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Updated: GCI Changes Usage Cap Policies: Automatic Overlimit Fees Replaced With Speed Throttling

GCI_logoAlaska’s largest cable company today unveiled changes to its Internet plans, ditching surprise overlimit fees in favor of a speed throttle.

GCI has been the subject of bad press in the past, with some customers experiencing up to $1,200 in overlimit fees after exceeding GCI’s usage allowances. In an effort to avoid public relations nightmares like that, GCI will stop assessing automatic overlimit fees and instead impose a speed throttle on customers over their limit that will temporarily reduce broadband speeds to less than 1Mbps until the next billing cycle begins. Customers can voluntarily pay for more usage in $10 increments, which buys a reprieve from the speed throttle.

GCI “No Worries” Broadband Plans offer varying usage caps and extra usage allotments:

no worries

Customers on lower speed plans continue to face a lower usage allowance and will receive considerably less extra data for their $10 add-on data plan. GCI’s highest speed re:D offering does get a bigger usage allowance: 600GB, up from 500GB. An $11.99/mo surcharge continues for broadband-only customers.

GCI’s largest competitor remains telephone company ACS, which heavily markets its unlimited usage DSL plans. Almost as an afterthought, ACS now markets packages that include landline service with unlimited local calling and 180 minutes of long distance for free.

acs unlimited

A price comparison between the two providers is somewhat hampered by the fact GCI does not publicize a broadband+home phone bundle package on their website. GCI Home Phone is priced at $19.99 a month.

A 10Mbps unlimited use package from ACS costs $110/month. A 10Mbps plan from the cable company with a 30 40GB allowance + GCI Home Phone costs $79.98. On price, GCI wins at this speed… if you stay within your allowance. A 50Mbps unlimited use package from ACS runs $180 a month. GCI charges $104.98 with 150GB of included usage. Again, the price winner is GCI if you stay within your allowance. Taxes, surcharges and government fees are extra.

Heavier users may find ACS’ initially higher prices worthwhile if they are forced to buy GCI’s add-on data buckets. Both companies charge considerably more than providers in the lower 48 states.

Last year, nearly 10% of GCI’s revenue was earned from automatically applied overlimit fees. Giving up some of that revenue is a concession, but one that is likely to end bill shock and negative media attention. Still, usage allowances remain arbitrary. GCI’s entry level 10Mbps plan only offers a paltry 30 40GB a month — an allowance largely unheard of among other U.S. cable providers. GCI will also have a difficult time explaining why $10 will only offer one customer 5GB of extra usage while others will get up to 30GB. The costs for the additional data to GCI are the same.

Our thanks to an anonymous reader for sharing the news.

Updated 4:08pm EST 1/15: After going to press, GCI changed their website, adjusting the usage allowance for their 10/1Mbps plan to 40GB (up from 30GB) and deleted references to the $11.99 surcharge for broadband-only customers, which apparently no longer applies.

Verizon Wireless Arrives in Alaska; Helps Drive Alaska Communications Out of the Wireless Business

acs logoWhen Verizon Wireless finally fired up its network in Alaska in September of 2014, the writing was on the wall for at least one of Alaska’s homegrown wireless competitors.

Faced with competing against Verizon’s $115 million, state-of-the-art advanced LTE network that already supports new features like Voice over LTE (far ahead of what many customers in the lower 48 states get) Alaska Communications System Group, Inc., decided it was time to sell.

An ACS and GCI-shared cell tower. (Photo: Rosemarie Alexander)

An ACS and GCI-shared cell tower. (Photo: Rosemarie Alexander)

ACS’ 109,000 wireless customers won’t be going far. The buyer, General Communications, Inc., (GCI) is a co-investor in the Alaska Wireless Network that ACS also relies on to offer wireless service. Besides billing and rate plans, most ACS customers won’t notice much of a change after the $300 million sale is complete during the first quarter of this year. GCI will end up with about 253,000 customers after the transaction is finished, which represents about one-third of the Alaskan wireless marketplace. The sale will mean most Alaskans will have a practical choice of three major wireless carriers — AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and GCI.

