locate its new headquarters in suburban Rochester, where the cable company is expected to add 228 new full-time jobs.

Gov. Cuomo announced Charter will invest more than $2.9 million to renovate its existing offices on Mount Hope Avenue in downtown Rochester and its new 46,000 square-foot facility in Henrietta, which will house regional executives, call center workers, and technicians. New York taxpayers will cover $2.5 million of those costs through the Empire State Development Corporation, a public-benefit corporation that offers tax credits in return for job creation commitments.

“This expansion of one of the nation’s leading cable providers in the Finger Lakes is a clear signal that our economic strategy is driving innovation and transforming the local economy,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Cutting-edge companies are betting on this region like never before and are growing their businesses and creating-good paying jobs in the process. By incentivizing private sector growth, we are generating momentum and strengthening the economy in Monroe County and beyond.”

Cuomo

Cuomo

“By early next year, this beautifully restored facility will allow us to bring together our field operations leadership and vital support functions under one roof,” said Charter executive vice president of field operations Tom Adams. “Through our partnership with the New York State Economic Development Corporation, the Rochester area benefits from an influx of high-paying technical jobs, while our customers across Upstate New York and throughout New England benefit from improved communication, collaboration and efficiency in our operations.”

Time Warner Cable employed 460 workers at its existing office in downtown Rochester. Charter’s new regional headquarters will add 230 workers.

Gov. Cuomo has heavily promoted New York as a new corporate-friendly state to create jobs and grow businesses. The “Finger Lakes Forward” initiative has already spent $3.4 billion in the region since 2012 to invest in and attract key industries like photonics, agriculture/food production, and advanced manufacturing. The plan has seen some success for the key regions of Rochester (photonics), Batavia (milk/yogurt production), and Canandaigua (mixed manufacturing), but has not been as successful keeping jobs when businesses have downsizing on their mind.

For Rochester, Charter’s announcement will still result in a net job loss of more than 300 jobs in the telecommunications sector because of Verizon Wireless’ announced closure of its Rochester call center, which will eliminate 645 jobs in the area when the facility closes Jan. 27, 2017. The governor’s office called Verizon’s job cuts “an egregious example of corporate abuse.”

Frontier Will Ask Customers for $4.50 ‘Convenience Fee’ to Pay Bills By Phone

Phillip Dampier November 15, 2016 Consumer News, Frontier No Comments

frontier new logoA well-placed source inside Frontier Communications tells Stop the Cap! the phone company is planning to ask customers for a $4.50 “convenience fee” to make a bill payment by phone, starting as early as January 2017.

“We figured this was coming sooner or later, but it appears that Frontier is now doing everything they possibly can to boost revenue to shareholders because they are losing money hand over fist after their recent purchases of [former] Verizon and AT&T [landline customers in certain states] and their massive mishandling of those transitions,” the source tells us.

Our source advises that the convenience fee will only apply if a customer calls in and speaks to a representative to manage the bill payment over the phone. Customers can avoid the fee by making a payment themselves online or set up autopay on their account.

Customers who are past due may be transferred to collections representative to arrange bill payments. Make sure to ask if any fees will apply when doing so.

An increasing number of providers are adding new surcharges for bill payments managed by a live operator to cut call center costs.

Charter/Spectrum Only Sells Up to 100Mbps in Time Warner Cable Territories

charter-spectrumAlthough existing Time Warner Cable Maxx customers will be able to keep their broadband speed upgrades up to 300Mbps, new customers and those switching to a Charter Spectrum plan will find Spectrum’s advertised broadband options reduced to just one: 100Mbps in TWC Maxx cities like New York and 60Mbps in territories never upgraded to Maxx service.

Charter Spectrum has soft launched their new plans in the New York City market and will begin heavily promoting them later this month. But customers will find their choices dramatically limited, except for television service.

Spectrum is marketing just three triple play plans on its revamped website in the NYC area, varying only with respect to the number of channels included in the TV package:

spectrum-nyc

When we selected internet-only service, we were presented with only one option in New York City: 100Mbps

spectrum-internet

Time Warner Cable plans are no longer promoted in areas switched to Charter Spectrum service.

