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Cable One Spinning Away From Graham Family In Likely Move Towards Eventual Sale

Phillip Dampier November 18, 2014 Cable One, Competition, Consumer News, Rural Broadband No Comments

cableoneCable One’s history as a former part of the Washington Post and its publishers — the Graham family — will come to an end next year as it is spun off to shareholders, positioned for a quick sale as the march towards consolidation of the cable industry continues.

The board of directors of Graham Holdings authorized company management to spin-off the cable company in a tax-free transaction. Many industry analysts believe that is a prelude to maximizing shareholder value by selling the cable operator to a larger cable operator, most likely Charter Communications.

Cable One serves just under 500,000 customers in rural markets in 19 states. The company struggled in 2014 with high-profile battles over programming costs, notably with Viacom, that has led to channel blackouts running nearly seven months. Cable One’s small footprint has put the cable company at a disadvantage, unable to qualify for deep volume discounts for cable programming. Frequent competitor AT&T U-verse has taken a toll on the cable company’s video subscribers, down 15% since the fall of 2013. Cable One spent much of 2014 investing in network upgrades, particularly to improve its newly prioritized broadband service.

The news boosted shares of Graham Holdings stock, increasing in value as much as 12% to $886.05 per share late last week. Shareholders are positioned to benefit the most from a sale of the company, which could fetch as much as $2.5 billion in a sale. The most likely buyer is Charter Communications, which serves similar-sized communities in the central and southern United States and is ready to grow larger with acquisitions of smaller companies like Cable One.

Online Access to Viacom Programming Blocked for Cable ONE Customers

Phillip Dampier May 1, 2014 Cable One, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

cableoneViacom has blocked website content for Cable ONE customers in an escalating dispute with the cable company over the cost of the programmer’s cable networks.

Cable ONE dropped 15 Viacom channels from its cable systems nationwide April 1 claiming Viacom’s contract renewal price was unreasonable. Subscribers found a way around the dispute by accessing Viacom streamed content online. This week, Viacom closed that loophole and blocked access to all streaming content for Cable ONE subscribers.

“Cable One has chosen to no longer carry Viacom programming and, as a result, it is no longer available to Cable One customers in any form,” Viacom said in a terse statement.

All 730,000 Cable ONE customers in 19 states found the Viacom networks replaced on the cable lineup with alternative programming from BBC America, Sprout, The Blaze, Hallmark Channel, National Geographic, Investigation Discovery, TV One and SundanceTV.

Cable ONE is used to playing hardball with programmers and dropped Time Warner-owned Turner Network programming from its systems for three weeks last fall over a similar dispute, now resolved.

There is no word about the current status of negotiations between Viacom and Cable ONE.

 

Viacom Demands 100% Rate Increases for Hundreds of Small Cable Systems, Military Bases

viacom networksSmall cable systems across the country and on overseas military bases are being granted hourly reprieves that are keeping up to 24 Viacom-owned cable channels on the air after negotiations to extend an agreement with their program buyer stalled.

Cable operators belonging to the National Cable TV Cooperative, which represents independent cable systems on cable programming matters, report Viacom is demanding an unprecedented 100 percent rate increase for its networks and a guaranteed rate hike of 10% annually on each of its channels.

Viacom’s demands would cost each subscriber at least $4 a month, noted Jack Capparell, general manager of Service Electric’s cable system in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. Service Electric is a private, family owned cable business with 250,000 subscribers in central and northeastern Pennsylvania and northwestern New Jersey.

The impasse also affects cable systems serving American military bases. Americable has notified subscribers in Yokosuka, Atsugi, Iwakuni, and Sasebo, Japan Viacom was likely to cut off 10 of its cable channels to military families sometime today. Allied Telesis, which offers service to Air Force bases in Japan is also expected to lose programming.

cableoneNCTC members complain Viacom requires cable systems to carry nearly all of its lineup, including lesser-known channels few customers have even heard of, much less want. Even if a cable system chooses not to air a Viacom channel, Viacom’s contracts require cable providers to pay for them if they want to carry Viacom’s most popular networks.

