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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)

Antitrust Us: Is ComVerizablAsT&TWCDirecTV Really Best for American Broadband?

Bad enough

Bad enough

A big company needs a big name, and so what if you can’t say it out loud, so long as your check reaches the cable cartel on time to avoid those inconvenient late fees.

The shock waves of the $45 billion dollar proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable (not to mention AT&T and DirecTV) have reached as far as Great Britain where appalled editorial writers in the British press are pondering whether Washington has lost its mind or just its integrity… or a combination of both, by actually contemplating the unthinkable rebirth of the American Robber Baron.

Only instead of railroads powering America’s early 20th century economy, today its broadband. Overseas, broadband is plentiful, fast, and cheap. Back home, cable operators are hard at work in a comfortable monopoly/duopoly working on excuses to justify Internet rationing with usage caps, outrageous equipment rental fees, rate hikes, and usage billing for a product about as cheap to offer as a phone call on one of those unlimited calling plans you probably already have.

From The Economist:

“On “OUTLAW”, a drama that aired on NBC, a Supreme Court justice leaves the bench to join a law firm. In real life he might have begun working for Comcast, America’s largest cable company, which owns NBC. Many of Washington’s top brass are on Comcast’s payroll, including Margaret Attwell Baker, a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), America’s telecoms regulator, who in government had helped approve Comcast’s takeover of NBCUniversal in 2011. Even Barack Obama has Comcast ties. “I have been here so much, the only thing I haven’t done in this house is have seder dinner,” he quipped at a fundraiser hosted last year at the home of David Cohen, Comcast’s chief lobbyist.

“It helps to have influential friends, especially if you are seeking to expand your grip on America’s pay-TV and broadband markets.

“[…] The deal would create a Goliath far more fearsome than the latest ride at the Universal Studios theme park (also Comcast-owned). Comcast has said it would forfeit 3m subscribers, but even with that concession the combination of the two firms would have around 30m—more than 30% of all TV subscribers and around 33% of broadband customers. In the cable market alone (ie, not counting suppliers of satellite services such as DirecTV), Comcast has as much as 55% of all TV and broadband subscribers.

Worse

Worse

“Comcast will argue that its share of customers in any individual market is not increasing. That is true only because cable companies decided years ago not to compete head-to-head, and divided the country among themselves. More than three-quarters of households have no choice other than their local cable monopoly for high-speed, high-capacity internet.

“For consumers the deal would mean the union of two companies that are already reviled for their poor customer service and high prices. Greater size will fix neither problem. Mr Cohen has said, “We’re certainly not promising that customer bills are going to go down or even that they’re going to increase less rapidly.” Between 1995 and 2012 the average price of a cable subscription increased at a compound annual rate of more than 6%.”

Before blaming it all on President Obama’s close relationship with Comcast’s top executives, it was the Republicans in Washington that set this tragic monopolistic farce into motion. Michael Powell, President George W. Bush’s idea of the best man in America to protect the public interest at the FCC, represented the American people about as well as ‘Heckuva Job Brownie.’ Instead of promoting competition, Powell used his time to beef-up his résumé for a very cushy post-government job heading America’s top cable lobby – the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Attwell-Baker was even more shameless, departing the FCC for her sweet new executive digs at Comcast just a short time after enthusiastically voting in favor of its NBCUniversal merger deal.

snakePowell and others made certain that Internet Service Providers would not be classified as “common carriers,” which would require them to rent their broadband pipes at a reasonable wholesale rate to competitors. The industry and their well-compensated friends in the House and Senate argued such a status would destroy investment in broadband expansion and innovation. Instead it destroyed the family budget as prices for mediocre service in uncompetitive markets soared. Today, consumers in common carrier countries including France and Britain pay a fraction of what Americans do for Internet access, and get faster speeds as well.

Letting Comcast grow even larger, The Economist argues, will allow one company to dominate not just your Internet experience, but also the content consumers access and at what speed.

“There is plenty for Mr Obama and Mr Cohen to discuss at their next dinner,” concludes the magazine. “But better yet, officials could keep their distance from Comcast, and reject a merger that would reduce competition, provide no benefit to consumers and sap the incentive to innovate.”

