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Suddenlink: Subscribers Walloped With Big Rate Increases and “Free” Speed Upgrades (With Usage Caps)

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Suddenlink customers are unhappy with the cable company’s usage caps that go with “free speed upgrades.”

Suddenlink subscribers promised “free” speed upgrades are calling them Suddenlink’s Trojan Horse because they are accompanied by dramatically higher cable programming surcharges and usage caps.

St. Augustine, Tex. subscribers got a smaller bite in the mail than some other communities:

Effective with the March 2015 billing cycle, Suddenlink customers will experience no change to the price of telephone service and no change to the price of Basic TV service. There will also be no change to the price of Expanded Basic TV service; however, a $3.00 sports programming surcharge will be added to the bills of customers subscribing to this service to cover a portion of the skyrocketing cost of dedicated sports channels and general entertainment networks with sports programming. The broadcast station surcharge will increase $2.88 per month to cover the escalating fees charged by broadcast TV station owners. Optional tiers of digital TV channels will increase $1.25 per month per tier. High-speed Internet services will increase $3.00 per month.

Over in Chandler, Tex., fees went even higher, with one customer reporting his broadcast station surcharge now exceeded $8 a month. Another customer counting up all the extra fees added to his bill found them coming close to an extra $25 a month.

But the state that gets the worst from broadband providers remains West Virginia, where Suddenlink faces only token DSL competition from Frontier Communications. Suddenlink retention representatives dealing with customers threatening to cancel service in West Virginia are well aware customers have nowhere else to go and don’t break a sweat trying to rescue business.

“We are a business and our goal is to make a profit,” one retention representative told a Suddenlink customer dropping service in favor of DirecTV.

Customers tell Stop the Cap! they were first excited Suddenlink was dramatically boosting Internet speeds — good news for the small and medium-sized cities Suddenlink favors over larger cable operators. The bad news is Suddenlink is bringing back strict enforcement of usage caps, temporarily suspended when its usage measurement tool was proven inaccurate.

Suddenlink has been upgrading its cable systems since 2014 and has gradually rolled out new speeds. Most customers can now choose speed tiers of 50, 75, 100, or 150Mbps, but some larger systems are getting more robust upgrades:

  • Current speed 15Mbps increases to 50Mbps (250GB usage cap)
  • Current speed 30Mbps increases to 50Mbps (250GB usage cap)
  • Current speed 50Mbps increases to 75Mbps (350GB usage cap)
  • Current speed 100Mbps increases to 300Mbps (500GB usage cap)
Suddenlink's sales website makes no reference to the company's broadband usage caps.

Suddenlink’s sales website makes no reference to the company’s broadband usage caps.

Suddenlink is also enforcing usage caps again, which most customers only learn about after signing up for service. Suddenlink makes no references to usage allowances on their sales or general support pages and information is difficult to find unless a customer uses a search engine to find specific information.

Suddenlink’s explanation for its usage caps is among the most cryptic we have ever seen from an ISP:

Consistent with our Acceptable Use Policy and Residential Services Agreement, Suddenlink has applied monthly usage allowances to residential Internet accounts in most of its service areas. To determine if there is a monthly allowance associated with your account – and what that allowance is – please set up or log in to an existing online account. See the related instructions under question #8.

While existing residential customers will quickly learn their usage allowance and find a usage measurement tool on Suddenlink’s website, that is not much help to a new or prospective customer. The overlimit fee, also difficult to find, is $10 for each allotment of 50GB.

Some customers have found a way around the usage cap by signing up for Suddenlink’s business broadband service, typically 50/8Mbps for around $75 a month. Business accounts are exempt from Suddenlink’s caps.

Outbid, Charter Expected to Eye Consolation Prizes: Cox, Bright House, and/or Suddenlink

brighthouse_logoBright House Networks’ long standing relationship with Time Warner Cable — which negotiated programming deals on behalf of the smaller cable operator with operations in the south — may come to an end with an approval of a merger between Comcast and Time Warner. That could make Bright House a prime candidate for a takeover.

Charter Communications is likely to seek consolation prizes now that Comcast has outbid the smaller cable company for Time Warner Cable. Liberty Media’s John Malone and Charter’s CEO Tom Rutledge are meeting with advisers and board members to discuss where Charter will go next to grow its operations.

Malone and Rutledge believe the cable industry must consolidate to better position it against competition from online video, phone companies, and satellite television. Malone would like to see the United States served by just a few cable operators, and feels acquisitions are the best way to accomplish his vision.

suddenlink logoCharter is almost certain to buy at least some of the three million Time Warner Cable customers Comcast intends to cast-off if it wins regulator approval of its buyout deal. But Team Charter has assembled enough financing to go much farther than that.

Among the most likely targets, according to CRT Capital Group and Raymond James Financial are family held Cox Communications, the third largest cable operator in the country with more than four million customers, Bright House Networks, the tenth largest operator with just over two million customers, and Suddenlink Communications and its 1.4 million subscribers.