Some cable systems are breaking away from NCTC’s negotiations and opening one on one talks with Viacom. Metrocast secured an agreement for its customers earlier today by negotiating directly with Viacom.

viacomFor most affected cable operators, there is a ‘wait and see what happens’ approach. Others, including Cable ONE, have already moved to replace the Viacom networks with other channels.

“Viacom asked for a rate increase greater than 100%, despite the fact that viewing is down on 12 of their 15 networks – some by more than 30% since 2010,” said Cable ONE. “We asked Viacom to either reduce their rates or allow us to drop some of their less popular networks to reduce the total cost. They refused these reasonable requests.”

Logo_Service-ElectricEarlier today, Cable ONE didn’t wait for Viacom to pull the plug. They pulled it themselves.

“Cable ONE has let these networks go and expects to add many top-rated networks you’ve requested and expand several other highly requested networks to our most popular level of service. Some of the new networks include BBC America, Sprout, Investigation Discovery, the Blaze, Hallmark Channel, National Geographic, TV One, Sundance, and more,” said the company, which expects to publish a full list of the new networks on Wednesday.

Viacom responded with a news release tailored for each affected provider:

GCI_Color_LogoWe are offering Service Electric a double-digit discount off of our standard rate card. It is a better deal than HUNDREDS of other TV providers in the country have agreed to. We have been actively trying to get a deal done with Service Electric for months and they have refused to negotiate in any meaningful way. And now, on top of this, Service Electric is throwing out numbers which simply aren’t true. Our expiring deal with Service Electric is nearly five years old. In that time, we have been great partners and given Service Electric more channels, more on demand content and access to our content beyond the TV – at no additional cost. We don’t understand why Service Electric has chosen to negotiate in this manner. And now, as a result of their lack of interest in coming to a mutually beneficial agreement, you are at risk of losing 19 Viacom networks. We are serious about getting a deal done.

Virtually the entire state of Alaska is also affected.

“We’ve unified to fight for Alaskans and to work toward a fair, long-term agreement that keeps prices stable for our customers,” said Paul Landes, GCI senior vice president. “Viacom wants a rate increase that is 40 times that of the rate of inflation. Alaska pay TV providers, along with 700 small to mid-sized operators nationally, are saying ‘no’ to Viacom’s take all 26 channels or nothing demands.”

GCI is joined by Alaskan providers MTA and KPU in the dispute.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Cable ONE Viacom Channels Removed New Channels Added 4-1-14.mp4

Cable ONE released this video earlier today informing customers they were dropping Viacom networks. (1:00)

Cable ONE Catchup: Free Upload Speed Upgrades, But Usage Caps Persist

THE Internet Overcharger

Cable ONE’s boost in cable infrastructure investment is paying dividends for its broadband customers with new upstream speed upgrades.

“Our customers have expressed a need for faster upload speeds and we’re committed to listening to our customers and delivering the latest products and technical advancements while maintaining the highest level of reliability and customer care,” said Joe Felbab, Cable ONE vice president of marketing.

The details:

  • 50/2Mbps Streaming Plan gets a slight bump to 3Mbps upload speed;
  • 60/2Mbps Premier Plan gets upload speed doubled to 4Mbps;
  • 70/2Mbps Ultra Plan gets a triple boost to 6Mbps.

To activate the new upload speeds, reset your cable modem by briefly unplugging it.

Cable ONE's promotions often only last three months before increasing to the regular, undisclosed a-la-carte price. Modem lease or purchase is extra.

Cable ONE’s promotions often only last three months before increasing to the regular, undisclosed a-la-carte price. Modem lease or purchase is extra.

