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Frontier Runs America’s Worst Website: Dead Last in 2015 Web Experience Ratings

frontier frankFrontier Communications scored dead last in a nationwide survey of websites run by 262 companies — ranked for their usability, helpfulness, and competence.

The “2015 Web Experience Ratings,” conducted by the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm, looked at how customers feel about companies based on experiences visiting their websites. The firm wanted to know whether customers would forgive a company if its website proved less than satisfactory. The answer appears to be no, and phone and cable companies were the most likely to experience the wrath of dissatisfied customers.

“It’s ironic that many of the cable companies that provide Internet service earned such poor ratings,” Bruce Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group, said.

Most household name cable companies did especially poor in the survey. Time Warner Cable, Comcast and CenturyLink all tied at 252nd place (out of 262 firms). But special hatred was reserved for the website run by Frontier Communications, repeatedly called “incompetent” by consumers, especially after the phone company disabled most of the website’s self-service functions in late April. A well-placed source inside Frontier told Stop the Cap! the company could not manage to get its website ordering functions working properly and simply decided to give up, forcing customers to call instead.

Only 29% of consumers were willing to forgive a telecommunications company for a lousy web experience, according to the findings. Other website disasters were run by: Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Spirit Airlines, Blue Shield of CA, and Haier.

Which websites do consumers love the most? Temkin says USAA (a bank) and Amazon.com have traded the #1 and #2 spots for the last five years.

Charter Asks FCC to Approve Time Warner Cable/Bright House Merger; Stop the Cap! Urges Changes

charter twc bhCharter Communications last week filed its 362 page redacted Public Interest Statement laying out its case to win approval of its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, to be run under the Charter banner.

“Charter may not be a household name for all Americans, but it has developed into an industry leader by implementing customer and Internet-friendly business practices,” its statement reads.

The sprawling document is effectively a sales pitch to federal regulators to accept Charter’s contention the merger is in the public interest, and the company promises a range of voluntary and committed service upgrades it says will improve the customer experience for those becoming a part of what will be America’s second largest cable operator.

Charter’s proposed upgrades fall under several categories of direct interest to consumers:

Broadband: Charter will commit to upgrade customers to 60Mbps broadband within 30 months (about 2.5 years) after the deal is approved. That could mean some Time Warner Cable customers will still be serviced with standard speeds of 15Mbps as late as 2018. Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade program will be effectively frozen in place and will continue in only those areas “consistent with Time Warner Cable’s existing deployment plans.” That will leave out a large sections of the country not on the upgrade list. Charter has committed to impose no data caps, usage-based pricing or modem fees, but only for three years, after which it will be free to change those policies at will.

Wi-Fi: Charter promises to build on Time Warner’s 100,000 Wi-Fi hotspots, most in just a few cities, and Bright House’s denser network of 45,000 hotspots with a commitment to build at least 300,000 new hotspots across Charter’s expanded service area within four years. Charter will also evaluate deploying cable modems that also act as public Wi-Fi hotspots. Comcast already offers over 500,000 hotspots with plans for many more, making Charter’s wireless commitment less ambitious than what Comcast today offers customers.

Cable-TV: Charter has committed to moving all Time Warner and Bright House systems to all-digital service within 30 months. Customers will need to lease set-top boxes designed to handle Charter’s encryption system for all cable connected televisions. Among those boxes includes Charter’s new, IP-capable Worldbox CPE and cloud-based Spectrum Guide user interface system.

Video on the Go: Charter will adopt Time Warner Cable’s streaming platform and apps to provide 300 streaming television channels to customers watching from inside their homes (a small fraction of those channels are available while outside of the home). Customers will not be able to watch on-demand recorded DVR shows from portable devices, but can program their DVRs from apps or the website.

Discount Internet for the Poor: Charter references the fact its minimum entry-level broadband speed is 60Mbps so that does not bode well for Time Warner Cable’s Everyday Low Priced Internet $14.99 slow-speed Internet plan. Instead Charter will build upon Bright House Networks’ mysterious broadband program for low-income consumers.

