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Cable Industry’s Profitable Money Party Under Threat As Net Neutrality, FCC Oversight Looms

Moffett

Moffett

Nearly 20 years after the 1996 Telecom Act deregulated much of the cable industry, the renewed threat of increased consumer protection and oversight by the Federal Communications Commission and the dwindling chance regulators will approve the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable has increased pessimism about guaranteed high cable industry profits on Wall Street.

Craig Moffett, senior analyst at MoffettNathanson has departed from his usual optimism about the prospects of cable industry stocks and downgraded Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications this morning to “neutral,” suggesting the Title II reclassification of broadband could eventually lead to FCC mandated price cuts on broadband after the agency finalizes Net Neutrality regulations.

The cable industry had maintained high hopes for the Republican majority in Congress to trample Net Neutrality and allow the cable industry to continue boosting rates and introducing other pricing schemes including usage-based billing, but Moffett has grown increasingly convinced Republicans cannot override President Obama’s veto power if Congress attempts to change or end FCC oversight over the broadband business.

The cable industry has grown increasingly panicked over a new spirit of activism inside the FCC, particularly after FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler began asserting their “worst-case scenarios” for broadband speed and Net Neutrality. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association has warned Net Neutrality and Title II would stifle innovation. But Moffett fears it will more likely stifle profits.

money“It would be naïve to suggest that the implication of Title II, particularly when viewed in the context of the FCC’s repeated findings that the broadband market is non-competitive, doesn’t introduce a real risk of price regulation,” Moffett wrote. “Not tomorrow, of course, so yes, near term numbers won’t change. But terminal growth rate assumptions need to be lowered. Multiples will have to come down.”

Moffett, who had been optimistic about the likely approval of the merger deal between Comcast and Time Warner Cable is much less so today.

His earlier 70-30 odds in favor of the merger are now down to 60-40. The headwind of negative press and the reclassification of broadband to a minimum speed of 25Mbps poses considerable risk the deal will be ruled anti-competitive.

Moffett claims the cable industry was also banking on jacking up prices for Internet access, already a very profitable service, to cover reduced profits from cable television. But now the FCC will be watching.

“In the past, changes to broadband pricing would have been the natural remedy,” Moffett said. “That avenue may be no longer open.”

Stop Paying Regular Price for HBO and Cinemax; Cancel and Rebuy for $10/Month

2000px-HBO_logo.svgAre you still paying $15+ for HBO and $13+ for Cinemax? Stop.

Most major cable television providers are slashing the price for both premium movie channels to protect subscriber numbers from the April introduction of HBO’s standalone video streaming service, likely to be called HBO Go.

Most analysts expect the on-demand service will cost $15 a month for one or both co-owned networks. With Time Warner Cable recently raising the price of HBO to $16.99 a month, the company may have priced itself out of the market.

“Why would I waste my time with HBO from Time Warner Cable when I will be able to get HBO Go for $2 less a month and won’t have to buy their larded-up cable television package,” asks Watertown, N.Y. resident Jeff Kates. “Their greed will cost them when they lose more subscribers than they gain in revenue from the rate hike.”

Comcast has already seen the writing on the wall and this year cut its regular pricing for HBO from $18.95 to $15 — matching the likely price of standalone HBO Go.

In an effort to lock in customer loyalty and avoid accelerating cord-cutting, many major pay television providers are putting one or both Time Warner (Entertainment)-owned networks on sale for much of 2015. These prices are available to any new premium cable subscriber. If your provider will not switch your current subscription to the new promotional rate, cancel one or both channels for a few days (or threaten to cancel service altogether) and then resubscribe at the discounted price.