Considering the enormous sums of money Comcast has shown a willingness to spend on winning over supporters for its business agenda, restraint on the part of Washington will need voter vigilance, much the same way calling out non-profits who gush over Comcast while quietly cashing their contribution checks must also be fully exposed to regulators who will ultimately decide the fate of the merger.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Antitrust Us.mp4

Antitrust Us: Cartoonist Mark Fiore takes on the corporate idea that merging cable companies together creates more competition. (1:50)

United States of AT&T: DirecTV Acquired by AT&T in $48.5 Billion Deal

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ ATT Buys DirecTV 5-19-14.flv

For $48.5 billion, AT&T will vault itself into second place among the nation’s largest pay television providers with the acquisition of DirecTV. The Wall Street Journal reports the executives at AT&T have been looking to for a giant deal for several years. Most executives earn special bonuses and other incentives worth millions for successfully completing these kinds of transactions. (3:03)

AT&T plans to spend $48.5 billion to acquire the nation’s biggest satellite television provider, allowing AT&T to become the second largest pay television company, behind a merged Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

att directvThe deal, finalized on Sunday, pays $95 per DirecTV share in a combination of stock and cash, about a 10% premium over DirecTV’s closing price on Friday. Including debt, the acquisition is AT&T’s third-largest deal on record, behind the purchase of BellSouth for $83 billion in 2006 and the deal for Ameritech Corp., which closed in 1999, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“This is a unique opportunity that will redefine the video entertainment industry and create a company able to offer new bundles and deliver content to consumers across multiple screens – mobile devices, TVs, laptops, cars and even airplanes. At the same time, it creates immediate and long-term value for our shareholders,” said Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO. “DirecTV is the best option for us because they have the premier brand in pay TV, the best content relationships, and a fast-growing Latin American business. DirecTV is a great fit with AT&T and together we’ll be able to enhance innovation and provide customers new competitive choices for what they want in mobile, video and broadband services. We look forward to welcoming DirecTV’s talented people to the AT&T family.”

The announced acquisition has left some on Wall Street scratching their heads.

“Like any merger born of necessity rather than opportunity, the combination of AT&T and DirecTV calls to mind images of lifeboats and rescues at sea,” telecommunications analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson Research wrote this week. AT&T, Moffett wrote, is in “dire need of a cash producer to sustain their dividend.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg ATT DirecTV Deal a Head Scratcher 5-19-14.flv

Craig Moffett, founder of MoffettNathanson LLC, talks about AT&T Inc.’s plan to buy DirecTV for $48.5 billion. Moffett speaks with Tom Keene, Scarlet Fu, William Cohan, and Adam Johnson on Bloomberg Television’s “Surveillance.” StockTwits founder Howard Lindzon also speaks. (5:12)

pay market shareThe deal would combine AT&T’s wireless, U-verse, and broadband networks with DirecTV’s television service, creating bundling opportunities for some satellite customers. As broadband becomes the most important component of a package including phone, television, and Internet access, not being able to offer broadband has left satellite TV companies at a competitive disadvantage. AT&T’s U-verse platform – a fiber to the neighborhood network – has given AT&T customers an incremental broadband speed upgrade, but not one that can necessarily compete against fiber to the home or cable broadband.

Some analysts are speculating AT&T will eventually shut down its U-verse television service and dedicate its bandwidth towards a more robust broadband offering. Existing television customers would be offered DirecTV instead.

But deal critics contend AT&T is spending a lot of money to buy its competitors instead of investing enough in network upgrades.

“The amount of cash alone AT&T is spending on this deal — $14.55 billion — is as much as it cost Verizon for its entire FiOS deployment, which reaches more than 17 million homes,” Free Press’ Derek Turner tells Stop the Cap! “Add in the $33 billion in AT&T stock and $18.6 billion in debt, and you can see just how wasteful this merger is.”