ACS, weighed down by debt, wanted out of the wireless business because it has proven expensive to support a network serving a high-cost, low margin state like Alaska, where small communities are often far apart. Serving cities like Fairbanks and Juneau is one thing. Serving hundreds of settlements like Meyers Chuck (pop. 21) or towns like Unalakleet (pop. 688) is another.

Like many traditional rural or independent telephone companies, ACS sees gold in its future focusing on selling lucrative broadband service to residential and business customers, where profit margins often exceed 50 percent. There is plenty of room to grow if ACS invests in network upgrades. ACS currently only has a 20 percent share of Alaska’s broadband market, primarily selling DSL service. GCI, which sells cable broadband, has managed a speed advantage.

Both companies have reassured Wall Street that despite ACS’ renewed focus on broadband, there will be no fierce competition, no price wars, or lower prices for consumers. ACS will devote considerable resources into bolstering its business broadband marketing and has already secured contracts with the state government and a regional health consortium.

Despite the $300 million windfall, ACS plans to turn most of that money towards paying off its debts and possibly reinstating a dividend payout program for shareholders. The company is expected to only spend $35 million to $40 million annually on capital investment projects and executives promise they will only open their wallet for projects that guarantee a high return on that investment. As a result, ACS will likely not spend much on rural broadband expansion.

Alaska’s GCI Boosts Speeds But Leaves Its Caps and Overlimit Fees Intact

redAlaska-based GCI has rolled out a free upgrade for customers in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Mat-Su Valley, and Sitka that delivers broadband speeds up to 250/10Mbps.

GCI’s re:D broadband used to max out at 200Mbps, but thanks to channel bonding on the cable system, download speeds will be upgraded to 250Mbps in re:D service areas by the end of this year.

But getting 250Mbps broadband is not cheap in Alaska. The service is priced at $174.99 a month when part of a service bundle. Broadband-only customers also pay a $11.99 monthly access fee. Both come with 24-month contracts at that price. Customers who don’t want to be tied down can choose month-to-month service for $5 more per month.

At those prices, one might hope GCI would drop its usage cap, but customers can forget it. A 500GB monthly usage cap applies, with overlimit fees up to $30/GB on some plans.

GCI also announced it would deliver 1Gbps next year over a fiber to the home network under construction in Anchorage, promising “no limits with what you can do with broadband” without mentioning whether it planned usage limits for its fiber service as well.

GCI is asking customers to vote support for their neighborhoods getting fiber upgrades. The more red this map of Anchorage shows, the more customers who have shown support for fiber broadband.

GCI is asking customers to vote support for their neighborhoods getting fiber upgrades. The more red sections of this map of Anchorage shows, the more customers who have shown support for fiber broadband.

For most GCI customers, however, broadband will continue to arrive over the company’s HFC coaxial cable network. To better manage speeds, the company’s DOCSIS 3 platform is bonding eight cable channels, but in re:D areas the company bonds up to 24 cable channels, with plans to increase to 32 channels.

acs logoThe speed increases come after its competitor Alaska Communications announced speed increases of its own. ACS sells unlimited access broadband service at speeds up to 50Mbps. ACS has beefed up its copper infrastructure to support faster Internet speeds, starting with 15Mbps introduced across the state in May. Now customers in Anchorage can subscribe to faster tiers including 30 and 50Mbps.

“Alaskans asked for faster Home Internet, and we’ve responded with these increased speeds, delivered with great customer service and without overage charges,” said ACS president and CEO Anand Vadapalli. “In addition to faster download speeds, customers choosing our product get the highest upload speeds that are so important for sharing videos and gaming.”

ACS has found its unlimited broadband offering attractive to customers who don’t want to worry about GCI’s overlimit fees. ACS also claims its customers get broadband over a dedicated line, not shared infrastructure like GCI, resulting in no speed slowdowns at peak usage times.

GCI – Alaska’s Outrageous Internet Overcharger; Customers Paying Up to $1,200 in Overlimit Fees

GCI_logoNearly 10 percent of GCI’s revenue is now earned from overlimit fees collected from Alaskan broadband customers who exceed their cable or wireless usage limits.

GCI is Alaska’s largest cable operator and for many it is the only provider able to deliver stable speeds of 10Mbps+, especially to those who live too far away for comparable DSL speeds from ACS, one of GCI’s largest competitors.

