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Tip for Reporters – Always Follow the Money: Comcast/Time Warner Cable Merger Supporters

Buy a vocal supporter for your merger deal.

Buy a vocal supporter for your merger deal.

The Los Angeles Times published a piece this week noting that the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger does have its supporters:

To be sure, dozens of groups also support the proposed Comcast merger, including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, Orange County Business Council, the L.A. County Economic Development Council and the National Urban League. Television networks including Ovation, Hallmark Channel and Starz also support the deal.

But the article never informs readers the groups in support of the transaction all have direct financial ties to Comcast, Time Warner Cable, or both cable companies. It would only be news if these groups opposed the merger.

Stop the Cap! has found almost no support for the merger deal among independent organizations that are not on the payroll of either merger partner. The myriad of civil rights organizations, trade associations, and non-profit groups penning letters to regulators supporting the deal are nearly all recipients of contributions from Comcast or Time Warner.

Comcast is notorious for capitalizing on their charitable corporate giving by mailing advocacy packages to donor recipients that urge support for the company’s public policy and corporate agendas. Comcast even includes sample letters a group can use to create their own letter of support, which explains why so many are nearly identical.

Although Comcast never threatens to cut off groups that don’t follow through, the company does know who sent letters and who did not, as they all become part of the public record.

In less than 30 minutes, Stop the Cap! was able to trace direct economic ties between Comcast and/or Time Warner Cable and the groups the LA Times story mentions. Readers deserve to know this information and it should have been included in the story.

comcast twcLet us review:

The LA Chamber of Commerce: Time Warner Cable is a “Diamond Club Member,” which the Chamber claims represents the “largest member investors.”

The Orange County Business Council includes a Time Warner Cable executive on its Board of Directors and is a major “investor” in the group.

Not only is Time Warner Cable on the executive committee of the LA Economic Development Council, it also serves on the group’s board of governors. Comcast is also a member.

The National Urban League advocates in favor of almost everything Comcast wants, no doubt because the organization that sold out to big corporate donors long ago is also on Comcast’s payroll. The group has received at least $12 million in in-kind contributions from Comcast, as well as receiving checks for more than 70 local chapter projects. Comcast’s executive vice president David Cohen has sat on the Urban League’s board of trustees since 2008. In addition, the Comcast Foundation, headed by Cohen, gave the National Urban League and some of its more than 100 affiliates almost $2 million from 2012 to 2013, according to an analysis of IRS tax filings by the Center for Public Integrity.

As for Ovation, Hallmark Channel and Starz — they are all cable networks dependent on carriage agreements with the nation’s first (Comcast) and second-largest (Time Warner Cable) cable operators for their economic survival.

Time Warner Cable’s Hullabaloo About Nothing: Its ‘Top Secret’ Rural Expansion Plan is a Yawn

Phillip "I Want My Money Back" Dampier

Phillip “I Want My Money Back” Dampier

For months, Time Warner Cable has deployed its legal team to prevent public interest groups from gaining access to the company’s exhibit of rural broadband buildout plans it had for New York, sent confidentially to the Public Service Commission as part of its proposal to merge with Comcast.

“This information would be difficult and costly for a competitor to compile, such that disclosure would significantly harm Time Warner Cable’s competitive advantage,” Time Warner Cable’s lawyers complained to regulators handling the case. “To allow competitors to have access to this information before Time Warner Cable has had a chance to market customers for which it speculatively built the line would not only negate any competitive advantage, it would allow its competitors to reap the benefits of Time Warner Cable’s investment, causing substantial competitive and financial injury to Time Warner Cable.”

“The compilation of information on all the Time Warner Cable New York deployments, distances, and passings into one document would be of enormous value to a competitor,” the lawyers added. “This information could not be developed independently by competitors, and any estimates developed through publicly available data or data from third-party sources, if possible at all, would be expensive and burdensome to assemble, and less accurate than the data provided in Exhibit 46. […] Therefore, disclosure of the compilation of information on the New York Rural Builds would cause substantial competitive injury to Time Warner Cable, and should be granted exception from disclosure.”