In effect, AT&T is spending nearly $50 billion to buy DirecTV’s customer relationships, its satellite platform, and its agreements with programmers, all while removing one competitor from the market. Cable has 54 percent of the pay TV market, satellite has 34 percent, and AT&T and Verizon share 11 percent. AT&T’s U-verse has 5.7 million TV customers. DirecTV has 20.3 million. Combining the two gives AT&T 26 million television customers, second only to Comcast/Time Warner Cable.

Rural Americans will effectively see their choice in competitors drop by one-third, giving them the option of the phone company or Dish Network.

AT&T intends to persuade regulators to approve the deal despite its antitrust implications by offering several commitments the company says are in the public interest and protect consumers:

  • 15 Million Customer Locations Get More High Speed Broadband Competition. AT&T will use the merger synergies to expand its plans to build and enhance high-speed broadband service to 15 million customer locations, mostly in rural areas where AT&T does not provide high-speed broadband service today, utilizing a combination of technologies including fiber to the premises and fixed wireless local loop capabilities. This new commitment, to be completed within four years after close, is on top of the fiber and Project VIP broadband expansion plans AT&T has already announced. Customers will be able to buy broadband service stand-alone or as part of a bundle with other AT&T services.
  • Stand-Alone Broadband. For customers who only want a broadband service and may choose to consume video through an over-the-top (OTT) service like Netflix or Hulu, the combined company will offer stand-alone wireline broadband service at speeds of at least 6Mbps (where feasible) in areas where AT&T offers wireline IP broadband service today at guaranteed prices for three years after closing.
  • Nationwide Package Pricing on DIRECTV. DIRECTV’s TV service will continue to be available on a stand-alone basis at nationwide package prices that are the same for all customers, no matter where they live, for at least three years after closing.
  • Net Neutrality Commitment. Continued commitment for three years after closing to the FCC’s Open Internet protections established in 2010, irrespective of whether the FCC re-establishes such protections for other industry participants following the DC Circuit Court of Appeals vacating those rules.
  • Spectrum Auction. The transaction does not alter AT&T’s plans to meaningfully participate in the FCC’s planned spectrum auctions later this year and in 2015. AT&T intends to bid at least $9 billion in connection with the 2015 incentive auction provided there is sufficient spectrum available in the auction to provide AT&T a viable path to at least a 2×10 MHz nationwide spectrum footprint.

a dtv 2

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN ATT DirecTV Merger 5-19-14.flv

CNN says AT&T’s buyout of DirecTV is about getting video programming to customers using all types of technology, but public interest groups suspect it’s about reducing competition. (1:17)

A closer look at AT&T’s commitments exposes several loopholes, however.

AT&T U-verse and DirecTV compete head-on in these areas.

AT&T U-verse and DirecTV compete head-on in these areas.

  • AT&T’s “commitment” to expand broadband to 15 million new locations is in addition to their Project VIP U-verse expansion now underway. However, AT&T does not say how many rural customers will see wired U-verse service finally become available vs. how many will lose their landlines permanently and have to rely on AT&T’s wireless landline replacement and expensive, usage-capped wireless broadband;
  • AT&T’s speed commitment is largely unenforceable and falls apart with language like, “where feasible.” Anywhere they don’t deliver 6Mbps DSL speed can easily be explained away as “unfeasible.” AT&T also only commits to providing DSL where it already offers DSL, so no expansion there;
  • The FCC’s Net Neutrality protections never covered wireless and three years is a very short time to commit to the “light touch” approach the FCC had with Net Neutrality back in 2010;
  • AT&T’s wireless auction commitment comes with loopholes like “meaningfully,” “provided there,” and “a viable path to at least.”

“You can’t justify AT&T buying DirecTV by pointing at Comcast’s grab for Time Warner, because neither one is a good deal for consumers,” said Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel for Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “On the heels of Comcast’s bid for Time Warner Cable, AT&T is going to try to pull off a mega-merger of its own. These could be the start of a wave of mergers that should put federal regulators on high alert.  AT&T’s takeover of DirecTV is just the latest attempt at consolidation in a marketplace where consumers are already saddled with lousy service and price hikes. The rush is on for some of the biggest industry players to get even bigger, with consumers left on the losing end.”