COX_RES_RGBCox, like Cablevision, has been closely controlled by its founding family for years, so rumors of sales of one or both have never come to fruition. But with the merger announcement of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Wall Street pressure to consolidate is growing by the day. There is talk that if Comcast succeeds in its buyout effort, even satellite providers like DirecTV and DISH are likely to seek a merger. Even Cablevision, which serves suburban New York City may finally feel enough pressure to sell.

A Cox spokesperson this week continued to insist the company is not for sale, but money often has a way of changing minds, if there is enough of it on the table.

Other small regional operators also likely to be approached about selling include: MidContinent, Mediacom, and Cable ONE.

Verizon FiOS Wins PC Magazine’s ISP Award: “FiOS Is the Absolute Fastest Nationwide Broadband”

fastest isp 2013Verizon FiOS is the fastest nationwide broadband service available.

That was PC Magazine’s assessment in its ranking of the fastest Internet Service Providers of 2013. It’s not the first time Verizon FiOS has taken top honors. In fact, the fiber to the home broadband service has consistently won excellent rankings not only for its speed, but also for its value for money and quality of service. The worst thing about FiOS is that many Verizon customers cannot buy the service because its expansion was curtailed in early 2010.

Verizon FiOS has seen its national speed rankings increase this year. In 2012, the provider’s nationwide download speeds averaged 29.4Mbps; this year FiOS average downstream speeds jumped to 34.5Mbps. Upstream speeds are also up from 26.8Mbps to 31.6Mbps. In part, this is because a growing number of customers have moved away from Verizon’s entry-level 15/5Mbps package with a $10 upgrade to Quantum FiOS 50/25Mbps service. FiOS TV customers can upgrade themselves with their remote control.

Frontier Communications made the top five in the Pacific Northwest, thanks to FiOS infrastructure the company inherited from Verizon.

Other high-ranking ISPs included Midcontinent Communications, a small cable provider serving the north-central states. Midco’s DOCSIS 3 upgrade allows the company to offer most customers up to 100Mbps service. The average download speed for Midco customers is 33.1Mbps; average upload speed is 6.4Mpbs.

Where cable operators face head-on competition from Verizon FiOS, the usual competitive response is speed increases. Cablevision is a good example. It came in fourth place nationally with average speeds of 25.9/5.9Mbps. Comcast has also been boosting speeds, especially in the northeast where it faces the most competition from fiber. It came in third place with average speeds of 27.2/6.8Mbps and offers Internet speeds up to 505Mbps in some areas.

There were companies that performed so poorly, they barely made the regional rankings. The most glaring example largely absent from PC Magazine’s awards: Time Warner Cable, which has lagged behind most cable operators in the speed department. It scored poorly for the second largest cable company in the country, beaten by Charter, Mediacom, and CableONE — which all usually perform abysmally in customer ratings. The only regional contest where Time Warner made a showing at all was in the southeast, where it lost to Verizon FiOS, Comcast, and Charter. Only TDS, an independent phone company, scored worse among the top five down south.

Even more embarrassing results turned up for AT&T U-verse, which performed so bad it did not even make the national rankings. AT&T has promised speed upgrades for customers this year, and has implemented them in several cities. Unfortunately for AT&T, its decision to deploy a fiber to the neighborhood system that still depends on copper to the home is turning out to be penny wise-pound foolish, as it continues to fall further behind its cable and fiber competitors. At the rate its competitors are boosting speeds, U-verse broadband could become as relevant as today’s telephone company ADSL service within the next five years.

Other players scoring low include WOW!, a surprising result since Consumer Reports awarded them top honors for service this year. Also stuck in the mud: Atlantic Broadband (acquired by Canada’s Cogeco Cable, which itself is no award winner), Suddenlink, Wave Broadband and Metrocast, which serves smaller communities in New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut, South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama.

The magazine also ranked the fastest U.S. cities, with top honors going to the politically important Washington, D.C., and its nearby suburb Silver Spring, Md, which took first and second place. Alexandria, Va., another D.C. suburb, turned up in eighth place. No cable or phone company wants to be caught delivering poor service to the politicians that can make life difficult for them.

Brooklyn, N.Y., took third place because of head-on competition between Cablevision and Verizon FiOS. Time Warner’s dominance in Manhattan and other boroughs dragged New York City’s speed rankings down below the top ten. Among most of the remaining top ten cities, the most common reason those cities made the list was Verizon FiOS. Florida’s Gulf Coast communities of Bradenton (4th place) and Tampa (6th place) have fiber service. So does Plano, Tex. (5th place) and Long Beach, Calif. (7th place). The other contenders: Hollywood, Fla. takes ninth place and Chandler, Ariz. rounds out the top 10.

Cablevision West For Sale: Time Warner Cable, Charter, Suddenlink All Submit First-Round Bids

Here today, gone tomorrow.

Here today, gone tomorrow.

Cablevision West, formerly known as Bresnan Communications, has been up for sale for weeks, and at least three major cable operators have submitted bids to acquire its 300,000 customers in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.

Cablevision bought Bresnan Communications in 2010 for $1.37 billion. The cable operator invested millions updating the cable properties in the mountain west, but ultimately decided the more rural cable systems were too far away from its hometown systems in densely populated suburban New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Selling Cablevision West would improve Cablevision’s balance sheet and allow the company to concentrate on its highly competitive home territory in the northeast, where Verizon FiOS frequently competes.

