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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regulations that would move our broadband Internet to the European model, where taxpayers have to subsidize outdated networks with slow speeds.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.

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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)

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PBS Documentary: Subcontracting Cell Tower Work Has a Human Toll

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)

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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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‘Well’-Connected Nation Still Producing Questionable Broadband Maps in Florida Scandal

They're not so great at broadband mapping, but they are excellent at connecting the political dots to get their contract renewed.

The telecommunications industry-dominated Connected Nation, a group created to spur industry-friendly broadband expansion, is at the center of a scandal that cost taxpayers nearly $4 million to produce a broadband availability map critics contend is error-ridden and incomplete.

The non-profit Kentucky company, which historically has close ties to some of the nation’s largest phone companies, has learned how to play political games to win lucrative contracts while producing less-than-useful results, according to a new investigation by the Miami Herald.

When Florida’s Department of Management Services (DMS) decided Connected Nation’s performance in the state was lacking, it decided to let the state’s contract with the group expire and seek other bidders.

That is a remarkable turnaround for an agency that three years earlier took bids from the group’s state chapter — Connect Florida, who estimated the cost of mapping broadband in the state at around $7.1 million.  Another bidder, ISC of Tallahassee was a real bargain, offering to do the project for $2.8 million.  Connected Nation won. So much for awarding contracts to the lowest bidder.

It turned out the judges scoring the two groups were split, until a former BellSouth (AT&T) executive serving as a judge on the panel put his thumb on the scale, awarding an astounding 51 points to Connected Nation, itself shown to have past ties to AT&T.  The other judges scored no more than 15 points in either direction.

Undercut Connected Nation's bid by millions but still lost.

ISC, a homegrown Florida business, was stunned. Managing Partner Edwin Lott told Public Knowledge in 2009:

“Florida’s small businesses are working harder than ever to survive in this challenging economy. ISC, like other small businesses around the country, have had our hopes raised with Congress’s efforts to stimulate the economy with the Reinvestment Act and other initiatives. It originally appeared these initiatives were going to provide regional funding to sustain and promote jobs in the communities served by local and state governments.

“Our raised hopes were dashed as Connected Nation appeared to use its ‘connections’ in Florida to ensure its success in what was supposed to be a competitive procurement.”

DMS officials have apparently learned their lesson (at taxpayer expense), but Connected Nation isn’t going quietly. The non-profit group unleashed a high-powered lobbying campaign directed at the state legislature in Tallahassee to get its contract renewed to continue mapping Florida’s broadband future.

Williams

It worked, but only after the group’s critics at DMS were effectively bypassed. The legislature approved and Florida governor Rick Scott signed legislation that transferred broadband mapping away from the agency altogether, launching a new one — the Department of Economic Opportunity, to handle broadband matters effective July 1.

At least this time, taxpayers will have to pay less. Connected Nation’s latest bid was half of its original price, undercutting other bidders.

Rep. Alan Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat told the Herald price does not matter as much as political connections in the state legislature.

“Is this a favor to Connected Nation and a lobbyist or is this really good government?’’ Williams asked. “Is this really being accountable and efficient to the state of Florida the way the governor wants to be?”

Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) told the newspaper Florida state government is rife with insider influence peddling, and that appears to be the case with Connected Nation’s contract.

The group’s potent lobbying team included Lanny Wiles, the husband of the governor’s campaign manager; Al Cardenas, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and head of the Conservative Political Action Committee; and Slater Bayliss, a one-time aide to former Gov. Jeb Bush.

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DISH Network Plunders Checking Account of Ky. Tornado Victim Who Lost Everything

Phillip Dampier May 17, 2012 Consumer News, Dish Network, Video No Comments

At first, DISH Network couldn’t care less about Cincinnati-area resident Jeff Demoss’ problems.  The devastating March 2 tornadoes that ripped through Peach Grove and California, Ky., just across the Ohio border, took away Demoss’ home and all of its possessions. All that remained was a post with an electric meter and his DISH Network satellite dish.

Demoss called the satellite TV company to cancel his service. There wasn’t much point continuing to pay for satellite television when your television has blown into the next town over. At first, DISH Network representatives seemed sympathetic, promising the problem would be taken care of immediately.

