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Frontier Faces Lawsuit in West Virginia Alleging False Advertising, Undisclosed DSL Speed Throttling

The slow lane

The slow lane

Frontier Communications customers in West Virginia are part of a filed class-action lawsuit alleging the phone company has violated the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act for failing to deliver the high-speed Internet service it promises.

The lawsuit, filed in Lincoln County Circuit Court, claims Frontier is advertising fast Internet speeds up to 12Mbps, but often delivers far less than that, especially in rural areas where the company is accused of throttling broadband speeds to less than 1Mbps. The suit also alleges Frontier’s broadband service is highly unreliable.

“The Internet service provided by Frontier does not come anywhere close to the speeds advertised,” wrote Benjamin Sheridan, the Hurricane lawyer filing the lawsuit on behalf of three Frontier customers. The attorney is seeking to have the case designated a class action lawsuit that would cover Frontier customers across the state.

“Although we cannot guarantee Internet speeds due to numerous factors, such as traffic on the Internet and the capabilities of a customer’s computer, Frontier tested each plaintiff’s line and found that in all cases the service met or exceeded the ‘up to’ broadband speeds to which they subscribed,” Frontier spokesperson Dan Page told the Charleston Gazette. “Nonetheless, the plaintiffs filed their case in Lincoln County, where none of them lives. If necessary, we are prepared to defend ourselves in court and bring the facts to light.”

Frontier’s general manager in West Virginia, Dana Waldo, may have helped the plaintiffs when he seemed to admit Frontier was purposely throttling the Internet speeds of its customers, a move Sheridan claims saves Frontier “a fortune” in connectivity costs with wholesale broadband providers like Sprint and AT&T.

Sheridan

Sheridan

“If as you suggest, we ‘opened up the throttle’ for every served customer, it could create congestion problems resulting in degradation of speed for all customers,” according to Waldo as part of an email exchange with one of the class members cited in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also cites a state report issued over the summer that found just 12 percent of Frontier customers receive Internet speeds that actually qualify as “broadband” under federal and state standards. Frontier’s speed ranking is the slowest of any provider in the state. That is especially significant because Frontier is the largest ISP in West Virginia, and is often the only choice rural residents have for broadband service.

Frontier dismissed the state’s report claiming it was based on voluntary speed tests performed by disgruntled customers.

“As we’ve said before, the speed tests are the result of self-selected, self-reported samples,” Page said. “People who take speed tests tend to be those with speed problems or low speeds.”

“Even if that were true, it doesn’t account for Frontier’s poor performance,” said Frontier customer William Henley. “If every person that ran a speed test in West Virginia was annoyed with their provider, Frontier still came in last place.”

Frontier’s competitors scored better:

  • lincoln countyComcast: 88% of customers met or exceeded state and federal standards;
  • Suddenlink Communications: 80%
  • Time Warner Cable: 77%
  • Shentel: 71%
  • Armstrong Cable: 67%
  • LUMOS Networks: 44%

“…Frontier’s practice of overcharging and failing to provide the high-speed, broadband-level of service it advertises has created high profits for Frontier but left Internet users in the digital Dark Age,” Sheridan wrote. “As a result, students are prevented from being able to do their homework, and rural consumers are unable to utilize the Internet in a way that gives them equal footing with those in an urban environment.”

Sheridan also accused Frontier of delivering its fastest speeds only in areas where it faces competition. Where there is none, Frontier can afford to go slow.

But slow speed is not the only issue. One plaintiff — April Morgan in Marion County — says she has to reset her modem up to 10 times a day to stay connected to the Internet. Her modem has been replaced several times by Frontier, but that has done little to solve her problem.

Frontier customers who check the company’s terms of service agreement may question whether Sheridan can get very far suing the company. A clause in the contract states customers must settle disputes only through binding arbitration or small claims court. Individual lawsuits, jury trials, and class-action cases are prohibited.

Sheridan points out customers have to go online to read the agreement – it is not provided to customers signing up for Internet service. A contract that forces customers to agree to its terms without getting informed consent may turn out not very binding under West Virginia law.