“The captains of our communications industry have clearly run out of ideas,” said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press. “Instead of innovating and investing in their networks, companies like AT&T and Comcast are simply buying up the competition. These takeovers are expensive, and consumers end up footing the bill for merger mania. AT&T is willing to pay $48.5 billion and take on an additional $19 billion in debt to buy DirecTV. That’s a fortune to spend on a satellite-only company at a time when the pay-TV industry is stagnating and broadband is growing. For the amount of money and debt AT&T and Comcast are collectively shelling out for their respective mega-deals, they could deploy super-fast gigabit-fiber broadband service to every single home in America.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Al Franken Skeptical About DirecTV Deal 5-19-14.flv

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) appeared on CNN’s New Day this morning to express his skepticism about the consumer benefits of a merger between AT&T and DirecTV. “We need more competition, not less.” (2:40)

A Merger Watch Has Been Issued for Your Internet Service, Cable-TV Provider

moneywedThe announced merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable is expected to have far-reaching implications for other companies in the video and broadband business, with expectations 2014 could be one of the busiest years in a decade for telecom industry mergers and buyouts.

AT&T + DirecTV = Less Video Competition

Bloomberg News reports an announcement from AT&T that it intends to acquire DirecTV for as much as $50 billion could be forthcoming before Memorial Day. Such a merger would drop one satellite television competitor in AT&T landline service areas and promote nationwide bundling of AT&T wireless service with satellite television.

Historically low-interest rates would help AT&T finance such a deal and would turn DirecTV into a division of AT&T, easing concerns the satellite company has been at a disadvantage because it lacks a broadband and phone package.

“While the Comcast/TWC deal was the trigger, the backdrop of a slow macro economy, new competitors, shifts in technology and consumer habits all come together and force the need for more scale,” Todd Lowenstein, a fund manager at Highmark Capital Management Inc. in Los Angeles told Bloomberg.

Satellite television companies remain technologically disadvantaged to withstand the growing influence of online video and their subscriber numbers have peaked.

If AT&T buys DirecTV, the wireless giant could theoretically bundle its service with DirecTV’s video product, and in some areas of the country its U-verse high-speed broadband to the home, to compete with cable, said Amy Yong, an analyst at Macquarie Group in New York, in a note to clients.

Sprint + T-Mobile = Less Wireless Competition

Dish + T-Mobile = A Draw

mergerIn a less likely deal Sprint is still trying to pursue T-Mobile USA for a potential merger and if regulators reject that idea, Charles Ergen’s Dish Network is said to be interested.

To prepare Washington for another telecommunications deal, SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son’s lobbying firm, Carmen Group, has again been meeting with elected officials and regulators to argue the merits of a merger with T-Mobile, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Dish, which failed to buy Sprint last year, would be interested in acquiring T-Mobile if regulators block Sprint’s efforts, Ergen said. That hinges on whether SoftBank Corp. fails to win regulatory approval for its plan to buy T-Mobile, which is controlled by Deutsche Telekom AG, Ergen said last week. The Japanese wireless company owns 80 percent of Sprint.

All three deals carry a combined value of $170 billion in equity and debt and would impact 80 million Americans.

Suitors hope regulators will be in the mood to approve merger deals as they contemplate enlarging Comcast through its purchase of Time Warner Cable.

Even if all the deals don’t pass muster, Wall Street banks will still rake in millions in fees advising players on how to structure the deals. Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan would join executives winning considerable sums for reducing the number of competitors providing telecommunications services in the U.S.

Whether customers would benefit is a question open to much debate.

AT&T Seeking Acquisition of DirecTV in $40 Billion Consolidation Deal; Lobbyists Gearing Up

att_logoAT&T has approached DirecTV about a possible acquisition of the satellite provider in a deal expected to fetch at least $40 billion, spare change for AT&T’s $185 billion operation.

