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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that in the public interest?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the charges keep coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clarification: Comcast has different trials in different cities:

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

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

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

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

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

GOPHarmony: Three Leading Republicans Announce Support for Comcast-TWC Merger



Three important Republican lawmakers have announced their support of Comcast’s $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable, claiming the combined entity will not affect competition in the cable or broadband market.

Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, and Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas told Newsmax TV’s Steve Malzberg the cable merger does not seem to be a monopoly.

“One of the good things about the Internet … is there’s such of diversity of opinion and so many places to get opinion that all the old-fashioned rules on merger and acquisitions in media really have become outdated,” Paul said. “[There are] so many places to look for a viewpoint … [so] I’m just not much on having the government get involved. Most of the time the government gets involved because another competitor doesn’t like it and that competitor is usually an enormous competitor…. So for the most part, I would let [these] mergers occur.”



South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham agreed with Paul. Despite the fact South Carolina is now dominated by Comcast and Time Warner Cable, turning the two companies into one does not pose any problem for Graham.

“There’s no competition between Time Warner and Comcast in a cable market, so you’re not creating a monopoly,” Graham said. “There’s competition with satellite, with phone companies, with all kind of things.”

Farenthold expressed concern about “left-leaning” Comcast, owner of NBC and MSNBC, getting larger but cannot oppose the merger on those grounds alone.



“You can’t not approve a merger because you don’t like the companies’ politics. That’s just not right,” Farenthold told Newsmax. “The issue is, is it going to create a monopoly? Well, Time Warner and Comcast don’t compete in any markets or maybe very few markets.”

Two of the lawmakers received contributions from Comcast’s political action committee:

  • Graham: $13,500
  • Farenthold: $2,000

Comcast, Charter Divide Up Time Warner Cable Customers – Find Out Who Will Serve You

Phillip Dampier April 29, 2014 Charter, Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Time Warner Cable, Video Comments Off on Comcast, Charter Divide Up Time Warner Cable Customers – Find Out Who Will Serve You

comcast twcIf you are a Time Warner Cable customer, one of four things will happen by this time next year:

  1. You will still be a Time Warner Cable customer if regulators shoot down its merger with Comcast;
  2. You will be a Comcast customer;
  3. You will be a Charter Communications customer;
  4. You will be served by a brand new cable company temporarily dubbed “SpinCo,” owned partly by Comcast but managed by Charter.

Comcast and Charter this week reached an agreement on how to handle the 3.9 million Time Warner Cable customers Comcast intends to spin-off to keep its total subscriber numbers at a level they believe will appease regulators. The transaction will affect Time Warner customers in the midwest the most, particularly former Insight Cable customers.


Charter Communications will say goodbye to customers in California, New England, northern Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Virginia and parts of Tennessee. Most of those customers will now be served by Comcast. Among the regions affected: New York, Boston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Northern/Southern California, and Atlanta.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WISN Milwaukee First Comcast Now Charter 4-28-14.flv

WISN in Milwaukee reports Time Warner Cable customers there were just getting used to the idea of Comcast and they are not happy service will be provided by Charter Communications instead. (2:03)

Comcast and Time Warner Cable will in turn give up many of its cable systems in the midwest, either transferring them to Charter or the “SpinCo” venture managed by Charter.

twc charterCharter will take over directly in Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Indiana and Alabama.

If you are a Comcast or Time Warner Cable customer next to a current Charter service area in Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Alabama, Eastern Tennessee, Kentucky or Wisconsin, chances are you will end up a subscriber of the “SpinCo” venture. That will prove a distinction without much difference to customers, because Charter will manage the day-to-day operations of the new cable company and has the right to eventually acquire it outright.

With the exception of a small handful of systems in western sections of Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina, all of New England, New York, and the mid-Atlantic region will be serviced by Comcast.

With the exception of Cablevision in eastern New York, Comcast will be the dominant cable provider across New York State from Manhattan to Buffalo.

With the exception of Cablevision in eastern New York, Comcast will be the dominant cable provider across New York State from Manhattan to Buffalo.

The agreement also includes a commitment by Charter to drop its opposition to the Time Warner Cable/Comcast merger.

