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AT&T Mobility Adds New “Because We Can” Mobile Administrative Fee in May

att feesAT&T Mobility will add a new “Mobile Administrative Fee” to wireless customer bills beginning this May to defray the costs of doing business.

Broadband Reports notes the new fee amounts to jacking up the cost of service without raising advertised rates.

In most states, the new “Administrative Fee” will amount to $7.32 a year, billed monthly.

AT&T’s website explains the new charge this way:

The Administrative Fee helps defray certain expenses AT&T incurs, including but not limited to: (a) charges AT&T or its agents pay to interconnect with other carriers to deliver calls from AT&T customers to their customers; and (b) charges associated with cell site rents and maintenance.

This is by no means the only “junk fee” AT&T slaps on customer bills that can add up to more than 8.5 percent of your average monthly bill. Among the others:

      • Federal Regulatory Fee
      • Telecommunications Relay Service Recovery Fee
      • Wireless Number Portability and Number Pooling Recovery Fee
      • Enhanced 911 Recovery Fee
      • Wireless Tower Mandates Costs
      • State Area Code Relief Costs
      • Customer Proprietary Network Information Notification Costs
      • Network Outage Reporting Costs
      • State Commission Annual Reporting Costs (Applies only in IN, KY, LA, NM, OH, VA, WI, WV WY)
      • Gross Receipts Surcharge (Missouri only)
      • Puerto Rico Regulatory Fee (Puerto Rico only)
      • Property Tax Surcharge (Puerto Rico only)

Some customers have attempted to break two-year service contracts penalty-free over the addition of new fees, but wireless carriers have made it increasingly difficult to escape, usually because they claim the imposition of new, non-mandated fees do not violate the fine print of their service contract. But complaining customers can usually get carriers to waive the fees as a courtesy. It could not hurt to ask.

Time Warner Cable and Its Kansas City Contractor Likely Targets for $100,000,000+ Lawsuits

Phillip Dampier March 20, 2013 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable, Video Comments Off on Time Warner Cable and Its Kansas City Contractor Likely Targets for $100,000,000+ Lawsuits
Heartland Midwest headquarters (WDAF-TV)

Heartland Midwest headquarters (WDAF-TV)

Time Warner Cable and its contractor Heartland Midwest are among the most likely targets for negligence lawsuits that could run well into the hundreds of millions of dollars after the Kansas City Fire Department blamed a contractor for piercing a natural gas line while trying to install fiber optic cable for the cable operator.

The resulting explosion on Feb. 19 destroyed portions of the Country Club Plaza, killed one employee of a landmark Kansas City restaurant that was flattened in the blast, and left 16 injured.

Attorneys are already laying the groundwork for several lawsuits that are expected to be filed shortly.

Heartland Midwest may be deemed the most culpable by those attorneys. Pieces of the contractor’s drill were found inside the broken gas line, according to a report from an investigations team. Time Warner Cable’s deeper pockets make them a natural target because they hired Heartland as a third-party contractor. A lawsuit could claim the cable company was negligent by hiring the contractor and inadequately supervising their work.

Because of the large amount of anticipated damages requested, legal experts expect lawsuits could also target the agency responsible for marking utility lines before digging —  they may have missed the buried gas line. Other targets: Missouri Gas Energy, the owner of the gas line, the Kansas City Fire Department, which may not have moved fast enough to evacuate the immediate area, and even the owners of JJ’s Restaurant which was destroyed in the explosion. Observers note it was their gas pilot light that ignited the natural gas vapor.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WDAF Kansas City Potential lawsuits ahead after JJs blast 3-19-13.flv

FOX4 in Kansas City reports attorneys are laying the groundwork to file lawsuits against Time Warner Cable, its contractor, and others they may accuse of negligence in a February natural gas explosion that killed a restaurant employee. Damages could run more than $100,000,000.  (3 minutes)

Tech Companies, Consumers, Communities Push Back Against Georgia Anti-Broadband Bill

Mayor Guest

Mayor Guest

Despite protests from major technology companies, consumers, and local communities across Georgia, the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee passed a slightly-revised HB 282, a bill that would largely ban communities from building their own networks to deliver 21st century broadband service. The bill has been moved out of the Rules Committee and will be debated on the House floor Thursday. Readers can find and contact their state representative (preferably leaving a phone message opposing HB 282) through this website. Do it this afternoon!

Last Thursday, community leaders appeared in Atlanta to oppose the corporate welfare protectionism that HB 282 represents.

“Let’s talk about economic development,” said Elberton Mayor Larry Guest. “Georgia should be promoting a pro-business, inclusive approach to broadband deployment, especially in rural areas of the state,” he said. “Competition ensures market-based pricing and faster delivery of state-of-the-art services. We have to do everything we can to attract jobs. If we don’t do that, business will not select rural Georgia. High speed access is essential to us.”