Here are the current offers:

  • AT&T U-verse: Bundles HBO and a year of Amazon Prime service with a package of mostly local over the air channels for around $40-50 a month depending on the promotion;
  • Charter Cable: Charter’s Triple Play Silver package bundles HBO, Cinemax, Showtime/Movie Channel premium channels into the television package at no extra charge;
  • Comcast: Offers HBO for online sign ups at $10 a month for a year. Comcast attempts to limit the offer to customers who have not subscribed to HBO for the last 120 days, but this condition is usually waived if you threaten to cancel service and switch to a phone or satellite company;
  • Cox: Stingier than others, Cox is offering discounts for just six months, but gives you quantity discounts. Buy 1 premium channel at $10/mo, two channels for $15, three for $20 or four networks for $25 a month. Your choices include HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz;
  • Time Warner Cable: Now has a sale running for $9.99/mo HBO and the same rate for Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz when ordered online. Current non-premium customers can upgrade from the My Account portal. Current premium channel customers will have to call Time Warner and argue for the discount or cancel HBO and quickly resubscribe;
  • Verizon: Also offers HBO and others at $9.99/mo for the first year.

Satellite services are expected to change their pricing on premium channels sometime this month.

Mesa County, Col. to Charter Cable: Really, Another Outage? Charter to County: Quit Whining So Much

Phillip Dampier January 19, 2015 Charter, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

pushpollCharter Cable customers in Mesa County, Col., experiencing the latest service outage from the cable company were told to “quit whining” and “check your attitude” when they called Charter’s customer service line to ask when the problems would be fixed.

“If Mesa County didn’t whine so much, maybe something would be done,” one Charter representative told a customer in Grand Junction.

“Talking to [Charter] is like trying to put socks on an octopus,” said Dillard Jenkins.

Stop the Cap! reader June Jones found that to be true when she complained to Charter about not being able to reach 911 on her Charter phone during the recent outage.

“I was unhappy after the representative literally told me ‘that’s not our problem, get a cell phone like everyone else’,” Jones said. “I was so shocked being talked to that way I didn’t know what to say. I am 76 years old and in all my life I have never heard a company use that tone with me. The next thing I heard was, ‘is there anything else? I didn’t think so’ and she just hung up.”

Alex Danders waited on hold 35 minutes to speak to a representative about the Charter Internet outage at his business. He later wish he hadn’t.

“All I wanted to know is if they knew when it was going to be fixed and the guy told me ‘to check my attitude’ and later told me to ‘go screw yourself’ and disconnected me,” said Rodriguez.

Charlotte Conboy is a Charter customer who has had trouble with Charter for the last six months. Her two home-based businesses have suffered from no Internet access during frequent outages.

“If […] their company [had] issues [affecting their offices], they would have it fixed right away” said Conboy. “They say that’s beside the point and I get hung up on.”

charter downA county official calling to find out when repairs would be completed was told, “we have excellent service and do not appreciate your complaint for one incident of interruption of service.”

The latest outage took out Internet service for schools across Mesa County for several hours two days in a row. Teachers scrambled to change their lesson plans to work around the outages.

“I’ll tell you the last couple of weeks the last three weeks or so I’ve been out talking to people, they’re furious, people are upset I mean this is our primary communications,” commissioner Scott McInnis told KKCO. “In exchange for using the right of way we expect them to deliver a service that the reasonable person would say ‘hey the quality of this service is good’ and we expect that [they will] deliver that.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KKCO Grand Junction County Commissioners get involved with Charter issues 1-15-15.flv

KKCO in Grand Junction reports that hundreds of area residents are outraged about ongoing problems with Charter Cable and the rude responses they get when they call Charter’s customer service line. (3:23)

The ongoing problems with Charter Cable and the company’s surly responses to customers prompted a stern letter from the Mesa County Board of Commissioners to Charter Communication’s senior manager of Government Relations. They plan to meet with senior Charter officials today to discuss the matter.

Dear Mr. Rasmussen;

Today we have received multiple complaints from businesses and residents of Mesa County regarding interruption of Charter’s Cable Service. Currently, District 51 Schools are without service and we have been informed that service has been down for several hours.