One might expect the mighty Exhibit 46 to contain all of Time Warner’s deepest secrets — secrets that if made public would hand the “competition” the keys to the cable kingdom.

Despite the haughty demands that such information was not to be shared with the public, Stop the Cap! secured our copy of the “top-secret” Exhibit 46 (and here is a copy for you as well).

After reviewing it, it quickly became clear the only thing Time Warner Cable intended to keep secret is how little expansion (and money) the company is devoting to rural New York. The nine-page spreadsheet shows Time Warner spent $5.3 million of New York’s money to expand service to, at most, 5,320 homes or businesses that had no access to cable before. The largest beneficiary of this expansion was the rural (and more affluent than its neighbors) town of Grafton, in Rensselaer County, where 1,152 homes now have access to Time Warner Cable if they want it. An additional 875 homes in Carlisle, Schoharie County now have access as well. Despite dire warnings from Time Warner, “competitors” are hardly rushing to the scene to engage in hand-to-hand combat with the cable company, which is the only provider of broadband service for many of these residents.

As for the rest of upstate New York, Exhibit 46 offers about as much relevance to “competitors” as it does to the rural residents still being bypassed by the cable company. Most of the entries show Time Warner’s expansion projects reached fewer than 10 homes in any particular area. In a large number of those instances, the expansion ended up serving just one additional home or business.

Some examples:

  • Town of Clarence, Erie County – 4 homes or businesses
  • Town of Henrietta, Monroe County – 1
  • Town of East Bloomfield, Ontario County – 22
  • Town of Paris, Oneida County – 1
  • Town of Manheim, Herkimer County – 1
  • Town of Kirkwood, Broome County – 7
  • Town of Tupper Lake, Franklin – 116
  • Town of Gouverneur, St. Lawrence County – 29
  • Town of Brookfield, Madison County – 139
  • Town of Jefferson, Schoharie County – 3
  • Town of Big Flats, Chemung County – (either 2 or 4 – the entry is duplicated)
  • Town of Pompey, Onondaga County – 1

Of the 5,320 homes or businesses now provided access to Time Warner service, 4,104 were subsidized up to 75 percent by the State of New York. Just 1,216 locations were apparently reached exclusively at Time Warner Cable’s own expense.

New Yorkers paid most of the bill because Time Warner Cable couldn’t find $5.3 million in their company coffers to bring broadband to rural residents. But Time Warner Cable could find $80 million to cover the golden parachute compensation package available to just one employee – CEO Robert Marcus, if the company is successfully sold to Comcast for around $45 billion.

Priorities.

No wonder Time Warner Cable’s attorneys fought so hard to keep the “expansion” effort a secret.

Yes, N.Y. State Regulators Have Delayed Final Consideration of the Comcast-TWC Merger Yet Again

No approval for the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger proposal in New York for yet another month as the state Public Service Commission has once again delayed making a final decision until the end of February.

“Pursuant to a request from Department of Public Service staff in the above-referenced matter, Comcast Corporation and Time Warner Cable Inc. agree to action by the Public Service Commission on the Joint Petition at a Commission Session held on or by February 26, 2015, with a final order being issued no later than March 3, 2015,” is the word from Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s law firm.

Charlotte, N.C. Better Business Bureau Names Its Top Offender for 2014: Time Warner Cable

Phillip Dampier January 15, 2015 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 2 Comments

twc logoTime Warner Cable was named by the Better Business Bureau’s its biggest overall offender in the Charlotte region, generating 187 complaints last year, according to the group’s annual year-end report, noted by the Charlotte Observer.

