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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)

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.

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)

Intrigue at Chapter 11 LightSquared: Dish’s Charlie Ergen vs. Harbinger’s Phil Falcone

Failure, Squared

LightSquared, the ill-fated venture to bring nationwide 4G wireless broadband to the masses may be all but gone and forgotten in bankruptcy reorganization proceedings, but the wireless spectrum it controls and the drama surrounding it is not.

A battle between billionaires and the hedge funds they support has broken out over who will ultimately control the failed venture — a hedge fund manager deep in LightSquared debt or the richest man in Colorado that often finds a way to get his way.

Harbinger Capital Partners’ Phil Falcone

Falcone

Falcone

Phil Falcone earned his first fortune trading junk bonds in the 1980s. In 2001, he launched Harbinger Capital Partners and by 2007, Falcone and his investors were well-positioned for a blizzard of cash betting against sub-prime mortgages just before the housing collapse and credit crisis that followed. Falcone took home $1.7 billion in compensation that year while an epidemic of foreclosures and upside down mortgages was just getting started.

In late 2008, when the economy was in free-fall, Falcone suspended or limited withdrawals from his largest funds, upsetting investors who couldn’t get their money out. But Falcone reportedly gave special treatment to certain large investors (sources say Goldman Sachs is among them) who were able to clear out their exposed accounts before the losses piled up.

By 2009, Falcone was again making money — so much he vastly underestimated his federal and state tax bills. What’s a cash-strapped billionaire to do? Quietly loan himself $113.2 million from one of his investment funds at a favorable interest rate and keep it a secret from investors for five months. When they eventually found out, they were understandably disturbed. Falcone had barred those same investors from cashing out of the fund he borrowed from.

The Securities and Exchange Commission was not happy either and filed charges against Falcone.

“Today’s charges read like the final exam in a graduate school course in how to operate a hedge fund unlawfully,” Robert Khuzami, director of the S.E.C.’s division of enforcement, said in a statement. “Clients and market participants alike were victimized as Falcone unscrupulously used fund assets to pay his personal taxes, manipulated the market for certain bonds, favored some clients at the expense of others, and violated trading rules intended to prohibit manipulative short sales.”

Despite the publicity generated by the SEC, investors who appreciated Falcone’s ability to earn them money allowed them turn a blind eye to the ethics questions and pour money into Falcone’s latest venture — a wireless network known as LightSquared.

LightSquared was preparing to launch a unique nationwide 4G LTE mobile broadband network powered by satellites and ground-based cell towers, selling wholesale access to third-party wireless companies able to market the service under their own brand. Falcone’s funds poured nearly $3 billion dollars into the venture while getting a waiver from the government to operate high-powered transmitters on the “L” band — 1525-1559 MHz. LightSquared’s plans alarmed the next door neighbors — GPS satellites facing interference issues that would hurt the accuracy of precise location information provided to millions of tracking devices on the “L1″ band — 1559 to 1610 MHz.

Initial testing showed that significant interference from the prototype ground-based transmitters would occur and potentially could cripple aviation and public safety GPS users. The FCC eventually withdrew permission for LightSquared to run its network as planned, a potential death-blow to the venture.

Creditors grew anxious wondering how LightSquared would be in a position to repay its loans when it was unable to launch its wireless network.

In May 2012, creditors forced the issue and LightSquared filed for bankruptcy protection, listing assets of $4.48 billion and debts of $2.29 billion. Falcone claimed the bankruptcy filing would give the company more time to overcome the FCC’s objections to its network operations plan. Falcone estimated it would take two years to secure a resolution. Analysts familiar with the FCC suggested Falcone might die of old age before the agency gave way.

Falcone’s subsequent efforts to win back control of the venture have been made more difficult because one man has been quietly buying up large amounts of LightSquared’s debt with designs on the venture’s spectrum.

Dish Networks’ Charles Ergen

dish logoWith LightSquared’s debt trading at around 50 cents on the dollar, Charlie Ergen went shopping.