“Today’s announcement from Comcast would, in essence, lead to the creation of a three-company cable cartel. Masquerading as subscriber divestitures, the agreement with Charter brings together the three largest cable providers, who account for 38% of cable subscribers and 45% of Internet subscribers,” the Writers Guild of America West said in a statement. “The decision of these three powerful companies to divide markets and share ownership of subscribers through a new publicly traded corporation is unprecedented and adds to the mounting evidence against the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger.”

The transaction is expected to be tax-free and will happen in three stages:

  • Asset Sale: Charter acquires systems serving around 1.4 million former TWC customers for an estimated $7.3 billion in cash;
  • Asset Transfer: Charter and Comcast transfer assets in a tax-free exchange involving around 1.6 million former TWC customers and about 1.6 million Charter customers;
  • Asset Spin-off: Comcast will spin-off a new entity (“SpinCo”) composed of cable systems serving around 2.5 million Comcast customers to its shareholders, with Charter acquiring close to 33% of the equity of SpinCo in exchange for 13% of the equity of a new holding company of Charter.

Charter Communications would become the nation’s second largest cable operator if the deal is approved, owning outright systems with an estimated 5.7 million video customers and managing an extra 2.5 million SpinCo customers, together totaling more than 8.2 million video customers.

Comcast wanted the deal done quickly so it could begin lobbying Washington and other regulators with detailed divestiture plans to keep Comcast’s total subscribers to less than 30% of the national cable market.

Although Comcast will face tough competition in Time Warner Cable territories also served by Verizon FiOS, Charter and its managed SpinCo will compete primarily with AT&T U-verse. Just 1% of Charter’s territory is expected to see competition from Verizon’s fiber network.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Divesting Comcast Subs 4-28-14.flv

Comcast agreed to divest 3.9 million customers to Charter Communications, potentially helping to ease the approval process for its merger with Time Warner Cable. Media Morph Chairman and Chief Strategist Shahid Khan and Bloomberg’s Paul Sweeney speaks on Bloomberg Television’s “In The Loop.” (6:23)

Deregulation Allows Lifeline/USF Fraud to Run Rampant; Tens of Millions Fund Lavish Lifestyles

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office released this mug shot of Leonard I. Solt, 49, of Land O’Lakes, one of three people accused of defrauding the federal Lifeline program out of more than $32 million.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office released this mug shot of Leonard I. Solt, 49, of Land O’Lakes, one of three people accused of defrauding the federal Lifeline program out of more than $32 million.

A lack of robust state oversight of independent contractors and resellers may have cost the Universal Service Fund and nationwide Lifeline program up to $1 billion in waste, fraud, and abuse.

This month, three men were accused of stealing more than $32 million in Universal Service Fund (USF) money that supported lavish lifestyles including the purchase of multiple luxury automobiles. The federal government wants the money back.

Leonard I. Solt, 49, of Land O’Lakes, Fla.,Thomas Biddix, 44, of Melbourne, Fla. and Kevin Brian Cox, 38, of Arlington, Tenn., all face federal criminal charges for allegedly padding the number of customers signed up for Lifeline phone service through five companies all connected to the men: American Dial Tone, Bellerud Communications, BLC Management, LifeConnex Telecom and Triarch Marketing.

In some cases, Lifeline cell phone service was completely subsidized by USF funding, allowing customers to sign up for free cell phone service. Average Americans cover the costs of the program through a surcharge on monthly phone bills.

The indictment charges the defendants with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 15 substantive counts of wire fraud, false claims and money laundering.

In an 18-month period from 2009 to 2011, the phone companies obtained more than $46 million through the Lifeline program.

Regulators have been suspicious of the companies and the men who ran them since at least 2010 when the Florida Public Service Commission noticed a dramatic spike in Lifeline reimbursement requests from Associated Telecommunications Management Services, LLC., the parent company of the five entities. The Florida PSC accused AMTS of misrepresenting customer enrollment when claiming reimbursement. It was not until June 2011 that the Florida PSC approved a settlement of $4 million from AMTS and an agreement to stop doing business in the state.

bellerudThe case illustrated several ostensibly-independent companies were created to market service across Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. Many had ties back to AMTS management. Despite the Florida settlement, the firms continued to do business in multiple states. Many of the states involved have deregulated the telephone business and have cut staff at state agencies tasked with oversight issues.

