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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.

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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)

J.D. Power & Associates Tie Vote! Hemorrhagic Fever vs. Comcast vs. Time Warner Cable

jd powerLove can be a fickle thing.

Take Comcast’s affair with J.D. Power & Associates, for example. In Comcast’s filings with regulators, it is very proud that J.D. Power cited Comcast for the most improvement of any cable operator scored by the survey firm. Comcast touted the fact it had managed to increase its TV satisfaction score by a whopping 92 points and Internet satisfaction was up a respectable 77 points. (Comcast didn’t mention the fact J.D. Power rates companies on a 1,000 point scale or that it took the cable company four years to eke out those improvements.)

Last month, J.D. Power issued its latest ranking of telecommunications companies and… well, the love is gone.

If customer alienation was an Olympic event, J.D. Power awarded tie gold medals to both Comcast and Time Warner Cable for their Kafkaesque race to the bottom.

The survey of customer satisfaction largely found only dissatisfaction everywhere in the country J.D. Power looked. While Comcast likes to cite its “customer-oopsies-gone-viral” blunders as “isolated incidents,” J.D. Power finds them epidemic nationwide.

skunkThe highest rating across television and broadband categories achieved by either cable company was ‘Meh.’ J.D. Power diplomatically scored both cable companies on a scale that started with “among the best” as simply “the rest.” Customers in the west were the most charitable, those in the south and eastern U.S. indicated they were worked to their last nerve.

“The ability to provide a high-quality experience with all wireline services is paramount as performance and reliability is the most critical driver of overall satisfaction,” said Kirk Parsons, senior director of telecommunications, in a statement.

Having competition available from a high-scoring provider also demonstrates what is possible when a company actually tries to care about customer service. In the same regions Comcast fared about as popular as hemorrhagic fever, WOW! Cable and Verizon FiOS easily took top honors. Even AT&T U-verse scored far higher than either cable company, primarily because AT&T offers very aggressive promotional packages that include a lot for a comparatively low price.

Other cable and smaller phone companies didn’t do particularly well either. Frontier and CenturyLink both earned dismal scores and Charter Cable only managed modest improvement. The two satellite television companies did fine in customer satisfaction for television service, but it was the two biggest phone companies that managed the best scores for Internet service. Among cable operators, only independents like WOW! (and to a lesser extent Cox) did well in the survey.

If J.D. Power is the arbiter of good service Comcast seems to claim it to be, the ratings company just sent a very clear message that when it comes to merging Comcast and Time Warner Cable, anything multiplied by zero is still zero.

J.D. Power ranking (Image courtesy: Reviewed.com)

J.D. Power ranking (Image courtesy: Reviewed.com)

Midwestern Cities Worry About Comcast’s Replacement: Already Debt-Laden GreatLand Connections

The merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable includes castoffs that will be served by a completely unknown spinoff - GreatLand Communications, that nobody can speak with and does not have a website.

The merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable includes castoffs that will be served by a completely unknown spinoff – GreatLand Connections, that nobody can speak with and does not have a website.

At least 2.5 million Comcast customers in cities like Detroit and Minneapolis could soon find their service switched to a new provider that doesn’t have a website, doesn’t answer questions, and won’t give detailed information to municipal officials about its plans, pricing, or service obligations.

GreatLand Connections is the dumping ground for communities Comcast no longer wants to serve, including cities in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Formerly known as “SpinCo” for the benefit of Wall Street investment banks advising Comcast, the new cable company has been created primarily to help Comcast convince regulators to approve its merger with Time Warner Cable. Comcast believes supersizing itself with Time Warner Cable will win a pass with the FCC by self-limiting its potential television market share. The deal is also structured to dump a large amount of debt on the brand new cable company, allowing Comcast to avoid a significant tax bill.

GreatLand will, for all intents and purposes, be Charter Cable under a different name. Charter will act as the “management company,” which means it will be in charge of most consumer-facing operations.

Beyond that, almost nothing is known about the new cable company, except that it will open its doors laden with $7.8 billion in debt, according to a securities filing. That is equal to five times EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. In comparison, Comcast is 1.99 times EBITDA and Time Warner Cable is 3.07 times EBITDA, making the new cable company highly leveraged above industry averages. Charter Cable, which declared bankruptcy in 2009, is loaded down it debt itself, as it continues to acquire other cable operators.