The result has given GCI a de facto monopoly on High Speed Internet (10+ Mbps) access, a position that has allowed the company to dramatically raise prices and slap usage limits on broadband users and charge onerous overlimit fees on those who exceed their allowance.

GCI already charges some of the highest broadband service prices in the country and has insisted on imposing usage caps and overlimit fees on even its most expensive plans, creating high profits for them and enormous bills for customers who have no reliable way to consistently track their usage. GCI’s suspect usage meter is often offline and often delivers usage estimates that customers insist are far from accurate. GCI says it has the last word on the accuracy of that meter and has not submitted its meter to independent testing and verification by a local or state regulatory body specializing in measurement accuracy.

GCI also makes it extremely difficult for customers to understand what happens after customers exceed their usage limits. The website only vaguely offers that overlimit fees vary from “$.001 (half penny) to $.03 (three cents) per MB,” which is factually inaccurate: $.001 does not equal a half-penny. It can equal bill shock if a customer happens to be watching a Netflix movie when their allowance runs out.

KC D’Onfro of Bethel subscribes to GCI’s Alaska Extreme Internet plan, which in February cost $100 a month for 4/1Mbps service with a 25GB usage cap. While that allowance is plenty for the countless e-mails GCI promises you can send, any sort of streaming video can chew through that allowance quickly.

Business Insider explains what happened:

One fateful night, she and her roommate decided to watch a movie on Netflix. Both of them fell asleep halfway through, but the movie played ’til the end, eating up two GBs of data too many and consequently doubling their bill for that month. (One hour of HD video on Netflix can use up to 2.3 GB of data.)

“Now, I don’t even consider Netflix until near the very end of the month, and I have to be sure that I’m no more than three-fourths of the way into my total data, at the absolute most,” KC says. (Her provider, a company called GCI, allows subscribers to view their daily usage and sends them a notice when they’ve hit 80%.) “It’s a very serious business – I have to poll people to figure out what that one very special movie should be.”

That left the D’Onfro family with a $200 broadband bill – $100 for the service and an extra $100 overlimit fee for that single Netflix movie. Today, GCI demands $114.99 a month for that same plan (with the same usage allowance) and those not subscribing to their TV service also face a monthly $11.99 “access fee” surcharge for Internet-only service.

expensive

“Many Alaska consumers have brought their GCI broadband bills to ACS for a comparative quote, providing dozens of examples of GCI overage charges,” said Caitlin McDiffett, product manager of Alaska Communications Systems (ACS), the state’s largest landline phone company. “Many of these examples include overage charges of $200 to $600 in a single month. In one instance, a customer was charged $1 ,200 in overage fees.”

GCI also keeps most customers in place with a 24-month contract, making it difficult and costly to switch providers.

McDiffett told the FCC the average Alaskan with a Netflix subscription must pay for at least a 12Mbps connection to get the 60GB usage allowance they will need to watch more than two Netflix movies a week in addition to other typical online activities. GCI makes sure that costs average Alaskans real money.

“A customer purchasing 12Mbps for standalone (non-bundled) Home Internet from GCI pays $59.99 per month plus an $11.99 monthly “access” fee for a total of $71.98 per month with a 60GB usage limit ($0.004/MB overage charge),” reports McDiffett. “Thus, the monthly bill for this service is more typically $76.98, including a $5.00 overage charge. To purchase a service with a usage limit of at least 100GB per month, a GCI customer would have to pay $81.98 per month (the $69.99 standalone rate plus $11.99 monthly access fee), subject to an overage charge of $0.003/MB.”

Rural Alaskans pay even more on GCS' expensive wireless ISP.

Rural Alaskans pay even more when using GCI’s expensive wireless ISP.

Regular Alaskan Stop the Cap! reader Scott reports that no matter what plan you choose from GCI, they are waiting and ready to slap overlimit fees on you as soon as they decide you are over your limit.

Their super-deluxe re:D service — up to 200Mbps, now available in Anchorage, MatSu, Fairbanks, Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan, Sitka, and Soldotna areas, is not cheap.