Ergen has been involved in the satellite business for decades. Today, he controls and runs Dish Network, a satellite television provider that has seen the back of high customer growth. Dish and DirecTV are both locked out of the “triple play” business most cable and phone companies offer customers. Neither company can offer broadband or telephone service without partnering with another provider. As cord-cutting continues to take hold, customers willing to pay for increasingly expensive television packages are in decline. That likely explains Ergen’s interest in acquiring wireless spectrum — to build Dish into a broadband, television, and telephone service provider.

In May, Dish publicly bid $2.2 billion for certain spectrum assets from LightSquared. But for more than a year earlier, Ergen was quietly buying up LightSquared’s debt through holding companies and hedge funds.

Ergen created an opaque investment entity named “SP Special Opportunites, LLC” a/k/a “Sound Point” to buy LightSquared debt. Separately, Ergen asked Stephen Ketchum, a former investment banker with close ties to Ergen, to buy over $1 billion in LightSquared debt securities through Ketchum’s hedge fund. From April 2012 until May 2013, Sound Point allegedly spent $1,013,082,326.30 to purchase secured debt for Ergen’s personal benefit and without the knowledge of Dish or its board of directors. Secured debt held by creditors is paid first in a bankruptcy proceeding, and Ergen quietly because LightSquared’s largest single secured creditor.

That puts Charlie Ergen in a major ethical dilemma.

The more Dish offers to pay for LightSquared, the more money Ergen will be paid to cover the shares of LightSquared’s secure debt. Ergen has a controlling interest in Dish, which means he can order Dish to overpay for LightSquared, personally pocketing the proceeds.

Bloomberg’s Matt Levine explains the shady deal:

“An executive going around and buying up an asset for cheap, then convincing his company to buy all of that asset for a higher price – doesn’t come up a lot because it’s so obviously shady,” Levine wrote. “If you’re supposed to be devoting your time and energy to finding opportunities for your company, it looks pretty bad to steal those opportunities for yourself.”

Falcone was outraged when he learned of Ergen’s stealthy acquisitions.

Ergen

Ergen

In July, Harbinger accused Ergen of “fraudulently” becoming a creditor to block efforts by LightSquared to reorganize and emerge intact from bankruptcy. Instead, Harbinger accused Ergen of seeking to acquire the company’s assets “on the cheap.” Harbinger also points to provisions in a LightSquared debt agreement that forbids certain competitors from buying the company’s debt.

Also upset are several major Dish Network shareholders who are not pleased Ergen’s private deal could make him a lot of money while costing shareholders plenty should Dish overpay for LightSquard’s assets or worse, end up with everything but the spectrum Dish covets.

At least five lawsuits have been filed since August, accusing Ergen and other board members of casting their fiduciary duties to the wind and wasting money along the way. They are also upset Ergen and his connections purchased $1 billion in LightSquared debt at a substantial discount and will likely be repaid the full face value of those debts with Dish Network’s money. That means nearly $300 million in personal profits for Ergen.

The latest shareholder lawsuit was filed by the Louisiana Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System. It along with the suit filed by the City of Daytona Beach Police Officers’ and Firefighters’ Retirement System claim Ergen’s near-total control of Dish’s board of directors makes it impossible for the board to meet its obligation of representing shareholder interests first.

“Ergen’s control over the company and the board is highlighted by the numerous transactions he has caused Dish to enter into with members of his family,” the lawsuit states.

Ergen and Dish’s efforts to insulate themselves from charges of conflict of interest didn’t fly with many investors.

One lawsuit noted Tom Ortolf, one of the directors on the supposedly independent committee reviewing Dish’s bid, has a daughter that works at Dish; the other, George Brokaw, chose Mr. Ergen’s wife, Cantey Ergen—a Dish director named in the shareholder suit—to be the godmother of his son.

The discomfort level at Dish reached high enough to prompt one board member, Gary Howard, to suddenly resign in early September. Howard was also on the committee formed to vet the LightSquared deal because of the potential conflict of interest on Ergen’s part.