Finances for the new company appear to be “less-than-middling,” according to MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett, in a note to investors.

Because cable operators face little serious competition, the chances of any significant cable company liquidating in bankruptcy is close to zero, but a heavily indebted company may be very conservative about spending money on employees and operations. It may also leverage its market position and raise prices to demonstrate it can repay those obligations.

exitWith many customers having only one choice for High Speed Internet access above 15-25Mbps — the cable company — the arrival of GreatLand concerns many municipalities facing deadlines to approve a transfer of franchise agreements from Comcast to the new entity.

Jodie Miller, executive director of the Northern Dakota County Cable Communications Commission in suburban Minneapolis said it was impossible to find anyone to talk to at GreatLand. The commission needs to sign off on franchise transfers by mid-December, but nobody can reach GreatLand and the company has no track record of service anywhere in the country.

“We’re not even saying it’s unqualified,” she told Businessweek. “We’re saying we don’t really have information.”

Coon Rapids, Minn. has put franchise renewal negotiations on hold. Michael Bradley, a municipal cable TV attorney and the city’s longtime cable counsel said the deadline has been extended from Oct. 15 to Dec. 15.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “No one knows who we can deal with locally. Nothing is certain yet and discussions are on hold.”

“We don’t have the answers we need,” added Ron Styka, an elected trustee with responsibility for cable-service oversight in Meridian Township, Michigan, a town served by Comcast about 80 miles west of Detroit.

“Answers have been inadequate at best and mostly not forthcoming,” echoed David Osberg, city administrator of Eagan, Minn. in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission.”It’s not clear whether GreatLand will be financially qualified.”

Eagan has had problems with Comcast in the past, and does not want new ones with GreatLand, especially with broadband service, which is vital to an effort to attract technology jobs to the community.

Extortion As a Business Model: Copyright Enforcer Wants to Lock Your Web Browser Until You Pay

logo-rights-corpA for-profit company that believes it can earn billions from web users who illegally download music, movies and television shows wants the power to lock your web browser until you provide a credit card number to settle allegations you illegally download copyrighted content.

Rightscorp strongly believes in its business plan, which demands nuisance settlements from web users caught sharing or downloading copyrighted content. The company believes it has struck gold scaring Bittorrent users with service suspension and the threat of a costly lawsuit unless they agree to pay a $20 “fine” to “settle” the alleged copyright infringement. The fine amounts are seen as low enough to guarantee a quick settlement without involving an attorney.

“Based on the fact that 22% of all Internet traffic is used to distribute copyrighted content without permission or compensation to the creators, Rightscorp is pursuing an estimated $2.3 billion opportunity and has monetized major media titles through relationships with industry leaders,” the company recently told investors.

Using “unique and proprietary patented technology,” Rightscorp says it can identify the infringement of digital content such as music, movies, software, books and games. Rightscorp’s success getting paid depends heavily on the added weight Internet Service Providers can bring when they send on notices that claim those who don’t settle risk having their Internet service shut off. Rightscorp calls their settlement offers “reasonable,” especially when compared with the possible financial consequences of a verdict in favor of the copyright holder as defined in the Digital Millennium Copyrights Act (DMCA), which can be as high as $150,000.

Rightscorp splits any proceeds 50/50 with itself and copyright holders. ISPs get nothing for cooperating.

The company has successfully extracted settlements from more than 100,000 Americans so far as cooperating ISP’s like Charter Communications forward Rightscorp’s legal threats to their broadband customers:

Dear Sir or Madam:

Your ISP has forwarded you this notice.
This is not spam.
Your ISP account has been used to download, upload or offer for upload copyrighted content in a manner that infringes on the rights of the copyright owner.
Your ISP service could be suspended if this matter is not resolved.
You could be liable for up to $150,000 per infringement in civil penalties.

The file 09 – Beyond.mp3 was infringed upon by a computer at IP Address xx.xxx.xxx.xx on 2013-06-24 02:59:08.0 .

We represent the copyright owner.
This notice is an offer of settlement.

If you click on the link below and login to the Rightscorp, Inc. automated settlement system, for $20 per infringement, you will receive a legal release from the copyright owner.

Click on this link or copy and paste into your browser:

https://secure.digitalrightscorp.com/settle/****

Rightscorp, Inc. represents the following ‘copyright owner(s)’ Round Hill Music (‘RHM’).

