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Time Warner Cable Recommits: No Mandatory Usage Caps As Long As Company Remains Independent

timewarner twcTime Warner Cable today recommitted itself to providing unlimited broadband service to any customer that wants it, promising customers they won’t be forced into a tiered usage plan as long as Time Warner Cable remains an independent company.

“We have no intention of abandoning an unlimited product we think that something that customers value and are willing to pay for,” said Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus. “The way we’ve approached usage-based pricing is to offer it as an option for customers who prefer to pay less because they tend to use less. And we’ve made those available at 5 gigabytes per month and 30 gigabytes per month levels.”

Marcus told Wall Street analysts on an afternoon conference call that the average Time Warner Cable customer now generates 35GB of traffic per month, and that a significant percentage of light users might realize some savings choosing a 30GB optional usage plan. But Marcus also admitted that few do.

marcus

Marcus

“I think that’s a testament to the value they place on unlimited,” said Marcus.

Marcus’ decision to stay away from compulsory usage-capped Internet was questioned by Marci Ryvicker from Wells Fargo Securities, LLC., a Wall Street investment firm. Ryvicker tied the growth of online video consumption to the implementation of usage caps as way of protecting video revenue and regaining money lost from lost cable television subscriptions.

“I guess the underlying question is do you think you can monetize the pipe enough through high-speed data pricing to offset video decline,” asked Ryvicker.

“We haven’t really viewed usage-based pricing quite the way you’re postulating,” responded Marcus. “I think there’s a separate question as to whether or not we have the ability to offset video declines with [broadband]. I think it’s fair to say we’re very bullish on the high-speed data business and think we can continue to grow it based on both subscriber volume and incremental ARPU per [broadband] customer.”

Marcus added that Time Warner can continue to boost revenue by raising broadband prices and encouraging customers to upgrade to faster speed tiers at a higher price.

Comcast has a very different philosophy about usage caps — it embraces them. Comcast continues to test mandatory usage caps in several markets, leading to howls of complaints from customers and bill shock. One customer complained their cable bill frightens them every time they receive it, not knowing how much Comcast would charge them for that month of service. The family’s last cable bill, including Internet, exceeded $560, primarily due to Comcast’s overlimit usage fees. Comcast has also received complaints about its usage meter’s accuracy, but the company adamantly bills customers according to the readings of their meter.

“I’ll tell you what really isn’t fair,” wrote one customer. “That is that in ‘test markets’ like mine, Atlanta, we have the 300GB [cap] enforced with the penalty overage charge and we pay the SAME rates as people in other markets that aren’t yet one of the ‘test markets.’

Most analysts expect Comcast will eventually roll out usage caps to all of its customers, including any it acquires from Time Warner Cable. Customers cannot choose an unlimited use option in Comcast’s usage cap test markets.

Comcast Prepares to Launch All-Out Attack on C Spire’s Irritating Competition in Mississippi

comcast crushThe sleepy deep south isn’t often a battleground for an all-out broadband competition war, but Ridgeland, Miss.-based C Spire, a regional cell phone company with fiber broadband aspirations, has gotten too big for its britches and Comcast is preparing to demonstrate its size and resources can run even a home state provider into the ground.

C Spire is building a statewide fiber-to-the-home network, city by city, on its pre-existing fiber backbone which extends to C Spire’s cell towers across the Magnolia State. As the fiber network expands, talk of doing something in a “Mississippi Minute” will be a thing of the past as C Spire prepares to deliver gigabit broadband speeds far in excess of what competitors like Comcast, AT&T and Cable One are prepared to offer.

Communities already on the construction list include: Batesville, Clinton, Corinth, Hattiesburg, Horn Lake, McComb, Quitman, Ridgeland and Starkville.

But C Spire’s network caught the attention of Comcast earlier this month when it announced Jackson, the state capital, was going to get fiber service.

C Spire is following Google Fiber’s model, attempting to get enough residents in a neighborhood to pre-register with a refundable $10 deposit. Online pre-registration for the service began in Jackson last month, and several hundred residents applied even before the fiber network expansion was announced, ready to tell Comcast to take a hike.

Jackson neighborhoods that reach sign-up levels set by C Spire will be the first to get the new generation of fiber services, the company says.

“Gigabit infrastructure can create a new economic reality for the city of Jackson,” Duane O’Neill, president & CEO of the 2,100-member Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, told the Mississippi Business Journal. “In the handful of U.S. cities where this infrastructure is deployed and widely available, it has generated thousands of jobs, millions of dollars of new investment, boosted home values and improved the overall quality of life.”

c spire fiberC Spire’s plans could cost Comcast a significant number of cable customers across Mississippi, and it isn’t taking that lightly.