Lincoln County Judge Jay Hoke, assigned to hear the case, will likely face that matter in pre-trial motions.

West Virginia residents interested in the class action case can register here for updates.

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)

Comcast Employees Stole, Sold Identities of Customers; Comcast Tells Victims to Pay Fraudulent Charges

Phillip Dampier October 15, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

crimeA Tennessee man is facing $1,300 in unauthorized cable charges and ruined credit after at least one Comcast employee allegedly stole his identity and provided it to an outside vendor who signed up new Comcast customers who never had any intention of paying their bills.

Ricky McClure of Murfreesboro first learned about the fraud when collection agencies working for Comcast sent him collection notices demanding payment of a combined $1,300 in unpaid charges made in his name in Shreveport, La.

McClure is already a Comcast customer, and he does not pay his cable bill late, so he called Comcast over what he thought was a simple billing error and ran into a customer service buzz saw.

“Comcast basically said the name and social matches what we have on record so this is your account. You need to pay the money and we’re not going to pull it back from collections,” McClure told WKRN-TV.

McClure was left investigating the mysterious charges on his own and discovered the extra accounts on his credit report, both using his Social Security number, and opened without his permission. Even more disturbing, the service addresses on file were in a city McClure has no ties to.

"Where is our money, lady?"

“Where is our money, lady?”

“It’s very alarming. You don’t know who is going to be calling you next,” said McClure.

Comcast’s customer service seemed unconcerned McClure’s identity was stolen. They simply wanted to clear up the matter of the $1,300 in unpaid charges. In fact, Comcast reserves the right to terminate an identity theft victim’s own service until the billing matter is settled or the fraud verified.

An isolated incident? Not quite.

Stop the Cap! reader John Spencer (not his complete real name at his request) in Nashville was also a victim of Comcast fraud. He wrote to share the story of McClure, which he recognized only too well. He faced over $2,000 in Comcast bills sent to collections for another “customer” in Shreveport. This time, the thieves were smart enough to submit a change of address for the bills headed for Louisiana, claiming it was a vacation property. The collection agency finally connected the Social Security number to Spencer’s address in Nashville and commenced collection activity that dropped his FICO score by more than 90 points, which now hovers around 600. Spencer’s damage went far beyond dealing with persistent collection calls. Alarmed credit card issuers running periodic credit checks suspended or slashed Spencer’s credit lines because he was suddenly a credit risk, and Verizon wants him to pay a deposit on his new cell phone account. His car insurance even went up $65 semi-annually, the insurance company explained, because his credit score necessitated a re-evaluation of his rate.

It took over three months for Comcast to finally get the negative information off his credit report, and nine months later he is still trying to get his former credit reputation back. While credit card companies did restore his former credit lines, they made new credit inquiries before granting his request, which has cost him 40 points on his restored FICO score for “excessive credit inquiries.” Verizon won’t budge on demanding a deposit, and his insurance company will reconsider his rate only after it comes up for renewal.

Comcast's identify theft reporting form runs six pages and requires a police report, a notarized signature, and  copies of your valuable photo ID.

Comcast’s identify theft reporting form runs six pages and requires a police report, a notarized signature, and copies of your valuable photo ID.

Identity theft has become pervasive enough at Comcast that the company dedicates a special section of its website to accept reports from customers victimized by unauthorized charges.

Comcast doesn’t offer much of a shoulder to cry on either, sternly telling victims they must complete and sign a notarized affidavit, attach a police report for the claim, and prove to Comcast’s satisfaction where they actually live.

Some customers already victimized by Comcast once aren’t too happy about another requirement – providing a copy of a valid government-issued photo ID like a driver’s license or passport. If Comcast employees were willing to peddle your Social Security number for quick cash, imagine what they can get for a copy of your driver’s license.

Don’t expect the collection calls to end immediately either. Comcast warns it considers all accounts valid and payable amounts due until proven otherwise.

San Francisco area customer Tammerlin Drummond was also a victim of a rogue Comcast employee who sold her Social Security number and address to an unknown third-party who opened an account and collected a bounty of cable equipment.