In June, Cable ONE scrapped its confusing consumption billing scheme and replaced it with standard usage caps that our readers report are unevenly enforced.

cable_one_crewThe 1.5Mbps, 5Mbps, 8Mbps, 10Mbps, 12Mbps, & 50Mbps services (some plans grandfathered for existing customers) have a cap of 300GB per billing cycle, while the 60Mbps and 70Mbps services respectively have 400 and 500GB data caps per billing cycle. Surfing Internet has a 50GB cap.

While 6Mbps upload speed is slightly better than what Time Warner Cable and AT&T U-verse customers get, Cable ONE remains well behind companies like Comcast and Verizon FiOS.

Cable ONE in April announced a two-year, $60 million network upgrade across 42 cable systems in its mostly rural footprint to enhance reliability and deliver faster Internet service. Upstream speeds are the most difficult to increase for cable broadband providers because the DOCSIS standard was designed to deliver fast download speeds.

Earlier this month, Cable ONE adopted TiVo for its new Whole Home DVR, which offers 650 hours of recording time with four built-in tuners and an Advanced TiVo on-screen guide.

In large parts of its national service area, Cable ONE competes with telephone companies AT&T, CenturyLink, and Windstream.

Cable ONE Drops TruTV, CNN, TCM in Contract Renewal, Turner Networks Drops Cable ONE

Phillip Dampier October 3, 2013 Audio, Cable One, Consumer News No Comments

cableone_tdc2Cable ONE customers nationwide lost eight Turner Networks channels yesterday, despite the fact the cable company has a signed contract with Turner to pay for some of the networks that have gone dark.

“In an extraordinary act of retaliation and bullying, Turner Networks removed TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network from all Cable ONE systems without warning, when our prior Turner contract expired on October 1,” said Cable ONE CEO Tom Might. “This happened despite the fact that Cable ONE had signed new contracts and already agreed to pay an enormous nearly 50% rate increase for these three networks.”

Cable ONE was under pressure to carry all eight Turner-owned networks (in turn owned by Time Warner Entertainment) during contract renewal negotiations that included substantial fee increases. The cable company independently decided to boot five “less popular” networks from lineups nationwide: Boomerang, TruTV, TCM, CNN and CNN Headline News. It agreed to keep buying TBS, TNT, and Cartoon.

turner“We signed contracts for TBS, TNT and the Cartoon Network through the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC), which allows for the purchase of individual channels rather than the entire bundle of eight,” said Might. “In a disgraceful punitive reaction, Turner Networks refused to recognize the NCTC contracts and immediately de-authorized all Cable ONE systems in order to ‘teach’ Cable ONE a lesson about the power of cable programmers to tie and bundle channels together and force carriage of unwanted bundles.  They refuse to give cable operators or their customers any choice about what they can or cannot buy.”

Turner Networks claims Cable ONE has no authority to buy a slimmed-down package of channels through the NCTC and must negotiate with Turner directly.

Cable ONE will automatically credit its customers for the missing channels. The cable company is a subsidiary of The Washington Post Company and serves 730,000 customers in 19 states.

Cable ONE explains to its customers why eight Turner Network-owned channels are now missing from the channel lineup. (2 minutes)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Verizon FiOS Wins PC Magazine’s ISP Award: “FiOS Is the Absolute Fastest Nationwide Broadband”

fastest isp 2013Verizon FiOS is the fastest nationwide broadband service available.

That was PC Magazine’s assessment in its ranking of the fastest Internet Service Providers of 2013. It’s not the first time Verizon FiOS has taken top honors. In fact, the fiber to the home broadband service has consistently won excellent rankings not only for its speed, but also for its value for money and quality of service. The worst thing about FiOS is that many Verizon customers cannot buy the service because its expansion was curtailed in early 2010.

Verizon FiOS has seen its national speed rankings increase this year. In 2012, the provider’s nationwide download speeds averaged 29.4Mbps; this year FiOS average downstream speeds jumped to 34.5Mbps. Upstream speeds are also up from 26.8Mbps to 31.6Mbps. In part, this is because a growing number of customers have moved away from Verizon’s entry-level 15/5Mbps package with a $10 upgrade to Quantum FiOS 50/25Mbps service. FiOS TV customers can upgrade themselves with their remote control.

