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Our Long Nightmare is Over At Last: Stop the Cap! Ponders the Failed Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger

Phillip "Victory is Ours" Dampier

Phillip “Victory is Ours” Dampier

It has been 14 months since we heard for the first time Comcast was planning to acquire Time Warner Cable. It was the night of February 12, 2014. I still remember where I was the moment I first learned the news.

Stop the Cap! has maintained a civil relationship with Time Warner Cable for the most part over our seven-year struggle fighting usage caps, lousy broadband, and high prices. We fought one major battle with the company in April of 2009, when Time Warner executives planned a compulsory usage cap experiment on customers in Rochester, N.Y., Austin and San Antonio, Tex., and Greensboro, N.C.

Just as we had done with Frontier Communications a year earlier, we successfully beat down their efforts to impose usage allowances on customers already paying a significant chunk of money for broadband Internet access. After that battle ended, Time Warner Cable changed their position on usage caps and stated emphatically that customers should always have the option of unmetered/unlimited access. They have kept their word. In fact, their optional usage cap experiments have been a spectacular flop, attracting less than 1% of their customer base and delivering the message we’ve tried to get across the industry for years: customer hate usage caps, usage-based billing, and speed throttles.

Comcast is a company that long ago stopped listening to their customers. It applied an arbitrary usage cap on all their customers in retaliation for a FCC decision that disallowed them from running hidden speed throttles on peer-to-peer Internet traffic. Comcast lied about throttling traffic, paid homeless people to stack a hearing on the issue to keep company critics out of the room, and slapped the caps on in the fall of 2008 with the flimsy excuse it represented “fairness” to customers. Only later, we would learn usage caps were never about “fairness” or good traffic management. It’s just a way to deter customers from spending too much time on the Internet, especially if that time is spent watching online videos. Too much time spent watching Netflix might convince you your cable TV package isn’t necessary any longer.

comcast twcComcast customer service horror stories reached a level unparalleled by other cable companies when a Comcast predator-installer was convicted of raping and strangling to death 23-year old Comcast customer Urszula Sakowska,  whose lifeless body was found in a bathtub inside her Chicago-area home back in 2006. But Triplett’s violent service calls didn’t stop there. He also faced charges in the death of 39-year old Janice Ordidge, a Comcast customer in Hyde Park. Those two Comcast customers lost their lives. In 2009, another Comcast installer set a Pennsylvania customer’s house on fire. Other installers stole jewelry right out of customers’ homes. Others have exposed themselves in front of female customers or fallen asleep on their couches.

Billing errors are the stuff of legend at Comcast. Offshore call centers with language barriers, inept customer service, and long, long, long lines at cable stores with windows only partially manned by agents sitting behind bullet-proof glass also helped cultivate a customer relationship that can best be described as “perp and victim.”

Comcast isn’t just a bad cable company, it’s a menace. We didn’t have to spend hours proving our case. Fortunately, Comcast’s appalling reputation preceded it. Outside of two executive suites in Philadelphia and New York, nobody was for supersizing Comcast. Just to make sure our regulators knew this, we traveled to Buffalo in June of last year to testify at a Public Service Commission hearing on the subject of the merger. We didn’t mince words.

Sure, there were non-profit groups like the Boys & Girls Club that absolutely sullied their reputation pushing for the merger (Comcast wrote large checks to the organization so you need not give the group a single penny of your money in the future). “Civil Rights” organizations like the Urban League, NAACP, and others that used to defend minority rights now concern themselves with defending the interests of giant cable companies, just as long as they get a nice check in the mail with Comcast’s name on it. Among the worst of all – Shakedown Al Sharpton who will either be your merger deal’s best friend or will go away and leave victims of racism in peace, if you cut his organization a big fat check. (Now that the merger has collapsed, perhaps Comcast-owned MSNBC will end the thinly veiled quid-pro-quo arrangement it has with the man that gives him an hour a night to perform a talent train wreck.)

My own state assemblyman, Joe Morelle, who served as New York’s interim assembly speaker for about five minutes literally plagiarized his letter in support of the Comcast merger (after cashing their check) almost word-for-word from Comcast press releases and congressional testimony. Say it ain’t so, Joe!

morelleN.Y. State Assembly Leader Joe Morelle: “The combination of Comcast and Time Warner Cable will create a world-class communications, media and technology company to help meet the increasing consumer demand for advanced digital services on multiple devices in homes, workplaces and on-the-go.”