Before Falcone could claim the high road at Ergen’s expense, this week New York’s top financial regulator banned Falcone from managing Fidelity & Guaranty Life Insurance Company of New York for seven years. Harbinger Group bought Fidelity & Guaranty, the U.S. life and annuity unit of London-based Old Mutual Plc, for $350 million in 2011.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg LightSquared 9-5-13.flv

Bloomberg News discusses the high drama between LightSquared and Dish Network. (4 minutes)

Another Programming Dispute: Media General TV Stations Off DISH Network

Phillip Dampier October 1, 2013 Consumer News, Dish Network, Video No Comments

media generalMedia General today issued a statement saying they have failed to reach a retransmission consent agreement with DISH Network and 18 local stations in the eastern half of the country are off the satellite provider’s lineup as a result.

The stations:

  • Alabama: WVTM-NBC in Birmingham, and WKRG-TV in Mobile
  • Florida: WFLA-NBC in Tampa
  • dish logoGeorgia: WJBF-ABC in Augusta, WRBL-CBS in Columbus and WSAV-NBC in Savannah
  • Mississippi: WHLT-CBS in Hattiesburg and WJTV-CBS in Jackson
  • North Carolina: WNCT-CBS in Greenville, WNCN-NBC in Raleigh-Durham and WYCW-CW in Asheville
  • Ohio: WCNH-NBC in Columbus
  • Rhode Island: WJAR-NBC in Providence
  • South Carolina: WCBD-NBC in Charleston, WBTW-CBS in Florence-Myrtle Beach and WSPA-CBS in Greenville-Spartanburg
  • Tennessee: WJHL-CBS in Tri-Cities
  • Virginia: WSLS-NBC in Roanoke-Lynchburg

“Our highly rated television station is an important asset to our local community and it is unfortunate that DISH does not recognize our fair market value,” said WNCN general manager Douglas Hamilton. “Although we have successfully completed agreements with other cable and satellite operators, DISH has refused to reach a similar agreement.”

Media General has been approving extensions of DISH’s retransmission contract since it expired in June, but the broadcast station group owner denied an extra extension of the contract that expired Sept. 30.

Media General is in the process of merging with Young Broadcasting — a deal that was also originally announced in June. DISH already has a retransmission agreement with Young and hoped to bundle the extension into that agreement, but Media General refused.

“The only reason for Media General to reject that offer is to try to squeeze consumers for more money, to the tune of five times what DISH currently pays,” said Sruta Vootukuru, DISH’s director of programming. “We’re working on behalf of our customers to keep the programming at a fair price.”

Affected Media General-owned TV stations are telling viewers to use a traditional antenna or switch to one of DISH’s competitors.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WNCN Raleigh WNCN Agreement With DISH Expires 10-1-13.mp4

WNCN’s general manager Doug Hamilton explained to viewers why the station was no longer on DISH Network’s service in Raleigh, N.C. (1 minute)

Earth-Shattering News: You Still Hate Your Cable Company

Despite efforts to improve their reputation, cable companies are hated so much the industry now scores lower than any other according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

The only reason the industry’s average score or 68 out of 100 ticked higher are some new competitors, especially Verizon’s FiOS fiber optic network, which scores higher than any other provider.

acsi tv

The cable companies you grew up with still stink, ACSI reports, with Comcast (63) and Time Warner Cable (60) near the bottom of the barrel.

At fault for the dreadful ratings are constant rate increases and poor customer service. As a whole, consumers reported highest satisfaction with fiber optic providers, closely followed by satellite television services. Cable television scored the worst. Despite the poor ratings, every cable operator measured except Time Warner Cable managed to gain a slight increase in more satisfied customers. Time Warner Cable’s score for television service dropped five percent.

Customers are even less happy with broadband service. Verizon FiOS again scored the highest with a 71% approval rating. Time Warner Cable (63) and Comcast (62) scored the lowest. Customers complained about overpriced service plans, speed and reliability issues. Customers were unhappy with their plan options as well, including the fact many providers now place arbitrary usage limits on their access.