“It’s a whopping $209.99 + taxes, and if you don’t have cable TV service bundled, the $11.99 monthly access fee also applies,” Scott says.

For that kind of money, one might expect a respite from the usage meter,  but not with GCI.

“As a top tier service, you’d think they could just offer it as ’unlimited’ at that rate,” Scott says. “Actually, it has a 500GB usage cap and $.50/GB overage fee. Again, we have a metering provider who claims the overages were to penalize bandwidth hogs, yet then offer [faster] service, increasing overall load on their network, instead of just offering a fair amount of bandwidth per customer and eliminating overages by offering unlimited usage.”

One of ACS' strong selling points is no data caps, but DSL isn't available to everyone.

One of ACS’ strong selling points is no data caps, but DSL isn’t available to everyone.

In a filing with the FCC, ACS’ McDiffett suspects usage caps are all about the money.

“GCI reported 2012 Home Internet revenue of $86 million of which $7.9 million (nearly ten percent) was derived from overage charges,” said McDiffett. “On average, about $5 per customer per month can be attributed to GCI overage charges. GCI imposes usage limits or data caps at every level of Home Internet service, from its 10 Mbps service (10GB limit, $0.005/MB overage charge) to its 100 Mbps service (500GB limit, $0.0005/MB overage charge).”

badbillOver time, and after several cases of bill shock, Alaskan Internet customers have become more careful about watching everything they do online, fearing GCI’s penalties. That threatens GCI’s overlimit revenue, and now Stop the Cap! readers report sudden, long-lasting problems with GCI’s usage checker, often followed by substantial bills with steep overlimit penalties they claim just are not accurate.

“I currently pay $184.99 a month for GCI‘s highest offered broadband service. 200/5Mbps, with a 500GB monthly data cap,” shares Stop the Cap! reader Luke Benson. “According to GCI, over the past couple months our usage has increased resulting in overage charges at $1.00 a GB.”

In May, Benson was billed $130 in overlimit fees, but after complaining, the company finally agreed to credit back $100. A month later, they recaptured $60 of that credit from new overlimit fees. This month, Benson would have to unplug his modem halfway through his billing cycle or face another $50 in penalties.

GCI’s bandwidth monitor has proved less than helpful, either because it is offline or reports no usage according to several readers reaching out to us. GCI’s own technical support team notes the meter will not report usage until at least 72 hours after it occurs. GCI itself does not rely on its online usage monitor for customer billing. Customer Internet charges are measured, calculated, and applied by an internal billing system off-limits for public inspection.

“I have reached out to GCI multiple times asking for help, suggestions, resolution,” complains Benson. “All I get told is to turn down the viewing quality of Netflix, don’t allow devices to auto update, etc. They pretty much blamed every service but their own.”

Other customers have unwittingly fallen into GCI’s overlimit fee trap while running popular Internet applications that wouldn’t exist if GCI’s caps and overlimit fees were common across the country. Lifelong Bethel resident and tech consultant John Wallace knows the local horror stories:

  • tollsTwo girls had unwittingly allowed Dropbox to continuously sync to their computers, racking up a $3,500 overcharge in two weeks;
  • One user’s virus protection updater got stuck on and it cost him $600;
  • Wallace has heard people say, “I was gaming and I got a little out of hand and I had to pay $2,800;”
  • Two six-year-old girls ran up $2,000 playing an online preschool game. Mom was totally unaware of what was going on, until she got the bill.

GCI’s own Facebook page was the home of a number of customer complaints until the complaint messages mysteriously disappeared. Stop the Cap! itself discovered it was not allowed to even ask questions on the company’s social media pages, apparently already on their banned list.

While GCI does well for itself and its shareholders, Wallace worries about the impact GCI’s control of the Alaskan Internet High Speed Internet market will have on the economy and Alaskan society.

“It’s about equal access and opportunity,” Wallace told Business Insider. “The Internet was meant to improve the lives of people in rural Alaska, but – because of the data caps and the sky-high overage fees – it ends up costing them huge amounts of money. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, and some of the highest rates of suicide, sexual assault, and drug abuse. The people who can’t afford it are the ones that are getting victimized.  It was supposed to bring access – true availability of goods and services – but it really just brought a huge bill that many can’t afford.”

