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Comcast Raising Rates in Pacific Northwest: $70.49/Month for Cable TV

Comcast oregonComcast rates are going up again this fall in the Pacific Northwest, now exceeding $70 a month.

At least 600,000 cable customers in Oregon and southwestern Washington will pay 4.4 percent more for 100-channel television service beginning this October, raising the cost of Standard basic cable to $70.49 a month.

Despite threats of cord cutting, customers in the Pacific Northwest have remained loyal to the idea of paying for television, according to Fred Christ, policy director for the Metropolitan Area Cable Commission in Washington County.

“Subscriber numbers remain steady,” Christ told The Oregonian. “People still don’t see an easy alternative to Comcast, Frontier (FiOS TV), or the satellite providers, all of which cause more or less the same amount of pain.”

Comcast Rates (Image: The Oregonian)

The newspaper notes sports programming may not be the cause of this year’s rate increase.

The cost of Comcast’s discounted “Digital Economy” cable package, which excludes most expensive sports networks, is rising at nearly double the rate of Standard Cable, up 8.6 percent this fall to $37.95 a month.

For those who cannot afford traditional Standard cable television, Comcast’s limited basic service, which primarily consists of local TV channels, runs $12-22 a month depending on the customer’s location. It also increased in price by about $1.30 a month in August.

Comcast may not mind cord cutters too much, because it reaps significant profits from the broadband service that powers online viewing. Comcast raised speeds from 15 to 20Mbps last spring along with the price. The popular “Performance” tier now costs $53.95 a month.

Comcast is testing the reintroduction of usage caps in a handful of service areas, typically providing up to 300GB of usage per month before overlimit fees kick in. But those Internet usage limits do not yet apply in the Pacific Northwest.

Comcast blamed the rate increases on network enhancement investments including faster Internet speeds, more multi platform video and better customer service. Comcast is currently introducing its new X1 cable box that makes finding programming easier.

Customers can avoid the worst of the price increases by choosing a bundled service package, which will see a lower rate increase. Current customers can also call Comcast to negotiate a better deal by threatening to cancel service.

Time Warner Bungles Insight Cable Conversion in Indiana: Phone/Internet Service Gone

Phillip Dampier May 6, 2013 Consumer News, HissyFitWatch, Insight, Time Warner Cable, Video Comments Off

welcome to twc

Former Insight Cable customers in Evansville, Ind. are fuming after the company’s new owner temporarily left them without phone or Internet service, with nobody available to explain why.

Time Warner Cable attempted to convert Insight customers to its own platform last week, interrupting service in the process. Affected customers quickly jammed customer service lines, leading some to visit local cable offices to straighten things out.

Time Warner Cable will convert former Insight customers in Kentucky and Ohio to its own platform starting in June.

Time Warner Cable will convert former Insight customers in Kentucky and Ohio to its own platform starting in June.

“Right now, I have no Internet,” said Insight customer Claudia Congleton. “I tried to call them three or four times today. No one answers. You’re waiting for over 30 minutes and so that’s why I’m down here. I’m just going to come down here and talk to them about it.”

“It’s so frustrating,” Congleton told Tristate News.

Time Warner blamed the problems on “minor glitches” during the customer conversion process, which began in Evansville on April 29. A larger transition is planned in Kentucky in mid-June, with former Insight customers in Columbus, Ohio moved later that same month.

When Time Warner Cable launched the conversion in Indiana, broadband customers whose names ended in letters “A” through “K” were redirected to a web page that required them to re-register broadband service and select a new twc.com e-mail address to replace their existing Insight e-mail account. Customers who either failed to complete the registration process or who tried during peak usage times often found their Internet service interrupted. Similar problems occurred with phone customers.

Some customers were unhappy with the cable company’s optimistic predictions of a quick fix.

“They lied to me,” said Insight customer Mary Jackson.  “I am so upset because they lied to me.”

Jackson visited the Evansville cable office to report her phone and Internet service were out and the company promised a same-day fix. A day later it was still out.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WTVW Evansville Time Warner Transition Step By Step 5-1-13.flv

Here is how the transition was supposed to take place between Insight Cable and Time Warner. WTVW in Evansville walks customers through the conversion process.  (2 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WFIE Evansville Broadband Problems 5-1-13.mp4

WFIE in Evansville reports how things actually went. Not so good, reported a number of customers.  (1 minute)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WTVW Evansville Time Warner Cable Customers Look For Answers 5-1-13.flv

The next day, Time Warner Cable customers who could not get through to the company by phone were down at this Time Warner Cable office in Evansville looking for answers, as WTVW reports.  (2 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WFIE Evansville Insight Switch 5-3-13.mp4

The following day, some customers were still without service. WFIE talks to one Time Warner Cable customer upset she still did not have phone service.  (1 minute)

Say Goodbye to Insight Cable, Time Warner Cable Has Arrived

Phillip Dampier March 20, 2013 Consumer News, Insight, Time Warner Cable, Video Comments Off

insightOver the next three months, customers of Insight Cable will notice some major changes from their cable operator.

New owner Time Warner Cable is retiring the Insight name for good and replacing it with their own.

Customers will gradually see Time Warner Cable’s logo introduced on company trucks, billing statements, channel guides, and all correspondence.

The company promises one thing is not changing for now: your rates. But that promise won’t last long. Time Warner adjusts rates annually.