The cable company did not generate enough complaints to put cable and satellite provider complaints in the top complaint categories, however. Broadband providers in the region came in third in complaints, behind new car dealers and collection agencies. Auto repair shops and used car dealers did better, coming in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Time Warner Cable could not be reached for comment, but complaints registered with the BBB against the cable company almost always were resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. Most companies forward BBB complaints to “executive level” customer service supervisors that are empowered to do almost whatever it takes to settle a complaint. In Charlotte, 91 percent of complaints were quickly resolved once registered with the organization.

 

Conservative Group: “End Comcast’s Hegemony”; Accuses Company Of Working for the Obama Left

comcast smearA conservative group has launched an assault on the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, accusing the cable company of cozying up to the Obama Administration and the political left in its news coverage to win corporate favors.

“Comcast needs Obama administration approval to merge with Time Warner Cable, giving it access to two-thirds of American’s homes,” Conservative War Chest spokesman Mike Flynn said in a statement. “The last time Comcast needed a government favor we got Al Sharpton five nights a week. What will we get in exchange for a deal worth billions to Brian Roberts and other owners of Comcast?”

The group has bought airtime to run two-minute ads detailing its case that Comcast-owned NBC News has become a partisan supporter of the current administration and if its parent company’s merger deal is successful, it means Comcast’s power and value to the left-wing will grow even greater.

“Of course, Comcast’s proposed merger with Time Warner is an attempt to further not only its commercial hegemony, but its political agenda,” the group writes in a lengthy 68-page letter addressed to NBC affiliated local stations in at least five presidential swing states–Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. “And to that end it spent $12 million on Washington lobbyists in 2014 alone, not including what Comcast spent in the final three months of the year. Conservatives should embrace this opportunity to show a commercial and political mega-giant that the truth and the support of the American people far outweigh entrenched power and massive amounts of money.”

comcast cons“We intend to demonstrate to Comcast/NBC/Universal that [conservatives] have not thrived for six decades – we have not come all this way – just to cede our national and, indeed, global victories for the cause of freedom to a group of grasping corporate operatives seeking commercial and political power. So, the focus of the conservative movement needs to be not on the politicized and partisan faces of NBC or the hired slanderers at MSNBC – criticizing them just makes them more important than they are – but on the corporate ‘suits in the suites’ who are the truly culpable parties.”

“Hence, we hope Mr. Roberts [CEO of Comcast] had a pleasant visit with the President of the United States when he stopped by his home. But he and his colleagues should also know that in the form of public messages, like this letter, they will be getting less pleasant coverage from the conservative movement.”

The group isn’t directly attacking the merger deal as a central focus of their campaign. Instead, they are seeking a restoration of “the traditional journalistic standards that have been squandered in recent years by NBC News and its corporate owners.”

“I hope the affiliates have a stiff drink ready when they read the report,” Flynn added. “Reviewing the trite liberal gruel that comes out of Brian Williams and Chuck Todd, for example, is not for
the faint of heart.”

No NBC station has yet acknowledged they have read the lengthy letter and it isn’t known if they will consent to airing the group’s advertisement that directly attacks the integrity of the network to which the station is affiliated.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CWC_Save NBC News.mp4

The Conservative War Chest produced this two-minute ad it intends to run on NBC stations in at least five states condemning what they perceive as a politically motivated left-wing bias at Comcast-owned NBC News. The group fears approval of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger will only increase the damage of anti-conservative bias in the NBC newsroom. (2:00)

Time Warner Cable/Comcast Deal Approval Delayed (Again) in N.Y.

The New York State Public Service Commission has once again delayed final action on Comcast’s request to acquire Time Warner Cable systems operating in the state.

The further delay was accepted by Comcast and Time Warner Cable, citing a request from the staff of the PSC.

The next scheduled date for action is at the Commission Session scheduled for Jan. 22, with a final order issued no later than Jan. 27, 2015.

 

 

Shakedown Sharpton: Buy Quid Pro Quo Minority Support for Your Big Telecom Merger Deal

shakedown alLooking for civil rights groups to support your multi-billion dollar telecom merger and keep minority groups off your back?