Departing from its usual tradition of focusing new technology on large northeastern cities, Comcast will begin saturating Jackson with its Wi-Fi hotspot service, starting with 200 public hotspots slated for launch before the end of this year. The company only had a handful of Wi-Fi hotspots in Jackson before. Jackson will also get significant cable service upgrades, including the introduction of a new “smart home” service, a cloud-based service integrating Comcast’s cable, Internet, and home-security.

Comcast says it has plans to turn Jackson into a “truly connected city,” and if that means competitively disconnecting C Spire from its nascent fiber customer base, all the better.“This is the kind of threat that would frighten competitors,” said industry observer Jeff Kagan. “Comcast can be a heavy-duty competitor when they want to be. So why is Jackson and other Mississippi cities getting this kind of attention from Comcast and C Spire? I think it’s a matter of competition and C Spire’s aggressive move in the state of Mississippi played a role in the Comcast decision to turn up the heat.”

Kagan also expects Comcast will cut prices to undercut C Spire. That would be consistent with Comcast’s customer retention policies that dramatically lower rates for customers threatening to leave. Rate-cutting will benefit consumers, but if Comcast engages in below-cost predatory pricing, those savings will be short-lived.

“It’s starting to look like that old nursery rhyme, Jack and the Beanstalk,” said Kagan. “Watch out Jack, the Giant is waking up.”

If that battle becomes cut-throat, C Spire’s fiber aspirations may end up nothing more than pipe dreams if the company retreats, deciding it cannot survive in a battle with Comcast, the Giant of all cable companies.

The Inside Story: He Criticized Comcast and the Cable Company Complained; Result=Termination

The Don't Care Bears

The Don’t Care Bears

A few weeks ago, Stop the Cap! reported on the story of Conal O’Rourke, a Comcast customer billed for equipment he didn’t order, service he didn’t receive, and collection agents he didn’t deserve. When O’Rourke dared to complain to senior Comcast management in the company’s Controller’s Office, the controller himself called a senior partner at his employer and days later O’Rourke was fired.

Now O’Rourke is taking his case to court, claiming he lost his job because Comcast forced his employer – PricewaterhouseCoopers – to weigh his benefit against a $30 million consulting contract Comcast has with the major accounting firm.

The complaint names names and gives plenty of new details about how Comcast ruthlessly deals with customers who dare to bother its top executives with petty little service problems like $1,800 in unjustified billing, credit score-ruining collection activity, and the impossibility of canceling service.

The fateful call to Comcast’s Controller’s Office occurred back in February, and consisted mostly of his complaint that in the almost one year that he had been a Comcast customer, he had not received a single bill in which the charges were correct.

When he mentioned the constant billing errors might be of interest to the independent Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, it was the first time in more than a year Comcast efficiently targeted O’Rourke’s complaint for its brand of resolution: retaliation.

“Unfortunately, instead of redressing Mr. O’Rourke’s grievances, Comcast initiated a scorched-earth assault against him for expressing concerns over the legality of its conduct and the integrity of its accounting,” the lawsuit states. “On information and belief, defendants undertook these actions because they were concerned that Mr. O’Rourke would report them to the PCAOB, were angry that he had accused them of shoddy accounting practices, and wished to punish and destroy him for his temerity.”

O’Rourke claims Comcast ordered a background check on him and the results were forwarded to the controller himself — Lawrence Salva, who also happens to be a former partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Quicker than you can say “rate increase,” Salva was on the phone to Joseph Atkinson, the U.S. Advisory Entertainment, Media & Communications Leader for the accounting firm. He specializes in the cable business, so it was no surprise Comcast reached out to him to vent.

“Less than an hour after Mr. O’Rourke’s second call with Comcast’s Controller’s Office, Mr. O’Rourke received a call from Mr. Atkinson,” the lawsuit claims. “Mr. O’Rourke was shocked to receive the call – he had never before had occasion to deal with Mr. Atkinson. An angry Atkinson informed Mr. O’Rourke that he had received a call from Comcast’s Controller about Mr. O’Rourke. Mr. Atkinson told Mr. O’Rourke that the client was very angry, very valuable, was in fact the Philadelphia office’s largest client, with billings exceeding $30 million per year, and that Mr. O’Rourke was not to speak with anyone from Comcast.”

A few days later, security arrived with cardboard boxes allowing O’Rourke to collect his belongings and exit the building… permanently.

The accounting firm has refused to disclose the contents of email exchanged between itself and Comcast. If Comcast divulged personal information about O’Rourke, it may be in violation of federal privacy laws.

O’Rourke remains out of work and Comcast is alleged to still be refusing all requests to refund him the money it overcharged.