By the time the federal government moved in to prosecute, the three men had used USF funds to buy a private jet, a 28-foot boat and six luxury cars, including an orange Lamborghini, a red-bronze Chevrolet Corvette, a black Cadillac Escalade, a Chevrolet Suburban limo, a black Mercedes Benz S63 and a blue Audi R8.

free planLast week, government agents seized the vehicles from Biddix’s Melbourne-based pawn shop, Outdoor Gun and Pawn.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2013 that the FCC’s own data showed that more than 40% of the six million subscribers at five of the program’s top carriers were either ineligible or failed to show that they qualified for subsidized service. As more independent companies win authorization to start pitching Lifeline landline and mobile phone service to the poor, the cost of the program has skyrocketed to $2.2 billion last year, up from $819 million four years earlier.

The companies are reimbursed for providing service, providing an incentive to sign up as many as possible.

In Alaska, a GCI subsidiary, Alaska DigiTel hired a marketing company to help it sell Lifeline cell phone service. The company quickly began signing up patients in hospitals, using hospital addresses as their residence. It also encouraged applicants to list phony addresses. For four years, GCI profited from questionable  reimbursements filed with the FCC. GCI finally agreed to pay a $1.5 million settlement that includes no admission of liability.

Other providers simply used telephone directories to collect names and mailing addresses of “customers” and sent them unsolicited cell phones for which they requested reimbursement.

An Oklahoma provider that regulators suspect got exceptionally greedy allegedly signed up so many Oklahoma residents to Lifeline service, the state is likely to exhaust the supply of phone numbers remaining in the 405 area code sooner than expected.

Providers sometimes targeted customers disconnected for non-payment.

True Wireless received nearly $46 million under the program in 2012, bringing questions from Oklahoma’s Corporation Commission as to whether enrolling that many residents was mathematically possible. A cursory review found some customers had signed up multiple times in violation of federal rules.

In Wisconsin, the state Public Service Commission eventually revoked Midwestern Telecommunications Inc.’s ability to receive Lifeline funding after its overworked staff discovered MTI was mailing phones to customer that never requested them, billing the USF Fund for reimbursement. Some turned out to be children.

The scheme eventually began to unravel when a former Public Service Commission staffer received an unsolicited Lifeline phone. The alleged fraud was so great, MTI went from receiving 1% of Lifeline reimbursements in Wisconsin during the second quarter of 2010 to 33% of disbursements in the same quarter the following year.

The fraud also extends to Lifeline recipients, some who have bilked the program for free phones. A review of the Lifeline customer database revealed many customers had multiple Lifeline accounts, including some sent more than 10 free phones that were later reportedly resold on street corners.

Nationally, the $1.8 billion Lifeline Program subsidized phone service last year for 14.5 million low-income customers.

Customers are usually eligible if they are already enrolled in income-based programs such as Medicaid, food assistance or public housing, or if household income falls below 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ Lifeline Fraud 2-18-13.flv

WSJ’s Spencer Ante has details of a $2.2 billion government program to give cell phones to poor people that resulted in phones winding up in the hands of people ineligible for the program. (1:13)

Google Fiber Threat Cited in Cincinnati Bell’s Decision to Sell Wireless Division to Verizon Wireless

Phillip Dampier April 8, 2014 Cincinnati Bell, Competition, Consumer News, Google Fiber & Wireless, Verizon, Video, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Google Fiber Threat Cited in Cincinnati Bell’s Decision to Sell Wireless Division to Verizon Wireless

cincinnati bellCincinnati Bell threw in the towel on its wireless mobile business Monday when it decided to sell its wireless spectrum licenses, network, and 340,000 customers for $210 million to its larger rival Verizon Wireless.

While most analysts say the transaction is the inevitable outcome of a wireless industry now dedicated to consolidation, at least one analyst said the threat of Google Fiber eventually entering the Cincinnati market may have also contributed to the decision to sell.

The future of Cincinnati Bell’s wireless division had been questioned for more than a year, ever since the arrival of the company’s newest CEO Ted Torbeck in January 2013. Cincinnati Bell, one of the last independent holdouts of the Bell System breakup that have not been reabsorbed by AT&T or Verizon, had struggled since Torbeck’s predecessor made some bad bets on acquisitions, including an investment in microwave communications provider Broadwing that left the company with more than $2 billion in debt in 2004. Another $526 million acquisition of data center Cyrus One left the company further in debt.