The Wall Street Journal reports the deal would combine DirecTV’s 20 million customers with AT&T’s 5.7 million U-verse customers, rivaling the size of a combined Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

The idea for the merger came after Comcast and Time Warner Cable struck their deal in February, and a person familiar with the merger talks reports DirecTV is receptive to a deal with AT&T. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson reportedly saw the next wave of consolidation in the American cable market as a potential game-changer, forcing AT&T to refocus its growth priorities back towards the United States instead of Europe.

Satellite companies like Dish and DirecTV are at an increasing disadvantage because growth in television subscriptions has stalled. Neither satellite company has a competitive broadband offering, and as more Americans gain access to wired broadband, many choose to bundle service with the company that provides Internet access.

directvDirecTV’s growth has fallen every year since 2010 and starting in 2013, the company began losing more subscribers than it signed up.

A combined AT&T-DirecTV would market satellite television nationwide, U-verse TV and Internet where available, wireless phone and broadband service, and rural satellite Internet access.

AT&T has explored an acquisition of a satellite provider for more than a decade and already partners with DirecTV to sell AT&T landline customers a bundle including the satellite provider’s television service.

As with most significant acquisitions proposed by AT&T, the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission will likely scrutinize any merger deal carefully. Both companies must prove the deal is in the public interest. But the Journal reports the FCC might be amenable to the deal because it considers satellite television without broadband a threatened business. Lobbyists are likely to argue the joint company would be the best positioned to compete effectively with a combined Comcast-Time Warner Cable.

If a deal appears likely, Dish Network is expected to face immediate pressure to also merge with an existing cable or telephone company.

Another alternative attempted in the past was a direct merger between DirecTV and Dish, an idea regulators nixed more than a decade ago. Today, such a deal would not solve either company’s difficulty providing broadband service.

Consumer groups are likely to oppose the merger because it further consolidates an industry they believe already sorely lacks competition. AT&T’s lawyers are reportedly already laying the foundation for a major lobbying campaign to promote the deal.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ ATT Approaches DirecTV for Merger 5-1-14.flv

The Wall Street Journal provides more insight into the proposed merger of AT&T and DirecTV and how government regulators are likely to see the deal. (2:51)

DirecTV Doubles Down on Dispute Over The Weather Channel; Embracing WeatherNation Instead

Phillip Dampier February 10, 2014 Consumer News, DirecTV, Video 2 Comments

weathernationEfforts by The Weather Channel — thrown off DirecTV over a fee dispute — to suggest its replacement is inadequate may have taken a hit this morning when WeatherNation announced a significant expansion of its weather network.

WeatherNation is largely unknown outside of the 20 million DirecTV subscribers that found the Colorado-based weather network on their lineup instead of The Weather Channel in mid-January. Now the weather network has announced expanded weather services for DirecTV subscribers:

  • Local Weather Now: Access customized local weather information at the zip code level. DirecTV subscribers can tune to Ch. 362, press the red button on their remote, and access local weather and forecasts. Local weather information will also be inserted into the live WeatherNation broadcast and run every 10 minutes;
  • Severe Weather Mix: In early March, WeatherNation will activate Severe Weather Mix during major weather events showing up to six concurrent feeds of weather information, including coverage from local broadcast stations, where available, live remotes from meteorologists in affected areas, live radar with storm tracking information, NOAA weather alerts, and live coverage from top cable news channels including CNN and Fox News.

weather channel“The Severe Weather Mix and Local Weather Now services will utilize cutting-edge technology, compelling graphics, expert forecasting ability and story-telling skills to quickly and conveniently communicate complex patterns and explain weather phenomena to viewers at home,” said Michael Norton, president of WeatherNation TV, Inc. “We are committed to reliable, consistent, round-the-clock weather information that is meteorologically accurate.”