O’Rourke is asking for $1 million plus punitive damages for violation of the Cable Communications Policy Act, defamation, breach of contract, unfair business practices and infliction of emotional distress.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Comcast Dispute Gets Man Fired 10-8-14.mp4

CNN talked with Conal O’Rourke, fired after complaining too much about Comcast, worth $30 million a year in contracts to his employer. (6:43)

Comcast Invites Customers to Upgrade to New $10 Modem Fee, Or Else Watch Your Speed Degrade

Some Comcast customers with older cable modems are receiving letters from the cable company warning they will need an upgraded modem to “get the most out of your XFINITY Internet service.”

comcast upgrade

Customers are asked to “properly dispose” of old equipment while contemplating either buying a new modem or leasing one from Comcast. Sticking with cable company-provided leased equipment is the choice of more than 90 percent of cable Internet subscribers, despite the fact cable operators charge hefty rental fees. In parts of the Pacific Northwest, Comcast has introduced its newest price for rented cable modems: $10 a month, which amounts to $120 a year — more than the cost of buying a modem outright.

Comcast’s letter may be premature for customers with DOCSIS 2 equipment subscribed to speeds under 38Mbps (the top-rated speed for DOCSIS 2 equipment). Although DOCSIS 2 is not fast enough for Comcast’s 50Mbps Blast Internet plan, it’s more than adequate for the 25Mbps Performance Internet plan and other lower speed plans.

Customers in Illinois are also getting the letter, arriving as the company boosts speeds. Most are being sent to customers using cable modems more than 3-4 years old. Customers can find a new compatible modem on Comcast’s Approved Device List. We strongly recommend customers buy a modem and avoid renting one from Comcast. Monthly modem rental fees, now $8 and likely to increase to $10 across the country in the future, are a major earner for Comcast, bringing in $275-300 million quarterly.

The Capitol Forum’s Insightful Review of the Comcast-Time Warner Merger Deal: A Tough Sell

be mineWall Street is increasingly pessimistic about Comcast and Time Warner Cable pulling off their merger deal as regulators stop the clock to take a closer look at the transaction.

The Capitol Forum, an in-depth news and analysis service dedicated to informing policymakers, investors, and industry stakeholders on how policy affects market competition, specializes in examining marketplace mergers and their potential impact on American consumers and the general economy. The group has shared a copy of their assessment — “Comcast/Time Warner Cable: A Closer Look at FCC, DOJ Decision Processes; Merits and Politics May Drive Merger Challenge, Especially as Wheeler Unlikely to Embrace Title II Regulation for Net Neutrality” — with Stop the Cap! and we’re sharing a summary of the report with our readers.

The two most important government agencies reviewing the merger proposal are the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. The FCC is responsible for overseeing telecommunications in the United States and is also tasked with reviewing telecom industry mergers to verify if they are in the public interest. The Department of Justice becomes involved in big mergers as well, concerned with compliance with antitrust and other laws.

In many instances, the two agencies work separately and independently to review merger proposals, but not so with Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Sources tell Capitol Forum there is a high level of coordination and information sharing between DOJ and the FCC, potentially positioning the two agencies in a stronger legal position if they jointly challenge the merger. Readers may recall AT&T’s attempt to buy T-Mobile was thwarted in 2011 when the FCC followed the DOJ’s lead in jointly challenging the merger on competition and antitrust grounds. With a united front against the deal in Washington, AT&T quickly capitulated.

comcast cartoonDespite a blizzard of Comcast talking points claiming the cable industry is fiercely competitive, Capitol Forum’s report indicates the DOJ staff level believes the cable industry suffers dearly from a lack of competition already, and allowing further marketplace concentration would exacerbate an already difficult problem.

Capitol Forum reports the DOJ’s staff is inclined to “take an aggressive posture with regards to [antitrust] enforcement.”

The DOJ would certainly not be walking the beltway plank to its political doom if it ultimately decides to oppose the merger.

Few on Capitol Hill are likely to fiercely advocate for a cable company generally despised by their constituents. The Capitol Forum report notes that Comcast faces powerful opposition and its political support is overstated. Comcast’s lobbying efforts and ties to President Obama and several high level Democrats have also been widely exposed in the media, which makes it more difficult for D.C.’s powerful to be seen carrying Comcast’s water.

In fact, the report indicates a regulatory challenge against Comcast and Time Warner Cable would face considerably less political opposition than what the FCC faces if it reclassifies broadband as a “telecommunications service,” protecting Net Neutrality and exposing the industry to stronger regulatory oversight.

The report suggests FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler, who seems intent on opposing reclassification of broadband under Title II, may appease his critics by taking a stronger stance on the Comcast/Time Warner deal instead.

Wheeler has already expressed concern about the state of competitiveness of American broadband. He considers providers capable of delivering at least 25Mbps part of broadband’s key market, which in many communities means a monopoly for the local cable operator.

Understanding “The Public Interest” and the Implications of a Combined Comcast/Time Warner Cable on Competition

comcastbuy_400_241The FCC will review the transaction pursuant to Sections 214 and 310(d) of the Communications Act of 1934, in order to ensure that “public interest, convenience, and necessity will be served thereby.”