RHM is the exclusive owners of copyrights for Daft Punk musical compositions, including the musical compositions listed below. It has come to our attention that Charter Communications is the service provider for the IP address listed below, from which unauthorized copying and distribution (downloading, uploading, file serving, file ‘swapping’ or other similar activities) of RHM’s exclusive copyrights listed below is taking place.

This unauthorized copying and/or distribution constitutes copyright infringement under the U.S. Copyright Act. Pursuant to 17 U.S.C. 512(c), this letter serves as actual notice of infringement. We hereby demand you immediately and permanently cease and desist the unauthorized copying and/or distribution (including, but not limited to downloading, uploading, file sharing, file ‘swapping’ or other similar activities) of recordings of Daft Punk compositions, including but not limited to those items listed in this correspondence.

RHM will pursue every available remedy including injunctions and recovery of attorney’s fees, costs and any and all other damages which are incurred by RHM as a result of any action that is commenced against you. Nothing contained or omitted from this letter is, or shall be deemed to be either a full statement of the facts or applicable law, an admission of any fact, or a waiver or limitation of any of RHM’s rights or remedies, all of which are specifically retained and reserved. The information in this notification is accurate.

We have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of herein is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or by operation of law. I swear, under penalty of perjury, that I am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the exclusive rights that have been infringed. While RHM is entitled to monetary damages from the infringing party under 17 U.S.C. Section 504, The RHM believes that it may be expeditious to settle this matter without the need of costly and time-consuming litigation.

In order to help you avoid further legal action from RHM, we have been authorized to offer a settlement solution that we believe is reasonable for everyone.

To access this settlement offer, please copy and paste the URL below into a browser and follow the instructions for the settlement offer:

https://secure.digitalrightscorp.com/settle/****

Very truly yours,

Christopher Sabec
CEO
Rightscorp, Inc. 3100 Donald Douglas Loop, North, Santa Monica, CA 90405 Telephone: (310) 751-7510

After initially scaring a consumer with an infringement notification, the settlement web page that appears after the customer reaches for a major credit card is more soothing:

Liability Release & Settlement Receipt

IMPORTANT: Please print and retain this document for your records. It releases you from liability for the below mentioned infringement and serves as official notice of settlement.


Reference # TC-bb4f723e-****
Title Beyond
Filename 09 – Beyond.mp3
Timestamp 2013-06-24 02:59:08.0
Infringement Source Torrent
Infringers IP Address 68.190.**.***
Infringers Port 51413

Round Hill Music for itself, for its past, present and future directors, shareholders, members, managers, officers, employees, agents, attorneys, representatives, partners, trustees, beneficiaries, family members, heirs, subsidiaries and affiliates, and for its and their predecessors, successors and assigns (collectively the “Releasor”);

Hereby finally, unconditionally, irrevocably and absolutely releases, acquits, remises and forever discharges Joe Smith, 123 Main Street Anytown USA and such person’s family members and heirs (collectively the “Releasee”);

From any and all manner of actions, suits, debts, sums of money, interest owed, charges, damages, judgments, executions, obligations, costs, expenses, fees (including attorneys’ fees and court costs), claims, demands, causes of action and liabilities, that arise under the United States Copyright Act, in each case whether known or unknown, absolute or contingent, matured or unmatured, presently existing or hereafter discovered, at law, in equity or otherwise, that the Releasor may now have or that might subsequently accrue against the Releasee arising out of or connected with (directly or indirectly) the specific Infringement of musical composition(s) referenced above;

Provided however, that this release shall not, and shall not be deemed to, constitute a release with respect to any other past, present or future infringements by Releasee other than the specific Infringement of musical composition(s) referenced above.

Settlement Date 2013-07-29 00:00:00.0
Transaction Id 54205*****
Settlement Amount 20

noticeRightscorp does not appear to be spending its limited resources actually pursuing suspected violators in court. The threat of further action alone appears to have been enough for many to voluntarily pay the firm after receiving their first violation notice. Little, if anything, has happened to those who ignore Rightscorp’s settlement messages unless their ISP suspends access.

As long as payments roll in, there is money to be made in the enforcement business.

Rightscorp now wants to further automate its copyright enforcement process by asking cooperating ISPs to lock customers’ web browsers until payment to Rightscorp has been made.