The Weather Channel was removed by DirecTV after contract renewal negotiations broke down over a requested fee increase from the programmer. DirecTV countered customers were annoyed The Weather Channel was devoting an increasing amount of its primetime programming to reality TV shows that interrupted forecast information. It also claimed the weather network’s ratings were declining.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/The Weather Channel fans speak out from The Weather Channel 2-14.mp4

The Weather Channel is airing viewer comments about the loss of the network from DirecTV’s lineup. (2:06)

The Weather Channel Is Off DirecTV Over a $0.01 Rate Dispute

Phillip Dampier January 14, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, DirecTV, Video 4 Comments

weather channelThe Weather Channel has been removed from DirecTV’s lineup and replaced with WeatherNation, a much-smaller channel based in St. Paul, Minn., because the popular weather network reportedly sought a $0.01 monthly rate increase.

DirecTV subscribers told Stop the Cap! the channel change happened just after midnight, although WeatherNation was already a part of DirecTV’s lineup.

“This is unprecedented for the Weather Channel,” said David Kenny, CEO of the Weather Channel’s parent company. “In our 32 years, we have never had a significant disruption due to a failure to reach a carriage agreement.”

directvThe Weather Channel has launched a campaign to restore the network that carries the impression DirecTV does not care about the safety of their customers. The Weather Channel executives have stated their severe weather coverage is unparalleled and would leave satellite dish customers in rural areas without important information about dangerous weather.

But Dan York, responsible for DirecTV content, said weather information is available from a variety of sources, especially smartphones, and The Weather Channel has drifted away from its core weather mission, devoting up to 40 percent of its programming to reality TV shows.

bring back weather

The two sides are far apart, even arguing over the amount of the increase The Weather Channel wants for its programming. Executives at The Weather Channel claim their requested increase amounts to $0.01 per month, per subscriber, on top of the $0.13 average cost distributors pay for the weather network. DirecTV says it is substantially more than that and it seeking a 20% rate cut due to declining ratings.

The Weather Channel lacks the clout major corporate conglomerates like NBC Universal, Time Warner Entertainment, or Viacom have when negotiating contract renewals. Instead, it is counting on its loyal audience to bring the fight to the satellite provider.

So far, viewers seem to be responding. An anti-DirecTV website run by The Weather Channel has received more than 700,000 page views and reportedly brought 150,000 complaint calls to DirecTV customer service.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ The Weather Channel Off DirecTV 1-14-14.flv

The Wall Street Journal reports the advent of smartphones has taken a significant toll on The Weather Channel’s viewership, leading DirecTV to ask for a 20% rate cut. (4:17)

Staking the Heart of the Power-Sucking Vampire Cable Box

vampire-power-1-10964134Two years after energy conservation groups revealed many television set-top boxes use almost as much electricity as a typical refrigerator, a voluntary agreement has been reached to cut the energy use of the devices 10-45 percent by 2017.

The Department of Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, the Consumer Electronics Association, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association agreed to new energy efficiency standards for cable boxes expected to save more than $1 billion in electricity annually, once the new equipment is widely deployed in American homes. That represents enough energy to power 700,000 homes and cut five million tons of CO2 emissions each year.

“These energy efficiency standards reflect a collaborative approach among the Energy Department, the pay-TV industry and energy efficiency groups – building on more than three decades of common-sense efficiency standards that are saving American families and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “The set-top box efficiency standards will save families money by saving energy, while delivering high quality appliances for consumers that keep pace with technological innovation.”

DVR boxes are the biggest culprits. American DVRs typically use up to 50W regardless of whether someone is watching the TV or not. Most contain hard drives that are either powered on continuously or are shifted into an idle state that does more to protect the life of the drive than cut a consumer’s energy bill. A combination of a DVR and an extra HD set-top box together consume more electricity than an ENERGY STAR-qualified refrigerator-freezer, even when using the remote control to switch the boxes off.

NRDC Set-Top Boxes  Other Appliances-thumb-500x548-3135

Manufacturers were never pressed to produce more energy-efficient equipment by the cable and satellite television industry. Current generation boxes often require lengthy start-up cycles to configure channel lineups, load channel listings, receive authorization data and update software. As a result, any overnight power-down would inconvenience customers the following morning — waiting up to five or more minutes to begin watching television as equipment was switched back on. As a compromise, many cable operators instruct their DVR boxes to power down internal hard drives when not recording or playing back programming, minimizing subscriber inconvenience, but also the possible power savings.