Mark Creekmore depends on his Internet connection in his Dawsonville home as part of his job and Windstream has let him down for at least three years. He pays for 12Mbps service and regularly receives around 600kbps service after 3pm because Windstream has hopelessly oversold its DSL service.

“No one should have to pay for Internet speeds they are not receiving and be told that because they live in a rural area, getting them fixed is just not a priority,” Creekmore complains. “That’s like saying: ‘Because you live in the sticks, you do not deserve what the city folks deserve despite the fact that you pay the same money for service that they do.'”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WGCL Atlanta New Bill Hinders Broadband 2-26-13.mp4

WGCL, the CBS station in Atlanta, is asking tough questions about HB 282 and exactly who it will benefit. Some suspect the bill will protect Windstream from having to upgrade its broadband services, something essential to Dawsonville resident Mark Creekmore, who has to turn customers away because Windstream’s DSL service is so poor in his area.  (3 minutes)

Creekmore is incensed Windstream is behind a push to pass HB 282, which bill supporters claim will “stimulate investment in rural broadband,” at the same time the phone company leaves him and others with substandard speeds and service.

windstream performance“I do not think it is ethical for companies like Windstream, already benefiting from taxpayer dollars, to back a bill that will keep municipalities from offering their residents something better,” said Creekmore.

Creekmore opposes government waste, but is not opposed to local communities stepping up when telecommunications companies have let their customers down.

Despite claims HB 282 will promote rural broadband expansion, Windstream’s CEO Jeff Gardner told investors the opposite Feb. 19 in a conference call.

“We will finish most of our broadband stimulus initiatives which expands our addressability to roughly 75,000 new households,” said Gardner. “As we exit 2013, we will see capital spending related to these projects decrease substantially.”

Windstream’s broadband problems are not limited to rural Georgia. In rural Missouri, Windstream’s DSL service has performed so poorly in certain communities local businesses have had to shut down operations for the day when kids are out on “snow days” because service deteriorates to the point it becomes unusable.

Thomasville, Ga., public fiber to the home network delivers the speeds it advertises.

Thomasville, Ga., runs a public fiber to the home network that delivers the speeds it advertises.

“Windstream has made it clear that they have no plans to invest in areas where they don’t feel they can be profitable,” said Piedmont Area Chamber of Commerce president Scott Combs.

Because rural broadband problems remain so pervasive, a group of technology companies including Google and Alcatel-Lucent sent a letter to the chairman of the Georgia House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee protesting the bill:

The private sector alone cannot enable the United States to take full advantage of the opportunities that advanced communications networks can create in virtually every area of life. As a result, federal and state efforts are taking place across the Nation, including Georgia, to deploy both private and public broadband infrastructure to stimulate and support economic development and job creation, especially in economically distressed areas. HB 282 would prevent public broadband providers from building the sorely needed advanced broadband infrastructure that will stimulate local businesses development, foster work force retraining, and boost employment in economically underachieving areas.

Thus far, the only response has been to slightly ease the language in the bill, now defining suitable broadband at 3Mbps service, up from 1.5Mbps. Communities with municipally owned utilities would also be exempt from the prohibition on selling telecom services. But that is hardly enough.

“Three megabits is not adequate to do functions in a modern telecommunications world,” said Thomasville mayor Max Beverly.

Thomasville has its own public broadband network and the difference between it and providers like Windstream are quickly apparent.

While Windstream sells rural Georgians service at 12Mbps but actually delivers less than 1Mbps, Thomasville residents are excited about forthcoming upgrades to 20Mbps service that actually means 20Mbps service. Thomasville’s fiber network has proved so financially successful, the community eliminated its local property tax. If HB 282 passes, other communities will find constructing such networks nearly impossible.

Democracy Now! featured Chris Mitchell and Catharine Rice on March 4, who talked about how large telecom companies are lobbying to ban community-owned broadband networks, including those in Georgia. AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and others are having success in the southeastern United States with the help of Republican state lawmakers and conservative groups with ties to the Koch Brothers. (10 minutes)

Windstream’s Plans for 2013: We’re Nearly Done Expanding Broadband, Time to Cash In

windstreamlogoWindstream has announced the increased broadband investments that expanded DSL service to about 75,000 more homes and businesses and brought fiber connections to cell towers are nearly complete and the company intends to dramatically cut spending on further enhancements by the end of 2013.

Jeff Gardner, Windstream’s CEO, told investors on a conference call last week the company’s highest priority in 2013 is preserving its current dividend to create value for shareholders. Not on the priority list: improving broadband infrastructure to support video streaming services, further expanding broadband in areas it now bypasses, and boosting the quality of service it delivers to current customers.