Please note that this is unacceptable for Charter subscribers who feel that they can go to no one for resolution. When calling the customer service line they are told multiple ‘reasons’ for the outage, including responses such as ‘we have excellent service and do not appreciate your complaint for one incident of interruption of service,’ and ‘If Mesa County didn’t whine so much, maybe something would be done.’

Timely resolution of this issue would be prudent. We are requesting immediate and prompt dispatch of a response team to fix the system post haste; as well as a heightened awareness of the frustration Mesa County subscribers are having with your Customer Service Department. Good faith compliance is implied with the franchise agreement. We have also been informed by the City of Grand Junction that they have also heard from frustrated citizens regarding this issue.

Sincerely,
Mesa County Board of Commissioners
Rose Pugliese, Chair
John Justman
Scott McInnis

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KKCO Grand Junction School district loses phones and internet again 1-16-15.flv

The entire Mesa County school district lost Internet access for a second day after another Charter Cable outage. KKCO reports parents and staff are concerned. (3:08)

 Thanks to reader June Jones for tipping us about this story.

The Trauma Trinity: Comcast, Time Warner, Charter Now America’s Most-Hated Companies

ygbix_logoAmericans would rather deal with unwanted telemarketing calls, fight their insurance company, or pay top dollar for oil and gas because almost anything is better than dealing with the cable company, if it happens to be named Comcast, Time Warner Cable, or Charter.

As state and federal regulators contemplate allowing these three companies to co-mingle, Americans have bottom-rated them like never before in the most recent YouGov BrandIndex survey of consumer satisfaction.

Any number below 60 results in the failing grade of “F” and shame for all concerned. The three cable operators managed a grade of just 13.2, nearly twice worse than the next lowest scoring industry – wireless providers. The cable sector once again achieved the lowest scores among 43 rated industries and has sunk to a level reserved for a war criminal popularity contest.

complete_list

YouGov BrandIndex

Although Time Warner Cable’s scores were called “crap” by one consumer advocate reviewing the data, Comcast performed much worse, plummeting to new lows after customers related to the gone-viral recording of Ryan Block’s customer service call from hell. Block spent more than 20 minutes arguing with a cocky and insufferable customer service representative who repeatedly resisted Block’s efforts to cancel his service. It hit a familiar nerve with Comcast customers and the company took a major hit, according to Lance Fraenkel, head of client services for BrandIndex.

cable guy“That to me stands out as a major event over the last few months that has damaged the brand and category perception,” Fraenkel told The Huffington Post.

The proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, although well received by non-profit groups and politicians receiving Comcast contribution checks, is a dead on arrival proposition for average consumers. This allowed Charter, which typically rates about as popular as burnt popcorn, to achieve a new high in its perennially dismal consumer satisfaction score. It can take its “barely neutral” rating to the bank.

But it isn’t bad for everyone. Verizon FiOS in particular achieved top grades for service, with AT&T U-verse also doing better than the cable competition.

“If you have a couple brands in negative territory and the category average is still firmly positive, then you know that there are brands that perform well in the sector,” Fraenkel added.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable both acknowledged their lousy ratings, both promising to continue spending millions improving the customer service experience. Comcast has promised that annually since 2007 and its ratings continue to decline. Many blame offshore call centers and intransigent operators unwilling to depart from a script that emphasizes giving credits and refunds only as a last resort. Most complaining customers are offered temporary discounts on service upgrades, which eventually expire and result in an even higher bill.

Charter couldn’t be bothered responding to a call for a comment. When the alternative is DSL from Frontier, CenturyLink or Windstream, why should they?

The Menace of the Unburied Line: Cable & Phone Companies Create Hazards for Homeowners

One Alabama customer found her fence the home of not one, but two artistically-managed Charter Cable lines serving her neighbors.

One Alabama customer found her fence the home of not one, but two artistically-Amanaged Charter Cable lines serving her neighbors.