Deregulation Allows Lifeline/USF Fraud to Run Rampant; Tens of Millions Fund Lavish Lifestyles

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office released this mug shot of Leonard I. Solt, 49, of Land O’Lakes, one of three people accused of defrauding the federal Lifeline program out of more than $32 million.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office released this mug shot of Leonard I. Solt, 49, of Land O’Lakes, one of three people accused of defrauding the federal Lifeline program out of more than $32 million.

A lack of robust state oversight of independent contractors and resellers may have cost the Universal Service Fund and nationwide Lifeline program up to $1 billion in waste, fraud, and abuse.

This month, three men were accused of stealing more than $32 million in Universal Service Fund (USF) money that supported lavish lifestyles including the purchase of multiple luxury automobiles. The federal government wants the money back.

Leonard I. Solt, 49, of Land O’Lakes, Fla.,Thomas Biddix, 44, of Melbourne, Fla. and Kevin Brian Cox, 38, of Arlington, Tenn., all face federal criminal charges for allegedly padding the number of customers signed up for Lifeline phone service through five companies all connected to the men: American Dial Tone, Bellerud Communications, BLC Management, LifeConnex Telecom and Triarch Marketing.

In some cases, Lifeline cell phone service was completely subsidized by USF funding, allowing customers to sign up for free cell phone service. Average Americans cover the costs of the program through a surcharge on monthly phone bills.

The indictment charges the defendants with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 15 substantive counts of wire fraud, false claims and money laundering.

In an 18-month period from 2009 to 2011, the phone companies obtained more than $46 million through the Lifeline program.

Regulators have been suspicious of the companies and the men who ran them since at least 2010 when the Florida Public Service Commission noticed a dramatic spike in Lifeline reimbursement requests from Associated Telecommunications Management Services, LLC., the parent company of the five entities. The Florida PSC accused AMTS of misrepresenting customer enrollment when claiming reimbursement. It was not until June 2011 that the Florida PSC approved a settlement of $4 million from AMTS and an agreement to stop doing business in the state.

bellerudThe case illustrated several ostensibly-independent companies were created to market service across Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. Many had ties back to AMTS management. Despite the Florida settlement, the firms continued to do business in multiple states. Many of the states involved have deregulated the telephone business and have cut staff at state agencies tasked with oversight issues.

By the time the federal government moved in to prosecute, the three men had used USF funds to buy a private jet, a 28-foot boat and six luxury cars, including an orange Lamborghini, a red-bronze Chevrolet Corvette, a black Cadillac Escalade, a Chevrolet Suburban limo, a black Mercedes Benz S63 and a blue Audi R8.

free planLast week, government agents seized the vehicles from Biddix’s Melbourne-based pawn shop, Outdoor Gun and Pawn.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2013 that the FCC’s own data showed that more than 40% of the six million subscribers at five of the program’s top carriers were either ineligible or failed to show that they qualified for subsidized service. As more independent companies win authorization to start pitching Lifeline landline and mobile phone service to the poor, the cost of the program has skyrocketed to $2.2 billion last year, up from $819 million four years earlier.

The companies are reimbursed for providing service, providing an incentive to sign up as many as possible.

In Alaska, a GCI subsidiary, Alaska DigiTel hired a marketing company to help it sell Lifeline cell phone service. The company quickly began signing up patients in hospitals, using hospital addresses as their residence. It also encouraged applicants to list phony addresses. For four years, GCI profited from questionable  reimbursements filed with the FCC. GCI finally agreed to pay a $1.5 million settlement that includes no admission of liability.

Other providers simply used telephone directories to collect names and mailing addresses of “customers” and sent them unsolicited cell phones for which they requested reimbursement.

An Oklahoma provider that regulators suspect got exceptionally greedy allegedly signed up so many Oklahoma residents to Lifeline service, the state is likely to exhaust the supply of phone numbers remaining in the 405 area code sooner than expected.

Providers sometimes targeted customers disconnected for non-payment.

True Wireless received nearly $46 million under the program in 2012, bringing questions from Oklahoma’s Corporation Commission as to whether enrolling that many residents was mathematically possible. A cursory review found some customers had signed up multiple times in violation of federal rules.