Based on Charter’s initial proposal, Stop the Cap! will urge state and federal regulators to require changes of these terms before approving any merger. Among them:

  1. All existing Time Warner Cable and Bright House service areas should be upgraded to meet or exceed the levels of service offered by Time Warner Cable’s Maxx program within 30 months. It is not acceptable to upgrade some customers while others are left with a much more modest upgrade program proposed by Charter;
  2. Charter must commit to Net Neutrality principles without an expiration date;
  3. Regardless of any usage-cap or usage-based pricing plans Charter may introduce after its three-year “no caps” commitment expires, Charter must permanently continue to offer unlimited, flat rate Internet service at a reasonable price as an alternative to usage-priced plans;
  4. Customers must be given the option of opting out of any leased/provided-modem Wi-Fi hotspot plan that offers a wireless connection to outside users without the customer’s consent;
  5. Charter must commit to a more specific Wi-Fi hotspot program that details towns and cities to be serviced and proposed pricing for non-customers;
  6. Charter must allow customers to use their own set-top equipment (eg. Roku, Apple TV, etc.) to receive cable television service without compulsory equipment/rental fees. The company must also commit to offering discount alternatives such as DTAs for secondary televisions and provide an option for income-challenged customers compelled to accept new equipment to continue receiving cable television service;
  7. Charter must retain Time Warner Cable’s Everyday Low Priced $14.99 Internet plan regardless of any other low-income discount program it offers. If it chooses to adopt Bright House’s program, it must broaden it to accept applications year-round, simplify the application process and eliminate any waiting periods;
  8. Charter must commit to independent verification of customer quality and service standards and adhere to any regulatory guidelines imposed by state or federal regulators as a condition of approval.
  9. Charter must commit to expansion of its cable network into a reasonable number of adjacent, unserved areas by committing a significant percentage (to be determined) of measurable financial benefits of the merger to the company or its executives towards this effort.

Stop the Cap! will closely monitor the proceedings and intends to participate on both the state (New York) and federal level to guarantee any merger provides consumers with an equitable share of the benefits. We will also be examining the impact of the merger on existing Time Warner Cable and Bright House employees and will promote merger conditions that protect jobs and limit outsourcing, especially overseas.

Bright House’s Mysterious Internet Discount Program Charter Wants to Adopt Nationwide

If you can find it.

If you can find it.

A major concern about the merger between Charter and Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks is the availability of affordable Internet access. That was a major issue for New York regulators contemplating the earlier failed merger attempt between Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Time Warner Cable offers all subscribers a low-speed budget Internet option called Everyday Low Price Internet for $14.99 a month with no pre-qualifications, no paperwork, and no contract commitment. Although originally designed to appeal to price sensitive DSL customers, it has become Time Warner’s de-facto low-income Internet offering for those who cannot afford Standard Internet service.

According to Charter Communications’ Public Interest Statement filed today with the Federal Communications Commission — its case to win approval of its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House — the future is not looking too good for Time Warner’s $15 Internet program if the merger is approved. Charter makes a point of stating its entry-level Internet option is 60Mbps service at almost three times that price.

So what will “New Charter” offer more than 10 million cable customers going forward:

New Charter will build upon Bright House Networks’ broadband program for low-income consumers by making a broadband offering available with higher speeds and expanded eligibility while continuing to offer the service at a significant discount, and will begin making the offer available within six months after the transaction closes and offer it across the New Charter footprint within three years of closing.

If you were even aware Bright House offered a discount broadband program, congratulations!

An advocate of affordable Internet service claims Bright House has done an excellent job keeping any mention of the program off its website. In fact, it appears arranging for a visa to visit North Korea is probably slightly easier than getting cheap service from Bright House.

It turns out Bright House does have a modified version of its barely advertised “Lite Internet” plan offering 2Mbps downloads and 512kbps uploads. Anyone can buy that plan for about $20 (with a separate modem fee). Bright House’s Low-Income Internet plan offers the same service for $9.95 a month for up to 24 months.

To qualify, there is an Olympic-style playing field of hoops to jump through, according to Cheap Internet:

1) You must have at least one child qualified for the National School Lunch Program. They need not be enrolled now.

2) You cannot have been a Bright House broadband customer during the last three months. If you are a current customer, you must first cancel and go without Internet service for 90 days (or call the phone company and hope to get a month-to-month DSL plan in the interim.)