Comcast billed Drummond $442.13 for service at an address she had nothing to do with. Ironically, Comcast sent Drummond a separate letter claiming that the security of her account was “a top priority at Comcast” and included a PIN number.

Comcast doesn’t like to break a sweat investigating these scams and kept the fraudulent account open while putting Drummond on its customer fraud treadmill, insisting she do all the work completing the aforementioned affidavit. Another representative even suggested visit a Comcast store in Oakland because people associated with the fraudulent account were recently there to pick up more cable equipment.

“She gave me the ID of the rep who had handled the transaction and suggested I might go to the store to ask if he remembered anything,” Drummond wrote in a column published by the Contra Costa Times. “She said there was a lot of activity connected to my Social Security number and that it was an obvious case of fraud. It smelled like an inside job to me, and I told her so.”

Comcast admitted in all three cases different employees used their positions at the cable company to access customers’ Social Security numbers and other personal information and resell it to other criminals that offer “free” cable service or tell customers to pay them, not Comcast, for “discounted service.”

The two cases in Shreveport were never uncovered by Comcast. It took the initiative of the Shreveport Police Department to launch an investigation last March. Comcast first learned about it not from customers, but from the police department who contacted the cable company about the problem.

tn laVictims were eventually sent letters from Comcast explaining what happened:

“Based on what we know at this time, a small group of individuals employed by a third-party vendor and a former Comcast employee were engaged in identity theft and theft of Comcast services. These individuals may have used your information, including your name and/or social security number, for these unauthorized purposes.”

The letter goes on to say the company is offering a complimentary identity protection plan for a year.

But identity protection may not help much if Comcast can’t secure its customers private, personal information.

Out in San Francisco, Comcast spokesman Bryan Byrd told Drummond a Comcast employee had opened the fraudulent account and that “he has been dealt with.”

Comcast has closed the account, erased the bill and removed the mess from her credit report. Because Drummond was a victim, anyone (including her) will now need to show ID and proof of residence before opening a Comcast account — provisions that would likely protect every Comcast customer from identity theft if broadly enforced.

“It makes you wonder how protected one’s personal data is,” Drummond complained. “How many others did this rogue employee target?”

Comcast says these are all isolated incidents and not a pattern to a wider problem. But apologies are not forthcoming to Mr. McClure or Spencer.

Alex Horwitz, a Comcast spokesperson in Tennessee released the following statement:

“We take this matter very seriously and, out of an abundance of caution, we have contacted a small number of people whose information may have been used to create unauthorized accounts and are providing them with credit monitoring services. We have no evidence that this was an online system breach or that any additional personal information was obtained or used for any other purpose. We are continuing to cooperate with law enforcement and are conducting our own internal investigation. The individuals involved in this are no longer working on our behalf, and we have reinforced our privacy and security policies with employees and third-party vendors.”

Comcast won’t comment on how many cases of identity theft it deals with annually.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WKRN Nashville Man gets 1-3K in Comcast bills 10-15-14.mp4

Several mid-Tennessee Comcast customers have been victims of identity theft, discovering unpaid Comcast bills run up in their names for service several states away. WKRN in Nashville shares the story of Ricky McClure, who faced $1,300 in Comcast charges sent to collections he didn’t owe. (2:41)

AT&T Adds Atlanta, Chicago and Decatur for GigaPower Gigabit Fiber Most Won’t See Anytime Soon

Notice the word "may"

Notice the word “may”

AT&T has promised an undisclosed number of customers in Chicago, Ill., and Atlanta, Decatur, and Newnan, Ga., will eventually get GigaPower upgrades to AT&T’s U-verse service, after moving customers to an all-fiber network that will deliver up to 1Gbps service.

“As a city that prides itself on creating a favorable environment for investment and innovation, I am happy to see AT&T bringing its ultra-high speed fiber network to the City of Atlanta,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. “This is a great opportunity for our residents, businesses and visitors, who all stand to benefit from this new service. The City of Atlanta is one of the fastest growing tech hubs in the United States and a hotbed for entrepreneurial activity.  U-verse with AT&T GigaPower service will complement this engine of economic growth and help pave the way for future opportunities.”