That was, until DISH found out Demoss’ satellite receiver was also missing and could not be returned.

“We kept getting letters in the mail saying ‘You are going to have to return the receiver, or we will have to charge you $300 for it,’” Demoss told WCPO-TV’s consumer reporter.

And DISH did exactly that, removing $300 from the family checking account.

DISH Network has earned a mediocre C+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, and has racked up more than 13,000 complaints in the past three years, some about lost equipment fees.

Companies can charge early contract termination and lost equipment fees for customers who cancel service before their service contract ends or who do not return equipment. When tragedies like storms, fires, and floods strike, many satellite and cable companies try to bill customers accordingly, at least until they end up shamed on the evening news.

DISH quickly offered to refund the Demoss family their $300 once the Cincinnati television station got involved, and the satellite company apologized for the inconvenience.

Virtually all cable, telephone, and satellite companies will eventually relent on cancellation fees and damaged/lost equipment fees if customers tell the intransigent customer service representative or supervisor their next call will be to local media to share the story, so it pays to stand your ground.

However, as Stop the Cap! has repeatedly recommended in the past, your best protection is a renter or homeowner insurance policy, which typically covers these types of losses. Renters often assume their landlord maintains insurance on their behalf, but in fact they do not. Insurance purchased by the building owner only covers structural losses, never your personal property. Renters insurance is inexpensive and highly recommended.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WCPO Cincinnati Tornado victim struggles with DISH Network 5-16-12.mp4

WCPO-TV in Cincinnati reports on how a Kentucky man who lost his home and possessions was forced to deal with DISH Network, who withdrew $300 from the family checking account for equipment lost in a March tornado.  (3 minutes)

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Corporations Flee ALEC When the Lights Cut On, But AT&T Stands Its Ground

Stop the Cap! has written extensively about the American Legislative Exchange Council’s pervasive influence on state telecommunications policies long before Trayvon Martin and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law put a spotlight on the shadowy corporate-backed group in the national media.

ALEC’s mission is clear.  It acts as a go-between between corporate interests who customize business-friendly state legislation in their favor and the legislators willing to introduce those bills as their own. ALEC provides the cover some legislators need to protect their image in the public eye.

A handful of legislators in safe districts are bold enough to openly admit introducing legislation written by a company like AT&T.  Take Kentucky Republican Sen. Paul Hornback.  He introduced a deregulation measure in Kentucky’s state Senate that would do away with universal landline service and almost entirely deregulate AT&T’s operations in Kentucky.  When the media found out Hornback introduced legislation AT&T actually wrote, he didn’t seem to mind one bit and doubled down on the apparent conflict of interest.

Sen. Paul Hornback (R-AT&T)

“You work with the authorities in any industry to figure out what they need to move that industry forward,” Hornback said, defending his bill that would do exactly that, at the expense of Kentucky consumers facing rate hikes AT&T has pushed in other states where similar measures were passed.

Hornback is the exception to the rule.  For more timid legislators concerned about their next election campaign, ALEC is only too happy to provide cover.

When ALEC’s connection to Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law was exposed, it swept the secretive group into the Martin media tornado.  When reports surfaced connecting the dots between ALEC and some of America’s largest corporations, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Intuit, and Pepsi fled ALEC’s membership roster.  No soft drink company wants to be connected to a controversial Florida gun law.

First Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods, Now AT&T

Today, Color of Change, a group dedicated to amplifying the voice of African-Americans to make government more responsive to minorities set its sights on AT&T, one of ALEC’s most prominent members.

They have a major fight on their hands.  Few corporations have used ALEC as effectively as the descendant of Ma Bell.  AT&T’s enormous lobbying machine has frequently used ALEC to help introduce deregulation measures in states across the country.

“Even after we wrote AT&T to let them know that more than 85,000 ColorOfChange members have asked that they disassociate themselves from ALEC, the company has remained silent,” says Color of Change. “It’s clear that they think we will just go away.”