TWC plans are no longer promoted in areas offered Charter Spectrum service.

At least the modem rental is included in the promotional price, which incidentally rises in the second and third year until it reaches $60 for 60Mbps service, and $100 for 100Mbps service, assuming your promotion has expired.

The promotional prices are not too bad if you are a devotee of cable television, and the broadband price is affordable as well, at least for the first year. After the first 12 months, prices rise and company officials have already warned they will be far more stingy about offering customers repeat retention pricing than Time Warner Cable was.

Charter has announced it will continue to roll out Spectrum packages across the Time Warner Cable and Bright House service areas until the conversion is complete early next year. New York City and Florida are the next targeted markets, but it is clear Charter has already begun offering Spectrum plans instead of continuing to market Time Warner Cable plans that customers can still buy upstate.

Customers will be able to keep their existing Time Warner Cable plans, but any promotional pricing deals will not likely be renewed when they expire, causing your Time Warner Cable bill to spike dramatically in some cases.

We are unsure if existing TWC Maxx customers will be forced to give up their 300Mbps TWC Maxx plan if they switch to a Spectrum plan. There may be several non-publicized plans for these customers. Time will tell.

Editor’s Note: These prices/packages were obtained from timewarnercable.com using a residential street address on W 72nd St, New York, NY, 10023

Alaska’s Telecom Companies Will Waste $365 Million in Taxpayer Funds Building Duplicate 4G Networks

A new fiber provider is expected to vastly expand Alaska's internet backbone, but there are not enough middle mile networks to allow all Alaskans to benefit.

Quintillion, a new underseas fiber provider, is expected to vastly expand Alaska’s internet backbone, but there are not enough terrestrial middle mile networks to allow all Alaskans to benefit.

A federal taxpayer-funded effort to improve broadband access in rural Alaska will instead improve the bottom lines of Alaska’s telecommunications companies who helped collectively “consult” on a plan that will pay $365 million in taxpayer subsidies to companies building profitable and often redundant 4G wireless networks.

The Alaska Plan, which took effect Nov. 7, is a decade-long effort to subsidize telecom companies up to $55 million annually to encourage them to expand broadband service to 134,000 Alaskan households that get either no or very little internet service today. The Alaska Telephone Association (ATA) — an industry trade association and lobbying group, claims if the plan is successful, only 758 Alaskans will still be waiting for broadband by the year 2026.

But critics of the plan claim taxpayers will give millions to help subsidize private telecom companies that have plans to spend much of the money on redundant, highly profitable 4G wireless data networks that will cost most Alaskans large sums of money to access.

One company — AT&T, which refused to participate in the plan, is still taken care of by the plan, receiving $15.8 million dollars from taxpayers for doing absolutely nothing to improve broadband service in Alaska. The plan directs the money to AT&T to provide phase-down, high-cost support, which drew a sharp rebuke from Republican FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, who questioned why taxpayers had to subsidize AT&T for anything.

“The order claims this a ‘reasonable’ accommodation but cannot explain why the nation’s second largest wireless carrier needs ‘additional transition time to reduce any disruptions,’” Pai wrote.

quintillionThe biggest weakness of the plan, according to its critics, is its lack of support for middle-mile networks — wired infrastructure that connects providers to a statewide broadband backbone that can manage traffic needs without having to turn to slow-speed satellite connectivity. One of Alaska’s biggest challenges is finding low-cost connectivity with Canada and the lower-48 states. Much of the state relies heavily on GCI’s still-expanding TERRA network, which provides fiber as well as microwave connectivity to 72 towns and villages in rural Alaska. Quintillion, a new player, is working on stretching fiber connectivity through the Northwest Passage. Its forthcoming 30 terabit capacity fiber network offers the possibility of dramatically lower broadband rates and no more data caps, assuming providers have the network capacity to connect their service areas and the nearest fiber access point.