3) If you have an overdue bill older than 12 months, you are not eligible until you pay that bill in full.

But it gets crazier.

4) Bright House does not enroll customers in discounted Internet programs year-round. From a Bright House representative:

“We do participate in this particular program, however, it is only around September that we participate in it. This is a seasonal offer that we have which can only be requested from the middle of August to the middle of September, which is when most start up with school again for the year.”

That restriction gets heavy criticism from Cheap Internet.

“Families fall into poverty every day of the year, and poverty-stricken families move from one school district to another every day of the year,” the website writes. “So it’s horribly unfair to tell them they’d qualify for this program if only they had fallen into poverty sometime between the middle of August and the middle of September.”

Time Warner Cable offers $14.99 to anyone without paperwork.

Time Warner Cable offers $14.99 to anyone without paperwork.

But wait, there is more.

Bright House does not take orders for the Low-Income Internet plan over the Internet. That’s right. No Internet sign ups over the Internet. You have to enroll by phone: (205) 591-6880. We dialed it and experienced 30 seconds of… silence. No ringing, no busy signals, nothing. Then an automated attendant picked up looking for a pre-qualification phone number to decide if we are in a Bright House service area. That is as far as we could get. It hung up.

It turns out Bright House sometimes refers to its discount Internet program under another name: Connect2Compete. As both Cheap Internet and Stop the Cap! found, if you visit Bright House’s website and search for either term, you will find absolutely nothing.

Does it seem Bright House lacks enthusiasm selling this option to income-challenged consumers?

The most information available about the discount Internet program Charter wants to bring to Time Warner Cable customers is available on a pretty skimpy third-party website that has no connection to Charter, Time Warner or Bright House. Nothing to be concerned about there!

New Charter promises to improve the program, but Stop the Cap! believes there is a much simpler solution. For $5 more, Time Warner Cable already offers a fine discount option available to anyone, anywhere, for as long as they want it. No paperwork, no complications, no drama. The fact New Charter seems to prefer a different option — one that requires an archaeological dig to unearth needed information — makes us wonder whether they are interested in serving the needy at all.

Switzerland Moving Into World’s Top 10: Competition Forces Major Broadband Upgrades

upc_cablecom_logoJohn Malone’s cable systems in Europe share little in common with what Americans get from their local cable company. In Switzerland, Liberty-owned UPC Cablecom charges $95 a month for 250/15Mbps service — a speed Charter Communications customers cannot buy at any price. Liberty is Charter’s biggest investor/partner. Later this month, Swiss cable customers will be able to buy 500Mbps from UPC. When implemented, that is expected to push Switzerland’s broadband speed rankings into the global top-10. Currently Switzerland is rated #11. The United States is #28 and Canada is ranked #34.

UPC’s primary competitor  — telephone company Swisscom — is aggressively upgrading its facilities with its eye on offering G.fast, the latest version of DSL capable of delivering up to 500Mbps across 200-300 meters of old copper phone wiring, making it suitable for fiber to the neighborhood deployments similar to AT&T U-verse or Bell’s Fibe. Swisscom is also expanding fiber to the home service on a more limited basis, offering customers 1,000/1,000Mbps service on that network.

Tveter

Tveter

Why all the upgrades? Competition in the Swiss broadband marketplace.

If Swisscom can offer gigabit broadband speeds, then so can UPC Cablecom, claims its CEO Eric Tveter.

“We can offer every customer across the country the same speeds,” Tveter told the Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper. “At the end of June, we will introduce new Internet speeds of 500Mbps. Demand for [fiber’s] symmetrical speeds is still very low among residential customers, but if demand increases we will offer them.”

Customers looking for gigabit speed would likely have to sign up as a commercial customer of UPC for now. But the company is preparing to introduce DOCSIS 3.1 which will allow the existing cable network to easily deliver gigabit speeds to residential customers. In fact, Tveter is looking at introducing 10Gbps speeds in Switzerland in the coming years.

Tveter aggressively criticized some of his biggest competitors for using marketing-speak to promote “new” products UPC already offers.

swisscom_logo_detailSome providers have promoted “cloud-based” on-demand access to video that Tveter says has been available from the cable company for several years.