Time Warner Cable will also leave current channel lineups in place, but expect to see technology upgrades that will deliver services like online video and faster broadband speeds that may not yet be available in all Insight Cable areas.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WCPO Cincinnati Say goodbye to Insight Cable in Ky 3-19-13.mp4

WCPO’s consumer reporter lets northern Kentucky subscribers know ‘Insight Cable’ is a name headed for the history books.  (1 minute)

AT&T Will Invest $14 Billion to Expand Wired/Wireless Broadband, Abandon Traditional Landlines

AT&T will spend $14 billion on its wireless and wired broadband networks in an effort to improve service for its urban and suburban customers, while preparing to argue its case for disbanding parts of the century-old landline network.

In a major 90-minute presentation with most of AT&T’s top executives on stage, the company announced its intention to move away from traditional landline service and towards a combination of an enhanced broadband platform and 4G LTE wireless access, especially in the 22 states where it currently delivers landline service.

The investment plan — Project Velocity — is a pivotal moment for AT&T, which has seen deteriorating revenue from its aging rural landline network and has focused most of its investments in recent years on its increasingly profitable wireless network.

But AT&T also hoped to hang on to the enormous revenue it still earns providing traditional home phone service. Its early answer for landline cord cutting came in 2006 with U-verse, an IP-based network platform on which AT&T can sell video, voice, and broadband service with a minimum of regulatory oversight. U-verse succeeded attracting high-paying customers who either stayed with or returned to AT&T. But now company officials hope U-verse can help the company achieve victory in its next public policy fight: to abandon traditional landline service altogether.

That emerging battle is likely to pit urban and suburban customers enjoying enhanced U-verse service against rural AT&T customers deemed unsuitable for wired broadband. AT&T is seeking to decommission up to 25% of its rural landline network as part of the strategy announced today, shifting affected customers to its 4G LTE wireless voice and broadband service, which comes at a higher cost and includes draconian usage caps.

Critics contend such a move could leave AT&T largely unregulated with monopoly control over its networks, with few service requirements or access concessions for competitors. It would also leave rural customers relegated to a wireless Internet future, perhaps permanently.

Landline/Wired Broadband: Good News for Some, Scary News for Rural America

AT&T plans to expand and enhance its broadband network to 57 million consumers and small businesses across its 22-state operating area, reaching 75 percent of customers by the end of 2015. AT&T will operate three broadband networks going forward, while gradually decommission its existing ADSL network.

  • U-verse: AT&T’s triple play package of TV, Internet, and Voice over IP phone will be expanded by more than a third to reach an additional 8.5 million customers by the end of 2015. This will make U-verse available to 33 million customers in AT&T home phone service areas. Most of the expansion will be in urban and suburban areas bypassed during the initial U-verse construction phase. To remain competitive, AT&T will also increase available broadband speeds for existing customers up to 75Mbps;
  • U-verse IPDSLAM: An additional 24 million customers will be offered a combo voice-broadband package that could be called “U-verse Lite.” It will offer speeds up to 45Mbps and is primarily intended as a replacement for the company’s DSL service in exurban and semi-rural areas. Arrives by the end of 2013;
  • Fiber to Multi-Tenant Business Buildings: AT&T plans to expand its fiber network to reach more commercial buildings, but also lay the foundation to use these facilities for future distributed antenna systems and small cell technology that will create mini-cell sites serving individual neighborhoods, cutting down the demand on existing cell towers.

Customers living in rural, open country in AT&T service areas in states like Texas, northern Mississippi, western Tennessee and Kentucky, central and northern California and Michigan, and the rural areas of the Carolinas may eventually find themselves using AT&T’s wireless network as the company seeks to decommission its landline infrastructure.

A number of AT&T customers living in areas shown in red may see red if and when AT&T begins trying to force rural Americans to its more profitable wireless networks.

But AT&T officials also admitted in a Wall Street Q & A session that the company planned nothing special for rural landline customers transitioned to wireless. Those customers will be sharing service with traditional mobile customers. If AT&T’s service plan resembles that of Verizon, customers will pay around $60 a month and limited to just 10GB of usage per month. If AT&T decommissions its existing landline infrastructure, no other wired provider is likely to take its place.

Most remaining regulations enforcing a level playing field for telecommunications networks remain with legacy copper-wire landline Plain Old Telephone Service. AT&T’s plan would effectively banish that network in its entirety through a series of regulatory and service-transition maneuvers:

  • U-verse customers actually no longer have traditional landline service. U-verse offers barely regulated Voice over IP service, free from most state regulations and pricing oversight;
  • U-verse IPDSLAM customers will also quietly forfeit their traditional landlines. This product works over an IP network, which means telephone service is Voice over IP;
  • Wireless service is already barely regulated and not subject to price oversight or universal service requirements that landline providers must meet to deliver service to all Americans.

AT&T proves you have to spend money on network upgrades to make money from customers purchasing the enhanced services they offer.

4G LTE Mobile Broadband: 99% Coverage Across 22 AT&T Landline States, Up to 300 Million Americans Served by the End of 2014

The majority of AT&T’s planned investment in its network will once again go to its highly profitable wireless division. At least $8 billion will be spent on bolstering AT&T’s 4G LTE wireless coverage area, especially in rural sections across its 22 state landline service area. That investment is necessary if AT&T hopes to win approval to decommission traditional landline service for rural customers.