But before the mayor gets too excited, he should consider AT&T’s track record for GigaPower upgrades in other cities where the service is offered. Customers complain the gigabit upgrade is difficult to get in single family homes, with most of the upgrades targeting multi-dwelling units like large condos or apartment blocks or new housing developments.

Customers in Austin complain to Stop the Cap! AT&T GigaPower looks more like a demonstration project than a serious effort at expanding super fast fiber broadband. Although pockets of service are established in some upscale areas, nobody at AT&T is willing to answer customers’ questions about exactly when service will arrive in unserved neighborhoods. Technicians are privately telling readers it will take more than a year for serious expansion efforts to begin across Austin.

While AT&T drags its feet on fiber expansion, it has no trouble hurrying out press releases suggesting cities including Atlanta, Augusta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale, Greensboro, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, Oakland, Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego, St. Louis, San Francisco, and San Jose will soon see GigaPower in their areas. But AT&T isn’t putting much money where its mouth is, failing to significantly increase capital spending to upgrade the U-verse network.

In fact, AT&T executives have repeatedly reassured investors the company has no plans for a significant uptick in wireline capital spending — exactly what would be required to complete the gigabit expansion effort AT&T promises in press releases. In contrast, AT&T’s 2012 $14 billion Project Velocity IP (or VIP) was the company’s most visible and ambitious network build out initiative in wired service since the introduction of U-verse. Project VIP delivered a clear expansion of U-verse into new areas and brought new fiber connections to buildings, many that are now in use to offer GigaPower service in Austin.

Fiber broadband expansion is not cheap, and even after AT&T committed $14 billion to its expansion effort two years ago, the results are modest for U-verse because a considerable portion of the funds spent were invested in AT&T’s wireless network instead — always a priority:

State / City Investment amt. (wireless & wireline) U-verse locations Business connections On-net buildings Total investment (2010-2012)
California $1.15 billion 127,700 30,400 800 $7 billion
 — San Diego 15,950 2,900 90 $750 million
Texas $1 billion 138,300 24,200 600 $7 billion
Georgia $675 million $2.5 billion
 — Atlanta 12,100 11,450 400
Florida $425 million 25,050 18,450 550 $2.8 billion
Indiana $325 million 18,000 1,300 60 $1.3 billion
Michigan $275 million 35,550 2,150 70 $1.55 billion
Missouri $250 million 27,300 3,650 150 not reported
North Carolina $250 Million 9,900 1,800 50 $1.5 billion
Ohio $225 million 31,200 1,100 40 $1.5 billion
Alabama $200 million 6,600 600 20 $1.4 billion
Louisiana $175 million not reported 2,100 35 $1.2 billion
Mississippi $175 million 5,800 175 4 $975 million
Tennessee $175 million 13,600 325 9 $1.4 billion
Connecticut $140 million 6,600 1,100 40 $750 million
South Carolina $140 million 21,100 250 9 $850 million
Wisconsin $140 million N/A 525 20 $725 million
Oklahoma $120 million 13,850 875 25 $700 million
Kansas $110 million 10,150 650 30 $725 million
Nevada $110 million not reported 200 7 $600 million
Arkansas $90 million 8,750 1,000 25 $700 million

Chart courtesy: FierceTelecom

Data compiled from publicly released company information.

Reflecting on the numbers, it would take an investment at least equal, if not greater, than AT&T spent on Project VIP for AT&T to significantly upgrade the communities it claims will soon have access to GigaPower. Instead, it is more likely AT&T will introduce a handful of gigabit show projects and then incrementally upgrade selected neighborhoods over the next 3-5 years.

Existing competition makes all the difference as to what customers will pay for gigabit service from AT&T, assuming they can buy it at any price. As Google Fiber tears up the streets of Austin, it is clear Google will deliver real competition in that city, forcing AT&T to price its gigabit service at $70 a month (for customers willing to have their online activities tracked by AT&T). In nearby Dallas, where competition isn’t as robust, customers will have to pay at least $120 a month for the service.