This year, UPC Swisscom has been reassuring customers it does not allow America’s National Security Agency to spy on its customers and has taken measures to keep Chinese intelligence agents and hackers out of its network. The Swiss courts have made it clear they want nothing to do with NSA spying and permit operators to take any and all steps to keep unauthorized American and Chinese agencies from penetrating Swiss telecommunications.

Tveter points out all Swiss networks use equipment manufactured by U.S. and Chinese companies, but there are no indications either government has forced manufacturers to give back-door access to that equipment for surveillance or espionage purposes.

UPC Cablecom also voluntarily adheres to Net Neutrality principles for its Swiss customers.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Swisscom fibre optic network 2014.mp4

Swisscom shows the advantages of its fiber to the home network. (1:54)

Charter CEO: Net Neutrality No Deterrent to System Upgrades, Investment

Rutledge

Rutledge

Despite claims from Net Neutrality critics that increased oversight of the broadband business would lead to reduced investment and upgrades, Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge said the new rules would have no effect on Charter’s investment plans.

Last week Rutledge sat down with FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler to discuss Charter’s proposed merger with Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable. He was joined by Catherine Bohigian, Charter’s executive vice president for governmental affairs and FCC general counsel Jonathan Sallet and senior counselor Phil Verveer.

“Mr. Rutledge explained that the transactions will bring substantial consumer benefits, including providing a better Internet experience for watching on-line video, gaming, and using other data-hungry apps at more competitive prices, and that the mergers will not harm competition,” according to a one page filing with the FCC disclosing the meeting.

Despite repeated claims from pro-industry policy wonks that Net Neutrality and Title II oversight of cable broadband would cause operators to reconsider their investment plans, Rutledge made it clear Charter’s spending plans are unaffected.

“Mr. Rutledge agreed that the Commission’s decision to reclassify broadband Internet access under Title II has not altered Charter’s approach of investing significantly in its network to deliver cutting edge services including: the fastest entry-level broadband service (60 Mbps) with unlimited usage; out-of-home Wi-Fi hotspots; a state-of-the art, cloud-based user guide, allowing search and discovery across linear, video on demand and online content; open, non-proprietary downloadable security; and an innovative video app with hundreds of live and downloadable channels and the ability to display over-the-top content seamlessly on the television,” the disclosure continues.

Charter’s chief executive said the company supports Open Internet rules, including no throttles or blocks on lawful content and no paid prioritization. But he does worry about regulatory uncertainty while the FCC explores its expanded powers of oversight.

Hometown Newspaper of Charter Communications Warns Time Warner Deal Not in the Public Interest

Editor’s Note: This editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reprinted in its entirety. It comes from a newspaper that has covered Charter Communications since its inception. The Post-Dispatch reporters are also some of Charter’s subscribers — the cable company serves all of metropolitan St. Louis. Charter has never been received particularly well in St. Louis and in other cities where it provides generally mediocre service. Communities across Missouri that have endured poor cable and broadband service have recently taken a serious look at doing something about this by building their own public broadband networks as an alternative. But big money telecom interests, especially AT&T, have found it considerably less expensive to lobby to ban these networks from ever getting off the ground than spending the money to upgrade networks to compete.

charter twc bhOn May 15, the last day of this year’s session of the Missouri Legislature, House Bill 437 finally was assigned to a committee, where it promptly died. Given the power of the American Legislative Exchange Council, it may well be back next year.

HB 437, sponsored by Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark, was full of gobbledygook about “municipal competitive services,” but its effect would have been to condemn Missourians to ever-higher prices for broadband Internet service. Cities would have been forbidden from establishing their own broadband services to compete with private operators, thus holding down prices.

ALEC, which wines and dines state lawmakers and then gets them to pass pro-business “model legislation” in their states, had succeeded in getting restrictions on public Internet providers in 20 states. But in February, the Federal Communications Commission struck down North Carolina’s ALEC-inspired law, so the future of other such laws is uncertain.

About 22 percent of Missourians are still regarded as “underserved,” having no reliable access to broadband service of at least 25 megabits per second — what’s needed to stream video without lags. About 1 in 6 Missourians have only one wired access provider to choose from. More than 400,000 Missourians have no wired broadband at all.