  • 4G LTE Expansion: AT&T plans to expand its 4G LTE network to cover 300 million people in the United States by year-end 2014, up from its current plans to deploy 4G LTE to about 250 million people by year-end 2013. In AT&T’s 22-state wireline service area, the company expects its 4G LTE network will cover 99 percent of all customer locations;
  • Spectrum: AT&T continues its acquisition binge with more than 40 spectrum deals so far this year. AT&T’s biggest win of the year was approval for new WCS spectrum it will occupy alongside satellite radio. AT&T will have accumulated 118MHz of spectrum nationwide.
  • Small Cell Networks: AT&T has already aggressively deployed a large number of Wi-Fi hotspots to encourage customers to shift traffic off its traditional wireless network. The next priority will be deployment of small cell technology, macro cells, and distributed antenna systems that can offer neighborhood-sized cell sites to serve urban and suburban customers and high density traffic areas like shopping malls and entertainment venues.

AT&T’s wireless 4G LTE upgrades will cover 99% of the service areas where the company provides landline service. It has to offer blanket coverage if it hopes to win approval for decommissioning its current legacy landline network in rural America.

Using New Infrastructure to Drive New Business and Even Higher Revenue

AT&T would have had a hard time selling its planned investments to Wall Street without the promise of new revenue opportunities. AT&T’s new network enhancements will support a range of new services the company hopes to introduce to win greater revenue in the future:

  • AT&T Digital Life: A nationwide all IP-based home security and automation service set to launch in 2013 that will let consumers manage their home from virtually any device — smartphone, tablet or PC.
  • Mobile Premise Solutions: This new nationwide service, available today, is an alternative for wireline voice service and in the future will include high-speed IP Internet data services.
  • Mobile Wallet: AT&T is participating in the ISIS mobile wallet joint venture. Market trials are underway in Austin, Tex. and Salt Lake City today.
  • Connected Car: More than half of new vehicles are expected to be wirelessly connected by 2016. AT&T is positioned to expand from vehicle diagnostics and real time traffic updates to consumer applications that tie into retail wireless subscriber data plans. AT&T already has deals with leading manufacturers such as Ford, Nissan and BMW.

AT&T’s 2012 Investor Conference introduced major transformative changes for AT&T’s wired and wireless broadband networks.  (2 hours, 9 minutes)

West Virginia Can’t Catch a Break: Superstorm Sandy’s Snows Sock It to Frontier

Phillip Dampier October 31, 2012 Consumer News, Frontier 1 Comment

The Charleston Gazette

While the eastern seaboard begins to assess the damage of several feet of water invading New Jersey and New York, West Virginia continues to contend with several feet of heavy snow left by Hurricane Sandy. More than 8,400 customers and climbing have reported service outages to the state’s largest phone company — Frontier Communications, which has crews contending with storm-damaged infrastructure ranging from widespread power outages to downed trees and utility lines.

Although parts of the state anticipated heavy snows from Sandy, cities further south including Charleston were unprepared for the wallop of wet, heavy snow that was expected to remain further to the north. Sandy’s heaviest precipitation bands were on the west side of the storm — bad news as far west as central Ohio and Kentucky. While temperatures remained in the 50’s further north, the cold core of Sandy resulted in precipitation falling largely as snow in the Appalachians.

As of noon, more than 200,000 homes in the state remain without power, which also impacts Frontier Communications’ operations.

Sandy knocked out power to at least 32 of the company’s 230 central offices in West Virginia, but the company reports all but three are still running with the assistance of backup generators — some acquired after last summer’s derecho, which knocked out power at half of Frontier’s switching offices.

Frontier says it is trying to get the remaining three switches back in operation, but some remote locations remain inaccessible because of poor roads and downed trees. Tucker County is reportedly among the most difficult to reach.

West Virginia’s Panhandle region has an estimated 1,000 customers without Internet service as of yesterday, particularly in hard-hit Jefferson, Berkeley, and Morgan counties.

Although customers may find their landline phone service working, broadband service could be more intermittent because of power outages affecting remote terminals that help extend service into rural locations. Those are vulnerable to electricity interruptions which Frontier’s Dan Page reports are widespread across the state, with the exception of the Wheeling area.

Frontier won’t say how many customers in West Virginia are currently without service, but noted many will have to wait until power restoration efforts are complete. Frontier’s crews have secondary priority and will repair services after electric service crews move on.

The storm impacted Frontier customers all the way west to Indiana, where fewer than 1,000 customers were without service in the Terre Haute area.

Any customer experiencing trouble with their phone or Internet should call Frontier at 1-877-462-8188, option 2 to request repair (or 1-800-921-8101). Repair technicians are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Texas Judge Allows Time Warner Cable to Maintain Local Station “Replacements” During Disputes

Phillip Dampier September 10, 2012 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Time Warner Cable Comments Off

When Time Warner Cable can’t reach a retransmission consent agreement with local broadcasters, it can thank a loophole left in a badly-written contract the cable company has with Nexstar Broadcasting, a Texas station owner group, for providing a stop-gap solution.

A federal judge ruled late last week Time Warner Cable was allowed to replace local affiliates with Nexstar-owned stations because their contract does not prohibit the cable operator from the practice.

When the cable company’s carriage agreement with Hearst Corporation expired in July, Time Warner replaced affected local stations in Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, Vermont and New York with Nexstar-owned stations based in Terre Haute, Ind. (NBC affiliate, WTWO-TV), Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (NBC affiliate, WBRE-TV), and Rochester, N.Y. (CBS affiliate, WROC-TV).