 

cohenDavid Cohen, executive vice-president, Comcast: “The combination of Comcast and TWC will create a world-class communications, media, and technology company to help meet the insatiable consumer demand for advanced digital services on multiple devices in homes, workplaces, and on-the-go.”

 

There was not a doubt in my mind that replacing Time Warner Cable with Comcast would be a disaster for Time Warner Cable customers. Despite promises Comcast would upgrade Time Warner’s network, it would also upgrade customer bills, resorting in higher priced service, higher modem fees, and lousy customer service. Comcast vice president David Cohen also made it clear usage caps would be a part of our life within five years. No amount of protesting or rational argument would stop Comcast from being Comcast. Don’t like it? Just try to cancel.

Time Warner Cable can be bad but it is no Comcast.

Malone: Waiting in the wings?

Malone: Waiting in the wings?

Life will be just fine without Comcast, but danger lurks on the horizon. Still interested in the possibility of taking over Time Warner Cable is the smaller Charter Communications, now effectively controlled by cable magnate John Malone (he owns his own castles). Malone has a long history of enriching himself at the expense of customers with no other choices for cable/broadband service. He used to control Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), a cable company that literally threatened city officials who didn’t do what TCI wanted.

We remain unsure exactly what will happen next. Charter could bid aggressively to buy Time Warner Cable, Time Warner Cable could go it alone, or Time Warner Cable could start buying other cable companies (like Charter).

What we hope will happen is Time Warner Cable will refocus its energy on expanding its Maxx upgrade program as quickly as possible to reach all Time Warner Cable markets with faster broadband and a better cable TV experience. We also hope the company will stand by its word that compulsory usage caps are off the table.

I’d like to thank all of our readers who took the time to get involved in the fight and helped make a difference. Wall Street and Washington, as well as Comcast CEO Brian Roberts are all shocked the merger deal collapsed after a torrent of criticism from consumers. It also left state regulators cautious about how to proceed. New York’s Public Service Commission delayed making a decision eight times, recognizing the merger as a hot potato.

Our experience demonstrates that ordinary citizens can wield considerable power when unified and involved. We’ve proved that with multiple victories on the usage cap front as well as the AT&T/T-Mobile merger and Net Neutrality.

Let the fight for better broadband continue!

What Washington Didn’t Like About the Comcast-Time Warner Cable Deal

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg What Washington Didnt Like About the Comcast-TWC Deal 4-23-15.flv

What Washington Didn’t Like About the Comcast-Time Warner Cable Deal: Comcast is planning to walk away from its proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable, people with knowledge of the matter said, after regulators decided that the deal wouldn’t help consumers, making approval unlikely. Bloomberg’s Peter Cook, Scarlet Fu, Alex Sherman and Cory Johnson have more on “Street Smart.” (6:18)

Bloomberg: Analyzing The Decision by Comcast to Drop Time Warner Cable Bid

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Comcast Plans to Drop Time Warner Cable Deal 4-23-15.flv

Bloomberg News reports the decision has already been made, with an official announcement as early as tomorrow that Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable is over and dead. Bloomberg reporters analyze the reasons the deal collapsed and what has changed in America’s regulatory climate. (11:17)

BREAKING Bloomberg News: The Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger is Dead

Comcast Corp. is planning to walk away from its proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable Inc., people with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg News, after regulators decided that the deal wouldn’t help consumers, making approval unlikely.

A formal announcement on the deal’s fate may come as soon as Friday, said one of the people, who asked not to be named discussing private information.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Comcast could drop TWC bid as soon as Friday 4-23-15.flv

CNBC reports the merger deal is likely to be officially called off as early as Friday. (0:59)

FCC Staff Recommends Sending Comcast/TWC Merger to Seventh Level of ‘Deal-Killing’ Hearing Hell

fat+lady+sings-featureThe staff at the Federal Communications Commission decided Wednesday to make a non-decision decision regarding the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and are recommending turning over the matter, including millions of pages of company documents and 14 months of investigative findings to an administrative law judge to sort out.