Torbeck promised a frank evaluation of Cincinnati Bell’s operations last year and keeping its declining wireless division no longer made sense with Torbeck’s focus on replacing the company’s aging copper wire network with fiber optics.

For years, Cincinnati Bell’s biggest competitor has been Time Warner Cable, which has taken away many of its landline customers. Cincinnati Bell’s mobile phone division was created to protect its core business, picking up wireless subscribers as customers dropped their landlines. But the cable company’s bundled service packages made landline service much less expensive than sticking with the phone company, and many wireless customers prefer a national wireless phone company offering better coverage and a wider selection of devices.

Rampant wireless industry consolidation has concentrated most of the cell phone market in the hands of AT&T and Verizon Wireless, giving those two companies access to the most advanced and hottest devices while regional carriers made do offering customers less capable smartphones. Its competitors’ march towards 4G LTE network upgrades also challenged Cincinnati Bell with costly capital investments in a 4G HSPA+ network that Torbeck recently decided no longer made economic sense.

Cincinnati Bell’s wireless revenue for 2013 was $202 million, a decrease of 17 percent from 2012. The company also lost 58,000 subscribers last year, an unsustainable drop that showed few signs of stopping.

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svg“Our business has been in decline for five or six years,” Torbeck told the Cincinnati Business Courier. “This is absolutely the right time to make this deal. It was probably the highest value we could get at this point in time.”

Torbeck believes Cincinnati Bell’s best chance for a future lies with with fiber optics, capable of delivering phone service along with a robust broadband and television offering that can effectively compete with Time Warner Cable.

“We’ve got to grow market share in Cincinnati and fiber optics is the way to do it,” Torbeck said in 2013. “We have about 25 percent of the city covered and we think from a financial perspective we can get to 65 or 70 percent so we’ve got significant growth opportunity there.”

fiopticsLast year, Cincinnati Bell had passed 184,000 homes with fiber optics – a 28 percent market share. But only 52,000 homes subscribed to Fioptics — Cincinnati Bell’s fiber brand. Time Warner Cable had managed to keep many of its wavering 446,000 customers loyal to the cable company with aggressive discounting and customer retention offers. But now that many of those discounts have since expired, Torbeck wants to reach 650,000-700,000 homes in its service area covering southwestern Ohio and northern Kentucky and convince 50% of those customers to switch to fiber optics.

Torbeck isn’t interested in limiting his business to just greater Cincinnati either.

“At some point in time, we’d like to expand regionally into Indianapolis, Columbus,” Torbeck said. “Louisville is another opportunity. But that’s probably a little down the road. From a fiber standpoint, we could look at acquisitions and get into metro fiber. These are things we’re looking at, but these are things that are down the road. We got a lot of room for growth just here in Cincinnati.”

But financial analysts warned Cincinnati Bell’s enormous debt load limits the company’s potential to invest in expansion. Torbeck’s decision to sell off the company’s wireless unit is another step in reducing that debt and further investing in fiber optics expansion.

google fiberThe company’s unique position as the last remaining independent phone company that still bears the name of the telephone’s inventor may make the company a target for a takeover before Torbeck’s vision is realized. One analyst thinks Cincinnati Bell would be a natural target for Google, which has a recent record of repurposing fiber networks built by other companies as a cost-saving measure to further deploy Google Fiber.

“They are a small and cheap company with the infrastructure that Google could use,” said Brian Nichols. “My theory is that Google will buy undervalued companies like Cincy Bell to save on the mounting costs of buildouts, which could top $30 billion,“ Nichols wrote in an email to WCPO-TV.

Google did exactly that in Provo, Utah, acquiring struggling iProvo from the city government for $1 in return for agreeing to expand the fiber network to more homes.

Cincinnati’s local phone company would sell for considerably more than that, but it would still prove affordable for Google, which has a market value of $361 billion, about 470 times that of Cincinnati Bell.

cincCincinnati Bell has already spent about $300 million on Fioptics and plans to spend an extra $80 million this year on expansion. Before the network is complete, the phone company is likely to spend as much as $600 million on fiber upgrades. But the payoff has been higher revenue — $100 million last year alone, and a stabilizing business model that has reduced losses from landline cord-cutting. Telecom analyst Nicholas Puncer offers support for the investment, something rare for most Wall Street advisers.