Throwing away their membership in ALEC would be a major blow to AT&T’s lobbyists who are well-connected inside the group. AT&T has several leadership roles within ALEC’s various state chapters:

ALEC State Chairs Affiliated With AT&T

  • Arkansas:
    — Ted Mullenix, AT&T
  • California:
    — Pete Anderson, AT&T
  • Connecticut:
    — John Emra, AT&T
  • Louisiana:
    — Daniel Wilson, AT&T
  • Mississippi:
    — Randal Russell, AT&T
  • Texas:
    — Holly Reed, AT&T

How do these ALEC-involved lobbyists influence elected officials?  They wine and dine lawmakers and their families, encouraging them to introduce legislation favorable to AT&T.

Everyone Knows Randy Russell – AT&T’s Go-To-Guy in Mississippi

Beckett

AT&T lobbyist Randy Russell has been representing the interests of Big Telecom in Mississippi for more than a decade.  Originally registered as a lobbyist for AT&T predecessor BellSouth, Russell today also serves as ALEC’s state chairman in the Magnolia State.

When he isn’t spending his time in the state capital — Jackson — he’s wining and dining lawmakers who might be future supporters of AT&T’s business agenda in the legislature.

Lucky for AT&T Russell found Rep. Jim Beckett (R-Bruce).  And what a find.  Beckett is in the catbird seat, serving as chairman of the House Public Utilities Committee — the oversight committee responsible for ensuring that when someone in Mississippi picks up a phone, there is actually a dial tone.

Unfortunately for Mississippi consumers Beckett has AT&T’s Russell on his speed dial.

The Cottonmouth Blog discovered both men have spent a lot of time together:

It seems that Russell and AT&T picked up the food tab for Rep. Jim Beckett and his wife at the ALEC meeting in at the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. from November 30 to December 2, 2011.  AT&T also paid for a few rounds of golf for Rep. Beckett while there.  All said and done, AT&T paid $565.39 to cover expenses for Rep. Beckett and his wife on their three day trip to Scottsdale.

But that’s not all.  AT&T also picked up the tab for $151.70 worth of food and tickets while Rep. Beckett and his wife were at the Spring ALEC meeting in Cincinnati, OH in late April of 2011. AT&T also paid $22.62 for food for Rep. Beckett and his wife while he attended the 2011 Summer ALEC meeting in New Orleans.

The total amount AT&T gave to Rep. Jim Beckett and his wife in 2011 through Randy Russell?  $876.85.  The names of the Becketts appear a total of 36 times in AT&T’s 2011 lobbying report, most of it while the Becketts are at ALEC retreats.

AT&T also helped more directly with $2,500 in campaign contributions to Beckett’s campaign fund.  What did all of AT&T’s money and travel vouchers buy them?

Dialing for Deregulation

House Bill 825 — ‘The AT&T Total Deregulation Act’: A bill introduced by none other than Rep. Beckett that would effectively strip what remaining oversight exists over AT&T’s operations in Mississippi.  It’s a bill very familiar to Stop the Cap!, because it includes all of the usual “bullet points” found in ALEC’s own legislative database — all of enormous interest and importance to AT&T.

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, who deals with consumer complaints about AT&T’s service in the state, effectively called HB 825 an unmitigated disaster for ratepayers from Corinth in the north to Biloxi in the south:

[...] House Bill 825 would totally strip the PSC of any authority to hold AT&T accountable for rate increases and lousy landline and cell phone coverage. Presley said the bill was requested by AT&T as retaliation against the PSC for denying a rate increase and for complaining of poor cellular and residential phone service. The PSC won a case in the Mississippi Supreme Court to limit charges to customers after AT&T appealed the PSC’s ruling.

[...] Presley said the Legislature passed the first phase of deregulation in 2006 and since then complaints to the Commission about billing errors, poor service and the like have risen from 1,735 in 2006 to 4,361 in 2011 an increase of over 150%. “This is evidence enough of why this bill is bad for consumers.”