In Wisconsin, the state Public Service Commission eventually revoked Midwestern Telecommunications Inc.’s ability to receive Lifeline funding after its overworked staff discovered MTI was mailing phones to customer that never requested them, billing the USF Fund for reimbursement. Some turned out to be children.

The scheme eventually began to unravel when a former Public Service Commission staffer received an unsolicited Lifeline phone. The alleged fraud was so great, MTI went from receiving 1% of Lifeline reimbursements in Wisconsin during the second quarter of 2010 to 33% of disbursements in the same quarter the following year.

The fraud also extends to Lifeline recipients, some who have bilked the program for free phones. A review of the Lifeline customer database revealed many customers had multiple Lifeline accounts, including some sent more than 10 free phones that were later reportedly resold on street corners.

Nationally, the $1.8 billion Lifeline Program subsidized phone service last year for 14.5 million low-income customers.

Customers are usually eligible if they are already enrolled in income-based programs such as Medicaid, food assistance or public housing, or if household income falls below 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ Lifeline Fraud 2-18-13.flv

WSJ’s Spencer Ante has details of a $2.2 billion government program to give cell phones to poor people that resulted in phones winding up in the hands of people ineligible for the program. (1:13)

Viacom Demands 100% Rate Increases for Hundreds of Small Cable Systems, Military Bases

viacom networksSmall cable systems across the country and on overseas military bases are being granted hourly reprieves that are keeping up to 24 Viacom-owned cable channels on the air after negotiations to extend an agreement with their program buyer stalled.

Cable operators belonging to the National Cable TV Cooperative, which represents independent cable systems on cable programming matters, report Viacom is demanding an unprecedented 100 percent rate increase for its networks and a guaranteed rate hike of 10% annually on each of its channels.

Viacom’s demands would cost each subscriber at least $4 a month, noted Jack Capparell, general manager of Service Electric’s cable system in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. Service Electric is a private, family owned cable business with 250,000 subscribers in central and northeastern Pennsylvania and northwestern New Jersey.

The impasse also affects cable systems serving American military bases. Americable has notified subscribers in Yokosuka, Atsugi, Iwakuni, and Sasebo, Japan Viacom was likely to cut off 10 of its cable channels to military families sometime today. Allied Telesis, which offers service to Air Force bases in Japan is also expected to lose programming.

cableoneNCTC members complain Viacom requires cable systems to carry nearly all of its lineup, including lesser-known channels few customers have even heard of, much less want. Even if a cable system chooses not to air a Viacom channel, Viacom’s contracts require cable providers to pay for them if they want to carry Viacom’s most popular networks.

Some cable systems are breaking away from NCTC’s negotiations and opening one on one talks with Viacom. Metrocast secured an agreement for its customers earlier today by negotiating directly with Viacom.

viacomFor most affected cable operators, there is a ‘wait and see what happens’ approach. Others, including Cable ONE, have already moved to replace the Viacom networks with other channels.

“Viacom asked for a rate increase greater than 100%, despite the fact that viewing is down on 12 of their 15 networks – some by more than 30% since 2010,” said Cable ONE. “We asked Viacom to either reduce their rates or allow us to drop some of their less popular networks to reduce the total cost. They refused these reasonable requests.”

Logo_Service-ElectricEarlier today, Cable ONE didn’t wait for Viacom to pull the plug. They pulled it themselves.

“Cable ONE has let these networks go and expects to add many top-rated networks you’ve requested and expand several other highly requested networks to our most popular level of service. Some of the new networks include BBC America, Sprout, Investigation Discovery, the Blaze, Hallmark Channel, National Geographic, TV One, Sundance, and more,” said the company, which expects to publish a full list of the new networks on Wednesday.

Viacom responded with a news release tailored for each affected provider:

GCI_Color_LogoWe are offering Service Electric a double-digit discount off of our standard rate card. It is a better deal than HUNDREDS of other TV providers in the country have agreed to. We have been actively trying to get a deal done with Service Electric for months and they have refused to negotiate in any meaningful way. And now, on top of this, Service Electric is throwing out numbers which simply aren’t true. Our expiring deal with Service Electric is nearly five years old. In that time, we have been great partners and given Service Electric more channels, more on demand content and access to our content beyond the TV – at no additional cost. We don’t understand why Service Electric has chosen to negotiate in this manner. And now, as a result of their lack of interest in coming to a mutually beneficial agreement, you are at risk of losing 19 Viacom networks. We are serious about getting a deal done.