Rightscorp CEO Christopher Sabec said the company is working with more than 70 ISPs, including five in the top 10, but industry observers believe “working with” more likely means those ISPs are forwarding Rightscorp’s infringement notices to their subscribers, nothing more. Charter Communications leaves the infringement notices intact, including the settlement offer. Comcast reportedly heavily redacts the notices and strips out the settlement offer and links, eliminating the prospect of Rightscorp winning a quick and near-effortless financial settlement.

Sabec believes ISPs don’t have a choice not to work with Rightscorp because of technology that Sabec claims offers reasonable certainty of infringement, even if the offender changes IP addresses. With that standard met, Sabec says ISPs are legally compelled to take action, including cutting off Internet access at Rightscorp’s request if they do not want to become a co-defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit.

“We’re showing the ISPs that they have this potential liability,” said Rightscorp chief operating officer Robert Steele. “Their shield for liability is contingent on terminating repeat infringers. Prior to our company, there was no way to hold them accountable.”

solution

Steele told Ars Technica the days of Rightscorp having the power to instantly cut off your Internet access may not be too far off:

In the future, the company hopes to get more ISPs to comply—and it will expect more of those that are already cooperating, said Steele. Ultimately, Rightscorp is hoping for a scenario in which the repeat infringers it identifies aren’t just notified by e-mail. Instead, Steele hopes to see those users re-directed to a Rightscorp notice right at the moment they open their Web browsers.

“You wouldn’t be able to get around the re-direct page, and you’d have to pay a fine to return to browsing,” he explained. The company is in discussions with four ISPs about imposing such a re-direct page, according to Steele. But the details about which ISPs cooperate with Rightscorp, and how much they cooperate, is a secret that the company guards closely.

partner isps

Their “partner” ISPs include defunct Qwest, which has been known as CenturyLink since 2011 and Charter Communications — the only major cable operator listed.

grandeWhether ISPs will grant unprecedented access to a third-party company trying to turn off their customers’ broadband while maintaining a financial interest in extracting settlements from those customers is doubtful.

Last week, Texas-based independent ISP Grande Communications informed the Austin-based U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas that Rightscorp was engaged in shenanigans. In a strongly worded advisory to the court, Grande’s lawyers accused Rightscorp of using improper DMCA subpoenas to extract identifying information about alleged copyright offenders — a practice ruled improper more than a decade ago in RIAA v. Verizon, because no judge typically reviews the subpoena application. Rightscorp’s subpoenas rely entirely on the signature of an ordinary district court clerk in California:

Internet service provider and cable operator Grande Communications Networks LLC advises the Court that, one (1) business day after Grande filed its Motion to Quash Subpoena in this proceeding seeking to quash a subpoena served by Rightscorp, Inc. (the “Subpoena”), counsel for Rightscorp, Mr. Dennis J. Hawk withdrew the Subpoena.

The abrupt withdrawal of the Subpoena is consistent with the apparent desire of Rightscorp and its counsel to avoid judicial review of their serial misuse of the subpoena power of the federal courts. In addition, the withdrawal comes only after Grande was forced to expend considerable resources handling the Subpoena (and attempting to discuss it with Rightscorp’s counsel) and then preparing and filing the Motion to Quash.

As detailed in Grande’s Motion, the Subpoena presented an extraordinarily undue burden (over 30,000 subscriber lookups) and was issued to a cable operator without an order as required by the Cable Communications Act. Even more egregiously, it appears that the Subpoena is only one of approximately one hundred (100) or more similar subpoenas issued by Rightscorp to regional Internet service providers located across the country (presumably chosen because they are less likely to contest the subpoenas than national Internet service providers with larger in-house legal departments) upon the signature of the Clerk of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, seeking the personally identifiable information of thousands of individuals beyond the jurisdiction of the California courts, despite the fact that such subpoenas may not be sent and issued under 17 U.S.C. § 512(h) to an Internet service provider acting as a conduit under law that has been established for a decade.

Under the circumstances, this Court or the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California may consider ordering Rightscorp and its counsel to show cause why they should not be sanctioned for misusing the federal court’s subpoena powers. Such an order would be appropriate in connection with Grande’s request for costs and attorney’s fees in the Motion.