[...] Along with removing all of the Public Service Commission’s authority to investigate abuses, extortion and customer complaints, House Bill 825 also removes the Commission’s authority to designate conditions for AT&T’s receiving of millions in federal funds to promote rural cell phone service. Presley said the Commission’s authority to place conditions on those dollars has been the main tool to increase cell phone coverage in rural counties. “Rural Mississippi’s interests are gutted in this bill.” Presley said.

Cottonmouth reminds readers who may not be familiar with Mississippi that Beckett’s home district — Bruce — puts his AT&T ghost-written legislation at odds with his own constituents:

“Bruce [isn't] exactly urban,” the blogger writes. “Matter of fact, anyone who has driven on Highway 7 right outside of Bruce and tried to make an AT&T cell phone call could tell you just how much this bill will hurt Rep. Beckett’s constituents.”

Even Beckett’s fellow Republicans serving the state PSC couldn’t stomach the legislation that guaranteed even more customer complaints.  Southern District Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz issued his own press release attacking the bill:

“This is a very bad bill for consumers in Mississippi,” Commissioner Bentz stated. “Even though AT&T will tell you that the oversight that we [PSC] have is limited, the little we do have is piece of mind for the consumers.”

“You don’t have to think very long to understand why this bill is bad. Think back to last time you called  in a problem to AT&T and the lack of customer service you received. This bill would make it worse. It is important to understand AT&T will lead you to believe this bill will affect only a small number of customers, but that is not so. As it stands right now, all customers with AT&T have the ability to file complaints with the Public Service Commission, and have the PSC on their side to help them navigate the system. The bill clearly states customer appeals will be removed from the PSC jurisdiction.

The third commissioner on the PSC, Republican Central District Public Service Commissioner Lynn Posey, hoped HB 825 would simply go away, seeking to bury it in a “study committee.”

Despite the universal opposition to the measure among those tasked with overseeing the state’s phone companies, Beckett decided AT&T knew better and quickly pushed HB 825 through his committee.  What makes Beckett an expert in telecommunications policy?  Not too much: He calls himself a lawyer on his biography page, but he’s also the owner of Beckett Oil & Gas.

Despite efforts by consumer advocates, a slightly-amended measure passed both the Republican-controlled state House and Senate and this week will be sent to the desk Gov. Phil Bryant for his signature.

“The small telephone companies in this state, many of them are opposed to this,” said Rep. Cecil Brown (D-Jackson). “If it hurts their business, it’s going to hurt your local communities. That’s all there is to it.”

The price the phone company paid to get Rep. Beckett on Team AT&T?: $2,500 + ALEC-sponsored free meals and travel.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KTTC Rochester ALEC 2-3-12.mp4

KTTP in Rochester, Minn. explores the influence of state lobbyists working with ALEC who push lawmakers to introduce legislation corporations wrote themselves.  (4 minutes)

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Clear-Cast HDTV Antenna Subject of Better Business Bureau Review; Ad Confuses Consumers

Phillip Dampier April 2, 2012 Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, Video 76 Comments

An ad in the Syracuse Post-Standard announces a new invention -- a bow tie antenna design originally designed in the 1950s.

Back in December, Stop the Cap! alerted readers about the “revolutionary razor thin” HDTV antenna Clear-Cast that promised salvation from high cable and satellite TV bills forever.  No article published here has attracted as much attention as that one, drawing more than 40,000 new readers to find out whether the product is truly a scientific breakthrough, or razor thin hype.

Readers have overwhelmingly agreed with our review of the product — it did no better than a $1.49 antenna we bought years earlier from Radio Shack.  But plenty of readers also shared their disappointment with the company advertising Clear-Cast: Canton, Ohio-based Universal Media Syndicate, Inc.

The Canton Regional and Greater West Virginia Better Business Bureau reports it has received “numerous” complaints about Clear-Cast’s marketing practices, refund policies, and advertising claims.  Indeed, we’ve heard from hundreds of readers who assumed we sold the product, and a lot of choice words were included in the angergram e-mails mistakenly sent our way.  Among the claims many found deceptive — Clear-Cast’s marketing stretch that users can receive up to 953 shows (not channels).

Our story has been linked from a number of other websites, so many in fact our review of the product often appears higher in Google’s search rankings than the company selling the product itself.