The merger proposal must also demonstrate it does not violate antitrust laws.

It is here that merger opponents have a wealth of arguments to use against Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Despite Comcast’s insistence the deal would have no competitive implications, the Capitol Forum reports the merger’s potential anticompetitive effects are “widely recognized and evidence from the investigation could provide DOJ and FCC with a solid foundation to challenge the merger.”

Although the two cable companies don’t directly compete with each other (itself a warning sign of an already noncompetitive marketplace), the report finds “a wide array of anti-competitive effects and several antitrust theories” that would implicate the cable company in a Clayton Act violation.

Comcast is betting heavily on its surface argument that by the very fact customers will not see any change in the number of competitors delivering service to their area, the merger should easily clear any antitrust hurdles. That argument makes it more difficult for the DOJ to fall back on the usual market concentration precedents that would prevent such a colossal merger deal. To argue excessive horizontal integration — the enlarging of Comcast’s territory — the DOJ would first have to prove Comcast’s size in comparison with other cable companies is a reason for the courts to shoot down the deal. Or it could bypass Comcast’s favorite argument and move to the issue of vertical integration — one company’s ability to control not just the pipes that deliver content, but also the content itself.

octopusHere the examples of potential abuse are plentiful:

  • Comcast would enjoy increased power to force cable programmers to favor Comcast in cable programming pricing and policies while allowing it to demand restrictions on competitive online video competitors or restrict access to popular cable programming;
  • Comcast could impose data caps and usage-based pricing to deter online viewing while exempting its own content by delivering it over a Wi-Fi enabled gateway, game console or set top box, claiming all are unrelated to Comcast’s broadband Internet service or network;
  • Force consumers to use Comcast set top boxes that would not support competing providers’ online video;
  • Use interconnection agreements as a clever way to bypass the paid prioritization Net Neutrality debate. Netflix and other content producers would be forced to compensate Comcast for reliable access to its broadband customers;
  • Noting AT&T has declared U-verse can not effectively succeed in the cable television business without combining its customer base with DirecTV to qualify for better volume discounts, there is clear evidence that a super-sized Comcast could command discounts new entrants like Google Fiber could never hope to get, putting them at a distinct price disadvantage.

The FCC’s scrutiny of Comcast’s merger deal has already uncovered evidence previously unavailable because of non-disclosure agreements which show Comcast’s heavy hand already at work.

The report notes Michael Mooney, a senior vice president and group general counsel at Level 3, told the Capitol Forum the dispute earlier this year between Netflix and Comcast could have been resolved in about five minutes had Comcast added a port to relieve congestion at an interconnection point. The cost? Just $5,000. Had Comcast been willing to spend the money, millions of Comcast customers would have never experienced problems using Netflix.

Whether Comcast is ultimately deemed too large to permit another consolidating merger or whether it is given conditional approval to absorb Time Warner Cable remains a close call, according to the Capitol Forum, despite the fact consumers have urged regulators for something slightly more concrete – a single sentence, total denial of its application.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Capitol Forum The Consumer Welfare Test.mp4

The Capitol Forum broadly explores how the “consumer welfare standard” has become a part of the antitrust review process over the last 30 years. Sometimes, a strict antitrust test is not sufficient to protect “the public interest” of consumers, and allows the dominant player(s) to harm competition. In the digital economy, corporate mergers that empower companies to restrict innovation can prove far more damaging than classic monopoly abuse. (15:52)

Comcast Employees Stole, Sold Identities of Customers; Comcast Tells Victims to Pay Fraudulent Charges

Phillip Dampier October 15, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

crimeA Tennessee man is facing $1,300 in unauthorized cable charges and ruined credit after at least one Comcast employee allegedly stole his identity and provided it to an outside vendor who signed up new Comcast customers who never had any intention of paying their bills.

Ricky McClure of Murfreesboro first learned about the fraud when collection agencies working for Comcast sent him collection notices demanding payment of a combined $1,300 in unpaid charges made in his name in Shreveport, La.

McClure is already a Comcast customer, and he does not pay his cable bill late, so he called Comcast over what he thought was a simple billing error and ran into a customer service buzz saw.

“Comcast basically said the name and social matches what we have on record so this is your account. You need to pay the money and we’re not going to pull it back from collections,” McClure told WKRN-TV.

McClure was left investigating the mysterious charges on his own and discovered the extra accounts on his credit report, both using his Social Security number, and opened without his permission. Even more disturbing, the service addresses on file were in a city McClure has no ties to.

"Where is our money, lady?"

“Where is our money, lady?”

“It’s very alarming. You don’t know who is going to be calling you next,” said McClure.

Comcast’s customer service seemed unconcerned McClure’s identity was stolen. They simply wanted to clear up the matter of the $1,300 in unpaid charges. In fact, Comcast reserves the right to terminate an identity theft victim’s own service until the billing matter is settled or the fraud verified.