Frontier Communications made the top five in the Pacific Northwest, thanks to FiOS infrastructure the company inherited from Verizon.

Other high-ranking ISPs included Midcontinent Communications, a small cable provider serving the north-central states. Midco’s DOCSIS 3 upgrade allows the company to offer most customers up to 100Mbps service. The average download speed for Midco customers is 33.1Mbps; average upload speed is 6.4Mpbs.

Where cable operators face head-on competition from Verizon FiOS, the usual competitive response is speed increases. Cablevision is a good example. It came in fourth place nationally with average speeds of 25.9/5.9Mbps. Comcast has also been boosting speeds, especially in the northeast where it faces the most competition from fiber. It came in third place with average speeds of 27.2/6.8Mbps and offers Internet speeds up to 505Mbps in some areas.

There were companies that performed so poorly, they barely made the regional rankings. The most glaring example largely absent from PC Magazine’s awards: Time Warner Cable, which has lagged behind most cable operators in the speed department. It scored poorly for the second largest cable company in the country, beaten by Charter, Mediacom, and CableONE — which all usually perform abysmally in customer ratings. The only regional contest where Time Warner made a showing at all was in the southeast, where it lost to Verizon FiOS, Comcast, and Charter. Only TDS, an independent phone company, scored worse among the top five down south.

Even more embarrassing results turned up for AT&T U-verse, which performed so bad it did not even make the national rankings. AT&T has promised speed upgrades for customers this year, and has implemented them in several cities. Unfortunately for AT&T, its decision to deploy a fiber to the neighborhood system that still depends on copper to the home is turning out to be penny wise-pound foolish, as it continues to fall further behind its cable and fiber competitors. At the rate its competitors are boosting speeds, U-verse broadband could become as relevant as today’s telephone company ADSL service within the next five years.

Other players scoring low include WOW!, a surprising result since Consumer Reports awarded them top honors for service this year. Also stuck in the mud: Atlantic Broadband (acquired by Canada’s Cogeco Cable, which itself is no award winner), Suddenlink, Wave Broadband and Metrocast, which serves smaller communities in New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut, South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama.

The magazine also ranked the fastest U.S. cities, with top honors going to the politically important Washington, D.C., and its nearby suburb Silver Spring, Md, which took first and second place. Alexandria, Va., another D.C. suburb, turned up in eighth place. No cable or phone company wants to be caught delivering poor service to the politicians that can make life difficult for them.

Brooklyn, N.Y., took third place because of head-on competition between Cablevision and Verizon FiOS. Time Warner’s dominance in Manhattan and other boroughs dragged New York City’s speed rankings down below the top ten. Among most of the remaining top ten cities, the most common reason those cities made the list was Verizon FiOS. Florida’s Gulf Coast communities of Bradenton (4th place) and Tampa (6th place) have fiber service. So does Plano, Tex. (5th place) and Long Beach, Calif. (7th place). The other contenders: Hollywood, Fla. takes ninth place and Chandler, Ariz. rounds out the top 10.

Bloomberg: Dr. John Malone, Charter Cable Contemplating Buyout of Time Warner Cable

Charter_logoOne of America’s lowest-rated cable companies and an industry legend labeled by consumer advocates as the “Darth Vader of cable” may be joining forces to buy Time Warner Cable, according to Bloomberg News.

The blockbuster buyout would leap Charter Cable from fourth largest cable operator to second place, although still behind Comcast in terms of revenue and number of subscribers.

The spectacular return of Malone to the top echelon of the American cable industry was the talk of the industry’s Cable Show, ongoing this week in Washington, D.C. Those attending are reportedly buzzing Malone’s imminent return is likely to spark a massive consolidation of the U.S. cable industry to as few as three major cable operators serving more than 95 percent of the American cable marketplace.