Virtually the entire state of Alaska is also affected.

“We’ve unified to fight for Alaskans and to work toward a fair, long-term agreement that keeps prices stable for our customers,” said Paul Landes, GCI senior vice president. “Viacom wants a rate increase that is 40 times that of the rate of inflation. Alaska pay TV providers, along with 700 small to mid-sized operators nationally, are saying ‘no’ to Viacom’s take all 26 channels or nothing demands.”

GCI is joined by Alaskan providers MTA and KPU in the dispute.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Cable ONE Viacom Channels Removed New Channels Added 4-1-14.mp4

Cable ONE released this video earlier today informing customers they were dropping Viacom networks. (1:00)

Three Wireless Competitors in Alaska is ‘Too Many'; Who Will Buyout ACS?

With Verizon Wireless poised to launch 4G LTE service in Alaska for the first time, Alaska Communications (ACS) and AT&T are hurrying wireless broadband expansions to protect their market turf. But Wall Street investors are unhappy, especially with ACS’ investments in its landline network and the recently announced suspension of its dividend payout. Some are now asking whether ACS’ lucrative wireless business should be up for sale, primed for a buyout by AT&T or Verizon Wireless.

Alaska Communications has soft launched its LTE 4G service in 10 cities: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Palmer, Seward, Soldotna, Wasilla and Whittier.

AT&T operates a mix of LTE and slower HSPA+ networks in Alaska and is expanding 4G service to Prudhoe Bay and Deadhorse for the benefit of short-term oil company employees working on the North Slope. But the company is also still expanding its existing 3G network along more remote Alaskan highways.

They are coming.

The investment frenzy is seen by many as a defensive maneuver to keep existing customers happy before Verizon Wireless arrives in Alaska sometime next year.

ACS and GCI, Alaska’s homegrown phone and cable companies now jointly operate their wireless operation together. AT&T is their principle competitor. But Verizon Wireless’ impending arrival in Alaska has shown it is no shrinking violet. There are persistent rumors Verizon is trying to acquire ACS’ wireless operations. Verizon has also announced partnerships with Copper Valley Telecom and Matanuska Telephone Association to potentially expand LTE service in those communities as well.

Investors hope ACS considers any Verizon offer carefully. Wireless is a revenue center for the landline phone company, which continues to see declines in home phone and business customers.

Since June, ACS lost just shy of 2,000 residential landlines and 753 business lines. The company still has 57,000 residential customers and 81,000 business customers.

ACS faces the same problems other phone companies do: network upgrades require significant investments, and investors question whether it will ultimately pay off. Many are also unhappy ACS suspended its dividend payout, refocusing $8 million on debt payments.

Alaska Communications Pounds GCI Cable Over Usage Caps, Overlimit Fees

Alaska Communications has found a marketing angle to combat Alaska’s dominant cable operator — GCI, which has slapped arbitrary usage caps and overlimit fees (up to $30/GB) on its customers. ACS has made cap-free Internet browsing a hallmark of their marketing campaign:

Alaska Communications vs. the Cable Company

Why Alaska Communications Home Internet is the best choice.

No Nasty Surprises on Your Bill

Tired of nasty surprises on your cable company’s Internet bill from the cable company? With Home Internet Service from Alaska Communications, there are no overage charges. Surf, stream, download, watch, and play – all without worry of “extra fees” for going over your bill. With Alaska Communications Home Internet Service, you won’t go over – it’s unlimited!

No Data Limits

Say you hopped online just a bit more this month – surfing, watching your favorite streaming movies, or maybe the kids were trying to win the online tournament of their favorite game while you were posting to your favorite social media site. We don’t think your Internet should be capped or “throttled.” That means, if you get close to your data limit, the cable company will slow down your Internet to limit your connection. With our Home Internet Service, you’ll get to use the Internet the way you want to – at the speeds you deserve!