Missouri is ranked 38th “most connected” in the nation by the federal-state Broadband Now initiative. In the 21st century, this is like being underserved by railroads in the 19th century or power lines in the early 20th. In parts of rural Missouri, it’s hard to do business, which helps explain why HB 437 died in committee.

Rep. Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark)

Rep. Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark)

The basic question is whether companies that invest in high-speed Internet infrastructure should be able to charge whatever they can get away with, or whether broadband service should be treated as a public utility. If it’s the latter, as the FCC determined in February, then government must make sure it’s affordable.

Which brings us to Charter Communications proposed $56 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable and its $10.4 billion acquisition of Bright House Networks. Both deals were announced May 26; both will need approval from the FCC and the Justice Department’s antitrust regulators.

In St. Louis, we have a love-hate relationship with Charter, a homegrown company built atop what was once Cencom Cable. It has dominated the cable TV market here almost as long as there’s been a cable market.

Charter customers endured years of poor service, its bankruptcy, its legal challenges, its ownership and management changes. Just when it got itself together, in 2012, the headquarters was moved from Des Peres to Stamford, Conn., though it retains a significant presence here.

Today our little Charter is a big fish; the Time Warner and Bright House deals would make it the nation’s second-largest cable company, with 24 million customers, behind only Philadelphia-based Comcast, with 27 million.

But cable TV no longer drives cable TV. Internet-based video services, like YouTube and Netflix, have revolutionized the way people, particularly younger people, watch TV. When cable companies first started connecting customers to the Internet through the same cables that delivered TV programming, it was regarded as a nice add-on business. Now broadband delivery is seen as a far bigger part of the future than providing TV programs.

missouriIndeed, when Comcast tried to acquire Time Warner last year, the dominance (nearly 60 percent of the market) that the combined company would have had over broadband service caused federal regulators to look askance. Comcast abandoned its bid in April.

By contrast, a Charter-Time Warner-Bright House combination (it will do business as Spectrum) will control 30 percent of the broadband market. Charter Spectrum will have 20 million broadband subscribers, compared with 22 million for Comcast.

So what can customers expect? Charter’s CEO Tom Rutledge has promised “faster Internet speeds, state-of-the-art video experiences and fully featured voice products, at highly competitive prices.”

This begs the question, competitive with whom? Comcast? Mom-and-pop operations that can’t afford the infrastructure? Municipal service providers who are being ALEC’d out of business?

Neither Charter nor Time Warner has particularly good customer service ratings (though to be fair, Charter is miles ahead of where it used to be, at least in St. Louis). Still, Charter will take on lots of debt to finance the deal, much of it in high-yield junk bonds. The broadband business provides leverage. As analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson told the Wall Street Journal: “Broadband pricing is almost an insurance policy for cable operators, in that if all else fails, you’ve always got the option to raise broadband rates.”

America wouldn’t let a private operator own 30 percent of its roads and highways. It wouldn’t allow two of them to control half the electricity. If broadband Internet service is a public utility, it must be regulated strictly.

The lesson is old as the hills: The free-marketeers who talk most passionately about competition are generally in the business of trying to eliminate it. Charter and Time Warner are both members of ALEC.

The Charter-Time Warner deal clearly is not in the public interest. The upside for shareholders is huge. The upside for Charter executives is even bigger. But it’s hard to see how Charter’s customers would see much benefit at all.

Time Warner Cable Customers – Your Price to Cover Executive Golden Parachutes, Deal Fees: $19.48 Each

money grabEach of 15.4 million Time Warner Cable customers will effectively pay $19.48 to cover executive golden parachutes and Wall Street bank advisory fees if the merger with Charter Communications is approved by regulators.

Five senior executives at Time Warner Cable will split $200 million with an additional $100+ million going to a variety of investment banks that provided advice for the merger deal.

A required filing with regulators disclosed the exit bonuses likely to be paid to the departing executives of Time Warner Cable, some who have been in those positions for less than two years:

  • CEO Robert Marcus, who has served in that role for only a year and a half, will receive roughly $4.5 million in salary, $23 million in bonuses and stock worth $74 million. His total golden parachute: $102 million;
  • COO Dinesh Jain: $32 million;
  • CFO Arthur Minson: $32 million;
  • General Counsel Marc Lawrence-Apfelbaum: $22 million;
  • Chief Strategy Officer Peter C. Stern: $18 million.