Clear-Cast’s advertising, designed to look like an authentic newspaper article, has appeared in dozens of newspapers around the country.  Many readers report the price has increased as well, now selling for as much as $50, not including the high-pressure sales tactics to throw in “warranty protection” ($5 buys you two years) and shipping and handling (add another $10).  We found readers who spent $110 for two bow-tie antennas that used to be included with televisions until the 1980s for free.

Our findings: Clear-Cast is an antenna capable of receiving local broadcast channels, but no better or worse than other basic antennas we have tested that sell for $4-9.

Returning the product for a refund also proved nightmarish.  We received a working antenna from one of our readers if we’d agree to return to it the company when we were finished.  It was returned by Priority Mail in late January and was received by them in two business days.  Our reader reports a credit for the return finally posted to his credit card statement this morning — nearly four months later.

The BBB received such a substantial number of complaints, they met with the company in January to discuss their product and how it is sold:

The BBB found that the product does provide channels without cable or satellite. However BBB inquiries indicate that because the headline states that you can get rid of cable or satellite bills, consumers are under the impression that they will receive the same type of channeling as they would with their current provider.

Additionally, there seems to be some confusion as to what is actually being given away for free. In the company ad it states in the headline “Free TV” and “gets rid of cable or satellite bills.” Some inquiries indicate that consumers are under the impression that they will be receiving a free television. Also there seems to be confusion as to how many possible channels a consumer may get when using the ClearCast Digital HDTV. The company ad has indicated that consumers can receive up to 953 “Shows” and up to 53 “channels” depending on where you live.

The company has added disclosures that outline and explain what the consumers are actually getting, however the overall impression of the ad seems to imply differently.

The basic principles of the BBB code of advertisement states that an advertisement as a whole may be misleading although every sentence separately considered is literally true. Consumers are encouraged to read the ad in its entirety and despite deadlines and restrictions, to make sure the company and product is researched prior to purchase in order to make an educated buying decision.

We were not surprised to learn readers were still complaining about Clear-Cast as late as this weekend.

Universal Media Syndicate, which is responsible for its marketing, also pitches:

  • the so-called “Amish-Made” Heat Surge Fireplace (all parts from China, with only the wood frame made by “Amish” employees);
  • “three hundred ninety-eight dollars and shipping”-portable air conditioner ArcticPro;
  • coin peddler World Reserve Monetary Exchange;
  • PatentHEALTH, a Canton-based provider of something called “nutraceuticals” that include an FDA warning suggesting their products are “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.”

Variation on the traditional bow-tie UHF antenna

Our advice for cord cutters remains the same:

Antenna design really has not changed much in 50 years. Here is a good and credible site to explore: http://www.antennaweb.org/Info/AntennaInfo.aspx

Start out with something basic. The best antennas allow you to orient them in different directions towards the signal you want. For UHF, try a set top loop-style antenna that can be rotated (Wal-Mart probably has one). You might also find playing around with some aluminum foil attached behind the antenna or even to it can make some difference. Experiment… a lot, until you find the ideal position for your antenna. If you are thinking of spending $38 on Clear Cast, remember it will probably cost you at least $5 to mail it back if you find it not worth keeping.

For the absolute best results, seriously consider a traditional outdoor or attic antenna. Channel Master and Winegard are quality manufacturers with a long history. They sell online and UPS can deliver it straight to your home already assembled in many cases.

But always hire a professional installer if you are absolutely not certain of your rooftop skills.  A frequent cause of rooftop falls and other accidents used to be attributed to do-it-yourself antenna installers who didn’t appreciate the risks.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WTVQ Lexington Clear-Cast HDTV Antenna 3-28-12.mp4

WTVQ in Lexington, Kentucky investigated viewer complaints about Clear-Cast and talked with the Better Business Bureau about the company and its marketing tactics.  (3 minutes)

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Time Warner Cable Reviewing Its Newest Acquisition: Insight Communications

Phillip Dampier March 8, 2012 Consumer News, Insight, Time Warner Cable, Video No Comments

Time Warner Cable has begun a review of operations at its latest completed acquisition, Insight Communications, as it begins to transition customers away from the Insight brand towards Time Warner Cable.