The best word to describe customer feelings about their broadband options: frustration, according to ACSI chair Claes Fornell. “In a market even less competitive than subscription TV, there is little incentive for companies to improve.”

acsi broadband

Dish Network Offers $25.5 Billion for Sprint, Topping Softbank’s Bid; Will Keep Unlimited Data Plans

Phillip Dampier April 15, 2013 Competition, Consumer News, Dish Network, Public Policy & Gov't, Sprint, Video, Wireless Broadband Comments Off

Dish Network holds MVDDS licenses to serve more than three dozen communities across the country.

Satellite television provider Dish Network today offered $25.5 billion for Sprint Nextel Corp., in an unsolicited bid that surprised the wireless industry.

The bid, announced by CEO Charles Ergen, is $5.5 billion higher than that offered by Japan’s Softbank, which already had a pending deal to take a 70 percent stake in the third largest wireless carrier.

The bidding may not yet be over if Softbank decides to counter with a higher offer or if other bidders emerge in the coming weeks.

Ergen has signaled his interest in entering wireless markets to compensate for slowing earnings in the satellite television business.

“He is trying to transform his own business,” Vijay Jayant, an analyst at International Strategy & Investment Group in New York told Bloomberg News. “He’s trying to reinvent himself, moving from satellite to wireless.”

sprintnextelErgen’s vision would include a bundled package of satellite television, broadband wireless Internet and cellular telephone service. Providing suitable wireless broadband Internet in rural areas may be the biggest challenge because of Sprint’s more limited network coverage, but a marketing deal combining satellite television from Dish and Sprint cell phone service would be easier to carry out.

Ergen’s offer includes $8.2 billion in stock and $17.3 billion in cash. Ergen’s company has stockpiled at least $10 billion from selling bonds over the last year. He intends to borrow the rest.

Ergen earlier had attempted to disrupt a deal that would have consolidated Clearwire into Sprint. Ergen offered $3.30 a share for Clearwire, 33 cents higher than the $2.97 per share offer from Sprint. Ergen also reportedly approached both MetroPCS and Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile USA looking for a deal to no avail.

Some analysts question whether Ergen has enough experience to manage a major wireless company with only his past involvement selling satellite TV subscriptions. But he arrives with more than just cash and stock options. Ergen has acquired mobile spectrum from bankrupt TerreStar Networks and DBSD North America. Ergen says he has no interest in building his own wireless network, but a combined Sprint/Dish could manage the spectrum through Sprint’s existing operations.

Ergen told Bloomberg News combining the spectrum Dish owns with the spectrum owned by Sprint and Clearwire would assure Americans of a robust wireless data platform that will not have capacity constraints or require individual device fees. That is in keeping with Sprint’s existing marketing as a provider of truly unlimited wireless data plans.

Several Wall Street analysts told CNBC and Bloomberg News the deal with Softbank may be more ideal for shareholders and consumers, because it would strengthen Sprint’s leverage with equipment manufacturers to offer cheaper and more robust devices.

Consumer advocates have mixed feelings. Dish has no prior association to the wireless industry so the deal does not represent direct, competitive consolidation. It also would boost Sprint as a more formidable competitor to AT&T and Verizon Wireless. But it could also further orphan T-Mobile USA.

“Right now, we have two giants and two also-rans, and now you’re getting potentially three giants dividing up the American market place, with T-Mobile lagging far behind,” Susan Crawford told the New York Times.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg What Does Dish See in Sprint Thats Worth 25B 4-15-13.flv

Bloomberg News explores what Dish sees in Sprint that is worth a bid of $25.5 billion to acquire the country’s third largest mobile company.  (2 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Dish Bids 25-5 Billion for Sprint to Challenge Softbank 4-15-13.flv

Bloomberg says Dish has been stockpiling $10 billion in cash for new acquisitions to transform its business away from a satellite TV-only company.  (2 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg All Things Are on the Table for Sprint 4-15-13.flv