Gardner called the company’s increased investment in 2011 and 2012 a result of “finite opportunities that provide[d] attractive investment returns.”

But most of that spending will come to an end next year.

gardner“We expect to substantially complete our capital investments related to fiber to the tower projects, reaching 4,500 towers by the end of 2013,” said Gardner. “In addition, we will finish most of our broadband stimulus initiatives […] to roughly 75,000 new households. As we exit 2013, we will see capital spending related to these projects decrease substantially.”

That could be bad news for communities in places like Wayne County, Mo., which suffers with inadequate broadband from the company. In some areas when local broadband traffic reduces DSL speeds to a crawl, area businesses are occasionally forced to shut down for the day.

Broadband and business services now account for 70% of Windstream’s revenue, but it has come with a price: increased investment, that Wall Street considers negative to the company’s value. To satisfy analysts and shareholders, Gardner made it clear improving the balance sheet is a major priority. He said he will continue to direct excess free cash flow first to preserve the company’s shareholder dividend, and then direct much of the rest to debt repayment.

That does not mean Windstream will end all investments in its business. The company now spends 12.4% on ongoing capital investments and will continue to do so, but much of the spending will cover network upkeep and supporting more profitable business services.

“Over the last four years, our acquisitions have been very targeted on businesses that are growing in the strategic growth areas that we’re focused on, and we’ve really changed the mix very significantly here, away from the consumer business toward the enterprise space, and I think that puts us in a very different position with respect to the stability of our revenue and OIBDA over time,” Gardner added.

Windstream plans to bring back its "price for life" promotion this year.

Windstream plans to bring back its “price for life” promotion this year.

Gardner noted Windstream is well-positioned to take advantage of the fact it has few competitors, which reduces pressure to invest and improve its networks to stay competitive.

“Our residential customers remain concentrated in very rural areas where there is less competition, which has contributed to a more stable consumer business,” Gardner admitted.

He added that those rural customers will have to rely on the company’s satellite partner Dish Networks for video services. Windstream will not build a “capital-intensive facilities based technology” to support online video. In contrast, CenturyLink has invested in Prism, a fiber-to-the-neighborhood service in several of its larger markets, to offer triple play packages of broadband, phone, and cable TV. Windstream has no plans to follow.

Despite investments in 2011 and 2012 to improve broadband service and speeds, Windstream’s DSL services have not kept up with its cable competitors.

During the last quarter, Windstream lost 2,000 broadband customers and 23,000 consumer voice lines (a 4.5% decline year over year).

To stem the tide of customers moving away from the phone company, Windstream is trying to sell value-added Internet support services, online backup, and faster speeds to maximize profitability. It will also add new customers made possible from federally funded broadband stimulus projects.

Windstream customers can expect to see increased promotional activity this year to win or keep their business:

  • Covering the costs of switching from another provider to Windstream;
  • A return to the “price for life” promotion, which promises stable rates as long as a customer stays with the company;
  • A substantial introductory discount on satellite TV when bundled with Windstream’s own services.

Former Bresnan Execs Conspire With Private Equity Firm to Abandon Broadband in Rural Kansas

Phillip Dampier February 19, 2013 BCI Broadband, Bresnan, Consumer News, NewWave Communications, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband, Video Comments Off on Former Bresnan Execs Conspire With Private Equity Firm to Abandon Broadband in Rural Kansas

allegianceMore than 20 cable systems across Kansas will be terminating television and broadband service after a private equity firm, working with former Bresnan Cable executives, deemed them unprofitable and not worth upgrading.

Residents of Conway Springs (pop. 1,250), Chetopa (1,125), Sharon (158), and Harper (1,473) are among those who will find their cable and broadband service discontinued in the coming weeks. Abandoned cable subscribers are being told to buy satellite dishes to continue watching television. No immediate broadband solution was available.

Allegiance Communications, which provides cable TV, broadband Internet, and VOIP telephony services to rural and mid-size markets in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas was acquired last month by former executives at Bresnan Communications, itself bought out by Cablevision Industries. The deal was largely financed by BBH Capital Partners, a New York City-based private equity firm.

The purchase by BCI Broadband orphaned nearly two dozen cable systems that Allegiance owned and operated, but were excluded from the sale. Subscribers are being notified they are about to be switched off permanently in letters signed by Allegiance executives.

Several Bresnan former executives are behind BCI Broadband.

Several former Bresnan Cable executives are behind BCI Broadband.

The service will leave rural Kansans without broadband service, cable television, or an alternative to AT&T and other independent phone companies operating in the state.

“This was not an easy decision for us, nor is it one that we came to hastily. The costs of doing business in Conway Springs can no longer be profitable,” Allegiance wrote in its letter, according to KSNW-TV.