“It’s a reasonable strategy,” Puncer said. “There’s only going to be more data going through networks in the future, not less. The way we consume content is going to be a lot different 10 years from now than it is today. This is their effort to be on the right side of that, giving people more options to receive that content.”

But if Google Fiber comes to town, it may not be enough.

“Google has an unprecedented luxury,” Nichols said in his email to WCPO. “They are [attaching] fiber to existing poles owned by AT&T (and other telecom companies), and then targeting areas where consumers agree for service before the network is even built. Given this demand, and its mere ability to operate in such a manner, I do think Cincinnati Bell will have major problems once that day comes (likely sooner rather than later). In fact, I don’t think they stand a chance of competing against Google.”

Cincinnati Bell said it will continue to offer wireless service for customers for the next 8 to 12 months. The company will notify customers with further details regarding transition assistance around the time of the closing, which is expected to be in the second half of 2014.

It was not immediately clear on Monday if the sale will impact jobs. Cincinnati Bell Wireless employs about 175 people, including retail store employees.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WKRC Cincinnati Cincinnati Bell selling wireless spectrum to Verizon 4-8-14.flv

WKRC in Cincinnati reports on what the sale of Cincinnati Bell Wireless to Verizon Wireless means for customers. (1:24)

Comcast Gobbledygook: “We Don’t Have Data Caps, We Have Data Thresholds”

The Plain English Campaign's Golden Bull Award is given to companies that prefer gobbledygook over plain English.

The Plain English Campaign’s Golden Bull Award is given to companies that prefer gobbledygook over plain English.

Comcast is outraged by slanderous suggestions it has data caps on its broadband service.

In response to the scathing report from the Writers Guild of America that pleads for the FCC to block the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Comcast has accused to WGA of getting its facts wrong and being nothing more than a meddling union.

The WGA writes in their filing with the FCC:

The WGAW has also joined Public Knowledge in asking the FCC to enforce the condition that Comcast not use “caps, tiers, metering, or other usage-based pricing” to treat affiliated network traffic differently from unaffiliated traffic. Comcast has violated this condition by exempting its online video service, Xfinity Streampix, from its own data caps, while the viewing of content by other, unaffiliated video services such as Netflix or YouTube would count against a user’s data cap. The violation of this merger condition is a clear threat to competition from online video distributors, and the FCC should respond by requiring Comcast to stop exempting its Streampix service from data caps.

Comcast pounced on the WGA filing, calling it inaccurate.

Comcast-Logo“We don’t have data caps — and haven’t for about two years,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s vice president of government communications. “We have tested data thresholds where very heavy customers can buy more if they want more — but that only affects a very small percentage of our customers in a few markets.”

Until 2012, Comcast had a uniform usage cap of 250GB a month, above which a customer risked having their broadband service suspended. In 2013, the usage allowances were back, reset at 300GB a month and rolled out to a series of expanding “test markets” that today include Huntsville and Mobile, Ala., Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Ga., Central Kentucky, Maine, Jackson, Miss., Knoxville and Memphis, Tenn., and Charleston, S.C.

nonsenseCustomers who exceed this allowance won’t have their broadband service suspended, they will just get a higher bill, as Comcast charges $10 for each additional 50GB of usage.

In contrast, Time Warner Cable neither has a data cap or a data threshold. Stop the Cap! made sure that didn’t happen when Time Warner attempted to impose its own usage limits back in 2009. We successfully organized protests sufficient to get Time Warner executives to back off and shelve the idea. If Comcast takes over, Time Warner Cable customers will likely eventually face Comcast’s “data thresholds,” which are a distinction without much difference. Whatever you call it, it’s a limit on how much a customer can use Comcast’s already-expensive broadband service before bad things happen.

The WGA and Comcast get along about as well as oil and water, so the back and forth is to be expected. The Writer’s Guild also fiercely opposed Comcast’s merger with NBCUniversal. But when it comes to who is playing fast and loose with the truth, it isn’t the group that writes for a living. Comcast’s doublespeak about data caps is no better than calling The Great Recession a periodic equity retreat. It isn’t fooling anyone.

Time Warner Cable Tells Charter Cable to Get Lost; War of Words Ensues

analysisTime Warner Cable executives brushed away Charter Communications’ first public offer to acquire the second largest cable company in the country in a debt-financed deal that Time Warner considers a lowball offer.