Christopher Marangi, of Gabelli Asset Fund talks with Bloomberg’s Erik Schatzker about Dish Network’s unsolicited $25.5 billion offer for Sprint and what options are available to Sprint with the offers it has on the table. (2 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Dish Bid for Sprint Lacks Capital Chaplin Says 4-15-13.flv

Jonathan Chaplin, an analyst with New Street Research LLP, thinks Softbank’s original offer is superior to the one from Dish.  (6 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Bidding for Sprint Is Not Over Fritzshe 4-15-13.flv

Jennifer Fritzsche, Managing Director of Equity Research at Wells Fargo Securities, discusses the likelihood of other players making bids. (2 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg What Did Dish CEO Ergen Say About Sprint Bid 4-15-13.flv

A Bloomberg News reporter interviewed Charlie Ergen about why he wants to enter the wireless business.  Ergen’s vision includes no nickel and diming customers with monthly device fees and usage charges. (4 minutes)

FCC Orders Deregulated Rates for Ohio and Calif. Time Warner Cable Customers

timewarner twcThe Federal Communications Commission has opened the door for Time Warner Cable to raise basic cable rates in several parts of Ohio and California after ruling the company faces effective competition from Dish Networks and DirecTV.

Under FCC rules cable rates for the broadcast basic tier, which includes local television stations and a handful of basic cable networks, remain regulated by the government until a cable operator can prove at least 50 percent of their service area is covered by a competing provider and 15 percent of its would-be customers are signed up with a competitor.

Cable companies have requested rate deregulation in countless communities as satellite and television service from phone companies penetrates their markets. Once rates are deregulated, cable operators can raise them to whatever price they believe the marketplace will bear.

In several affected communities, Time Warner Cable’s service is so uncompelling, almost half of the households have signed up for satellite service instead.

The communities affected in Ohio:

  • City of Bellefontaine
  • Howard Township
  • Village of Huntsville
  • Village of Lakeview
  • McArthur Township
  • North Bloomfield Township
  • Village of Russells Point
  • Stokes Township
  • Washington Township
  • Village of Zanesville

In California:

  • Bradford

CNET’s Editorial Independence Questioned After Parent Company Blocks Award for DVR CBS Hates

Phillip Dampier January 14, 2013 Competition, Consumer News, Dish Network 1 Comment

hopperCNET was forced to withdraw a planned award for Dish Network’s ad-skipping “Hopper” DVR because the website’s owner, CBS, is suing the satellite dish company over the device.

The rift has led to questions about the editorial independence at CNET, and as of this afternoon, a senior writer has quit over the controversy.

Greg Sandoval, who formerly reported for the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times resigned in protest less than one hour after reports surfaced CNET was ordered to disqualify Dish Network from consideration at the Best of C.E.S. Awards in Las Vegas last Thursday.

The well-advertised Dish Hopper DVR allows viewers to seamlessly skip past advertising on recorded major network primetime programming. CNET disclosed that regardless of the product’s merits, it could not be considered at the awards event because the website’s owner was actively engaged in litigation that argues the device violates U.S. copyright laws.

“We are saddened that CNET’s staff is being denied its editorial independence because of CBS’s heavy-handed tactics,” said Dish Network CEO Joseph P. Clayton. “This action has nothing to do with the merits of our new product. Hopper with Sling is all about consumer choice and control over the TV experience. That CBS, which owns CNET.com, would censor that message is insulting to consumers.”

The Verge website turned up the temperature in CNET’s offices when it reported the Dish Hopper was banned from consideration only after it became apparent it was going to win an award:

Before the winner was unveiled, CBS Interactive News senior-vice president and General Manager Mark Larkin informed CNET’s staff that the Hopper could not take the top award. The Hopper would have to be removed from consideration, and the editorial team had to re-vote and pick a new winner from the remaining choices. Sources say that Larkin was distraught while delivering the news — at one point in tears — as he told the team that he had fought CBS executives who had made the decision.

cnetThe Verge added there was clear evidence of a growing influence on the editorial decisions at the digital news subsidiaries owned by CBS, all designed to protect the parent company.