Beyond any doubt, Rightscorp and its counsel failed and refused to “take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or expense” on Grande. Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(d)(1). As Grande has explained, before the Motion was filed, Rightscorp’s counsel’s only response to Grande’s efforts to confer was a threat that “[w]e expect compliance by the service providers” and that Rightscorp “does not pay to obtain the address details on infringers.”

In addition, Rightscorp’s conduct also raises concerns under Rule 11, and, regardless, may present appropriate circumstances for the imposition of sanctions under the Court’s inherent powers.

The next business day after the Motion was filed, Rightscorp’s counsel made a hasty retreat. If Rightscorp believed it had a good faith basis for the Subpoena, it would have asserted its position before this Court.

But Rightscorp must know that its position and practice would not survive judicial review. If Grande had not challenged the Subpoena, Rightscorp would have improperly obtained the personally identifiable information of hundreds (or thousands) of Texas Internet subscribers using an invalid procedure, without the notice to any of them that would have followed from the court order that Rightscorp refused to seek to obtain, and without the slightest requirement of any showing to the California court whose signature Rightscorp improperly utilized. It appears clear that Rightscorp and its counsel are playing a game without regard for the rules, and they are playing that game in a manner calculated to avoid judicial review. Hopefully, they will not be permitted to continue much longer.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Rightscorp Piracy 5-1-14.flv

CNBC talked with Rightscorp CEO Christopher Sabec about copyright infringement, Net Neutrality, and whether or not copyright holders should simply cut the cost of their content as a disincentive to piracy. (5:28)

Zoom Telephonics Upset With Charter About Customer-Owned Modem Policies

Phillip Dampier September 4, 2014 Charter, Consumer News No Comments

zoomZoom Telephonics, a major manufacturer of cable modems, has asked the FCC to deny the sale of certain customers to Charter Communications as a result of the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable because Charter enforces an unfair customer-owned cable modem policy.

For the last two years, Charter has not allowed customers switching to New Package Pricing to use their own cable modem. They must get one from Charter. But three days before the FCC closed the comment window on the Time Warner Cable-Comcast-Charter transaction, Charter suddenly reversed course and invited customers to attach their own cable modems to the network, as long as the modem was approved by Charter.

As one might expect, no modem from Zoom appears on Charter’s approved modem list.

Instead, Charter has approved 17 modems that are not available from conventional retailers and lack 802.11ac wireless capability.

Charter has still not adopted certification standards that are open to Zoom and other cable modem producers, complains Zoom, nor has Charter yet made a commitment for timely certifications under this program.

“We support the customer-owned cable modem programs available from Comcast and Time Warner Cable,” said Frank Manning, Zoom’s president and CEO. “We have urged Charter to adopt a similar program, but so far Charter has declined. Our request is timely because Charter will significantly increase its number of customers if the transaction involving Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Charter goes through. In that event Charter will go from fourth to second place on the list of largest U.S. cable Internet providers.”

Zoom also complains that Charter still does not separately list the cost of its leased modems on customer bills, and Charter does not offer a corresponding savings to all customers who buy a qualified cable modem and attach it to the Charter network.

Charter Approved Modems for All Internet Tiers

Vendor Model
ARRIS TM802G
ARRIS TM804G
ARRIS TM822A
ARRIS TM822G
ARRIS TM902A
CISCO SYSTEMS DPC3008
CISCO SYSTEMS DPC3010
CISCO SYSTEMS DPC3208
CISCO SYSTEMS DPC3825
MOTOROLA SB6141
MOTOROLA SBG6580
NETGEAR CG3000D
UBEE DDW3612

Modems Approved for Speeds Up to 60Mbps

Vendor Model
MOTOROLA SB6120
MOTOROLA SB6121
UBEE U10C035
SMC NETWORKS SMCD3GN-RES

 

Castoff Comcast/Time Warner Customers: Say Hello to GreatLand Connections

Charter_logoCharter Communications, Inc. and Comcast Corporation today announced the name of the new cable company that will be spun off from Comcast upon completion of the Comcast – Time Warner Cable merger and the Comcast – Charter transactions.

The company now known as “SpinCo” or “Midwest Cable LLC” will be known as GreatLand Connections, Inc.

Although the name has been registered as a trademark, there is no known website or logo yet.