Local officials in affected communities are rushing to find an alternative, appealing to providers like Southern Kansas Telephone to see if they can pick up where Allegiance left off, but the phone company has yet to respond.

Allegiance claims the outdated cable systems served few subscribers and the new owners were not interested in investing funds to upgrade them.

BCI Broadband is a new company run by former executives forced out of Bresnan Communications when the company was sold to Cablevision. BCI Broadband claims it wants to invest in system upgrades to improve service to remaining subscribers.

“Historically when we have purchased cable systems and invested in upgrading to the latest technology in markets like Shawnee, that has inevitably led to more customers and the need for more staff,” said Shawn Beqaj, vice president of public and government affairs for BCI Broadband. Beqaj was the former vice president of public affairs at Bresnan.

There has been an accelerating trend of industry consolidation among rural cable operators, particularly by private equity firms that are interested in the stable earnings cable operators usually generate.

GTCR, through its portfolio company Rural Broadband Investments LLC , separately announced its plans to acquire NewWave Communications Co., in what it hopes is just the first of a series of acquisitions. NewWave’s purchase was financed by debt capital from SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., and Goldman Sachs Bank USA.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KSNW Wichita Small towns losing cable service 2-7-13.mp4

KSNW-TV reports more than 20 Kansas communities will lose television and broadband service when Allegiance Communications switches off the cable systems. (2 minutes)

Taxpayers Fund Charter Cable’s Corporate Welfare Move to Connecticut, Where New CEO Already Lives

Phillip Dampier October 10, 2012 Charter, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video 1 Comment

Charter Communications’ new CEO Thomas Rutledge loves Connecticut so much, he is moving the company’s executive headquarters to a new facility in Stamford — just minutes from his tony estate in New Canaan —  at taxpayer expense.

Rutledge has been running Charter, based in St. Louis, largely from Connecticut and a temporary executive suite in New York City since he accepted the position days after quitting as Cablevision’s chief operating officer in December, 2011.

But instead of relocating to St. Louis, Rutledge will force about 100 employees to quit or move to Connecticut, with taxpayers picking up the tab. Charter blamed the move, in part, on the downsizing of St. Louis’ airport which company spokesperson Jessica Hardecke said hampered the ability of the company’s employees to visit its cable systems in 25 states.

Under the terms of the corporate welfare deal, Charter will receive a 10-year loan of $6.5 million financed at 2%, with principal payments deferred for three years. If Charter meets modest job milestone requirements, the loan’s balance will be transferred to state taxpayers who will pay it back in part or in full, depending on Charter’s job growth performance. The company has promised to add up to 200 jobs in Stamford, which will earn them an added bonus. The package allows Charter the opportunity to access up to $2 million in grant funding — $1 million for each additional 50 corporate jobs they bring to Connecticut. The company can also receive $1 million in grants if it adds 100 jobs. The grants are capped at $2 million.

News reports indicate Charter is eyeing 70,000 square feet of premium office space in a 15-story high rise in downtown Stamford shared with UBS Financial Services and Harmon International.

Rutledge has a long history of stubbornly sticking close to home. While an executive at Cablevision, he refused to move closer to the company’s headquarters on Long Island, requiring the cable company to provide a helicopter service that flew him back and forth from Connecticut every day.


Rutledge could have self-financed the entire move out of his personal compensation. His four-year pay package at Charter is worth about $90 million, according to recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Two other former senior executives who left Cablevision to join Rutledge at Charter may have known Rutledge would never move to Missouri. Neither Charter’s chief operating officer or chief marketing officer have put their New York City-area homes up for sale. Now they don’t have to.

St. Louis officials were shocked by the decision, and were fuming about the company’s surprise announcement Oct. 2, because nobody gave them an opportunity to make a counteroffer to get Charter’s executives to stay.

Steve Johnson, executive vice president for economic development at the Regional Chamber and Growth Association, wasn’t given a chance to change Charter’s mind either. “You never want to lose corporate headquarters and the cachet that goes with them,” Johnson says. “But I’m not sure there was anything we could do to influence this one.”