An isolated incident? Not quite.

Stop the Cap! reader John Spencer (not his complete real name at his request) in Nashville was also a victim of Comcast fraud. He wrote to share the story of McClure, which he recognized only too well. He faced over $2,000 in Comcast bills sent to collections for another “customer” in Shreveport. This time, the thieves were smart enough to submit a change of address for the bills headed for Louisiana, claiming it was a vacation property. The collection agency finally connected the Social Security number to Spencer’s address in Nashville and commenced collection activity that dropped his FICO score by more than 90 points, which now hovers around 600. Spencer’s damage went far beyond dealing with persistent collection calls. Alarmed credit card issuers running periodic credit checks suspended or slashed Spencer’s credit lines because he was suddenly a credit risk, and Verizon wants him to pay a deposit on his new cell phone account. His car insurance even went up $65 semi-annually, the insurance company explained, because his credit score necessitated a re-evaluation of his rate.

It took over three months for Comcast to finally get the negative information off his credit report, and nine months later he is still trying to get his former credit reputation back. While credit card companies did restore his former credit lines, they made new credit inquiries before granting his request, which has cost him 40 points on his restored FICO score for “excessive credit inquiries.” Verizon won’t budge on demanding a deposit, and his insurance company will reconsider his rate only after it comes up for renewal.

Comcast's identify theft reporting form runs six pages and requires a police report, a notarized signature, and  copies of your valuable photo ID.

Comcast’s identify theft reporting form runs six pages and requires a police report, a notarized signature, and copies of your valuable photo ID.

Identity theft has become pervasive enough at Comcast that the company dedicates a special section of its website to accept reports from customers victimized by unauthorized charges.

Comcast doesn’t offer much of a shoulder to cry on either, sternly telling victims they must complete and sign a notarized affidavit, attach a police report for the claim, and prove to Comcast’s satisfaction where they actually live.

Some customers already victimized by Comcast once aren’t too happy about another requirement – providing a copy of a valid government-issued photo ID like a driver’s license or passport. If Comcast employees were willing to peddle your Social Security number for quick cash, imagine what they can get for a copy of your driver’s license.

Don’t expect the collection calls to end immediately either. Comcast warns it considers all accounts valid and payable amounts due until proven otherwise.

San Francisco area customer Tammerlin Drummond was also a victim of a rogue Comcast employee who sold her Social Security number and address to an unknown third-party who opened an account and collected a bounty of cable equipment.

Comcast billed Drummond $442.13 for service at an address she had nothing to do with. Ironically, Comcast sent Drummond a separate letter claiming that the security of her account was “a top priority at Comcast” and included a PIN number.

Comcast doesn’t like to break a sweat investigating these scams and kept the fraudulent account open while putting Drummond on its customer fraud treadmill, insisting she do all the work completing the aforementioned affidavit. Another representative even suggested visit a Comcast store in Oakland because people associated with the fraudulent account were recently there to pick up more cable equipment.

“She gave me the ID of the rep who had handled the transaction and suggested I might go to the store to ask if he remembered anything,” Drummond wrote in a column published by the Contra Costa Times. “She said there was a lot of activity connected to my Social Security number and that it was an obvious case of fraud. It smelled like an inside job to me, and I told her so.”

Comcast admitted in all three cases different employees used their positions at the cable company to access customers’ Social Security numbers and other personal information and resell it to other criminals that offer “free” cable service or tell customers to pay them, not Comcast, for “discounted service.”

The two cases in Shreveport were never uncovered by Comcast. It took the initiative of the Shreveport Police Department to launch an investigation last March. Comcast first learned about it not from customers, but from the police department who contacted the cable company about the problem.

tn laVictims were eventually sent letters from Comcast explaining what happened:

“Based on what we know at this time, a small group of individuals employed by a third-party vendor and a former Comcast employee were engaged in identity theft and theft of Comcast services. These individuals may have used your information, including your name and/or social security number, for these unauthorized purposes.”

The letter goes on to say the company is offering a complimentary identity protection plan for a year.

But identity protection may not help much if Comcast can’t secure its customers private, personal information.

Out in San Francisco, Comcast spokesman Bryan Byrd told Drummond a Comcast employee had opened the fraudulent account and that “he has been dealt with.”

Comcast has closed the account, erased the bill and removed the mess from her credit report. Because Drummond was a victim, anyone (including her) will now need to show ID and proof of residence before opening a Comcast account — provisions that would likely protect every Comcast customer from identity theft if broadly enforced.

“It makes you wonder how protected one’s personal data is,” Drummond complained. “How many others did this rogue employee target?”

Comcast says these are all isolated incidents and not a pattern to a wider problem. But apologies are not forthcoming to Mr. McClure or Spencer.