You couldn’t do better than cutting a check to Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network (NAN) will generate form letters praising your killer deal before regulators or help garner support in Congress for more deregulation and less Net Neutrality. All it takes is a few donations and consulting fees, according to a special report published by the New York Post.

“Al Sharpton has enriched himself and NAN for years by threatening companies with bad publicity if they didn’t come to terms with him. Put simply, Sharpton specializes in shakedowns,” Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal & Policy Center told the Post.

“Once Sharpton’s on board, he plays the race card all the way through,” said a source who has worked with the Harlem preacher. “He just keeps asking for more and more money.”

Sharpton’s 60th birthday party bash last October at Manhattan’s Four Seasons restaurant departed from the usual friends and family oriented affair most of us would expect, as envelopes arrived from some of America’s largest corporations, including AT&T and Verizon, containing at least $1 million in donations for Sharpton’s civil rights group.

Coincidentally, that same month Sharpton co-signed a letter sent to the FCC urging the regulator to approve AT&T’s deal to buy DirecTV.

“We believe the evidence and the company’s record, as well as future impact and commitments post-merger, provide a clear and compelling basis for the FCC to determine that this merger is in the public’s best interest,” the letter said. “If approved, the combined AT&T-DirecTV will have greater incentive to deploy a state of the art Internet service and give millions of Americans a new way to access the Internet’s economic, social, and civic benefits.”

If approved, the deal would also eliminate one of AT&T’s chief competitors for pay television customers, making DirecTV part of the AT&T family.

Money-Stuffed-Into-PocketWhile the money keeps rolling in, Sharpton has left taxpayers footing his bills. Sharpton himself, his nonprofit NAN, and two for-profit firms controlled by him have racked up $4.7 million in outstanding debt and tax obligations according to federal and New York State records. He owes New York taxpayers $806,875 and after not bothering to pay his personal income taxes in full, he owes $2.6 million in federal liens. Sharpton’s NAN still owes more than $800,000 to the federal government and his two for-profit ventures separately owe New Yorkers nearly $450,000.

Raising money to repay debts appears to be a major priority for Sharpton these days, and companies like Comcast covet his support of their corporate agendas.

Shortly after Comcast announced its intention to acquire NBC-Universal in late 2009, Comcast’s chief executive, Brian L. Roberts, and the head of the company’s lobbying effort, David L. Cohen, met with Sharpton and other representatives of minority groups to talk about their bid. Comcast recognized that support from minority groups would be crucial to answering the inevitable charge that giant media mergers have a tendency to reduce diversity in programming, particularly from and for minorities.

Comcast turned on its money spigot, donating at least $140,000 to Sharpton’s National Action Network. In turn, Sharpton took a sudden interest in the merger, penning letters of strong support to the FCC. Between 2008 and 2010, Comcast’s corporate foundation donated more than $3 million to 39 minority groups that wrote letters to federal regulators in support of the NBC deal. Comcast and NBC Universal also worked out an agreement with advocacy groups guaranteeing increased “minority participation in news and public affairs programming”—so long as the deal went through.

Comcast supporter turned Comcast-owned MSNBC host.

Sharpton: Comcast supporter turned Comcast-owned MSNBC host.

Few expected that Sharpton himself would be a direct beneficiary of Comcast’s gratitude after the merger was approved. Sharpton was suddenly hired (for an undisclosed amount) as host of his own MSNBC weeknight show, still on the network today.

The New York Times noticed.

“Rarely, if ever, has a cable news channel employed a host who has previously campaigned for the business goals of the channel’s parent company,” the newspaper wrote.

Since the cable company began cutting checks to the NAN, Sharpton has towed the line on Comcast’s public policy agenda.

Last July, Sharpton’s group joined several other civil rights groups (most, if not all financially supported by Comcast) complaining that enforcing Net Neutrality would “harm communities of color.”