“We are pleased to publicly announce the name of this exciting new company we are building,” said Michael Willner, president and chief executive officer of GreatLand Connections. “The name GreatLand Connections pays homage to the rich history and striking geographies of the diverse communities in which the company will operate. It brings to mind our commitment to connecting people and businesses with terrific products and excellent service in the almost 1000 historic communities – large and small – across the 11 states we will serve.”

Former Insight Cable customers may recall Willner presided over that cable operator for years before it was acquired by Time Warner Cable.

GreatLand Connections will serve customers thrown out by Comcast and Time Warner Cable to keep their combined share of the cable television business under 30%. Most of the 2.5 million customers are in less desirable markets in the midwest and southeast.

It will likely launch as the country’s fifth largest cable operator, behind Charter Communications.

Approving Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger Opens the Door for Massive Cable Consolidation

Liberty Global logo 2012Although Charter Communications did not succeed in its bid to assume control of Time Warner Cable, it isn’t crying about its loss to Comcast either.

Greg Maffei, president and CEO of Liberty Media Corp., which has very close ties to John Malone, former cable magnate, says if the merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable is approved, it will start a race to merge the rest of the cable industry into just a handful of cable operators serving almost the entire country.

Comcast’s argument is that since it does not compete with Time Warner Cable, there are no antitrust or anti-competitive reasons why it should not be allowed to buy Time Warner Cable. If state and federal regulators believe that, nothing precludes a company like Charter (Liberty has an ownership interest in the cable company) snapping up every other cable operator in the country. In fact, Charter has signaled consolidation is precisely its intention, alerting investors it intends to play a very aggressive role in mergers and acquisitions once it sees what regulators feel about the Comcast-Time Warner deal.

Likely targets for Charter include:

  • Atlantic Broadband
  • CableONE
  • Cablevision
  • Mediacom
  • Midcontinent Communications

Cox remains privately held and Bright House Networks is tied up in contractual obligations with Time Warner Cable.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Maffei Charter Is Logical Acquirer of Cable Assets 8-6-14.flv

Greg Maffei, president and chief executive officer of Liberty Media Corp., talks about the outlook for Charter Communications Inc. and the cable industry. Speaking with Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop,” Maffei also discusses the decision by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. to withdraw its $75 billion takeover bid for Time Warner Inc. (5:40)

Charter’s CEO Remaking Company in Cablevision’s Image; Yet Another Cablevision Exec Poached

Phillip Dampier July 2, 2014 Cablevision, Charter No Comments

uhaulSince Thomas Rutledge was hired on as CEO at Charter Communications, a steady stream of his former colleagues from Cablevision’s executive suites have followed him to his new employer.

This week, James Nuzzo announced his departure from Cablevision, taking the position of executive vice president for business planning at Charter.

Nuzzo will report to Charter chief operating officer, John Bickham, and will oversee business planning for the company, working with the field operations, customer care, marketing, network operations, technology and product teams.

“Jim’s extensive background and experience in the cable industry makes him the ideal choice to lead Charter’s Business Planning efforts,” said Bickham. “During his time at Cablevision, Jim was instrumental in building a highly effective Business Planning organization and I am confident he will provide Charter the same great leadership.”

Bickham should know as he served as president of cable & communications at Cablevision until Rutledge hired him away to join him at Charter in 2012.

charter-communicationsNuzzo has been with Cablevision since 1986, so his sudden choice to leave, along with other long-time Cablevision executives, continues to fuel speculation Cablevision won’t be around much longer, especially if Comcast successfully wins approval to acquire Time Warner Cable. Of course, Wall Street analysts have made similar predictions for years without anything to show for it.

The Dolan family has controlled Cablevision since its start in 1973. The company used to own cable systems scattered across the country, mostly serving suburban and rural areas outside of its core northeastern service area in the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. At its peak in the mid-1990s Cablevision offered service to 2.9 million subscribers in 19 states, but eventually refocused attention on the tri-state, selling its other cable properties further afield.

Today, Charter resembles Cablevision in the 1990s — willing to grow and expand beyond the cable systems it already owns.

Helping them accomplish that includes these former Cablevision executives hired by Charter this spring:

  • Jim Blackley, executive vice president of engineering;
  • Catherine Bohigian, executive vice president of government affairs;
  • Jon Hargis, chief marketing officer;
  • Kathleen Mayo, executive vice president of customer operations;
  • Gary Schanman, executive vice president;

Rutledge himself used to be Cablevision’s chief operating officer but left for Charter in 2011.