Ironically, golden parachutes were originally designed to protect shareholders from executives’ self-interest. Instead of interfering in merger and acquisition deals to protect their salaries and positions, the incentive of a generous exit bonus encouraged executives to do the right thing for shareholders.

charter twc bh

Wall Street investment banks participating in the deal are also handsomely compensated for a few weeks of “advice.”

Together, the banks will share an estimated $100 million to $150 million in fees, according to Thomson Reuters and Freeman Consulting Services. The lucky ones — Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Centerview Partners and Allen & Company — advised Time Warner Cable and get 60 percent of the proceeds. The pickings are slimmer for a larger pool of banks that advised Charter, some that will only get to earn based on their role financing the deal. The biggest winners on the Charter side are omnipresent Goldman Sachs along with the tiny firm LionTree Advisors (which barely has a website). LionTree enjoys the confidence of John Malone, who uses them often in similar deals. These two firms will split $30-50 million.

Charter executives will benefit from the deal later, when future demands for bigger compensation packages are met.

twc repairAmong investors, a handful of hedge funds will likely walk away with the most money. Paulson & Company, run by the billionaire John Paulson, owned 8.7 million shares of Time Warner Cable stock, according to a March 31 public filing. He is expected to walk away with a profit of at least $250 million by buying low and selling high. Time Warner shares have risen ever since Wall Street found out Time Warner was a willing seller.

So who is likely to lose the most from the deal? Customers, employees and middle management.

If approved, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers will become customers of Charter Communications, a considerably indebted company with mediocre customer service ratings and a menu of service options carefully designed to boost the average revenue Charter collects from each of its customers. Charter is likely to endure growing pains common when a company swallows another four times larger than itself. Bright House customers will likely see the changes the most. Its customer service ratings are stellar when compared against Charter and Time Warner Cable.

Middle management positions at Time Warner Cable and Bright House deemed redundant in the era of New Charter will be eliminated. At even bigger risk are call center and customer service positions. Charter Communications has already beefed up its own customer service operations, partly for its customers and those it assumed it would gain from a deal with Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Charter was also to be closely involved in supporting the GreatLand Connections spinoff proposed in that failed deal. With excess customer service capacity, Charter is in a position to consolidate or close several Time Warner Cable and Bright House call centers. Charter has also aggressively pursued savings by offering customers more self-service options, such as mailing set-top boxes and cable modems customers can install themselves. Whether Charter decides to outsource more of its cable service technician positions is not yet known.

The Economist: Charter Communications’ Buyout of Time Warner Cable Structured So It Will Pay No Taxes for Years

Malone

Malone

The Economist reports Charter Communications’ acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks has been structured so that “it should pay no tax for several years, at least.”

The merger deal, which intimately involves John Malone, the boss of Liberty Media — a cable and media conglomerate, has all the hallmarks of a classic Malone-inspired deal: complex ownership structures, high debt levels, assiduous tax planning and a refusal to overpay.

Unlike many other dealmakers, Malone seems to want to avoid the spotlight. His firm Liberty Media is Charter’s biggest single investor and will kick in at least $5 billion in Charter stock purchases to help consummate the transaction, which will be handled primarily by Charter’s management.

The deal comes at Malone’s insistence the American cable landscape must be consolidated into just 2-3 large companies. For now, he is content standing aside while the public faces of the merger are Charter’s CEO Thomas Rutledge and Time Warner Cable’s Rob Marcus. (Bright House Networks is also a part of the transaction but has been completely overshadowed by its larger deal partners.)

While coverage of the transaction has been relegated to the Business section of newspapers and has evoked shrugs from American reporters, The Economist calls it nothing short of an extraordinary landmark.

Liberty Global logo 2012“The boss of Liberty, a cable and media conglomerate, he has struck more deals than perhaps any other tycoon in the world—buying and selling hundreds of firms worth over $100 billion since the 1970s, often negotiating on his own, using calculations that fit on a napkin,” said the publication. “Unusually for an empire-builder he has made his investors a ton of money, and has little interest in the public eye.”