Malone

Malone

Driving momentum to merge, in Malone’s view, is increasing cable video programming costs, which are cutting into profits. Having a fewer number of cable operators could hand the industry more leverage over broadcasters and unaffiliated cable programmers, but could also cut costs through marketplace efficiencies and volume discounts.

“If you’re John Malone, you’re thinking: we’ve got to get bigger,” Jim Boyle, managing director of SQAD and formerly a cable equity analyst for more than 19 years, said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg News. “The bigger Charter can get, the more economies of scale discounts it can get,” he said. “If everyone else is playing checkers, Malone is playing three-dimensional chess.”

For many on Wall Street, the only thing left to do is plan the funeral for the country’s second largest cable company.

“If you’re going to do a transformational deal, your choices are Time Warner Cable, Time Warner Cable and Time Warner Cable,” Craig Moffett, a veteran industry observer told Bloomberg. “You can roll up all the little guys if you want to, but even if you did, you haven’t built something that’s truly large-scale.”

“Time Warner Cable is gone,” Chris Marangi, a money manager at Gamco Investors Inc., said. “I think Charter will buy them eventually, whether it’s Liberty facilitating that or Charter doing it directly or the two companies doing it in partnership.”

Industry observers predict Malone will signal his dream deal by initially launching smaller mergers and acquisitions before attempting a buyout of a cable company considerably larger than Charter itself.

The first target: perennially bottom rated Mediacom, where any buyer is likely to be hailed as a rescuer by beleaguered subscribers who have regularly dismissed the cable operator as incompetent. Next, the Washington Post’s Cable ONE, which may already be plumping itself up as at attractive takeover target through investment in improving its network infrastructure.

timewarner twcBut the most obvious foreshadowing of a big deal with Time Warner would most likely come if Charter first successfully acquires always-rumored-for-sale Cablevision, where the controlling Dolan family is rumored to be holding out for an exceptionally attractive buyout package other cable companies aren’t willing to offer. Time Warner itself has been rumored as a buyer, but current management has repeatedly stressed it will not pay a premium price for acquisition targets.

Malone may not be able to help himself. His long history in the cable industry includes a voracious appetite for merger and acquisition deals. For more than two decades, Malone led Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI). When he arrived in 1972, TCI was a rural Texas and western states cable operation with 100,000 subscribers. By 1981, through mergers and acquisitions, he built TCI into America’s largest cable operator. In 1998, AT&T bought out TCI Cable. The phone company later exited the cable business and sold most of the operation to present owner Comcast.

The level of consolidation proposed by Malone is unheard of in the United States, but is familiar in Canada where two major cable operators — Rogers and Shaw — control the majority of cable subscriptions. Third largest Vidéotron leads in Québec and Cogeco serves pockets of Ontario and Québec bypassed by Rogers and Vidéotron, respectively.

Cable ONE Increasing Broadband Speeds; Expands Usage Allowances, Ends Overlimit Fees

Cable ONE broadband customers will soon benefit from the cable operator’s increased investment in its operations with faster broadband speeds and a less complicated “usage guideline” system with no overlimit fees.

The cable operator, owned by The Washington Post, has announced effective June 10, customers will be able to buy 5-70Mbps packages with allowances up to 500GB a month.

cable one speed

Cable ONE now only sells two broadband tiers:

  • 5Mbps/512kbps (3GB daily limit to avoid speed throttle) No overlimit fees ($50/month)
  • 50/2Mbps – 50-100GB monthly usage limit depending on how many Cable ONE services you receive ($50/month, $0.50/GB overlimit fee)

Starting Monday, the monthly usage allowance for the 50Mbps plan will be increased to 300GB per month and no overlimit fee will be charged. The price will remain $50 a month. Other new tiers include:

  • 60/2Mbps – 400GB usage limit ($75/month)
  • 70/2Mbps – 500GB usage limit ($100/month)

Customers will also lose the “grace period” between 12am-8am when usage was formerly not counted against the monthly allowance. Effective June 10, all usage counts 24 hours a day.