In Europe, many set-top boxes are configured with three levels of power consumption — 22.5W while in use, 13.2W while in standby, and 0.65W when in “Deep Sleep” mode. More data is stored in non-volatile memory within the box, meaning channel data, program listings, and authorization information need not be re-downloaded each time the box is powered on, resulting in much faster recovery from power-saving modes.

The new agreement, which runs through 2017, covers all types of set-top boxes from pay-TV providers, including cable, satellite and telephone companies. The agreement also requires the pay-TV industry to publicly report model-specific set-top box energy use and requires an annual audit of service providers by an independent auditor to make sure boxes are performing at the efficiency levels specified in the agreement. The Energy Department also retains its authority to test set-top boxes under the ENERGY STAR verification program, which provides another verification tool to measure the efficiency of set-top boxes.

Comcast, DirecTV, DISH Network, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision, Bright House Networks and CenturyLink will begin deploying new energy-efficient equipment during service calls. Some customers may be able to eventually swap equipment earlier, depending on the company.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WCCO Minneapolis Check Your Cable Box 6-27-11.mp4

WCCO in Minneapolis reported in 2011 cable operators like Comcast may make subscribers wait 30 minutes or more for set-top box features to become fully available for use after plugging the box in. (1:50)

Telecom Providers Abuse Colorado Flood Victims, Ignore Their Own Disaster Policies

floodAs residents across flood-stricken Colorado begin the task of cleaning up damaged homes and in some cases rebuilding them on now-empty lots, many have made calls to various utilities, trash collectors, and service providers to hold off on further bills for services they cannot use. The electric, telephone, and trash hauling companies were all understanding and reassuring. DirecTV and AT&T were not. They want their money — one for the value of satellite equipment that may have since floated into New Mexico or Kansas, the other for fees incurred from excessive texting, talking, or data usage.

DirecTV was willing to settle with Jenny, a resident living outside of Boulder whose first floor was inundated with waves of water which swept her personal property out the rear door, if she was willing to charge $400 on her Visa credit card today for one lost satellite dish and two receivers. Otherwise, “collection activity will begin that could harm your credit.”

Jamestown resident Juliette Leon Bartsch is contending with 10 feet of mud, her husband’s car smashed against the house, and AT&T’s nagging fees for excessive texting.

That will be $400 please. Call your insurance company. We want to get paid.

That will be $400 please. Call your insurance company. We want to get paid.

Bartsch says AT&T has been pounding her phone with text messages telling her she will be paying AT&T’s regular prices of 20 cents per text, 30 cents for any text with attached photos, because she exceeded her allowance sending and receiving updates about the status of her home to worried friends and family. Her idea was to keep the phone lines clear for emergency personnel contending with serious telecom outages. AT&T’s idea was to rake in 20 cents for a short message that costs them virtually nothing to handle. Sending text messages is the preferred method of communicating in a disaster area over a wireless network and it turns out to be mighty profitable for AT&T as well.

Bartsch told the Denver Post AT&T store employees were “completely unhelpful” to her plight. AT&T also never misses an opportunity to upsell a traumatized customer to a more profitable service plan, even when that customer is a disaster victim.

After waiting around for 30 minutes, an AT&T employee rudely grabbed her phone in what Bartsch interpreted as a demand to “prove” her claims of disaster-related texting. After scrolling through the messages, all the employee was willing to offer was a paid upgrade to a more expensive texting plan to cover current and future text messages.

After contacted by the newspaper, AT&T changed its tune.

“As is our routine in an emergency, we began suspending collections calls to impacted customers last Friday, and we will not be billing those customers for flood-related overages to their wireless-minute or text-message plans,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. “AT&T has reached out to our customers to clear the flood overage charges, and we apologize for the oversight and inconvenience.”

Bartsch has not heard back from AT&T to find out if her bill will be, in fact, credited for the charges.

DirecTV has a less opaque policy for disaster victims published on its website. Getting the company to follow it is another matter.

Does DIRECTV provide aid for customers impacted by natural disasters?