Alex Horwitz, a Comcast spokesperson in Tennessee released the following statement:

“We take this matter very seriously and, out of an abundance of caution, we have contacted a small number of people whose information may have been used to create unauthorized accounts and are providing them with credit monitoring services. We have no evidence that this was an online system breach or that any additional personal information was obtained or used for any other purpose. We are continuing to cooperate with law enforcement and are conducting our own internal investigation. The individuals involved in this are no longer working on our behalf, and we have reinforced our privacy and security policies with employees and third-party vendors.”

Comcast won’t comment on how many cases of identity theft it deals with annually.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WKRN Nashville Man gets 1-3K in Comcast bills 10-15-14.mp4

Several mid-Tennessee Comcast customers have been victims of identity theft, discovering unpaid Comcast bills run up in their names for service several states away. WKRN in Nashville shares the story of Ricky McClure, who faced $1,300 in Comcast charges sent to collections he didn’t owe. (2:41)

New York Public Service Commission Refuses to Release Notes from Private Meetings With Comcast

ny pscSeven staff members from the New York’s Public Service Commission privately met with representatives of Comcast and Time Warner Cable on April 10, April 24, and May 8, 2014 and the regulator is refusing to disclose exactly what was discussed.

Despite repeated requests from Common Cause NY, the PSC has been less than completely forthcoming releasing:

  • Documents provided at the meetings by representatives of Comcast and Time Warner;
  • Documents provided to Comcast or Time Warner representatives by the Department of Public Service;
  • Minutes of the meetings;
  • Notes taken by public officials or their staff in attendance.

NY PSC Secretary Kathleen Burgess did indicate “no documents were provided to or received from DPS staff, Comcast or Time Warner at the aforementioned meetings,” adding “no other records responsive to your request could be found in the possession of the department.”

That might have been the end of it had we not discovered that staff members created 31 pages of handwritten and typed impressions of the presentations offered by the two cable companies — vital clues about precisely what was discussed behind closed doors.

Despite a confirmation from Secretary Burgess that these notes do, in fact, exist, she has refused all requests to release them to the public.

“Because they are deliberative rather than ‘statistical or factual tabulations or data,’ they are not subject to disclosure under the intra agency exemption,” Burgess declared. “Accordingly, I deny your appeal.”

The public was not allowed to attend the meetings, one of which was attended by Public Service Commission chairwoman Audrey Zibelman and Commissioner Gregg Sayre. On April 10, they met with executives from the two cable companies, according to public schedules. They were joined by Allison Lee, a lobbyist for the firm representing Time Warner Cable and Tom Congdon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Assistant Secretary for Energy. What was discussed has been kept secret to this day.

Time Warner Cable’s presence is well-felt in Albany. The cable operator is one of the state’s top lobbyists, spending nearly $500,000 on New York politicians in 2013 alone. Both Time Warner and Comcast have donated a combined $200,000 to Gov. Cuomo’s campaign accounts.

New York has put Comcast’s merger application on hold until November. Last week more than 99 percent of shares held by stockholders of both cable companies were voted in favor of the deal.

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)

Home Invasion Victims Sue Comcast Over Home Security System That Only Protected… Comcast

Phillip Dampier October 9, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Video No Comments
Vincent Sisounong and Blessing Gainey were charged with attempted murder.

Vincent Sisounong and Blessing Gainey were charged with attempted murder.

A Kirkland, Wash. family nearly lost their son in a brutal home invasion that Comcast’s home security system failed to deter and now the family is taking the cable company to court.

Leena Rawat and her family depended on Comcast’s home security system to keep their home intruder-proof, and that is precisely what the company and its contractor, Pioneer Cable, promised.

But the night two teenage neighbors went looking for blood, they had no trouble bypassing Comcast’s unarmed basement sensor and entering the family’s home.

Within minutes, the two men grabbed 18-year old Deep and began torturing him while his family slept.

“They were going to play a game with him tonight – and the game would be that he would be fighting for his life,” Rawat told KING-TV in Seattle. “He was full of blood from head to toe, with gashes. He was in the worst situation possible that a mother wants to see her child in.”

The intruders’ impromptu mission: to chop off one of Deep’s arms and legs with various cutting tools while robbing the family home.

Police say Vincent Sisounong and Blessing Gainey began the attack in Deep’s bedroom, then dragged him to the basement, where Sisounong instructed Gainey to hack at Rawat’s leg down to the bone, and then stabbed Rawat himself. Court documents said Sisounong told detectives that he wanted the victim to “fight for his life,” and when asked if the experience was enjoyable, he said, “yeah.”