County Executive Charlie Dooley was more succinct: “I don’t believe [Rutledge] wanted to come to St. Louis.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KMOV St Louis Charter Moving to Conn 10-2-12.mp4

KMOV in St. Louis reports local officials were unpleasantly surprised with Charter’s sudden announcement, but were partly mollified with promises Charter would hire an additional 300 modestly paid customer service workers in St. Louis (without any taxpayer incentives) between now and the end of the year. (2 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KTVI St Louis Charter Moving Headquarters Out of St Louis Area 10-2-12.flv

KTVI in St. Louis notes Charter’s executive exit from Missouri has become a political issue, with Republicans complaining the state has to do even more for businesses to keep this from happening again. (2 minutes)

Enabling Corporate Bullies: Big Cable Loves Fewer Rules, Weakened Oversight

“We know where you live, where your office is and who you owe money to. We are having your house watched and we are going to use this information to destroy you. You made a big mistake messing with TCI. We are the largest cable company around. We are going to see that you are ruined professionally.” — Paul Alden, TCI’s vice president and national director of franchising to an independent consultant hired to review competing cable operators for Jefferson City, Mo., in a historical example of cable industry abuse

The Federal Communications Commission last week voted unanimously to expire rules that required cable operators to make their programming available on fair and reasonable terms to competitors. Big mistake.

We have been here before. Let us turn back the clock to the days before the FCC and Congress mildly reined in the cable television industry with the types of pro-consumer regulations Chairman Genachowski and others have now let expire. Why were these rules introduced in the first place? Because years of industry abuse heaped on consumers and local communities took their toll, with high prices for poor service, outrageous corporate bullying tactics, and endless litigation to hamper or stop consumer relief.

How long will it take for the industry to resume the same abusive practices that forced the FCC and Congress to finally act once before?

The Central Telecommunications. v. Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI): The Poster Child for Cable Industry Abuse

Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) was the nation’s largest cable operator. Later known as AT&T Cable, the company was eventually sold to Comcast.

Back in the 1980s, before the days of direct broadcast satellite competition like DirecTV and Dish, and years before telco-TV was allowed by law, the cable industry totally dominated the video marketplace. The only challenges came from incredibly rare competing cable TV providers or three million home satellite dish owners or wireless cable subscribers.

The industry’s only check on unhampered monopoly growth came from local authority over cable operations through the cable franchising process. If a cable company got out of control or did not offer the programming or service a community found adequate, it could offer a franchise to another company, effectively kicking bad actors out of town.

In Jefferson City, Mo., the local cable operator during the 1980s was Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI). It had acquired the franchise in the city by buying out the original provider in the late 1970s. TCI had been buying a lot of smaller cable operators around the country under the direction of then CEO John Malone. By 1981, it had grown to the largest cable operator in the country, and few dared confront the well-heeled operator, which had a legal budget greater than the operating budgets of some communities TCI served. TCI was later acquired by AT&T Cable, which in turn sold its cable systems to Comcast, which continues to operate them to this day.

In 1980, Jefferson City officials decided it would be prudent to make sure they were getting the best cable service possible, so as TCI’s franchise agreement reached expiration, the city issued a “request for proposals” offering other cable companies a chance to bid for the right to serve the community of around 38,000. For TCI, this was tantamount to a declaration of war, and the cable company meant business. Malone equated anything threatening a permanent cable franchise for TCI as something like an act of government theft. In books later written about the events in Jefferson City, even some TCI executives admitted they were “horrified by the sleaziness” of the kind of hardball tactics involved, comparing them to a “B-movie.”

TCI revealed it would stop at nothing to keep competitors away from their territories and drag out years of litigation. Central Telecommunications, Inc., v. TCI Cablevision, Inc., revealed exactly how far TCI was willing to go:

From: Cutthroat: High Stakes & Killer Moves on the Electronic Frontier, By Stephen Keating

Cajole the mayor into canceling competitive bidding. In early 1980, after Jefferson City made it known TCI might get some competition, the company quickly met with the mayor hoping to persuade him to renew TCI’s franchise without a competitive bid process, so as to avoid a “frontal attack” by competitors.

Threaten the independent consultant. In December, 1980 the city hired Elmer Smalling, an industry consultant, to independently evaluate various bids from cable operators willing to serve Jefferson City. TCI immediately began publicly attacking his qualifications in a way the court later found to be defamatory. The court case documents Paul Alden, TCI’s vice president and national director of franchising, making personal threats against Smalling.  A sample:

“We know where you live, where your office is and who you owe money to. We are having your house watched and we are going to use this information to destroy you. You made a big mistake messing with T.C.I. We are the largest cable company around[.] We are going to see that you are ruined professionally.”

It got worse for Smalling. At this same time, Warner-Amex (another large cable company now known as Time Warner Cable) was a client of Smalling’s. Alden contacted Warner-Amex about Smalling. Following the threats, Smalling lost Warner-Amex as a client.

City Attorney Thomas Utterback later wrote a memo to the City Council in which he described TCI as a “relentless corporate bully.”

Threaten would-be competitors. On several occasions, from January of 1981 to the summer of 1981, Alden repeatedly telephoned Robert Brooks, chief operating officer of Teltran, a company which submitted a bid for the city’s franchise, and threatened him that unless Teltran withdrew from the bidding process, TCI would make trouble for Teltran in Columbia, Missouri, where it operated a cable television franchise. Teltran subsequently dropped out of the bidding process on the ground there was a “distasteful environment” in Jefferson City.