Los Angeles Has Accumulated $35 Million in Cable Franchise Fees It Has No Idea How to Spend

35-LACityView

Channel 35 is Los Angeles’ Government Access station

Los Angeles cable subscribers are paying $30-50 a year in extra franchise fees the city government has no idea what to do with, allowing a bank account dedicated to housing the unspent funds to reach $35 million and counting.

A new audit by the Office of the City Controller found no misappropriation or ethical lapses by the city government, but it did criticize the lack of long-term planning regarding how franchise revenue should be used, as well as lax auditing of expenses that were paid from the fund. Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin added the city’s lack of consistent auditing of the five major cable operators servicing greater Los Angeles may be allowing cable operators to charge customers franchise fees the companies are keeping for themselves. A 2006 law passed at the behest of Verizon and AT&T allowing statewide video franchise agreements in California isn’t helping either.

For decades, communities have been able to demand up to a 5% franchise fee from cable and phone companies offering video services in their areas in return for access to public rights-of-way and other public property. Most cities, including Los Angeles, have requested the maximum allowed – 5% of the provider’s gross annual revenue earned within the city. Cable operators retaliated by recouping the franchise fee by billing cable customers for it on a separate line on monthly cable bills.

In Los Angeles, 60% of all franchise fees ($31 million) paid are transferred to the city’s all-purpose General Fund, used for all types of city expenses. The remaining 40 percent ($12.4 million) is supposed to be earmarked for a Telecommunications Fund, but the city often raids that account as well. Time Warner Cable subscribers account for 85% of Los Angeles’ cable franchise revenue, AT&T U-verse contributes another 10% with other operators paying considerably less. Last year, Charter Cable wrote a check for less than $5,000, primarily because only a tiny part of the city of Los Angeles is served by Charter today.

So where is the excess money still in the account coming from?

fund balance

The Unintended Consequences of Statewide Video Franchising

Eight years ago, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 2987:  the “Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006” (DIVCA). In reality, DIVCA was just another statewide video franchise bill heavily pushed by the state’s dominant phone companies — AT&T and Verizon — to let them begin offering video services without having to sign franchise agreements with thousands of local governments across the state.

verizon attAT&T and Verizon sold the legislation to the public as a red-tape cutter to bring Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse to millions of Californians without unnecessary bureaucratic delay.

But lobbyists from both phone companies, as well as several cable companies, were successful in inserting their own amendments into the law that undercut their arguments for passing the legislation:

  • As local franchise agreements expired, companies took their franchise renewal business direct to the state, cutting off local oversight. Communities could no longer require operators to expand into rural areas or impose fines for sub-standard service;
  • Cable companies won the right to toss Public, Educational, and Government Access (PEG) channels out of their buildings. Many communities assigned responsibility for housing and operating PEG channels as part of their franchise agreement. DIVCA rendered those agreements void and unenforceable;
  • Cable companies no longer had to offer institutional broadband networks for free or at a discount to local governments, schools and libraries, and many existing networks were closed down as soon as the local franchise agreement expired and communities balked at the new prices charged by telecom companies.

But perhaps the most controversial amendment was language that gets AT&T and Verizon out of meeting obligations to build out their fiber networks where they choose not to built them, while still compelling smaller independent telephone companies to offer service to every customer within their telephone service area within a reasonable amount of time.

So instead of promoting a rush towards video competition, both AT&T and Verizon won concessions that let them cherry pick — on their own schedule — customers for AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS:

  • Verizon is in compliance with DIVCA as long as 25% of the households where service is available are low-income and within 5 years, Verizon increases that to at least 40%;
  • AT&T stays out of trouble with DIVCA by providing video service to 35% of low-income households where service is available. Within five years, AT&T must reach at least 50%.

One of the biggest victims of DIVCA are PEG channels which lost the sponsorship of the cable companies that used to underwrite them as part of their franchise agreements. American Community Television reported in California, Illinois and Indiana, where statewide video franchising laws were passed, cable operators that operated PEG channels closed the doors, sometimes with only 30 days notice. Even in states where PEG funding remained, channels have been exiled to Channel Siberia (eg. Channel 1,512) or are under constant threat of losing their channel if they don’t meet an operator’s arbitrary quality of programming criteria.