Among the three vying for Cablevision West, Charter Communications seems to be the best positioned to win. Charter already operates cable systems in the central and western United States, mostly in smaller cities and rural areas. Former Cablevision CEO Thomas Rutledge was in charge when Cablevision bought Bresnan Communications, and in his new role as CEO of Charter, he told CNBC he still admires those western systems.

Suddenlink has attained deeper pockets after its acquisition earlier this year by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, European private equity firm BC Partners and the cable operator’s current management. With money to spend, Suddenlink Communications could find itself the highest bidder. Suddenlink currently serves over 1.4 million residential and commercial customers, primarily in Texas, West Virginia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Time Warner Cable, the second-largest U.S. cable provider, is also among the stingiest of the three bidders. CEO Glenn Britt has consistently told investors the company will not engage in bidding wars or overpay for acquisition opportunities. The company has passed on several earlier opportunities for cable systems up for sale, although it did successfully acquire Insight Communications earlier this year.

The winner will likely be announced as early as January and then customers will have to prepare, once again, for another owner to take control.

Bottom-Ranked Suddenlink Upset About Frontier’s Ad Claims Their DSL is Better

Suddenlink is throwing a hissyfit over Frontier’s aggressive advertising.

Now come on, you are both pretty… slow that is.

Suddenlink Communications is crawling mad that Frontier Communications has been hammering the cable company over their broadband speeds, which PC Magazine this week proclaimed were nothing to write home about. The cable operator successfully challenged some of Frontier’s ads with the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The group recommended Frontier cease making claims that its DSL service offers “dedicated” lines to the Internet in contrast to Suddenlink, which forces customers to share their connection with the whole neighborhood.

Frontier claims Suddenlink’s network can bog down during peak hours, while Frontier makes sure customers consistently get the speeds they pay for.

Many of the ads targeted customers in West Virginia, who regularly tell Stop the Cap! neither provider competing there offers particularly good service.

“Is Frontier kidding?,” says Shane Foster, a former Frontier customer in West Virginia. “I was supposed to be getting up to 6Mbps service and I was lucky to get 1.5Mbps at 2 am.”

Foster says he believes Frontier oversold its DSL network in his area, with speeds slowing even further during the evening and weekends when everyone got online. While Frontier may not require customers to share a line from their home to the company’s central office, congestion can occur within Frontier’s local exchange or on the connection Frontier maintains with Internet backbone providers.

“The technician sent to my house even privately admitted it,” Foster tells Stop the Cap!

Foster switched to Suddenlink, but he is not exactly a happy customer there either.

“Their usage caps suck, the service is slow, and their measurement tool is always broken,” Foster shares. “West Virginia doesn’t just get the bottom of the barrel, it gets the dirt underneath it.”

Frontier Communications says it has been making improvements in West Virginia and other states where it provides DSL broadband. Some areas can now subscribe to 25Mbps service because of network upgrades. Foster says he would dump Suddenlink and go back to Frontier, if they can deliver speeds the rest of the country gets.

“Sorry, but 1.5Mbps is not broadband and with their prices, tricky fees and contracts it is robbery,” says Foster. “They need to clean up their act and I’ll come back. I hate usage caps with a passion.”

Frontier says it will appeal the NAD’s decision. But Frontier might do better advertising its broadband service as usage cap free — something customers consistently value over those running Internet Overcharging schemes.

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  • Jason: I am curious if the 50Mbps speed as the fastest they ever achieved if that was wired or wireless? What environment are they in? An apartment or a sing...
  • Angel: it should read "I’m NOW paying 4$ less than the original promo I bought last year". and you actually have to get to the cancellation department, the p...
  • fit body: Excellent blog you've got here.. It's hard to find excellent writing like yours nowadays. I honestly appreciate people like you! Take care!! My ...
  • Angel: It helps if you call back a few times, talking to different people yields different results. I had to talk to 3 different people before I finally land...
  • tacitus: I have found it's getting harder and harder to get the full price of a deal without going through the signup process. I tried to find out how much I w...
  • tacitus: The problem is that it works. It's the same psychology that lets people buy a second candy bar they don't need because they can get it at half-price, ...
  • John: I tried everything in this guide to no avail. TWC refused to lower my price. Oh well, I'm having the service disconnected. What good's the threat...
  • John: Which is why we have caps. Gotta love American "capitalism"...
  • John: Just tried this out, I have U450 and 24mps internet. My bill just jumped from $140 to $220, called and tried this, he originally told me that could dr...
  • fndjdkdkdkj: I don't see any value in god damn TV only to watch 20minutes of Ads ever god damn hour. I cut the cord long ago and have zero intention of ever going ...
  • Rod: But it's not a better value proposition if you simply don't want cable tv or landline. What's the value in paying an extra $25 dollars a month for so...
  • Matt Larsen: For $1500 and the cost of plane tickets to Seattle, I will get this guy service at his house so he doesn't have to sell it. A WISP will find a way t...

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