Viewers in Kentucky ended up getting the local news from a station in western New York, located hundreds of miles away, but cable subscribers still got to watch their favorite network shows.

Nexstar sued Time Warner in federal court to stop the practice.

But Judge Jorge Solis could find nothing in Nexstar’s agreement prohibiting the cable company from importing the distant stations.

“Nowhere in the [agreement] does Nexstar limit its retransmission consent,” Solis wrote. “It appears the language limiting the broadcast […] is not present when Nexstar gives its retransmission consent under Section 1. In fact, it is specifically omitted when describing the ‘retransmission consent’ under Section 1.”

Solis refused to grant a request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction stopping Time Warner from carrying Nexstar stations outside of their designated local broadcast areas.

More Stealthy ‘Friends of AT&T’ Writing Duplicate, Company-Friendly Editorials on Telecom Regulation

Otero

When a former labor leader suddenly starts advocating for the interests of AT&T and other super-sized telecommunications companies, even as AT&T’s unionized work force prepared to strike, the smell of Big Telecom money and influence permeates the air.

Jack Otero, identified in the Des Moines Register as “a former member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council and past national president of the AFL-CIO’s Labor Council for Latin American Advancement,” penned a particularly suspicious love letter to deregulation that might as well have been written by AT&T’s director of government relations:

[…]Industries — like broadband Internet — are thriving and creating innovations. Tossing a regulatory grenade into these businesses could wreck markets that create value for consumers and jobs for workers.

The United States is one of the most wired nations in the world. More than 95 percent of households have access to at least one wireline broadband provider, and the vast majority can connect at speeds exceeding 100 Mbps. And monthly packages start as low as $15. That means more families can go online to improve their job skills, look for work or help the kids with their school assignments.

More choices and higher speeds — the signs of a vibrant market — are the product of private investment, not public dollars. Internet service providers have invested over $250 billion in the last four years alone. This has created roughly half a million jobs laying fiber-optic and coaxial cable.

But some squeaky wheels are demanding heavy-handed regulations that would move our broadband Internet to the European model, where taxpayers have to subsidize outdated networks with slow speeds. Some want broadband providers to be required to lease their networks to competitors at discounted prices — as they do in Europe. But lawmakers in both parties agree that this policy, tried in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, failed miserably.

Others argue that broadband Internet providers should not be able to impose a small surcharge on the tiny percentage (less than 1 percent) of consumers who download hundreds of movies and tens of thousands of songs every month — effectively the data usage of a business. They say these fees discriminate against online video companies like Netflix. But that’s silly. More than 99 percent of users can watch plenty of Apple TV or Netflix without approaching the lowest data allotment. Without tiered pricing plans, the rest of us would have to underwrite these super-users.

Okay then.

Otero’s Fantasy World of Broadband sounds great, only it does not exist for the vast majority of Americans. Are most of us able to connect at speeds exceeding 100Mbps?

If you happen to live in a community served by a publicly-owned broadband provider Otero effectively dismisses, you can almost take this fact for granted.

Some of America’s most advanced telecommunications providers are actually owned by the public they serve in dozens of communities small and large. EPB Fiber, Greenlight, Fibrant, Lafayette’s LUS Fiber, among others, deliver super-fast upload and download speeds at very reasonable prices while the giant phone and cable companies offer less service for more money.

The only major telecommunications company with a wide deployment of fiber-to-the-home service is Verizon Communications.

You cannot easily buy residential 100Mbps service from Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, FairPoint, or a myriad of other telecom companies at any price, unless you purchase an obscenely expensive business account. From the rest, 100Mbps service typically sets you back $100 a month.

Otero’s quote of affordable $15 broadband is not easy to come by either. It usually requires the customer to qualify for food stamps or certain welfare programs, have a family with school-age children, a perfect payment history, and no recent record of subscribing to broadband service at the regular price.

The only people who believe America is the home of a vibrant market for broadband service are paid employees of telecom companies, paid-off politicians, or their sock-puppet friends and organizations who more often than not receive substantial contributions from phone or cable companies. The fact is, the United States endures a home broadband duopoly in most communities — one cable and one phone company. They charge roughly the same rates for a level of service that Europe and Asia left behind years ago. Broadband prices keep going up here, going down there.

Simply put, Mr. Otero and actual reality have yet to meet. Consider his nonsensical diatribe about the impact of the “heavy-handed” 1996 Telecommunications Act, actually a festival of mindless deregulation that resulted in sweeping consolidation in the telecommunications and broadcasting business and higher prices for consumers.

Otero is upset that big companies like AT&T and Verizon originally had to open up their networks in the early 1990s to independent Internet Service Providers who purchased wholesale access at fair (yet profitable) prices. Those fledgling ISPs developed and marketed third-party Internet service based on those open network rates. Remember the days when you could choose your ISP from a whole host of providers? In some markets, this tradition carried forward with DSL service, but for most it would not last.

The telecommunications industry managed to successfully lobby the government and federal regulators to change the rules. Phone companies did not appreciate the fact they had to open their networks for fair access while cable operators did not. So in 2005, the FCC allowed both to control their broadband networks like third world despots. Competitors were effectively not allowed. Wholesale access, where available, was priced at rates that usually guaranteed few ISPs would ever undercut the cable or phone company’s own broadband product.