Another competitor, Central Telecommunications, became a defendant in a TCI lawsuit challenging the city’s right to request proposals from other cable companies. TCI argued it now had a 1st Amendment right of free speech to serve Jefferson City residents regardless of the wishes of city officials. In a wide ranging series of subpoenas, TCI demanded the bank handling Central’s financing turn over a “very wide range of potentially confidential records,” which according to Central was an effort to destroy its financing agreement with the bank.


Threaten customers. TCI warned customers that unless it won the cable franchise for Jefferson City, it would immediately shut off its cable system and leave customers without service, potentially for years, until Central built its own system from scratch. TCI officials said “it would not sell ‘one bolt’ of its system to whoever received the new franchise and that it would ‘rather have [its system] rot on the pole’ than sell it to a competitor at any cost.”

TCI’s system manager in Jefferson City told elderly residents of a senior citizens’ home that TCI would cut off service if denied a franchise, and the residents would be without television for two years pending construction of a new system because the concrete walls of their residence would not allow reception of over-the-air stations.

Lie, Lie, and Lie Some More. In one City Council meeting, Alden wildly claimed that TCI was the nation’s largest distributor of satellite dish antennas, with “an exclusive” right to sell in the state of Missouri. TCI promised that if the city renewed its franchise agreement, it would keep satellite dishes out of Jefferson City. If the franchise was not renewed, Alden promised to “flood the city with satellite dishes,” denying the city franchise fees. Alden later admitted both statements were untrue.

Threaten the mayor’s office. Although the mayor has never disclosed exactly what TCI threatened him with, the public record shows in March 1981, Alden called the mayor and threatened to turn the system off unless TCI’s franchise was renewed. TCI also filed an expensive lawsuit against Jefferson City regarding the way it handled its request for proposals.

By the fall of that year, TCI was meeting with city attorney Utterback in secret negotiations to renew its cable franchise, in direct violation of the city’s request for proposals  which required all negotiations to be open, as well as Missouri’s “sunshine laws.” By next spring, the mayor had privately notified council members he would veto any franchise renewal awarded to anyone other than TCI, which he later admitted was a condition imposed by TCI during its secret negotiations.

On January 25, 1982, the City Council provisionally awarded the franchise to… Central Telecommunications. TCI immediately refused to pay the city the prior year’s franchise fees, in excess of $60,000. It also reminded the mayor of his obligations to TCI as part of the secret franchise renewal negotiations held the prior fall. On April 20, 1982, the City Council passed the ordinance awarding a franchise to Central. The vote was six in favor and four against. The mayor vetoed the ordinance. The council then deadlocked five-to-five on awarding a franchise to TCI and the mayor cast the deciding vote in favor of that company. The next day, TCI dismissed its lawsuit against the city and paid the withheld franchise fees.

In the end, several courts upheld tens of millions in damages for Central Telecommunications, TCI’s lawsuit was dismissed at the company’s request, Mr. Alden was summarily dismissed by TCI after Malone referred to him as a “loose cannon,” and Jefferson City was stuck with several additional years of lousy service from TCI.

But TCI’s “bad corporate citizen” practices would come back to haunt the cable juggernaut, eventually failing to win assignments for two $800 million orbital slots for a direct broadcast satellite service the company proposed. After the Jefferson City experience, even the FCC could not, in good conscience, reward TCI with satellite slots it wanted for a “competing satellite service” it would sell through its own cable companies.

The memories of FCC officials are evidently short. Giving cable operators an inch has historically bought them a mile, paid for by consumers. Mandating easy to understand rules requiring cable operators sell programming to competitors on fair and reasonable terms is sound policy whether there is competition or not. Removing those rules or watering them down only promotes the kind of mischief that, when unchecked, leads to these kinds of horror stories. History need not repeat itself.

AT&T and Time Warner Cable’s Unnecessary Temper Tantrum in Kansas City

Phillip “You Guys Need a Timeout” Dampier

AT&T and Time Warner Cable are complaining they have gotten a raw deal from Kansas City, Mo. and Kansas City, Ks., in comparison to the incentives Google was granted to wire both cities with gigabit fiber broadband.

“It’s time to modernize our industry’s rules and regulations…so all consumers benefit from fair and equal competition,” read a statement from AT&T.

“There are certain portions of the agreement between Google and Kansas City, Kan., that put them at a competitive advantage compared with not just us but also the other competitors in the field,” said Alex Dudley, a Time Warner Cable spokesman. “We’re happy to compete with Google, but we’d just like an even playing field.”