“The groups wrote to the FCC to tell them that ‘we do not believe that the door to Title II should be opened,'” said Lee Fang in a piece that was quickly censored by a Comcast-owned news outlet. “Simply put, these groups, many of which claim to carry the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr., are saying that Comcast and Verizon should be able to create Internet slow lanes and fast lanes, and such a change would magically improve the lives of non-white Americans.”

“Just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s children have embarrassingly descended into fighting bitterly over what’s left of his estate, the civil rights groups formed to advance Dr. King’s legacy seem willing to sell out their own members for a buck,” Fang concluded.

Time Warner Cable Using Tax Dollars to Expand Broadband for Benefit of Wealthy Rural New Yorkers

broadband yes

Broadband Yes

Time Warner Cable is spending taxpayer dollars received from New Yorkers to expand cable service in rural areas of the state, but primarily for the benefit of affluent residents — some that have sought cable and broadband service for their rural estates and vacation homes for years.

An analysis of publicly-available data by the New York Public Utility Law Project (PULP) from an earlier $5.3 million state rural broadband expansion grant paid to Time Warner Cable found that 73 percent of the money was spent extending cable service in zip codes where median incomes are significantly higher than surrounding areas that remain unserved. Time Warner Cable is relying on New York taxpayers to cover about 75% of the construction costs.

PULP’s Gerald Norlander has spent months seeking more information about how Time Warner Cable and its presumptive new owner Comcast collectively plan to address rural broadband issues in the state, but Time Warner Cable has fought to keep most of its plans secret, including projects funded in part by taxpayers.

Broadband No

Broadband No

Norlander’s current research included an analysis of 53 rural expansion projects that were included in the last round of broadband grant awards. He found Time Warner interested in expanding in affluent communities like Grafton in Rensselaer County. The part of the community targeted for expansion has a 10% higher median income than the rest of the county.

In a letter to the state’s Public Service Commission, Norlander argues Time Warner Cable’s desire to keep its rural broadband plans a secret may run contrary to New York’s universal broadband service goal to bring broadband to every customer that wants the service.

Targeting service on more affluent areas can result in higher revenue as wealthy customers are more likely to choose deluxe packages of services and are unlikely to fall behind paying their bills. But such decisions can also become politically untenable when a seasonal resident can access cable service for their six bedroom summer home while middle-income residents with school children up the road cannot.

Time Warner Cable: Deck the Halls with $8 Modem Fees, Fa La La La La, La La La La ($2.75 DTA Fee, Too!)

Phillip Dampier December 22, 2014 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 6 Comments

grinch3It’s a Merry Christmas from Time Warner Cable, with rate increases for one and all!

The cable company that usually waits for the holiday season to end before sending out annual “rate adjustment” notices got an early start this year with some dramatic price changes for many customers, with further rate hikes likely to follow later in 2015.

Taking a lead from Comcast, Time Warner Cable is hiking its broadband modem lease fee from $6 a month to $8 a month in January. That equals $96 a year for a modem that not too long ago used to be included at no extra charge as part of your broadband subscription. A typical customer with a Motorola SB6141 DOCSIS 3 cable modem can buy a brand new unit for nearly $20 less than what Time Warner will collect from customers each year for refurbished or used equipment… forever.

In 2013, Time Warner Cable’s Rob Marcus admitted the company does not charge modem rental fees to defray the cost of the equipment, but as a hidden rate increase designed to generate more revenue.

“The modem fee is a rate increase by all accounts, it takes a different form than usual […] it’s very much a part of the overall revenue generation program,” Marcus told an audience of investment banks.

Customers that lost analog channels after Time Warner Cable began converting part of its lineup to digital-only service were offered free Digital Adapters to continue receiving digital cable channels on older analog sets. Customers were expecting a promised $0.99 monthly lease fee for the devices starting January 1, 2015. Instead customers will now pay $2.75 a month for each DTA device, estimated to cost cable companies less than $50 each three years ago.