The procedural move, dubbed by many regulatory experts as a “deal-killer,” is known officially as a “hearing designation order.” But executives at Comcast know it really means the FCC is sending a strong signal it does not believe the merger is in the public interest.

The sudden recommendation by the FCC is seen by some observers as a coordinated move with the U.S. Department of Justice to let Comcast CEO Brian Roberts know the deal is in serious peril. In 2011, the Justice Department declared its opposition to another blockbuster merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, and the FCC announced its own opposition just a few hours later. The merger was declared dead shortly thereafter.

Placing the matter in the hands of an administrative law judge would mean a drawn-out, complicated hearing that would probably last longer than the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson. Few companies bother. Even if Comcast decides it will fight, if the Justice Department successfully challenges the merger in court, the hearing designation order is moot and the merger fails.

Most observers expect Comcast will call off the merger before dragging the matter out in a court or hearing room.

The Wall Street Journal broke the story last night, calling it a “significant roadblock.”

Wall Street analysts were more direct.

“The fundamental problem with this transaction is there is no major constituency outside of Comcast and Time Warner Cable that want it to move forward,” said Rich Greenfield, analyst at BTIG Research, which has been predicting the deal falls apart. Mr. Greenfield noted that it would be a “very uphill battle” for Comcast to prove its case through the FCC’s hearing process that its merger is in the public interest. “Is it really worth spending more time and resources to fight the government?”

elephant“I’d never say anything was 100 percent dead, but this is in the 99 percent category,” Greenfield added. “It’s not every day that you have a transaction that is universally hated by everyone outside of Philadelphia,” where Comcast is based.

“No, the Comcast deal isn’t dead yet,” said telecom analyst Craig Moffett on Thursday. “But it’s a bit like an elephant that has been dropped out of an airplane. At around 10,000 feet, it is technically still alive. But it is falling fast, there’s not much you can do to stop it, and its odds of survival are pretty low when it hits the ground. Engaging in a war of attrition with the U.S. government is generally a bad idea and one rarely undertaken.”

The usually brash and confident Comcast was uncharacteristically muted in their response to the latest DOJ and FCC developments.

“As with all of our DOJ discussions in the past and going forward, we do not believe it is appropriate to share the content of those meetings publicly, and we, therefore, have no comment,” said a Comcast spokeswoman.

The apparent looming defeat of the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger would be a testament to unified opposition from consumers, programmers, competitors, and emerging online video distributors that might one day fully challenge traditional cable television.

“In a democracy like this, you have gather your forces to say no to politically powerful people,” Mark Cooper, a Comcast opponent and research director at the Consumer Federation of America, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Death sentence for Comcast merger 4-23-15.mp4

A death sentence for the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger? Analysts think so. CNN reports on the history of a merger deal that used to be “inevitable.” (1:42)

Comcast Hints At the Price of Its New 2Gbps ‘Not for Your Average Joe’ Fiber Internet: Around $400 a Month

As Florida wakes up to news that Comcast will deliver its 2Gbps broadband service in the cities of Jacksonville, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, the rest of the country is learning the estimated price of the service, targeted to the “techno-elite.”Comcast-Logo

Cindy Arco, spokeswoman for Comcast in Jacksonville told the Florida Times Union final pricing hasn’t been established yet for 2 Gigabit Pro for Florida, but it likely will be in the range of the highest residential broadband tier, which amounts to $400 a month for 505Mbps.

“It’s the type of thing for early adopters — those people who want to have the latest, newest tech gadget and the latest everything related to tech,” Arco said.

In Florida, the residential customers will need to live within a third of the mile of the fiber optic service lines offered by Comcast.

Arco downplayed the relevance of the arrival of 2Gbps service from Comcast.

“It’s exciting, but it’s not for your average Joe,” Arco said.

More on the FCC Staff Recommendation for a Hearing on Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ FCC Staff Recommends Hearing on Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger 4-23-15.flv

The FCC recommended a procedural move that could potentially sink Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable. WSJ’s Shalini Ramachandran joins MoneyBeat. (3:01)

Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger Setback

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Comcast-TWC merger setback 4-23-15.flv

The Wall Street Journal is reporting the FCC is issuing a “hearing designation order” for the Time Warner Cable-Comcast proposal, with Henry Blodget, Business Insider. (2:10)

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