Insight’s customers in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana won’t see changes immediately.  Time Warner says it will be “business as usual” as the company begins to manage its newest service areas.  Time Warner Cable spokesperson Mary Jo Green said the company plans no immediate channel or price changes, but some Insight subscribers are worried about the long term fate of the NFL Network, which has been a part of Insight’s cable lineup but has not been carried by any Time Warner Cable systems.

Time Warner says its engineering staff will be examining the current state of Insight’s infrastructure — a key factor in determining what services already familiar to Time Warner customers can be extended to Insight customers.  Most of them involve the cable television operation.  Features like “Look Back” and “Start Over” have not been available on Insight’s cable systems.  Insight broadband offers tiers of 10, 20, 30, and 50Mbps — same as Time Warner.  The phone service is similar as well.

Kentucky will become one of Time Warner’s largest service areas as the company absorbs Insight.  Time Warner and Insight traditionally operated as neighbors in different parts of the state. Insight served most of the city of Henderson while Time Warner Cable covered most of Henderson’s suburbs.

Time Warner Cable’s acquisition of Insight adds more than 760,000 customers, including 550,000 broadband, 670,000 cable, and 290,000 phone subscribers across three states.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WTVQ Time Warner Cable Takes Over Insight Communications 2-29-12.mp4

WTVQ in Louisville tells Kentucky Insight subscribers to get ready for the Time Warner Cable logo.  Time Warner completed its acquisition of Insight Communications last week.  (1 minute)

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Time Warner Cable Reminds Storm Victims They Won’t Charge for Damaged/Lost Equipment

Phillip Dampier March 7, 2012 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable No Comments

Time Warner Cable is letting victims of recent devastating storms spend their time and energy worrying about rebuilding their lives and not ponder the loss of company-owned cable boxes, modems, and other equipment.

Unlike several smaller cable companies that have hounded customers for cable equipment destroyed in storms, fires, and other natural disasters, Time Warner is signaling they are waiving any lost/damaged equipment fees when tragedy strikes.

Many cable operators expect to recoup lost or damaged equipment from proceeds of insurance claims, and relentlessly bill clients for the full value of equipment that may have melted in a fire or blown blocks away in a tornado.  While homeowner and rental policies traditionally cover this equipment, few customers are in a state of mind to worry about a DVR box or cable modem, and some may have to wait weeks or months for restitution from the insurance company.

Stop the Cap! reader Kathleen is now an extended guest at a Kentucky “extended stay” motel after her house was damaged by a tornado several days ago.

“I’m an organized person and I had my emergency planning kit ready to go, calling the insurance company, the utilities, and the cable company, among others, to make sure everything was documented,” Kathleen writes. “Our DVR box and cable modem are probably sitting in a field in southern Ohio right now, as the storm completely took away our family room.”

Kathleen originally was planning to write complaining Time Warner wanted several hundred dollars for the lost equipment because that is what the first representative told her.

“But 20 minutes after that call, a supervisor called us back and profusely apologized, telling us the representative was not supposed to charge for the lost equipment because of the storm,” Kathleen says. “They got themselves a lot more loyalty from me than that equipment ever cost them because they did the right thing by me and my family.”

Kathleen tells us Time Warner has stopped all charges on her account, offered her their good wishes for a recovery, and will waive any installation costs to get her service back up and running when repairs are complete.

“Following the horrific storms of last week, Time Warner Cable immediately suspended all credit and collections work in the area,” a spokesperson tells Stop the Cap! “Time Warner Cable has not and will not charge customers for lost or damaged equipment as a result of these storms.”

“It is why I will call Time Warner back when this is all over and will stick with them because they stuck with us,” says Kathleen. “Sorry AT&T.”

[Consumer Tip from Stop the Cap!: Every renter should always have renter's insurance, which typically will cover damaged cable equipment. It's very affordable and protects renters from losses. Many consumers believe landlords carry insurance which will protect them in the event of a natural disaster or fire, but those insurance policies protect the landlord's property, not renters' possessions.]

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