“[Charter’s] proposal is grossly inadequate,” Time Warner Cable said in a statement. “We are confident in our standalone plan and we are not going to let Charter steal the company.”

Charter;s new service areas, if they win Time Warner Cable.

Charter’s combined service areas, if they win control of Time Warner Cable.

On Tuesday, Charter violated a long-standing, informal Code of the Cable Cartel that keeps cable companies from attacking each other.

twc charterCharter Communications chief operating officer John Bickham launched an investor presentation that trashed Time Warner Cable and its leadership, and contended fixing the cable company will take more work than first envisioned.

Bickham claimed Time Warner has exhibited a decade of a “failed operating strategy revealed by fact that they are losing customers at an alarming rate,” while Charter has a proven track record of performance.



Historians recollect Charter’s recent past differently. In 2009, mired in debt and lacking a disciplined business plan, Charter declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, wiping out shareholders and stiffing creditors.

Bickham capitalized on Time Warner’s 2013 summer of discontent, when a dispute with CBS resulted in the loss of the network from Time Warner Cable lineups (along with Showtime) in some of the biggest cities in the country. Combined with rate increases, subscribers began switching to the competition, especially where Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse gives cable operators stiff competition from money-saving new customer promotions.

Bickham described TWC as a company in shambles:

On Time Warner Cable TV: “It appears that Time Warner didn’t want to spend the money to go all-digital,” adding that the quality of TWC’s TV signal is poor and the company still lacks enough HD channels that could have been on the lineup if the cable company dropped analog service long ago.

On Time Warner Cable Internet: Bickham complained Time Warner is offering deep discounts on slow Internet packages, particularly its campaign targeting DSL customers with 2Mbps service for $14.99 a month. Bickham complains the large variety of Internet speed tiers are unnecessary, resulting in “nickel-and-dime charges to customers.” He argues Time Warner needs to simplify its offering by adopting a digital lineup and boost Internet speeds, so customers get at least 30Mbps service. Bickham did not mention Charter Communications also has a usage cap on its broadband products. TWC does not on most offerings.

On Time Warner Cable employees: “TWC never had a vision on high standards” for how the company manages its 50,000 employees. Bickham feels the workmanship of TWC installers leaves a lot to be desired.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Time Warner Cable Rejects Charter Offer 1-15-14.flv

Time Warner Cable rejected an acquisition offer from Charter Communications valued at more than $61 billion including debt, spurning the biggest unsolicited takeover bid since 2008. Manus Cranny examines why the offer was rejected on Bloomberg Television’s “Countdown.” (2:06)

Charter's price comparison chart for the benefit of Time Warner Cable shareholders lacks accuracy. Virtually nobody has to pay TWC's quoted retail rates and the chart assumes worst-case pricing for TWC customers, while also ignoring Charter's very high customer dissatisfaction score.

Charter’s proposed price comparison chart, produced for the benefit of Time Warner Cable shareholders, assumes worst-case pricing almost no Time Warner Cable customer actually has to pay.

Charter is America's second worst rated cable company. (Consumer Reports, 2013)

Charter is America’s second worst rated cable company. (Consumer Reports, 2013)

On its face, Charter’s plan for Time Warner Cable doesn’t look all bad, but execution is critical and Charter has a long-standing and very poor record of customer satisfaction, typically ranked in consumer surveys as America’s second worst cable operator year after year.

Should Charter win control of Time Warner Cable, big changes will be in store for TWC customers under the Charter umbrella:

  • Analog television would be phased out, along with “limited basic” packages. Charter wants to repurpose analog spectrum for faster Internet speeds, but that also means video customers will be required to get more set-top boxes;
  • Eliminate “Switched Digital Video” technology now in place on TWC systems. SDV is a bandwidth saver – only delivering digital TV signals customers in a particular neighborhood are actively watching. But those using inexpensive digital-to-analog set-top boxes on analog-only televisions can’t watch SDV channels, inconveniencing customers;
  • Increase the number of HD channels to 200+;
  • All residential set-top boxes would now support HD signals at no added cost and customers will be able to get up to four DVR boxes for $20 a month;
  • Time Warner Cable’s new minimum Internet speed would be 30Mbps with much faster added-cost tiers available, but usage caps will apply;
  • Time Warner Cable’s phone product would be repriced at $30 a month in the first year, $20 in the second with all calling features and voicemail included;
  • No term contracts will be offered and modem rental fees, regulatory surcharges, added taxes on Internet and Phone, and service visit fees will no longer be charged.