South Korea Prepares for 10Gbps Broadband; Transfer 1GB File in 0.8 Seconds

Phillip Dampier October 14, 2014 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 40 Comments

sk 10 gigWhile AT&T and Verizon argue over an FCC proposal that would set 10Mbps as America’s new minimum speed to qualify as “broadband,” South Korea is positioning itself to introduce 10Gbps fiber service.

SK Broadband will introduce its new 10 gigabit per second Internet service at the Oct. 20 Plenipotentiary Conference of the International Telecommunications Union to be held at Busan’s BEXCO Center, in partnership with the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning and the National Information Society Agency.

With the latest advances in broadband technology coming mostly from Asian countries like Japan and South Korea, citizens of both countries are proud of the fact they are way ahead of the United States.

“In the 1960s the world watched NASA send men to the moon and many of us grew up amazed at the constant advancements of the Americans,” said Natsuki Kumagai. “Now the Americans watch us.”

“In my travels to the United States, it is very plain they have lost their way in advancing broadband technology,” said Pyon Seo-Ju. “Internet access is terribly slow and expensive because American politicians have sacrificed Americas’s technology leadership to protect conglomerates and allow them to flourish. Although unfortunate for America, this has given Korea a chance to promote our own industry and enhance the success of companies like Samsung that are well-known in the United States today.”

SK Broadband says its 10Gbps will be 100 times faster than Korea’s current average broadband speed of 100Mbps. Downloading a 1GB file takes 80 seconds with Korea’s average broadband connection today. SK’s new 10Gbps service will download the same file in 0.8 seconds.

The broadband company’s booth doesn’t hold back touting its global leadership in broadband, with the slogan “World’s Fastest, World’s First” seen throughout the conference center.

New York Public Service Commission Refuses to Release Notes from Private Meetings With Comcast

ny pscSeven staff members from the New York’s Public Service Commission privately met with representatives of Comcast and Time Warner Cable on April 10, April 24, and May 8, 2014 and the regulator is refusing to disclose exactly what was discussed.

Despite repeated requests from Common Cause NY, the PSC has been less than completely forthcoming releasing:

  • Documents provided at the meetings by representatives of Comcast and Time Warner;
  • Documents provided to Comcast or Time Warner representatives by the Department of Public Service;
  • Minutes of the meetings;
  • Notes taken by public officials or their staff in attendance.

NY PSC Secretary Kathleen Burgess did indicate “no documents were provided to or received from DPS staff, Comcast or Time Warner at the aforementioned meetings,” adding “no other records responsive to your request could be found in the possession of the department.”

That might have been the end of it had we not discovered that staff members created 31 pages of handwritten and typed impressions of the presentations offered by the two cable companies — vital clues about precisely what was discussed behind closed doors.

Despite a confirmation from Secretary Burgess that these notes do, in fact, exist, she has refused all requests to release them to the public.

“Because they are deliberative rather than ‘statistical or factual tabulations or data,’ they are not subject to disclosure under the intra agency exemption,” Burgess declared. “Accordingly, I deny your appeal.”

The public was not allowed to attend the meetings, one of which was attended by Public Service Commission chairwoman Audrey Zibelman and Commissioner Gregg Sayre. On April 10, they met with executives from the two cable companies, according to public schedules. They were joined by Allison Lee, a lobbyist for the firm representing Time Warner Cable and Tom Congdon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Assistant Secretary for Energy. What was discussed has been kept secret to this day.

Time Warner Cable’s presence is well-felt in Albany. The cable operator is one of the state’s top lobbyists, spending nearly $500,000 on New York politicians in 2013 alone. Both Time Warner and Comcast have donated a combined $200,000 to Gov. Cuomo’s campaign accounts.

New York has put Comcast’s merger application on hold until November. Last week more than 99 percent of shares held by stockholders of both cable companies were voted in favor of the deal.

J.D. Power & Associates Tie Vote! Hemorrhagic Fever vs. Comcast vs. Time Warner Cable

jd powerLove can be a fickle thing.