All across the country, people are encountering communications wiring that belongs underground or on a utility pole, but is instead scattered on the ground or left dangling on fences or in the street. Isolated incidents or a consequence of deregulation that has left community leaders’ hands tied? Stop the Cap! investigates.

A Louisiana woman eight months pregnant is suing Cox Communications Louisiana and its contractor after tripping over an exposed cable wire in her mother’s backyard the company didn’t bother to bury.

In Fort Myers, Comcast connected a neighbor’s cable service in a senior living community by scattering a cable across lawns and sidewalks for nearly a year before finally burying it.

In Alabama, Charter Cable turned cable wiring into an art form, attaching multiple homeowners’ cable TV wires in artistic designs to a neighbor’s fence, and he wasn’t even a customer.

Welcome to the scourge of the unburied, exposed cable wire. Typically called a “drop” by cable installers, these lines are common in communities where a cable or phone company uses a third-party contractor to manage buried lines. Some manage them better than others.

In the northern United States, replacement drops installed during the winter months often stay on the ground until spring because the ground in frozen, but in warmer climates in the southeast, cable companies are notorious for “forgetting” about orphaned cable lines that can take weeks or months to bury, often only after intervention by a local media outlet or politician.

Chardae Nickae Melancon’s complaint claims Cox installed cable service in June, 2013 and left the cable wire exposed in the backyard. In late August, Melancon claims she tripped and fell over the wire injuring her arm, right side, and other unspecified injuries. Her suit alleges Cox was warned the wire was installed improperly and only after her injury did Cox return to finish the job.

In Fort Myers, it took more than 11 months for Comcast to return and bury its line, snaked across lawns and sidewalks connecting several buildings in the retirement community.

Comcast left this cable lying across a sidewalk in a retirement community in Fort Myers, Fla. for 11 months.

Comcast left this cable lying across a sidewalk in a retirement community in Fort Myers, Fla. for 11 months.

“You know this [community] is 55 and older. We have got people in here that are 90 years old,” Bonnie Haines, a resident in the Pine Ridge Condo retirement community told WFTX-TV. “Could you imagine them walking or walking around that sidewalk and tripping over this, what would happen? They couldn’t see it at night. Fortunately for me I know it’s there. I’ve lived with it all this time but if somebody would come to visit an older person or something, they don’t know it’s there.”

Across the street lies another unburied Comcast cable.

“We’ve called multiple times. we’ve reported it multiple times,” said Eric Ray, the manager of the Pine Ridge Homeowners Association. “In fact, every time I see a Comcast truck in here I personally grab the driver, take him over to the spot, and he puts in a work order and takes pictures right in front of me and still no response.”

Comcast’s last reply before making the evening news:  “We’ll get to it soon.”

Twenty four hours after being a featured story on the station’s newscast, the cables were finally buried.

In Montgomery, Ala., an artistic cable installer has used one resident’s fence as the adopted home of Charter Cable’s lines. Jamie Newton, who isn’t a Charter customer, noticed an orange Charter Cable line attached to her fence one day after returning home. That was two years ago. Suddenly, an extra cable appeared, draped like Christmas tree garland.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WFTX Ft Myers Residents worried about exposed cable tv wire 1-15-14.mp4

Residents of a Ft. Myers, Fla. retirement community worry residents as old as 93 could be seriously injured if they trip over this Comcast Cable left on the sidewalk for at least 11 months. (3:00)

“At first I was surprised, and then it turned into a little bit of anger and frustration,” Newton told WSFA. “I have small children, I have friends’ children over, and the neighborhood kids come and play in my backyard. It’s not safe.”

Charter Cable is not interested because Newton is not a customer. Charter in fact recorded just one complaint from a Charter customer six months earlier, and they claimed a “glitch” was responsible for the cable not being buried.