Charter customers can expect aggressive sales pitches for their “high value” triple-play bundle which may include services customers don’t want at a price that is largely non-negotiable. The more boxes and services you add, the greater the discount you will receive. In contrast, Time Warner Cable began de-emphasizing its triple play promotions in early 2012 and now aggressively promotes single and double play packages that typically omit phone service.

Unlike TWC, Charter has been more difficult when trying to negotiate customer retention discounts. Charter generally charges the same prices everywhere.

Their proposed offer for Time Warner customers will be a triple play offer starting at $110 a month for the first 12 months, then increase $20 in the second year to $130 a month and in year three the price will rise again to $150 a month. Charter’s typical “step-up” pricing is in $20 increments.

Charter is reluctant to allow customers to add or drop package components, so for most customers packages will be all-inclusive with no discounts for dropping channels or features. That means customers will likely end up with more television channels, more phone features, and faster Internet speeds, but at the cost of an eventually higher cable bill.

Any buyout could also mean some Time Warner Cable territories could be put up for sale to a third-party. Charter is especially interested in the New York and Los Angeles markets, but may have little interest in western New York and Ohio, New England, Kentucky and Wisconsin. Any orphaned TWC customers would likely be snapped up by companies like Comcast, which may join Charter’s takeover bid.

Any sale would need approval by the Federal Communications Commission and potentially the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, especially in Comcast becomes involved.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Tom Rutledge Explains Charter Offer for TWC 1-15-14.mp4

Time Warner Cable rejected a merger proposal from Charter Communications. Tom Rutledge, Charter Communications president and CEO, explains the offer as he describes as “rich and fair.” We feel like we’ve come a far way and have not received a serious response, Rutledge says. A CNBC exclusive. (4:35)

AT&T Acquires AWS Spectrum from Frequency Squatter-Speculator Aloha Partners II

AT&T today announced it has agreed to buy 49 Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum licenses from a venture that has done nothing with the frequencies since acquiring them at auctions dating back as early as 2004.

Aloha Partners II, L.P. has no intention to use the frequencies it controls, so it has sold part of its spectrum portfolio to AT&T. The acquired licenses cover almost 50 million people in 14 states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Aloha Partners II is selling a considerable amount of its AWS portfolio to AT&T for an undisclosed sum. The venture never used the frequencies, although it controlled some of them as early as a decade ago.

Aloha Partners II is selling a considerable amount of its AWS portfolio to AT&T for an undisclosed sum. The venture never used the frequencies, although it controlled some of them as early as a decade ago.

The acquisition will complement AWS frequencies AT&T already controls in the band, which ranges from 1710 – 1755 and 2110 – 2155MHz.

att_logoFinancial terms were not disclosed.

Carriers have complained regularly about spectrum shortages but some consumer groups charge carriers and spectrum squatters are not putting the airwaves they already control to use. Spectrum has become such a valuable asset, some investors have pooled resources to buy licenses only to resell at a profit later.

Before today’s announcement, Aloha Partners II was the 8th largest owner of wireless spectrum in the U.S. The venture owns AWS spectrum concentrated in 12 of the top 50 markets including many of the leading high-tech areas like San Francisco, San Jose, Denver, Austin and San Antonio.

In 2004, Aloha Partners II purchased 15 licenses covering 38 million pops from the Federal Communications Commission in the Advanced Wireless Spectrum (AWS) auction. In 2007 and 2008 Aloha Partners II purchased an extra 37 AWS licenses covering 12 million pops from Nextwave Wireless.

Comcast Expands 300GB Usage Cap in Alabama, South Carolina; Minimum Overlimit Fee: $10

Comcast-LogoComcast has expanded its 300GB usage cap to Internet customers in Huntsville and Mobile, Ala. and Charleston, S.C.

In these cities the XFINITY Internet allowance includes a $10 penalty for each 50GB segment customers exceed the arbitrary allowance. Alabama and South Carolina join customers in parts of Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee now subject to a usage allowance.

Comcast is also offering a new Flexible Data Option for Economy Plus customers that use less than 5 GB per month.

Customers who do not want the new usage caps can register their displeasure by calling Comcast Customer Security Assurance at 1-877-807-6581, contacting the local news media, or writing to your federal elected officials.