ACS recognizes the truth for most broadband customers: They loathe usage caps and throttled broadband speeds, overlimit fees and bill shock. Nobody should have to learn what a gigabyte is and be forced to watch a usage gauge before deciding whether or not to use the Internet as they wish. We congratulate ACS for delivering consumers a better choice in broadband and a worry-free Internet experience. We hope this will send a message to GCI  that Internet Overcharging is unacceptable.

Stop the Cap! recommends our Alaskan readers patronize the state’s largest cap-free ISP: ACS.

Time Warner Cable & Comcast Sued for Violating Ex-Customers’ Privacy

Phillip Dampier June 7, 2012 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, GCI (Alaska), Public Policy & Gov't, Time Warner Cable, Video Comments Off on Time Warner Cable & Comcast Sued for Violating Ex-Customers’ Privacy

Time Warner Cable and Comcast are facing class action lawsuits filed in California federal court alleging both cable operators retain Social Security numbers, credit card information and contact information after customers stop doing business with the companies.

The two lawsuits claim Comcast and Time Warner Cable are in violation of the 1984 Cable Communications Policy Act which, among other things, requires cable operators to “destroy personal information when it is no longer needed for the purposes for which it was collected (and there are no pending requests for access).”

According to the plaintiffs, both companies are retaining personal information about their ex-customers indefinitely, and are not sending required annual privacy notices to former customers disclosing this fact.

The CCPA allows individuals to collect $100 for each day the cable company is in violation of the law.

The lawsuit argues that this non-essential information exposes former customers to possible identity theft or illicit action by company employees that could potentially lead to unauthorized charges or account withdrawals.

That fear is not far-fetched. Just two weeks ago, GCI — a cable company in Alaska, found itself contacting at least 400 customers who had their personal financial information stolen by an employee.  Some customers were also contacted by their credit card issuers over incidents of unauthorized credit card charges.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KTUU Anchorage GCI Warns Customers of Fraud 5-24-12.mp4

KTUU in Anchorage reports a GCI employee accessed cable customer account information to commit identity theft and credit card fraud.  (3 minutes)

Alaskan Wireless Competitors Join Forces to Fend Off Verizon Wireless and AT&T

Ordinarily, General Communication Inc., or GCI, and Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. (ACS) compete with one-another for a share of Alaska’s television, broadband, phone, and wireless marketplace. But when Verizon Wireless unveiled plans to build and operate its own network in the state, GCI and ACS set aside some of that rivalry to pool resources for construction of what they claim will be Alaska’s fastest wireless network.

The two companies have agreed to form The Alaska Wireless Network LLC, a jointly-funded statewide wireless network to be used by customers of both companies. GCI will own two-thirds of the network and manage its daily operations, while ACS maintains a one-third interest.  The companies claim they needed to join forces because of the enormous construction costs required to build next generation wireless technology across Alaska.

Both companies will continue to market their own cell phone plans, but since both companies will share the same cell towers, coverage will be identical while accessing the new wireless network.

“By combining our respective wireless assets, GCI and Alaska Communications can provide a state-of-the-art Alaska wireless network owned and operated by Alaskans for Alaskans,” said Alaska Communications president and CEO Anand Vadapalli and GCI president and CEO Ron Duncan.  “We believe that The Alaska Wireless Network will provide the fastest, most geographically extensive, and most reasonably priced wireless services for Alaska subscribers, allowing us each to compete more effectively in the retail market.”

Verizon Wireless believes otherwise. Demian Voiles, vice president for Verizon Wireless Alaska, took a minor shot at the combined network stating Verizon planned to construct an Alaskan network that would rival the kind of coverage Verizon Wireless is recognized for in the lower 48 states.  Voiles said Verizon’s arrival in 2013 will provide Alaskans “the choice they need” in wireless phone companies.

The deal between GCS and ACS requires federal regulatory approval before it can proceed.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KTUU Anchorage Alaska Wireless Network 6-5-12.mp4

KTUU in Anchorage investigates how GCI is teaming up with its biggest rival — Alaska Communications — to jointly construct a new statewide wireless network to compete with Verizon and AT&T.  (2 minutes)

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