The lawmakers who believed open networks represented awful policy were almost entirely corporate-friendly or recipients of enormous campaign contributions from the telecom companies themselves.

So which market is actually on the road to failure?

The LCLAA couldn’t do enough to help AT&T swallow up competitor T-Mobile USA.

The American broadband business model is a firmly established duopoly that charges some of the world’s highest prices and has rapidly fallen behind those “failures” in Europe.

In the United Kingdom, BT — the national phone company, is required to sell access at the wholesale rates Otero dismisses as bad policy. As a result, UK consumers have a greater choice of service providers, and at speeds that are increasingly outpacing the United States. Nationally backed fiber to the home networks in eastern Europe and the Baltic states have already blown past the average speeds Americans can affordably buy from the cable company.

Even Canada requires Bell, the dominant phone company, to open its network to independent ISPs selling DSL service. Without this, Canadians would rarely have a chance to find a service provider offering unlimited, flat rate service.

Otero’s final, and most-tired argument is that data caps force “average” users to subsidize “heavy” users. In fact, as Stop the Cap! reported this week, that fallacy can be safely flushed away when you consider the largest ISPs pay, on average, just $1 per month per subscriber for usage, and that price is dropping fast. The only thing being subsidized here is the telecom “dollar-a-holler” fund, paid to various mouthpiece organizations who deliver the industry’s talking points without looking too obvious.

The Des Moines Register omitted the rest of Mr. Otero’s industry connections. We’re always here to help at Stop the Cap!, so here is what the newspaper forgot:

  • Mr. Otero is a board member of Directors of the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI), a group funded in part by AT&T and Verizon;
  • He is the past president of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, a group that enthusiastically supported the anti-competitive merger of AT&T and T-Mobile USA;

Mr. Otero has a side hobby of penning nearly identical editorials with largely these same broadband talking points. One wonders what might motivate him into writing letters to the Des Moines Register, the Lexington Herald-Leaderthe Gainesville Sun, the Star-Banner, and the Ledger-Inquirer.

Otero may have a case for plagiarism, if he chooses to pursue it, against Mr. Roger Campos, president of the Minority Business RoundTable (the top cable lobbyist, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association is labeled an MBRT “strategic partner” on their website). Campos uses some of the exact same talking points in his own “roundtable” of letters to the editor sent to newspapers all over the place, including the Ventura County Star, the Leaf Chronicle, and the Daily Herald.

Special Report — Retransmission Consent Wars 2012: Disputes Becoming Daily Nuisance

Customers sitting down to watch the local news in Louisville, Ky. on Time Warner Cable (formerly Insight) now get to see stories about ongoing bankruptcy woes at Eastman Kodak, house fires in Irondequoit, road work in Greece, and Scott Hetsko’s local forecast… for Rochester, N.Y.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WLKY Louisville WLKY Remains Off the Air 7-16-12.flv

WLKY in Louisville is no longer seen on former Insight cable systems (now owned by Time Warner Cable). In its place, Louisville viewers are watching WROC-TV in Rochester, N.Y.  Here is why. (3 minutes)

No, it is not some weird sunspot reception and nobody transported you from Kentucky to western New York while you were sleeping. It’s simply another epic battle waged in:

RETRANSMISSION CARRIAGE CONSENT WARS: 2012

“Not getting the channels you are paying for does not necessarily entitle you to a refund, but does require you to pay more when a deal is eventually struck.”

WESH-TV in Daytona Beach/Orlando, Fla. is one of the Hearst-owned stations affected in the dispute with Insight/Time Warner Cable/Bright House Networks.

These skirmishes used to be commonplace around the end of the year, when carriage agreements between cable, satellite, and telephone companies with cable networks and local stations came up for renewal. When the programmer passed a figure written on a folded up piece of paper across the table to your pay television provider, the shock and awe of that number, occasionally 100-300 percent more than the year before, was the opening shot in a battle that now increasingly leads to favorite local stations or cable channels being stripped from your lineup.

In Louisville, that is precisely what happened to WLKY-TV, one of 15 stations owned by Hearst Television, taken off the lineup when Time Warner Cable/Insight/Bright House Networks could not successfully negotiate a renewal agreement. Time Warner complained Hearst wanted 300% more for each of the affected stations, an increase sure to be passed along to cable customers already long weary of endless annual rate increases. That was the same story told in other cities affected by what is now a week-long blackout. In Greensboro/Winston-Salem, N.C., Time Warner customers are doing without WXII-TV. Kansas City customers lost two local stations owned by Hearst — KMBC and KCWE. Two stations are also missing from Bright House’s lineup in Orlando: WESH and WKCF.

Hearst Television’s general manager and president of WLKY has stopped referring to those watching the station simply as “viewers.” Glenn Haygood now calls them “subscribers.” Haygood talks with WHAS Radio about the dispute and what he thinks about Insight/Time Warner Cable. (10 minutes)

Insight/Time Warner Cable customers in Louisville, Ky. are now watching CBS shows on WROC-TV from Rochester, N.Y.