But the charges don’t end there.

  • timewarner twcThe Broadcast TV Surcharge for cable television subscribers will increase from $2.25 to $2.75 a month;
  • A new “Sports Programming Surcharge” of $2.75 a month now applies to all cable television customers, whether they watch sports channels or not;
  • That on-screen program guide does not come for free. The primary outlet “discounted guide” surcharge is rising from $2.77 to $3.27 a month;
  • HBO will increase from $14.99 to $16.99 a month; the Movie Pass package of Encore movie channels and certain other networks is rising $2 a month, from $5.99 to $7.99.

Part of the sales pitch Time Warner makes to justify rate increases is that broadband speeds have increased up to 100Mbps. Except they haven’t in many Time Warner Cable markets, which remain locked in with maximum speeds of 50/5Mbps for the indefinite future.

Thanks to Stop the Cap! reader Joseph for sharing Time Warner’s letter with us.

Time Warner Cable Wants to Keep Its Taxpayer Subsidized Rural Broadband Expansion a Secret

rural cableTime Warner Cable has appealed to the Secretary of the New York Department of Public Service to keep information about taxpayer-subsidized broadband expansion projects in New York a secret.

The case is part of a series of ongoing requests for disclosure of information about the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable under New York’s Freedom of Information Law.

Several public interest groups are requesting copies of documents submitted to the state Public Service Commission that the two cable operators have repeatedly asserted should remain confidential. Gerald Norlander from the Public Utility Law Project has been seeking details about how the two companies plan to address New York’s rural broadband dilemma before any decision about the merger is made by state regulators. Norlander requested copies of documents that include details about Time Warner’s taxpayer-subsidized rural broadband expansion under the auspices of Gov. Cuomo’s Connect NY program. Time Warner wants to keep the information confidential, citing competitive concerns.

New York Administrative Law Judge David L. Prestemon ruled earlier this month that while Time Warner could maintain secrecy in the early stages of its proposed expansion efforts, once the company disclosed details about a project in a public filing with state or local officials, confidentiality should be lifted.

shhPrestemon rejected efforts by Time Warner Cable to maintain confidentiality even after news of one broadband expansion project was reported by Albany-area media outlets. Prestemon added that public regulatory filings submitted by the company as a project commences effectively places information about it in the public domain.

Counsel for Time Warner Cable rejected that assertion, claiming information found in certain regulatory filings or in a newspaper article lacks the granularity sought by Time Warner’s competitors.

“Simply because physical construction begins on a project does not mean that the public or competitors would be aware of who is completing the project, the geographic extent of the project, the number of passings, or the estimated completion date,” argued Maureen O. Helmer and Laura L. Mona in an appeal filed by Time Warner’s legal team at Hiscock & Barclay, LLP. “This information would be difficult and costly for a competitor to compile, such that disclosure would significantly harm Time Warner Cable’s competitive advantage.”

The attorneys revealed Time Warner Cable’s use of subcontractors is already helping shield the company from having expansion projects become public knowledge:

Time Warner Cable typically uses subcontractors to complete the physical construction. Therefore, the vehicles used to construct the build-out are often not Time Warner Cable owned vehicles. While Time Warner Cable generally requires contractors to display signs stating “Contractor for Time Warner Cable,” the existence of construction vehicles on the side of a road would not convey to an average member of the public or a competitor that Time Warner Cable was engaged in construction of new facilities, as opposed to repair, maintenance, or some other activity. In similar fashion, if a Time Warner Cable vehicle was present on the side of a road, it would not mean that a new build-out was being constructed as the vehicle could be performing any number of tasks that would not be known to the public.

Norlander’s group is concerned Comcast intends to combine Time Warner Cable’s systems in New York and could focus entirely on large urban markets while potentially abandoning rural customers to maximize revenue.

This is the third time Time Warner Cable has appealed one of Judge Prestemon’s rulings on this subject.

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