“We are very excited to launch these new, more flexible Internet plans. Our customers are spending more time online than ever before and have voiced the need for faster service and no overage charges,” said Joe Felbab, Cable ONE vice president of marketing. “We’re committed to listening to our customers and delivering the latest products and technical advancements while maintaining the highest level of reliability and customer care.”

Customers who exceed their monthly cap will not pay overlimit fees but will receive warnings from Cable ONE. If those warnings are ignored, the company will “invite” customers to upgrade to the next higher tier or convert to a business account.

Cable One Commits to Major System Upgrades: More Speed, Better Reliability Promised

cableoneCable One has announced it will invest $60 million in network upgrades across 42 cable systems in its mostly rural footprint to enhance reliability and deliver faster Internet service.

The cable operator, owned by the Washington Post, has been criticized for outdated infrastructure and poor service, particularly in Mississippi.

”We’re committed to delivering the best possible experience to our customers,” said Cable One CEO Tom Might. “We’re confident that this investment will ensure that our customers will receive superior service in the speed, reliability, and the overall performance of our services.”

The two-year upgrade project aims to replace amplifiers, split broadband customers who share a backbone connection into smaller groups, replace aging coaxial cable and improve the cable company’s fiber optic backbone.

The upgrade might allow the company to consider relaxing its draconian usage cap and speed throttle policies, which force customers to choose between an uncapped 5Mbps connection (with a speed throttle for those using more than 3GB per day) or a 50/2Mbps connection with caps as low as 50GB per month (overlimit fees: $0.50-1.00/each extra gigabyte.)

Cable One currently offers two levels of Internet service: an uncapped 5Mbps plan for $50 a month and a 50/2Mbps plan for $50 a month with a 50-100GB monthly usage cap, depending on the package bundle. Usage is measured between 8am-12 midnight. Users on the uncapped 5Mbps plan are subject to speed throttling if they exceed 3GB of usage per day.

Cable One now offers two levels of Internet service: an uncapped 5Mbps plan for $50 a month and a 50/2Mbps plan for $50 a month with a 50-100GB monthly usage cap, depending on the package bundle. Usage is measured between 8am-12 midnight. Users on the uncapped 5Mbps plan are subject to speed throttling if they exceed 3GB of usage per day.

Cable One General Manager in Mississippi Admits Cable System is ‘Old and Outdated’

Phillip Dampier April 3, 2013 Cable One, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 3 Comments

cableoneThe head man in charge at Cable One of Natchez, Miss. admits the local cable system he runs is old and outdated and needs significant upgrades to improve service.

Cable One General Manager John Hilbert told an audience at a public hearing last week that many of the complaints Cable One’s customers in the area are making are simply not ones the company can fix.

While Hilbert’s candid admission may have refreshed an audience used to getting empty promises from providers, Hilbert has been in charge of the cable system in Natchez for several years and is just now discovering that “a lot of the problems with telephone and Internet service stem from old and outdated infrastructure.”

natchezCable One is preparing what it calls a $500,000 “reinforcement project” to replace and update wires and other equipment.

City officials listened carefully to Hilbert, because the community has been up in arms about the poor service Cable One has been providing western Mississippi. The city and the cable operator are currently negotiating a franchise renewal agreement.

One former judge complained her Cable One phone service has often failed, sometimes for up to three days. The local electric utility said it has lost thousands of dollars over the last few weeks because Cable One’s Internet service has gone offline.

“When I’m sitting here losing money when I know I shouldn’t be, I have a serious problem with that,” Natchez Electric Manager Ricky Long told the Natchez Democrat.

In 2014, customers are likely to face more challenges when the company switches to an all-digital lineup, requiring customers to get a set-top box for every television in the home.

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