Rawat eventually managed to break free, prompting Gainey to leave the scene. But Sisounong chased after Rawat as he ran to the bathroom, further slashing him with a knife. Rawat mustered enough strength to punch the intruder in the face and escape, but not before the men stole keys, electronics, and money before walking out the door.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KIRO Seattle Police Suspects tried to kill for pleasure and greed 11-4-13.flv

KIRO-TV in Seattle reported on the home invasion back in early November 2013 and learned horrified neighbors were arming themselves to protect against another random attack. (2:27)

During the incident, the only alert that something might be wrong came from the family’s car alarm that accidentally went off during a struggle for the keys. At no time did Comcast’s alarm system activate or signal police an intrusion was underway. Authorities were summoned only after Deep arrived, bleeding and badly injured, on a neighbor’s doorstep.

Vincent Sisounong, 21, and Blessing Gainey, 19, were located by authorities after matching fingerprints were found inside the Rawat home and both were charged with first-degree attempted murder and first-degree burglary.

When interviewed by police, Sisounong said he “really wanted” to kill the teenager, court documents said, noting that neither man knew the Rawat family.

“I just say God was there that night,” said an incensed Leena. “God, but not Comcast security. It’s been very tough. It was not a one night thing. It’s changed our life.”

That night and every night, the one thing Comcast’s security system manages to protect more than anything else is the cable company itself.

The traumatized family quickly learned Comcast was disavowing any and all responsibility for the failure of their alarm system, and Comcast’s contracts include clauses that require customers to waive all liability, even if Comcast is later found negligent. In fact, customers who sign Comcast’s contract must also side with the cable company and against their own insurance company during any claims process.

Comcast's security contract lets the company walk away from responsibility for virtually everything.

Comcast’s security contract lets the company walk away from responsibility for almost everything.

The first duty of every Comcast home security customer is to protect Comcast, as made clear in particularly bold, all-capital letter print:

YOUR DUTY TO PROTECT/INDEMNIFY THE COMPANY APPLIES EVEN IN THE CASE OF THE COMPANY’S OWN NEGLIGENCE.

“If their argument is to be accepted, they could put in empty black boxes throughout the house and say, ‘That’s your system.’ And then something goes wrong, and they say, ‘We never promised you it would work,'” said Ken Friedman, attorney.

Comcast’s response:

“We want to take this opportunity to extend our sympathies to the Rawat family. However, after a review of our records, we are confident that our home security system functioned properly.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KING Seattle Comcast Sued Over Home Security System Failures 10-1-14.flv

KING-TV in Seattle talked with Leena Rawat about how Comcast let her and her family down on the worst night of their lives. (2:29)

Marsha Blackburn Angry that FCC Chairman Wants to Run Tenn. Broadband… When AT&T Should

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee, but mostly AT&T and Comcast)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee, but mostly AT&T and Comcast)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) is angry that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is sticking his nose into AT&T, Comcast, and Charter Communications’ private playground — the state of Tennessee.

In an editorial published by The Tennessean, Blackburn throws a fit that an “unelected” bureaucrat not only believes what’s best for her state, but is now openly talking about preempting state laws that ban public broadband networks:

Legislatures are the entities who should be making these decisions. Legislatures govern what municipalities can and cannot do. The principles of federalism and state delegation of power keep government’s power in check. When a state determines that municipalities should be limited in experimenting in the private broadband market, it’s usually because the state had a good reason — to help protect public investments in education and infrastructure or to protect taxpayers from having to bailout an unproven and unsustainable project.

Chairman Wheeler has repeatedly stated that he intends to preempt the states’ sovereign role when it comes to this issue. His statements assume that Washington knows best. However, Washington often forgets that the right answers don’t always come from the top down.

It’s unfortunate Rep. Blackburn’s convictions don’t extend to corporate money and influence in the public dialogue about broadband. The “good reason” states have limited public broadband come in the form of a check, either presented directly to politicians like Blackburn, who has received so many contributions from AT&T she could cross daily exercise off her “things to do” list just running to the bank, or through positive press from front groups, notably the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

According to campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, three of Blackburn’s largest career donors are employees and PACs affiliated with AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. Blackburn has also taken $56,000 from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the lobby for the big telecoms.

Combined, those organizations donated more than $200,000 to Blackburn. In comparison, her largest single donor is a PAC associated with Memphis-based FedEx Corp., which donated $68,500.

Phillip "States' rights don't extend to local rights in Blackburn's ideological world" Dampier

Phillip “States’ rights don’t extend to local rights in Blackburn’s ideological world” Dampier

Blackburn’s commentary tests the patience of the reality-based community, particularly when she argues that keeping public broadband out protects investments in education. As her rural constituents already know, 21st century broadband is often unavailable in rural Tennessee, and that includes many schools. Stop the Cap! regularly receives letters from rural Americans who complain they have to drive their kids to a Wi-Fi enabled parking lot at a fast food restaurant, town library, or even hunt for an unintentionally open Wi-Fi connection in a private home, just to complete homework assignments that require a broadband connection.