(Image: WEWS-TV Cleveland)

(Image: WEWS-TV Cleveland)

While some customers have been encouraged to remove offending lines that cross property lines themselves, some have gotten into trouble doing so, charged with destruction of private property. The most common mistake homeowners make is cutting or displacing cables placed on or in a utility easement, which can be difficult to identify.

Some of the worst problems occur with cables that served now ex-customers. Residents complain AT&T, Comcast and Charter are not responsive to requests from non-customers to deal with abandoned wiring in disrepair. An outside line supervisor in San Francisco tells Stop the Cap! AT&T has few provisions to manage cabling no longer in service for a paying customers.

The city of Cleveland, Ohio is a prime example of how AT&T deals with unused cables. Residents reports dozens of abandoned lines snipped at head level and allowed to dangle off utility poles, eventually to fall to street level where children can handle them. Time Warner Cable was also accused of allowing cables to hang over Cleveland streets. Some are left over after demolishing vacant houses but the most frequent cause of hazardous cables is competition. When a customer cuts cable’s cord, drops a landline, or flips between providers, installation crews often cut and leave old lines swaying in the breeze or draped over sidewalks.

The problem grew so pervasive in Cleveland, city officials requested telecom companies coordinate an audit of their cable networks and remove dangerous wiring before someone gets hurt. But all they can do is ask. Ohio’s sweeping telecom deregulation law stripped local authority over AT&T and Time Warner Cable. The city’s leverage is now based on creative code enforcement and embarrassing the companies in the local media.

“We don’t have any regulation for phone and cable companies and hanging wires create a hazardous situation and it’s going to have to be regulated,” said Cleveland councilman Tony Brancatelli. “One of these times it’s going to be a hot line.”

Local media reported nearly the same problem four years earlier in Cleveland, and efforts to keep up with cables left in disrepair seem to wane after the media spotlight moves on.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WEWS Cleveland Neighbors worry kids will get desensitized to seeing low wires 4-3-14.mp4

Kids are at risk if they begin to disrespect hanging utility wires. An epidemic of abandoned cable and telephone cables are dangling over Cleveland streets and deregulation means cities have to ask providers nicely to deal with the problem. (3:00)

Time Warner Cable and AT&T have also pointed fingers at each other, implying the other is more responsible for the cables left hanging:

AT&T: “We certainly welcome attention on the topic of safety and any telephone wires that look out of place. To that end, we encourage you to share with your viewers the number for our statewide repair information line: 800-572-4545. Please do call this line to report locations of telephone wires that look out of place.  While your story pointed out that many of the problem lines you saw may not have been telephone lines, we look forward to removing or repairing any that we find, that indeed belong to our company.”

Time Warner Cable: “Maintaining line clearance is something we act quickly to correct anytime we identify a potential issue. Though it is not clear who owns the wires you cite in your story, when our lines need to be adjusted, we take immediate action.  If someone comes across a line they feel maybe too low, please call us and we will respond.”

One important tip from Stop the Cap! for both your safety and avoiding legal entanglements — don’t take on the job yourself.

Municipal officials tell us readers should call a local code enforcement officer and have them investigate utility cable issues. Unresponsive companies or those creating dangerous conditions for the public can be fined and most will respond quickly to an officer’s request to manage the problem, even when deregulated.

Customers allowing the cable company to install a temporary line in their own yard should check if they are signing a total liability waiver as part of the process. Doing so can limit your leverage if the cable company doesn’t return to bury the line.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WEWS City of Cleveland promises to address low hanging wires 4-7-14.mp4

WEWS-TV in Cleveland followed up on their earlier report after getting no response from cable and phone companies and finding even more hazardous, abandoned wiring littering Cleveland. (3:15)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WEWS Cleveland Major utility and cable companies meet with City of Cleveland 4-17-14.mp4

Cleveland officials asked cable and phone companies to send representatives to coordinate action to fix the problem, but deregulation makes the effort voluntary. (2:47)

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