While Malone is hardly a household name, he could soon be at the center of the sixth largest corporate takeover in U.S. history and make him the world’s unparalleled media baron, controlling an empire three times the size of Rupert Murdoch’s media ventures. While Comcast will remain America’s largest single cable operator, Malone’s Liberty Media will dwarf Comcast globally with more than 75 million cable customers around the world.

charter twc bhMalone does not share the concerns of some Time Warner Cable and Charter investors that the merger will generate a “staggering” $66 billion in debt from day one, initially loaned from Wall Street investment banks. The Economist notes Malone seems to be violating his own rule to never overpay in a deal. In the British financial press, Charter’s deal for Time Warner Cable and Bright House does not pass Malone’s own smell test.

“At 9.1 times gross operating profits he is paying at least a fifth more for TWC than he typically does,” says the newspaper. “He is offering 23% more for it than Comcast did in its bid last year, which was scuppered by antitrust regulators. Based on last year’s cash-flow figures the deal will make a pitiful 5.6% return on capital, assuming no tax is paid. Like most cable firms TWC has a stagnant top line, with growing broadband sales being offset by declining TV and telephony revenues. So fast growth will not bail out Mr Malone.”

So where does The Economist believe John Malone will make his killing? From captive customers and suppliers, of course.

“The most obvious explanation is that Mr. Malone thinks the world has not changed much since the 1990s and that the cable industry remains a collection of local monopolies from which ever more juicy profits can be squeezed,” says The Economist. “America’s cable firms have poor service and high prices: the average Charter customer pays at least 50% more per month than one of Mr Malone’s customers in Britain or the Netherlands. In Europe cable firms face tough competition in broadband from telecoms operators; in America the telecoms firms have rolled out fixed-line broadband to perhaps just half of homes or fewer.”

The Economist suspects Malone’s new cable empire will follow Europe and be less dependent on flogging costly bundles of unwanted television channels to reluctant punters. Instead, it’s all about broadband and the platform it represents to obtain a range of video services that replace traditional cable television. But Malone’s future vision almost certainly includes a wireless mobile component, which means Americans should not be surprised to see the tycoon attempt to acquire a large mobile company, even one as large as AT&T, on which he can sell video and other telecom services. That is precisely what he is doing today in Europe.

Motivated Seller: Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus Stands to Win $97 Million Golden Parachute on Latest Deal

Phillip Dampier May 27, 2015 Charter, Consumer News, Time Warner Cable No Comments

Money-Stuffed-Into-PocketIf you were wondering what motivated Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus to move so quickly from a failed merger with Comcast to a new deal with Charter Communications, follow the money.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Marcus is set to receive a handsome payout:

The value of Mr. Marcus’s exit package should he leave within two years of a change in control will be around $97 million, according to an analysis of his employment agreement by Mark Reilly, head of executive compensation practice for Verisight Inc., a human resources consultancy. The analysis was conducted at the request of The Wall Street Journal. To be sure, the parties could reach a settlement with different terms than those laid out in his employment agreement.

If that amount is confirmed, it is equal to asking each of Time Warner’s 15.4 million customers to kick in $6.30 apiece to cover Marcus’ golden parachute.

Most of the rest of Time Warner Cable executives will also each likely receive a generous exit package, although not likely to approach the amount payable to Marcus if the deal wins regulator approval.

Charter Customers Warn: Don’t Be Suckered By Their Promises of Better Service – “Charter Blows”

Phillip Dampier May 27, 2015 Broadband Speed, Charter, Competition, Consumer News 6 Comments

charter sucks“I thought I was watching Comedy Central,” said Ralph Wilson, a longtime Charter customer in suburban Los Angeles. He was actually watching a Bloomberg News interview with the CEO of Charter Communications regarding yesterday’s formal merger announcement. “What cable company was Thomas Rutledge talking about when he said Charter would bring better service to Time Warner and Bright House? Charter blows.”

Wilson is just one of several unimpressed Charter customers responding to the news their cable company is about to grow more than four times larger with the acquisition of the larger Time Warner Cable and the smaller Bright House Networks.

“They promise you 60Mbps and you are lucky to see 40Mbps unless it is raining,” said Aaron Peters, a Charter customer in Texas. “Then you are lucky if you get anything. You sure won’t get anyone on their support line.”