But why are Louisville viewers now watching the boating forecast for Lake Ontario, several hundred miles away? Because Time Warner Cable thinks it has a signed contract with Nexstar Broadcasting Group that lets them turn several Nexstar-owned stations into “superstations,” importing them in cities where contract disputes have knocked the local station off the cable lineup. In Louisville, WLKY, a CBS affiliate, has been replaced by WROC, the CBS affiliate in Rochester. In Greensboro and several other cities, WXII, an NBC affiliate, has been replaced with WBRE in Wilkes Barre, Penn. Some other Time Warner customers are instead watching WTWO out of Terre Haute, Ind., for NBC shows.

It represents a half-measure that Time Warner Cable’s Jeff Simmermon tells Stop the Cap! is “making the best of a tough situation.”

Viewers are naturally outraged.

“I’ve always wanted to know the weather and news in Rochester, Buffalo, Ontario and Caribou,” Kelly Grether teased. “Louisville did make [WROC’s weather] map believe it or not.”

Others are simply confused and engaged in must-flee TV.

“I saw the news coming on,” Greensboro resident Mona Wright told the News & Record. “It didn’t take me but one minute to figure out that these counties were nowhere around us; I changed the channel.”

Some Louisville viewers are even assuming the sales and discounts being advertised on WROC are good in Kentucky as well (often, they are not).

For now, it is difficult for Kentucky viewers to know what WROC is airing because the local on-screen program guide has not been updated to include listings for the Rochester station. Time Warner is pushing a lot of viewers to WROC’s website for program information.

Viewers hoping to practice their Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune skills during the dinner hour lost that opportunity altogether in some cities, while in the Triad of North Carolina, viewers discovered the two shows on two different channels at the same time.

For now, WROC has completely ignored its new Kentucky audience, but WBRE’s morning anchors now regularly acknowledge and welcome their viewers from several states away.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WFTV Orlando WESH Disappears from Bright House 7-10-12.flv

WFTV in Orlando reports on Bright House Networks’ customers being shut out of WESH-TV in Daytona Beach after the cable operator failed to meet Hearst Television’s demands for an increase in carriage payments.  (2 minutes)

The dispute has since enlarged to bring in side players who are unimpressed with Time Warner’s creative problem-solving:

  • Impacted stations now off Time Warner’s lineup think the “new” stations on the lineup are about as honorable as employing scab workers during a union strike;
  • Nexstar, for the second time, declares Time Warner is illegally importing their stations to unauthorized places. They are threatening to complain to the FCC and possibly sue to stop the practice. Nexstar earlier complained about a similar dispute in upstate New York which left viewers in northern New York watching WBRE in Wilkes-Barre. But the carriage dispute was settled quickly enough for WBRE to go back to being  viewable only in Pennsylvania, ending the dispute;
  • Syndicated program owners sell shows like Wheel of Fortune on a “market exclusive” basis, which means competing local stations already paying for syndicated shows do not want out of area stations also carrying those shows to local audiences, diluting their audience.
  • Advertisers on stations now off the lineup paid ad rates based on tens of thousands of cable viewers who are now probably watching another station. Some are demanding “make goods” or outright refunds to get the value for money they were originally promised.

But nobody is more caught in the middle than consumers, especially those paying for channels they are no longer getting.

“I want my money back,” says Orlando Bright House customer Luis Fernandez. “I have lost two stations on my lineup and my bill should be going down to compensate, but Bright House is refusing to credit me.”

Time Warner Cable does not usually give refunds either, arguing that its customers pay for a package of channels and the technology that delivers those networks to customers. Giving a refund for the loss of one or two stations would be tantamount to the industry’s worst nightmare: getting customers used to the idea of paying individually for every channel.

One customer willing to make himself a major nuisance in Wauwatosa, near Milwaukee, Wis., finally wore Time Warner down and secured a $5 a month discount on his bill for the length of the dispute that knocked Milwaukee’s WISN off his lineup.

“[I called] Time Warner to voice my disgust in them putting me (the paying customer) in the middle of their negotiation failures, and after reaching a ‘supervisor,’ I was able to get a discount on my monthly bill,” the reader told the Journal-Sentinel. “It wasn’t easy, but I did it.”

Hearst is encouraging viewers to drop Time Warner like a hot potato and switch to AT&T U-verse or a satellite provider like DirecTV. Negotiations seem to be continuing on a sporadic basis, but one week later, customers heading for the door have already left or are simply watching the local news on another channel.

Satellite Showdown — DirecTV vs. Viacom: Playing Down and Dirty With Everyone

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Viacom Ad.mp4

Viacom turns the tables on DirecTV’s clever ads to lambaste the satellite provider for cutting off more than two dozen cable channels owned by Viacom.  (1 minute)

If a customer took Hearst’s advice, they might find themselves out of the frying pan and into the fire. Newly arriving DirecTV customers can join the Anger Party 20 million satellite customers are now throwing over a much larger, higher profile dispute between the satellite provider and Viacom. Collateral damage: the loss of networks including Palladia, Centric, Tr3s, CMT, Logo, NickToons, VH1 Classic, TeenNick, Nick Jr., Nick@Nite, Spike, BET, VH1, TV Land, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV.

Some financial analysts are calling the dispute the mother-of-all-program-fee-battles, and as they watch both sides dig in, some warn it could mean DirecTV customers won’t be watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart until August.

DirecTV says Viacom wants a 30% rate increase to renew its contract to carry the company’s networks. That is comparatively cheap contrasted with the prices Hearst wants Time Warner Cable to now pay. Analysts expect DirecTV and Viacom will eventually settle their dispute by agreeing to a 27% rate increase, but nobody knows how long the two will battle it out before an inevitable agreement is reached.