The Wall Street Journal seemed to suggest Google was getting the keys to both cities, with grants of free office space and free power for Google’s equipment, according to the agreement on file with the cities. The company also gets the use of all the cities’ “assets and infrastructure”—including fiber, buildings, land and computer tools, for no charge. Both cities are even providing Google a team of government employees “dedicated to the project,” says the Journal.

The Google Fiber project was so desired that the local governments rolled out the red carpet. In Kansas City, Mo., for instance, the city is allowing Google to construct “fiberhuts,” small buildings that house equipment on city land at no cost, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The cities are discounting other services, as well. For the right to attach its cables to city utility poles, Google is paying Kansas City, Kan., only $10 per pole per year—compared with the $18.95 Time Warner Cable pays. Both cities have also waived permit and inspection fees for Google.

The cities are even helping Google market its fiber build-out. And both are implementing city-managed marketing and education programs about the gigabit network that will, among other things, include direct mailings and community meetings.

Several cable executives complain that the cities also gave Google the unusual right to start its fiber project only in neighborhoods guaranteeing high demand for the service through pre-registrations. Most cable and phone companies were required by franchise agreements with regional governments to build out most of the markets they entered, regardless of demand.

But the Journal missed two key points:

  1. Time Warner Cable has been granted the same concessions given to Google on the Missouri side, and AT&T presumably will also get them when it completes negotiations with city officials on the matter.
  2. Both cable and phone companies have the benefit of incumbency, and the article ignores concessions each had secured when their operations first got started.

The Bell System enjoyed a monopoly on phone service for decades, with concessions on rights-of-way, telephone poles and placement. AT&T was a major beneficiary, and although the AT&T of today is not the same corporation that older Americans once knew, the company continues a century-long tradition of winning the benefit of the doubt in both the state and federal legislature. AT&T has won statewide video franchise agreements that give the company the power to determine where it will roll out its more advanced U-verse platform, and enjoys carefully crafted federal tax policies that helped them not only avoid paying any federal tax in 2011 — the company actually secured a $420 million “refund” subsidized by taxpayers.

Cable operators also won major concessions from local governments under pressure from citizens eager to buy cable television. At the time, cable companies were granted exclusive franchises — a cable monopoly — to operate, an important distinction for investors concerned about the value of their early investments. Local zoning and pole attachment matters were either negotiated or dealt with legislatively to allow cable companies the right to hang their wires on existing utility poles. Franchise agreements permitted the gradual roll-out of cable service in each franchise area, often allowing two, three, or more years to introduce service. It was not uncommon for neighborhoods on one side of town to have cable two years before the other side could sign up. That sounds awfully familiar to AT&T U-verse today.

Google’s proposal to build a revolutionary broadband network delivering 1Gbps deserved and got the same type of treatment then-revolutionary phone and cable service won back in the day.

Time Warner Cable also won much the same treatment Google is now getting, and the cable operator has gotten $27,000 in fees refunded and will avoid another $100,000 in permit fees going forward. Time Warner Cable and Google will both receive free traffic control services during network construction — not that Time Warner Cable plans much of a change for customers in either Missouri or Kansas.

AT&T will likely also receive the same treatment, although it would be hypocritical of them to complain that Google gets to pick and choose where it provides service. Large swaths of Kansas City and suburbs are still waiting for U-verse to arrive, and many areas will never get the service. Cable operators had to wire a little further, but also benefited from years of monopoly status and network construction expenses paid off years ago when there literally was no competition.

Those paragons of virtue at Goldman Sachs are appalled Google has such a good relationship with Kansas City officials more than happy to have the gigabit speeds neither AT&T or Time Warner Cable would even consider providing.

Google’s rights “appear to be significantly more favorable than those cable, Verizon or any other fiber overbuilders achieved when striking deals with local governments in the past,” Goldman Sachs analyst Jason Armstrong told the Journal. “We’re surprised Time Warner Cable hasn’t been more vocal in its opposition.”

But then the cable company has secured most of the same benefits Google has, so why complain at all?

In fact, city officials had to browbeat Time Warner to modernize its network in ways it would have not done otherwise without the new agreement.

Both AT&T and Time Warner have every right to be concerned. Their substandard networks and high prices (along with a lousy history of customer service, according to national surveys) put them at a competitive disadvantage if Google does not make any major mistakes. Neither cable or phone company has made any noise about upgrading service to compete, and should customers begin to leave in droves, then both companies may actually have something to cry about.