Blackburn’s favorite telecommunication’s company — AT&T — has petitioned the state legislature to allow it to permanently disconnect DSL and landline service in rural areas of the state, forcing customers to a perilous wireless data experience that doesn’t work as well as AT&T promises. While Blackburn complains about the threat of municipal broadband, she says and does nothing about the very real possibility AT&T will be allowed to make things even worse for rural constituents in her own state.

Who does Blackburn believe will ride to the rescue of rural America? Certainly not AT&T, which doesn’t want the expense of maintaining wired broadband service in less profitable rural areas. Comcast won’t even run cable lines into small communities. In fact, evidence has shown for at least a century, whether it is electricity, telephone, or broadband service, when large corporate entities don’t see profits, they won’t provide the service and communities usually have to do the job themselves. But this time those communities are handcuffed in states that have enacted municipal broadband bans literally written by incumbent phone and cable companies and shepherded into the state legislature through front groups like ALEC.

Chairman Wheeler is in an excellent position to understand the big picture, far better than Blackburn’s limited knowledge largely absorbed from AT&T’s talking points. After all, Wheeler comes from the cable and wireless industry and knows very well how the game is played. Wheeler has never said that Washington knows best, but he has made it clear state and federal legislators who support anti-competitive measures like municipal broadband bans don’t have a monopoly on good ideas either — they just have monopolies.

That isn’t good enough for Congresswoman Blackburn, who sought to strip funding from the FCC to punish the agency for crossing AT&T, Comcast and other telecom companies:

Marsha is an avowed member of the AT&T Fan Club.

Marsha is an avowed member of the AT&T Fan Club.

In July, I passed an amendment in Congress that would prohibit taxpayer funds from being used by the FCC to pre-empt state municipal broadband laws. My amendment doesn’t prevent Chattanooga or any other city in Tennessee from being able to engage in municipal broadband. It just keeps those decisions at the state level. Tennessee’s state law that allowed Chattanooga and other cities to engage in municipal broadband will continue to exist without any interference from the FCC. Tennessee should be able to adjust its law as it sees fit, instead of Washington dictating to us.

Notice that Blackburn’s ideological fortitude has loopholes that protect a very important success story — EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, one of the first to offer gigabit broadband service. If municipal broadband is such a threat to common sense, why the free pass for EPB? In fact, it is networks like EPB that expose the nonsense on offer from Blackburn and her industry friends that claim public broadband networks are failures and money pits.

In fact, Blackburn’s idea of states’ rights never seems to extend to local communities across Tennessee that would have seen local ordinances gutted by Blackburn’s telecommunications policies and proposed bills. In 2005, Blackburn introduced the ironically named Video Choice Act of 2005 which, among other things:

  • Would have granted a nationwide video franchise system that would end all local oversight over rights-of-way for the benefit of incumbent telephone companies, but not for cable or other new competitors like Google Fiber;
  • Strips away all local oversight of cable and telephone company operations that allowed local jurisdictions to ensure providers follow local laws and rules;
  • Prohibited any mechanism on the local level to collect franchise payments;
  • Eliminated any rules forbidding “redlining” — when a provider only chooses select parts of a community to serve.

More recently, Blackburn has been on board favoring legislation restricting local communities from having a full say on the placement of cell towers. Current Tennessee law already imposes restrictions on local communities trying to refuse requests from AT&T, Verizon and others to place new cell towers wherever they like. She is also in favor of highest-bidder wins spectrum auctions that could allow AT&T and Verizon to use their enormous financial resources to snap up new spectrum and find ways to hoard it to keep it away from competitors.

Not everyone in Tennessee appreciated Blackburn’s remarks.

Nashville resident Paul Felton got equal time in the newspaper to refute Blackburn’s claims:

Rep. Marsha Blackburn is on her high horse (Tennessee Voices, Oct. 3) about the idea of the Federal Communications Commission opposing laws against municipal broadband networks, wrapping herself in the mantle of states’ rights. We know that behind all “states’ rights” indignation is “corporate rights” protection.

The last I heard, there was only one Internet, and anyone can log into Amazon or healthcare.gov just as easily from any state. Or any budget.

No, this is about the one Internet being controlled by one corporate giant (or two) in each area, who want to control price and broadband speed, and now want to link the two. They don’t want competition from any pesky municipal providers hellbent on providing the same speed for all users, at a lower price. Check the lobbying efforts against egalitarian ideas to find out which side of an issue Marsha Blackburn always comes down on.

But comments like these don’t deter Rep. Blackburn.

“Congress cannot sit idly by and let a federal agency trample on our states’ rights,” she wrote, but we believe she meant to say ‘AT&T’s rights.’

“Besides, the FCC should be tackling other priorities where political consensus exists, like deploying spectrum into the marketplace, making the Universal Service Fund more effective, protecting consumers, improving emergency communications and other important policies,” Blackburn wrote.

Remarkably, that priority list just so happens to mirror AT&T’s own legislative agenda. Perhaps that is just a coincidence.

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