Sandoval left almost immediately after The Verge went public with its report.

CBS released a statement earlier this afternoon:

CBS has nothing but the highest regard for the editors and writers at CNET, and has managed that business with respect as part of its CBS Interactive division since it was acquired in 2008. This has been an isolated and unique incident in which a product that has been challenged as illegal, was removed from consideration for an award. The product in question is not only the subject of a lawsuit between Dish and CBS, but between Dish and nearly every other major media company as well. CBS has been consistent on this situation from the beginning, and, in terms of covering actual news, CNET maintains 100% editorial independence, and always will. We look forward to the site building on its reputation of good journalism in the years to come.

Dish Network Planning Nationwide 5Mbps Satellite Broadband Service

Dish Network is planning to introduce 5Mbps nationwide satellite broadband service after its partner company EchoStar successfully launched the satellite that will host the new service.

Bloomberg News reports Dish will introduce the service in late September or October this year and intends to market it in areas where DSL or cable broadband has been spotty or unavailable.

Dish’s broadband service will use its new EchoStar 17 satellite launched in July. The satellite can technically support download speeds up to 15Mbps, but Dish wants to start with slower speeds to maximize the number of potential customers the satellite can accommodate, which the company estimates can be as high as two million.

With an estimated 8-10 million Americans currently bypassed by broadband, Dish may have little trouble establishing a substantial customer base, if the service works as advertised. Past satellite broadband ventures have traditionally offered slow speeds and draconian “fair usage policies” which strictly limit how much customers can use the service.  The services are not cheap either.

EchoStar’s vice president of investor relations Deepak Dutt said the newest generation of satellite broadband services offer much faster service and higher capacity by an order of magnitude. But average usage per subscriber has also risen, providing a challenge for satellite broadband providers that may lack the capacity to sustain high bandwidth content, especially streaming video.

Dish already offers up to 12Mbps satellite broadband through a marketing partnership with Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat, Inc. But ViaSat’s service is limited to certain geographic regions in the United States. Dish insiders say their service with EchoStar will compliment, not replace their deal with ViaSat, and will expand coverage nationwide.

The combination of broadband and satellite television may make it possible for Dish to sell new bundled packages that can compete with phone and cable companies. Dish also claims to be waiting for Federal Communications Commission approval to use its wireless spectrum to offer mobile Internet and phone service, which could also be included in a future bundled offer.

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  • arby: Such a pain to get a better deal. But better than when Cable was a Monopoly and there were no other choices. I am in the middle of a 2 year deal...
  • doug: not for Fort Collins, is this just a short delay or no increase at all? I am in Fort Collins and have been waiting for this upgrade. arggg....
  • Linda: AGREE! We shouldn't be paying extra for ECHO....
  • JC: I didn't do this on purpose but it worked: Comcast came to my door - I usually politely listen but say no thanks. But I listen to see what they mi...
  • Ben: Had: U200, Max Turbo 24MBs, 2 Additional TV Recievers, $129+tax called just now, 1st year promotional price ends in 3 days. Now (with one year c...
  • fjfdybvfgj: What TW wants to do is keep it a secret so that they can pocket 90% of the money and say it wasn't enough to connect the rural areas. We shouldn't spe...
  • Howie: I feel that the taxpayers of New York State have the right to know how their tax money is being spent. If T-W wants to keep how it spends money on i...
  • AC: What I'd love to see is the total amount of federal money AT&T received and the promises they were to have done by now....
  • Seattle: They doubled the download speed but not the upload. So now my speed is 100-120 down but only 10 up....
  • Paul Houle: This the kind of "leadership" we are getting out of Cuomo, unfortunately. It reminds me of his "bold" initiative to bring more gambling to NY, so...
  • fjfdybvfgj: The Data Usage represented is usually the norm for most people by themselves. In a family of 5 and our usage is usually around 6TBs normally and is ~9...
  • Bryan: Awesome article Just got 12MB and U-200 with HD included free for $93 a month. Also made them throw in movie channels for a month free....

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