Instead of subsidizing the development of middle mile networks for this purpose, the authors of The Alaska Plan have instead favored wireless connectivity, including the very lucrative 4G wireless networks cellular providers want to expand. By definition, the broadband plan accommodates the limitations of wireless by easing broadband speed requirements for providers. To earn a subsidy, providers need not offer the FCC’s minimum speed to qualify as broadband — 25Mbps.

gciInstead, the ATA managed to convince regulators that 10/1Mbps service was good enough — speed that can be achieved by the DSL service phone companies favor. This is well below Alaska’s Broadband Task Force goal of 100Mbps for every state resident by 2020. Another free pass built into the plan is allowing providers to collect subsidies even when they do not offer 10Mbps because of network limitations, including lack of suitable middle mile networks. In those cases, the only speed requirement is 1Mbps download speeds and 256kbps uploads, the same as satellite broadband providers.

Commissioner Pai complained those are broadband speeds reminiscent of the internet a decade ago and hardly represents a vision for a faster future.

In a rare moment of bipartisanship at a divided FCC, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn joined Commissioner Pai dissenting from Alaska’s plan.

“It is clear that Alaska’s ‘majestic geography’ makes deployment difficult, but without affordable middle-mile connectivity, high-cost program support spent on the last mile does little to improve communications service to Alaskans,” Clyburn wrote. “Commissioner Pai and I supported an approach that would have taken the $35 million a year in duplicative universal service money and use[d] it to support a middle-mile mechanism that would enable many Alaskans in the Bush to receive broadband for the very first time. The status quo is simply not good enough, and the cost of doing nothing is far too high.”

Pai

Pai

Both Clyburn and Pai also complained federal tax dollars will be used to build duplicative 4G wireless networks that will primarily benefit providers. From Commissioner Clyburn’s statement:

We do not subsidize competition. We do not provide duplicative high-cost support to carriers in the same area and we do not subsidize carriers where other unsubsidized carriers are providing service. That underlying principle should be applied here as well. With Alaska’s “sublime scale,” we should instead be directing support to areas that are unserved, not subsidizing competition in areas that already receive mobile service. And just what is the cost to the American consumer of continuing to support overlap in these areas? About $35 million a year!

The companies benefiting from federal tax subsidies include: ASTAC, Copper Valley Wireless, Cordova Wireless, GCI, OTZ Wireless, which covers Northwest Alaska, TelAlaska Cellular, covering Interior and Northwest Alaska, and Windy City Cellular, covering Adak.

Clyburn

Clyburn

Pai called many of the spending priorities a waste of money that will still leave 21,000 Alaskans without 4G LTE broadband and another 46,000 without 25Mbps fixed broadband:

All together these wasted payments total $365 million, or about one quarter of the total Alaska Plan pot. That’s $365 million that could be used to link off-road communities to urban Alaska as requested by the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Bering Straits Native Corporation, the Chugachmiut rural healthcare organization, and many others. That $365 million is more than eight times the $44 million grant from the Broadband Initiatives Program that launched the TERRA Southwest middle-mile network that connected 65 off-road communities in 2011.

With the federal government now pouring federal tax dollars into Alaskan broadband, the state government has been using that as an opportunity to slash state investments in internet access.

A bill from Rep. Neal Foster (D-Nome) to upgrade all rural school districts to 10Mbps broadband for $6.2 million died in committee without any hearings, according to the Alaska Commons. State Rep. Lynn Gattis (R-Wasilla) proposed killing a $5 million broadband grant to schools, and the House Education subcommittee also recommended eliminating the Online with Libraries (OWL) program. Both programs ultimately survived, but not before the state legislature significantly cut the budgets of both programs.

Guttenberg

Guttenberg

State Rep. David Guttenberg (D-Fairbanks) hopes the results from last week’s election in Alaska will allow him to position stronger broadband-related legislation in the state legislature.

Guttenberg wants to reinstate a long-cut Broadband Task Force and Working Group while also creating a public Broadband Development Corporation that would build and own middle mile broadband infrastructure and sell it to telecommunications companies that have refused to build those types of networks on their own.

A lot of members of the ATA are lining up in opposition, the newspaper notes, because they won’t directly own the infrastructure. Guttenberg’s view is that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of deep-pocketed telecom companies.

“If you want to build a strong state, if you want to build a strong community, we need to start putting those pieces together,” Guttenberg said of broadband infrastructure last year. “If you give a kid a laptop or a pad in a school district, it’s pointless if he can’t get online.”

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