Regardless of the timing, customers will likely pay the price. Nomura analyst Michael Nathanson informed his Wall Street clients DirecTV will end up paying Viacom $2.85 per subscriber — about 60 cents more per month than it pays today. That’s tough for DirecTV to swallow, and probably even harder to pass along to customers. Satellite TV providers have some of the country’s most-frugal pay television customers who are especially resistant to rate increases.

The dispute is so high profile, both companies are bringing out high-powered executives and show talent to argue their respective cases.

Millions of dollars are at stake, and both Viacom and DirecTV are willing to fight to the death, even leaving customers on the battlefield.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/DirecTV Viacom Dispute 7-12-12.mp4

Not so fast, says DirecTV CEO Michael White, seen here presenting DirecTV’s position in the Viacom dispute for the benefit of concerned customers.  (1 minute)

“All we are trying to get is a fair deal for our customers and I’m sorry our customers are being forced into the middle of this,” DirecTV’s Michael White said. “We just think we pay a half a billion dollars a year and a billion dollar increase over five years, over 30 percent, is not justified by the marketplace or fair relative to our largest competitors or by their ratings.”

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman counters, “In the last seven years since we did the last DirecTV deal, we have successfully and peacefully concluded affiliate agreements with every major distributor in the U.S. We are prepared to move forward. It’s unfortunate consumers for the first time are not able to enjoy our channels,” said Dauman, adding, “I don’t want to negotiate in public.”

DirecTV was telling its customers it can watch many of the missing shows for free online, until Viacom reportedly began removing that direct viewing option last week. That hardball tactic could impact everyone trying to stream Viacom’s shows — DirecTV customer or not.

“We’ve temporarily slimmed down our offerings, as DirecTV markets them as an alternative to having our networks,” a Viacom spokesman told CNNMoney. “The online content is intended to serve as a complimentary marketing tool for our partners.”

“At least they were honest about the reasons why they pulled this,” said Stop the Cap! reader Dick Armlo, a DirecTV customer in Idaho. “But fortunately, you can still find a lot of the shows on Amazon’s video on demand and Hulu.”

Customers threatening to switch providers often discover the new neighborhood they move to is just as bad as the one they left.

Dish Network customers are currently enduring a long-standing dispute with Cablevision-owned AMC Networks. The result is no AMC, IFC, Sundance Channel and WeTV on Dish. AMC is telling Dish customers to turn their dish into a birdbath and head elsewhere… perhaps to AT&T U-verse which just recently averted its own blackout with AMC over the same channels. AT&T customers can expect part of their next rate increase to cover the negotiated rate hike AMC won for itself — the one AT&T agreed to on your behalf. After all, it’s your money at stake, not theirs.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Viacom CEO on Dispute 7-12-12.flv

CNBC talks with Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman to get his views about the dispute with one of his best customers — DirecTV.  (2 minutes)

PBS Documentary: Subcontracting Cell Tower Work Has a Human Toll

Phillip Dampier May 24, 2012 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Video, Wireless Broadband Comments Off

Data provided by OSHA statistics

A new joint investigation by Frontline and ProPublica reveals serious lapses in safety for America’s cell tower workers, a career now considered one of the most hazardous and life-threatening in America.

In the last eight years, 50 climbers have died, with many more injured installing and servicing cell sites for AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile. The investigation finds many of these deaths and injuries were preventable, but as America’s profitable cell phone companies outsource jobs to cut-rate subcontractors (and the sub-contractors they often use themselves), safety measures take a back seat to low-ball bidding and profits.

Efforts to hold companies accountable are stymied by the byzantine layers of third party companies hired to do the work, an under-equipped federal safety agency, and difficulty assessing where the responsibility lies when things go wrong.

From ProPublica and Frontline:

From their perch atop the contracting chain, carriers typically set many of the crucial parameters for work on cell sites, including deadlines, pay rates and even technical specifications, down to the exact degree an antenna should be angled. An analysis of cell tower deaths by ProPublica and PBS “Frontline” showed that tight timetables and financial pressure often led workers to take fatal shortcuts or to work under unsafe conditions.

“We’ve had a number of situations where we think that accidents were caused by companies trying to meet deadlines and … cutting corners on safety in order to meet those deadlines,” said Jordan Barab, OSHA’s deputy administrator.

But Barab said it’s difficult for the agency to hold cell companies responsible for safety violations involving subcontractors. In most cases, federal officials have interpreted OSHA regulations to mean that carriers can be held accountable only if they exercised direct control over subcontractors’ work or were aware of specific unsafe conditions.

OSHA has not sanctioned cell carriers for safety violations implicated in any subcontractor deaths on cell sites since 2003, a review of agency records by ProPublica and PBS “Frontline” found.

OSHA has made little effort to systematically connect the deaths of tower workers to specific carriers and had not known until ProPublica and PBS “Frontline” told them that there have been 15 fatalities on AT&T jobs since 2003 – more than at the other three major carriers combined over the same period.

The agency attempted to fine a carrier just once and failed, losing a nearly three-year legal battle with a regional cell company in Kentucky. The agency has never taken on the four major carriers – Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint – even though there have been almost two dozen fatalities on jobs done for their networks.