Dear XFINITY Internet Customer:

At Comcast, we recognize that our customers use the Internet for different reasons and have unique data needs. As a reminder, starting November 1, 2013, Comcast will trial a new monthly data plan in this area, which will increase the amount of data included in your XFINITY Internet Service to 300 Gigabytes (GB) and provide more choice and flexibility.

What this means for You

The vast majority of XFINITY customers use far less than 300GB of data in a month. Based upon your recent usage history, it appears this new data plan will have no impact upon you, and you won’t need to do anything, or change your Internet usage. If you are not sure about your monthly data usage, please refer to the Track and Manage Your Usage section below.

We want our customers to use the Internet for everything they want and your service will not be limited to 300 GB . While we believe that 300 GB is more than enough to meet the Internet usage needs of most customers, Comcast will automatically add blocks of 50 GB to your account for an additional $10, should you exceed the 300 GB included in your plan in a month.

In order for our customers to get accustomed to this new data plan, we are implementing a three-month courtesy program. That means you will not be billed for the first three times you exceed 300 GB included in the data plan during a 12 month period. Should your usage exceed 300 GB a fourth time during any 12-month period, an additional 50 GB will automatically be allocated to your account and you will be billed $10 for that data and each additional 50 GB of data in excess of 300 GB during that month and any subsequent months your usage exceeds 300 GB.

Please note that this is a consumer trial. Comcast may modify or discontinue this trial at any time. However, we will notify you in advance of any such change.

For more information on all our data usage plans, please visit www.xfinity.com/datausageplan/expansion

Track and Manage Your Usage

Comcast provides you with several tools to easily track and manage your data plan:

Usage meter – Use the usage meter to see how much data you have used – available at www.xfinity.com/usagemeter

Data Usage Calculator – Estimate your data usage with this tool available at www.xfinity.com/datacalculator. Simply enter information on how often and how much you typically use the Internet, and the calculator will estimate your monthly data usage.

In-Browser Notices and Emails – We will send you a courtesy “in-browser” notice and an email letting you know how much of the data included in your monthly plan you are using. If you have any additional questions about the new data usage plan, please visit www.xfinity.com/datausageplan/expansion

Thank you for being an XFINITY Internet Customer.



Comcast Hires ‘Internet Guy’ to Embrace Broadband Innovation; Start By Killing the Usage Cap

Phillip Dampier September 23, 2013 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, Internet Overcharging, Net Neutrality Comments Off on Comcast Hires ‘Internet Guy’ to Embrace Broadband Innovation; Start By Killing the Usage Cap
Phillip "Unlimited Innovation depends on Unlimited Access" Dampier

Phillip “Unlimited Innovation depends on Unlimited Access” Dampier

Comcast wants to embrace innovation and change. Before it can succeed, the cable company needs to permanently retire usage caps and consumption billing schemes, now being market-tested for possible reintroduction nationwide.

Comcast today announced it created a new executive position — vice president of consumer services for video, phone, Internet, and home products and appointed Marcien Jenckes to the position. His role is to oversee development of ideas for new products and services that can be sold to Comcast customers.

Jenckes says Comcast’s product lines are blurring as convergence between television and broadband continues. His role is to keep customers of both services happy by embracing innovation and change.

He will find his hands tied should Comcast bring back its usage cap, now under serious consideration. Limiting residential broadband limits customers’ interest in innovative new online applications that carry the threat of a wallop to one’s wallet from overlimit fees. Comcast ditched its arbitrary 250GB usage cap in the spring of 2012, but continues to think about bringing it back. This year, Comcast has tested a new 300GB cap in certain states tied to an overlimit fee for customers exceeding their usage allowance.

Customers don’t like usage caps one bit. Neither should Comcast “innovators” like Mr. Jenckes.

The future of Internet innovation is likely to be developed on a platform that delivers faster Internet speeds, opening up new high bandwidth applications not easily possible today. Usage caps are anathema to that kind of innovation because customers will be unlikely to embrace new services that blow their usage allowance away.

If Mr. Jenckes is seriously interested in promoting a new spirit of innovation at Comcast, he should start by pressing his fellow executives to ditch usage caps and consumption billing once and for all. The future of unlimited innovation in broadband has its best chance of success with unlimited access.

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