The Wall Street Journal’s report on the concessions granted to Google wanders off into the Net Neutrality debate for some reason, and misses several important facts reviewed above.  (3 minutes)

Kansas’ Fiber Broadband Cup Runneth Over: New SureWest Projects Compliment Google

Phillip Dampier September 5, 2012 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Google Fiber & Wireless, SureWest Comments Off on Kansas’ Fiber Broadband Cup Runneth Over: New SureWest Projects Compliment Google

Did you miss out on Google Fiber’s forthcoming gigabit broadband network in Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri? Kansans may not be out of luck, as provider SureWest aggressively continues work to expand its own fiber to the home network in several Kansas City suburbs and nearby communities.

SureWest, which believes strongly in fiber service, is busy laying fiber in conduits in Fairway, Mission, Roeland Park — all in Kansas. It also offers service in Lenexa, Overland Park, Shawnee and parts of Kansas City, Mo.

With all of this fiber, some Kansans may soon be able to choose between two competing fiber to the home providers.

SureWest General Manager of Kansas City operations Matt Zuschlag says SureWest’s fiber broadband service, which tops out at 50/50Mbps, will work just as well as Google’s gigabit (1,000Mbps) service because most web sites don’t need super fast speeds to load equally as fast. Even some bandwidth-intensive applications will not be able to take full advantage of Google’s fiber speeds because the networks currently supporting them were not designed to deliver sustained gigabit speed to end users.

SureWest works good enough for communities like Prairie Village, which is asking the company to wire its community for fiber service, regardless of where Google expands next.

SureWest competes with traditional cable and phone companies — Time Warner Cable and AT&T in the case of northern Kansas, and sells traditional triple play packages of phone, Internet, and television service.

But SureWest says its fiber network is always laid underground, which the company says offers improved reliability. Google Fiber is being installed largely on overhead lines alongside other utility services. SureWest says going underground allows it to skip the delays associated with obtaining pole use permits.


Fact Check: Time Warner Cable’s $25 Million Fiber Upgrade: For Business Use Only

Despite glowing media reports about Time Warner Cable’s announcement it is investing $25 million to expand its fiber optic network in parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, in fact the fiber expansion is part of a previously-reached franchise agreement with New York City officials and will only be available to large business customers that can afford the asking price.

Time Warner Cable’s press release, which generated favorable media coverage in The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News, focused considerable attention on fiber upgrades for the Brooklyn Navy Yard, since reborn as a modern tech-friendly business park.

TWCBC also announced that the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, a 501(c)(3) organization, will receive a state-of-the-art Time Warner Cable Learning Lab in its Employment Center, located inside the massive complex and accessible to the public.

“We are very pleased to work with the City of New York to make significant investments to ensure that this city has the technology infrastructure to successfully compete in a worldwide marketplace,” said Ken Fitzpatrick, President of Time Warner Cable Business Class, East Region. “Our fiber optic network provides dedicated Internet access at incredible speeds and high-bandwidth capabilities to serve the communications needs of any business.”

Time Warner Cable was required to make its investment in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as part of its franchise agreement with NYC officials.

Time Warner Cable did not, however, provide this investment out of the goodness of their heart. They were required to under the terms of the current franchise agreement the company signed with city officials:

[Time Warner Cable] will install, at its own expense, the fiber optic and coaxial cables and related facilities and equipment needed to provide its service to the buildings and occupants throughout the Brooklyn Navy Yard facility.

Time Warner Cable is also extending its network to more commercial establishments throughout the city, in keeping with its previously-announced interest in expanding services to business customers. Nothing new to see here either.

That did not stop Bloomberg News from comparing Time Warner’s network expansion with Google’s gigabit network in Kansas City:

Time Warner Cable Inc. will expand fiber-optic lines to businesses in New York, a move that boosts Internet speeds as much as 20 times and provides an East Coast counterpoint to Google’s ultrafast network in Kansas City.

The company faces a threat from Google more than 1,000 miles away in Kansas City, where the Internet-search giant is building a fiber-optic network as a test project. Time Warner Cable is the main broadband provider for the area, which spans parts of Missouri and Kansas. While Google’s network will be available to both companies and households, Time Warner Cable’s New York fiber network is focused on businesses.

Google’s network initially will only be sold to residential customers, which are the primary targets for the service. Time Warner Cable’s fiber backbone network primarily works in tandem with its coaxial cable network and does not provide a fiber to the premises connection except for the company’s largest corporate customers.

Time Warner Cable Business Class sells different speeds and services to commercial clients. Most choose speeds considerably lower than 1,000Mbps because of the cost.

What was missing from the coverage is the fact ordinary residential Time Warner Cable customers in New York City will not benefit from these fiber upgrades — they are targeted only to commercial clients. Residential customers will continue to receive the same hybrid fiber-coax service they always have from the cable company.

If New York customers want fiber service, they will have to buy it from Verizon, assuming FiOS has made its way to your borough and neighborhood.

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