“I’d rather have my fingernails pulled out than have to deal with Charter,” writes Betty, a 74-year old Stop the Cap! reader in Wyoming. “I’ve had cable out sometimes for five days and when the last time it was out, the slobs that showed up to fix it were shabbily dressed and one had his zipper down. It’s disgraceful.”

“Maybe it will go from F-minus to an F,” Terence Allen of Atlanta told the New York Times. Allen, among others, recited a litany of service problems familiar to many Charter customers around the country: Screen freeze and pixelation, unresponsive remote controls, uneven broadband speeds, slurring and skipping over dialogue, and problems getting a real person on the phone.

For Time Warner Cable customers in particular, it is unlikely that prayers for better service from a new owner are going to be answered.

“‘Not quite as bad’ may be about as good as they can get with this deal,” reflected the Times.

“Charter is not going to revolutionize Time Warner’s service quality, because Charter’s service quality is not that much better,” said Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America.

Pay for 60Mbps, get 40ish instead.

Pay for 60Mbps, get 40ish instead.

One of the key arguments in favor of the merger is that long-suffering Time Warner Cable customers will finally get faster Internet speeds. Time Warner Cable Maxx upgrades, now likely to be shelved by Charter, were already outperforming several of Charter’s own speed commitments. Charter’s theme pushing faster speeds for one and all might appeal to the broad masses of Time Warner Cable customers yet to be upgraded.

“Except what Charter advertises is often not what they actually deliver,” complains Wilson. “They tell you it’s 60Mbps, but here in LA it is often closer to 40Mbps and when you complain, they claim they don’t guarantee speeds.”

Allen in Atlanta also signed up for faster speeds from Charter, but never got them.

“Their high end doesn’t seem to be very high-end,” Allen said.

He also called Charter to complain but never got to speak a customer service agent. Instead, an automated attendant instructed him to unplug his modem to reset it, to no avail.

“Getting a human on Charter’s customer service line to help you with a problem is a laugh,” said Sue Turner, a Charter customer in Montana. “They keep telling us Charter is better than the last three owners of our cable system because their repair service calls are way down. Well of course if you cannot actually reach anyone to schedule a service call, that works too.”

technical-difficulties2Turner has seen three cable companies come and go in her part of Montana since April 2002. Comcast sold many of its cable systems in the sparsely populated states of the Rockies to Bresnan Communications that year. Cablevision acquired Bresnan in 2010 and rebranded her cable system Optimum West. Just three years later, Cablevision sold all of its interests outside of the northeastern U.S. to Charter Communications, which runs things today.

“Badly,” Turner said. “The biggest problem is the weather which always affects our television and Internet service. Charter has been here six times in two years to try to fix things, but the only realistic way to get service is to go down to the cable office and demand they do something. You don’t get help on the phone.”

“I would say my impression overall of Charter is that they talk very well about their services and their breadth and depth, but quite honestly they don’t deliver very well,” Mr. Allen told the newspaper. “One of the things they push quite a bit is the bundle — telephone, Internet and cable. I would never even consider getting the telephone because their cable and Internet can be so dodgy.”

The Better Business Bureau in St. Louis, which tracks complaints about Charter, found at least 5,183 unsatisfied customers over the last three years willing to escalate matters to them. Most are about problems with Charter service, which would seem to show there is a problem.

Nonsense, counters Alex Dudley, one of Charter’s senior spokesmen.

“Charter takes our customer service very seriously,” Dudley said. “There are millions of Charter customers who are satisfied with our products.”

Shaneice Johnson in Connecticut isn’t one of them.

“Oh my God I thought Frontier was awful when they took over AT&T here,” she tells Stop the Cap! “But then when we switched to Charter my modem has dropped weekly and all I get is attitude from customer service about how they know how the Internet is supposed to be run and it must be my fault. Years of good service with AT&T with no problems but now it must be my fault because their service is off up and down the street? I don’t think so. We need to get some competition in here.”

On that point, many would agree.

“If Charter had Google Fiber here chasing them, I guarantee they would clean up their act, but when their only competition is AT&T DSL, they just don’t care,” said Wilson.

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