Most of OSHA’s enforcement efforts have focused on a transient cast of small subcontractors, though they, too, typically have eluded significant penalties. Over the last nine years, the median fine levied for safety violations linked to a fatal tower accident was $3,750, an analysis by ProPublica and PBS “Frontline” showed.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/PBS Frontline Cell Tower Deaths 5-23-12.flv

Watch this segment from PBS Frontline exploring ‘Cell Tower Deaths,’ and what can be done to stop them.  (30 minutes)

6 University Towns Will Get Gigabit Broadband Through New Public-Private Partnership

Six college towns will benefit from the nation’s first multi-community broadband gigabit deployment, thanks to $200 million in capital funding to get the broadband networks off the ground.

The Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program leverages local government, universities, private capital, and the public to jointly support and foster the development of new fiber optic networks.

The new program claims it will offer competitively-priced super-fast broadband through projects that will cover neighborhoods of 5,000-10,000 people and communities up to 100,000 in size.  Selection of the six winning communities will be announced between this fall and next spring.

“Gigabit Squared created the Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program to help select Gig.U communities build and test gigabit speed broadband networks with speeds from 100 to 1000 times faster than what Americans have today,” the company said in a statement.

“The United States is behind in the world for Internet speed,” said Mark Ansboury, Gigabit’s president and co-founder. “The goal is to help get us out front for a platform of innovation.”

That platform is certainly not forthcoming from the country’s largest broadband providers, who according to Ansboury have been pulling back on wired infrastructure upgrades in recent years, shifting focus to more profitable wireless networks.

Gigabit Squared defines the next generation of broadband Internet in terms of speed, declaring 2,000Mbps (2Gbps) as the target to achieve.

The winning projects will be sponsored by Gig.U members, which include:

  • Arizona State University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Colorado State University
  • Duke University
  • Florida State University
  • George Mason University
  • The Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Howard University
  • Indiana University
  • Michigan State University
  • North Carolina State University
  • Penn State University
  • University of Alaska – Fairbanks
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Colorado – Boulder
  • University of Florida
  • University of Hawaii
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Kentucky
  • University of Louisville
  • University of Maine
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Montana
  • University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • University of New Mexico
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Oklahoma
  • University of South Florida
  • University of Virginia
  • University of Washington
  • Virginia Tech
  • Wake Forest University
  • West Virginia University

Blair Levin, executive director at Gig.U, believes private American telecom companies will always be constrained from delivering world class broadband comparable to South Korea or Japan because of Wall Street opposition to the investment required to construct them. In the eyes of investors, today’s slower networks, in their estimation, do just fine.

Gig.U believes that they have a solution, at least for towns with a sizable university system that can serve as host of the next generation broadband network:

First, any community that wants its residents to have access to a network that delivers world-leading bandwidth can do so. The barrier is not technology or economics. The barrier is organization; specifically, organizing demand and improved use of underutilized assets, such as rights of way, dark fiber, or in more rural areas, spectrum. The responses identified a multitude of ways local communities can improve the private investment case by lowering investment and risk, and increasing revenues for private players willing to upgrade or build new networks without budget outlays from the local government.

Second, the responses confirmed that university communities have the easiest organizing task and greatest upside. Their density, demographics and demand make the current economics more favorable for an upgrade than other communities. For example, the high percentage of the population in university communities living in multiple dwelling units makes the economics of an upgrade far more favorable than for communities composed largely of single-family homes. With the growing importance of Big Data for the economy and the society, university communities are the natural havens for such enterprises to be born and prosper. Through the Gig.U process, our communities are already exploring more than a half-dozen paths to achieve an upgrade; paths that will be replicable for others and will deliver a major step forward in providing America a strategic broadband advantage.

Outside of a handful of upstart private competitors like California-based Sonic.net, most fiber broadband expansion come from private companies like Google — building an experimental fiber-to-the-home network in Kansas City, community-owned broadband services coordinated by local town or city government, co-op telecommunications companies owned by their subscribers, or municipal utilities.

While those efforts are typically committed to the concept of “universal service” — wiring their entire communities — the Gig.U project targets funding only for networks in and around university campuses.

The New America Foundation builds on Gig.U’s premise in its own recent report, “Universities as Hubs for Next Generation Networks,” which argues affordable expansion of broadband can win community support when the public has the right to also benefit from those networks. While Gig.U’s approach suggests the project will target fiber broadband directly to the homes qualified to receive it, the New America Foundation supports the construction of mesh wireless Wi-Fi networks to keep construction costs low for neighborhoods targeted for service.

An earlier project in Orono and Old Town, Maine may afford a preview of Gig.U’s vision, as that collaboration between the University of Maine and private fiber provider GWI is already in its construction phase. For those lucky enough to live within range of the fiber project, broadband speeds will far exceed what incumbents Time Warner Cable and FairPoint Communications deliver. FairPoint has fought similar projects (and GWI specifically) for years.

Will private providers object to the Gig.U effort to win local governments’ favor in the six cities eventually chosen for service? History suggests the answer will be yes, at least to the extent local cable and phone companies demand the same concessions for easy pole access, reduced pole attachment fees, and easing of zoning restrictions and procedures Gig.U project coordinators expect.

Levin has stressed Gig.U projects are based on university and private funding sources, not taxpayer dollars. That may also limit how much objection commercial providers may be able to raise against the projects.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WABI Bangor Orono Maine Getting Faster Service 5-16-12.flv

WABI in Bangor previews the new gigabit broadband network being constructed in Orono and Old Town, Maine.  (2 minutes)

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