Take Comcast’s affair with J.D. Power & Associates, for example. In Comcast’s filings with regulators, it is very proud that J.D. Power cited Comcast for the most improvement of any cable operator scored by the survey firm. Comcast touted the fact it had managed to increase its TV satisfaction score by a whopping 92 points and Internet satisfaction was up a respectable 77 points. (Comcast didn’t mention the fact J.D. Power rates companies on a 1,000 point scale or that it took the cable company four years to eke out those improvements.)

Last month, J.D. Power issued its latest ranking of telecommunications companies and… well, the love is gone.

If customer alienation was an Olympic event, J.D. Power awarded tie gold medals to both Comcast and Time Warner Cable for their Kafkaesque race to the bottom.

The survey of customer satisfaction largely found only dissatisfaction everywhere in the country J.D. Power looked. While Comcast likes to cite its “customer-oopsies-gone-viral” blunders as “isolated incidents,” J.D. Power finds them epidemic nationwide.

skunkThe highest rating across television and broadband categories achieved by either cable company was ‘Meh.’ J.D. Power diplomatically scored both cable companies on a scale that started with “among the best” as simply “the rest.” Customers in the west were the most charitable, those in the south and eastern U.S. indicated they were worked to their last nerve.

“The ability to provide a high-quality experience with all wireline services is paramount as performance and reliability is the most critical driver of overall satisfaction,” said Kirk Parsons, senior director of telecommunications, in a statement.

Having competition available from a high-scoring provider also demonstrates what is possible when a company actually tries to care about customer service. In the same regions Comcast fared about as popular as hemorrhagic fever, WOW! Cable and Verizon FiOS easily took top honors. Even AT&T U-verse scored far higher than either cable company, primarily because AT&T offers very aggressive promotional packages that include a lot for a comparatively low price.

Other cable and smaller phone companies didn’t do particularly well either. Frontier and CenturyLink both earned dismal scores and Charter Cable only managed modest improvement. The two satellite television companies did fine in customer satisfaction for television service, but it was the two biggest phone companies that managed the best scores for Internet service. Among cable operators, only independents like WOW! (and to a lesser extent Cox) did well in the survey.

If J.D. Power is the arbiter of good service Comcast seems to claim it to be, the ratings company just sent a very clear message that when it comes to merging Comcast and Time Warner Cable, anything multiplied by zero is still zero.

J.D. Power ranking (Image courtesy: Reviewed.com)

J.D. Power ranking (Image courtesy: Reviewed.com)

Earthlink Customers Benefit from Time Warner Cable Maxx Broadband Upgrades

earthlink_logoEarthlink customers in New York, Los Angeles and Austin are receiving letters from Time Warner Cable advising them they qualify for the same speeds Time Warner Cable broadband customers are receiving as part of the TWC Maxx upgrade program.

Standard Earthlink customers in these cities will get speed upgrades from 15/1Mbps to 50/5Mbps at no extra charge. Turbo speed customers will see speeds rise from 20/2Mbps to 100/10Mbps, also at no additional cost.

twcmaxStop the Cap! reader Iris was immediately suspicious about the tone of Time Warner’s letter, which has the potential of confusing customers that own their own cable modems. The letter suggests customer-owned equipment might not be compatible with the speed upgrades. Customers are given a phone number to verify their eligibility, and some who have contacted Time Warner Cable report back they have been given a brief sales pitch to ditch their own modem in favor of one from Time Warner Cable, which costs $5.99 a month forever.

Time Warner could have simply enclosed its list of approved modems, which would answer customer concerns without having to make a phone call. But that wouldn’t give the company a chance to score extra revenue convincing customers to toss their old equipment in the trash while paying an unnecessary monthly modem fee for the rest of their lives.

For the record, your old modem probably will continue to work even if it isn’t capable of delivering the fastest speeds. If 50/5Mbps is fast enough for current Earthlink Turbo customers, they might want to consider downgrading service until they can budget to buy a new modem capable of taking full advantage of the faster 100/10Mbps speeds now on offer.

For your convenience, here is the latest Time Warner Cable Approved Modem List for TWC Maxx upgrade areas:

approved modems

 

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)

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