Time Warner Cable has moved PEG channels to digital service in a majority of their service areas, requiring many customers to have an added-cost cable box to watch.

To help Californian PEG services cope, a state law permitted cities to collect an extra 1% of gross revenue from cable operators to keep funding these channels. But if a city already collects a full 5% franchise fee, any money collected from PEG channels must only be spent on their operations — no raiding of funds allowed. If the local government thinks there are bigger priorities than supporting public, educational, and government access, the future of PEG channels is questionable.

How to Spend the Untouchable Proceeds

The new home of Los Angeles' Government Access channel

The new home of Los Angeles’ Government Access channel

With Los Angeles-area cable companies collecting and sending on the proceeds of the 1% PEG surcharge to city coffers, the money has been more or less just piling up over the last seven years, unspent.

As of the end of June last year, the city had squirreled away about $22 million collected from cable TV customers stashed in a non interest-bearing account. PEG operations across the United States are not known for being profligate spenders, relying on budgets that would be insufficient to keep the lights on at a typical local public television station. So some question whether Los Angeles’ Public Access, Educational Access, and Government Access networks need $22 million to continue operations.

The city has decided the Government Access channel — the one that airs council meetings and other political functions — does need a new home.  So the city is spending $20 million to completely renovate one of the oldest buildings in Los Angeles, the long-vacant three-story Merced Theater near Olvera Street.

When complete, the state-of-the-art digital facilities of Cityview Channel 35 may rival those of some commercial television stations in Los Angeles. The building will house a small performance venue on the first floor, a studio with space for a 70-person live audience, and plenty of office space on the third floor. What it evidently won’t have room for is the Public Access and Educational Access channels that make up the rest of the PEG trio. The new facility is for the exclusive use of Channel 35.

Local residents are happy someone is finally doing something with the theater, which has been empty and unused for at least 30 years. The project could also make Los Angeles’ Government Access channel one of the most capable in the country, producing high quality programming well beyond the ubiquitous city council meetings.

“Space for a live audience of about 70 people will allow us to engage the public with debates, town halls and other events that we weren’t able to do,” Mark Wolf, executive officer at the city Information Technology Agency, which oversees Channel 35, told Downtown News. “The venue also gives us a full upgrade to digital technology, as we’ve been operating in an analog environment.”

Downtown News partly misled its readers when it suggested cable providers are footing the bill for the renovated home of Channel 35. Although money from the city’s general fund won’t be used for the project, the money did originate from cable subscribers who have paid higher cable bills since 2007 because the city elected to collect a 1% PEG franchise fee.

Galperin

Galperin

Even after spending $20 million on the Merced Theater, the money from Time Warner Cable, Cox, AT&T, Verizon, and Charter cable TV subscribers will keep rolling in. The audit found that by the time the new Merced Theater facility opens in 2016, the city will again have between $21-25 million in unspent PEG funds.

Galperin thinks throwing more money at traditional PEG operations would be a mistake, particularly when younger audiences are not even subscribing to cable television.

“We’re in a new era,” Galperin said. “The old rules that envisioned everybody getting their programming from cable are changing before our very eyes. We are in a totally different era in terms of how people get their information, so much of viewership is on the Internet now, not necessarily on cable.”

Because PEG funds can only be spent on PEG operations, as a starting point, funds could be spent to build up what is now an anemic, barely functioning website for Channel 35. Although the channel does stream online, it is intermittent in our experience. Channel 35 might also partner with local public broadcasting and minority-interest channels in co-production ventures. It should also develop a robust on-demand library of its content for site visitors because that is increasingly how Americans choose to watch television.

Galperin suggested other uses including a public Wi-Fi network and city Internet sites for programming and other information, but these may stray outside of the boundaries of what is permissible under current California and federal law.

Of course, there is one other alternative – rescind the PEG fee altogether until there is a legitimate need to collect the money from already overburdened cable subscribers.

franchise fees

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Surviving DIVCA.mp4

Silicon Valley Community Television aired this lengthy conference last fall for the benefit of local governments across California still trying to make sense of the 2006 Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act, a provider-influenced piece of legislation that has tied the hands of most communities to manage their local telecommunications infrastructure for the good of their citizens. (2 hours, 47 minutes)

 

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