DIRECTV has policies in place to assist customers who are impacted by natural disasters. If you live in a declared disaster area, we’ll work with you to find a solution that best fits your needs. Options available include:

  • Account cancellation – If service cannot be restored at your home due to the damage from a natural disaster, we will cancel your account, and waive any fees associated with the inability to return equipment, along with any remaining agreement on the account.
  • Account suspension – If you are without power for an extended period, we will suspend your account until power and services can be restored.
  • No-cost service calls – If service can be restored at your home, we will send a technician at no cost to ensure the dish is properly aligned and to fix any technical issues.
  • Equipment – If your equipment was damaged by a natural disaster, we will waive equipment replacement costs if you continue your DIRECTV service.

If you are a customer that has been affected, please contact 1-800-531-5000 so we can remedy your situation immediately.

You are over your texting limit.

You are over your texting limit.

Jenny, a Stop the Cap! reader, heard a completely different story from DirecTV.

“They were adamant, they really wanted to get paid either by me or the insurance company,” Jenny writes. “They even wanted to know the name of my carrier and my insurance policy number, which I refused to give them.”

This isn’t the first time DirecTV has ignored its disaster policy in Colorado. During this summer’s wildfires, fire victims were treated to similar demands for compensation.

Jeremy Beach’s Black Forest home burned to the ground and melted his satellite dish and reduced his DirecTV receivers to charred boxes. Then came DirecTV’s demand for cash.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he told the newspaper. “I had lost everything and they acted like they could care less.”

Even more incredible, a DirecTV spokesperson told the newspaper it was ignoring its disaster assistance policy because “most people’s insurance would cover the cost of its equipment.”

That is the same response Beach received. He hung up on the representative making the demand for payment.

Ask DirecTV for Pricing Information, They Quietly Run a Score-Dinging Credit Check on You

MYOB

MYOB

Asking about the cost of DirecTV could turn out more expensive than you think.

The Los Angeles Times found DirecTV a little more nosy than it should be, opening the door to identity theft and some minor credit damage from unwanted credit inquiries from the satellite provider.

As customers in southern California grow weary over Time Warner Cable’s dispute with CBS, some are shopping around for a better deal with another provider.

57-year old Los Angeles resident Michael Bell got more than he bargained for when he called DirecTV looking for some price quotes. Before the representative would answer, Bell found himself grilled for a lot of personal details that seemed irrelevant in response to a question about the price of HBO.

In addition to name, address, and type of residence, DirecTV wanted to know if Bell owned or rented his home.

“That stopped me,” Bell told the LA Times. “Why should he care? I told him I just wanted a price quote. He said we’d get to that. And then he asked for my Social Security number.”

That was T.M.I. for Bell’s tastes and he quickly hung up.

Requesting a Social Security number these days is a red flag, often giving warning the person asking is about to run a credit check on you.

credit dropSure enough, Robert Mercer, a DirecTV spokesman, explained the satellite provider pulls a credit report on every potential customer to determine their financial viability. DirecTV doesn’t want deadbeat customers, not after spending close to $900 to install satellite television in the average home.

If you don’t like it, you can pay DirecTV a $300 deposit and keep the number to yourself. The money is gradually refunded in the form of $5 monthly service credits each month you maintain service.

Cable companies are also notorious for running credit checks on customers, which can appear to other creditors as a request to extend credit. Too many credit inquiries can temporarily cut your credit score or worse, deny you credit.

AT&T and Verizon are also sticklers for good credit so expect them to run credit checks as well.

Time Warner Cable stands out among others for at least taking an interest in protecting customer privacy and preventing possible identity theft.

Dennis Johnson, a company spokesman, told the newspaper it can run a preliminary credit check with only the last four digits of a Social Security number and your date of birth.

Consumer privacy advocates argue that in the age of identity theft, nobody should be providing a Social Security number to anyone without a clear understanding it is being used to establish credit, open an account, or get earned retirement benefits. Consumers asked for a Social Security number for any other purpose should ask if they can avoid providing it or at least carefully scrutinize the request. If uncomfortable, simply end the conversation.

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