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Comcast Gobbledygook: “We Don’t Have Data Caps, We Have Data Thresholds”

The Plain English Campaign's Golden Bull Award is given to companies that prefer gobbledygook over plain English.

The Plain English Campaign’s Golden Bull Award is given to companies that prefer gobbledygook over plain English.

Comcast is outraged by slanderous suggestions it has data caps on its broadband service.

In response to the scathing report from the Writers Guild of America that pleads for the FCC to block the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Comcast has accused to WGA of getting its facts wrong and being nothing more than a meddling union.

The WGA writes in their filing with the FCC:

The WGAW has also joined Public Knowledge in asking the FCC to enforce the condition that Comcast not use “caps, tiers, metering, or other usage-based pricing” to treat affiliated network traffic differently from unaffiliated traffic. Comcast has violated this condition by exempting its online video service, Xfinity Streampix, from its own data caps, while the viewing of content by other, unaffiliated video services such as Netflix or YouTube would count against a user’s data cap. The violation of this merger condition is a clear threat to competition from online video distributors, and the FCC should respond by requiring Comcast to stop exempting its Streampix service from data caps.

Comcast pounced on the WGA filing, calling it inaccurate.

Comcast-Logo“We don’t have data caps — and haven’t for about two years,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s vice president of government communications. “We have tested data thresholds where very heavy customers can buy more if they want more — but that only affects a very small percentage of our customers in a few markets.”

Until 2012, Comcast had a uniform usage cap of 250GB a month, above which a customer risked having their broadband service suspended. In 2013, the usage allowances were back, reset at 300GB a month and rolled out to a series of expanding “test markets” that today include Huntsville and Mobile, Ala., Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Ga., Central Kentucky, Maine, Jackson, Miss., Knoxville and Memphis, Tenn., and Charleston, S.C.

nonsenseCustomers who exceed this allowance won’t have their broadband service suspended, they will just get a higher bill, as Comcast charges $10 for each additional 50GB of usage.

In contrast, Time Warner Cable neither has a data cap or a data threshold. Stop the Cap! made sure that didn’t happen when Time Warner attempted to impose its own usage limits back in 2009. We successfully organized protests sufficient to get Time Warner executives to back off and shelve the idea. If Comcast takes over, Time Warner Cable customers will likely eventually face Comcast’s “data thresholds,” which are a distinction without much difference. Whatever you call it, it’s a limit on how much a customer can use Comcast’s already-expensive broadband service before bad things happen.

The WGA and Comcast get along about as well as oil and water, so the back and forth is to be expected. The Writer’s Guild also fiercely opposed Comcast’s merger with NBCUniversal. But when it comes to who is playing fast and loose with the truth, it isn’t the group that writes for a living. Comcast’s doublespeak about data caps is no better than calling The Great Recession a periodic equity retreat. It isn’t fooling anyone.

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Cable Customer Service Improvements: Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Phillip "More empty promises from the cable industry" Dampier

Phillip “More empty promises from the cable industry” Dampier

Listening to Time Warner Cable’s “Here today and gone much richer tomorrow” CEO-in-passing Rob Marcus prattle on endlessly about improving “the customer experience” on analyst conference calls, the cable company’s blog, and in various press statements always makes me pinch myself to be certain I am not dreaming.

Time Warner’s Rob Marcus:

I’m focused on ensuring we establish a customer-centric, performance-oriented, values-driven culture defined by four basic tenets:

  • We put our customers first,
  • We are empowered and accountable,
  • We do the right thing, and
  • We are passionate about winning

What does that mean for customers? If we expect customers to trust us to connect them to what matters most, we must put them at the center of everything we do.

How is that working out for you?

Based on consumer surveys, many of Marcus’ customers may have a different sentiment:

  • Time Warner puts what is best for Time Warner first,
  • Time Warner is empowered to raise rates for no clear reason and as a deregulated entity is accountable to no one,
  • Time Warner does the right thing for Time Warner executives and shareholders,
  • Charlie Sheen was also passionate about “winning.”

 

So much for Comcast's customer service improvement project promised back in 2007.

So much for Comcast’s customer service improvement project promised back in 2007. (Source: ACSI)

There is nowhere to go but up when it comes to improving the abusive relationship most Americans have with the local cable or phone company. CNN asked the question, “do you hate your Internet provider,” and within hours more than 600 customers sang “yes!”

Marcus

Marcus

This is hardly a new problem. Karl Bode at Broadband Reports reminds us that Comcast broke its promises for major improvements in customer service more than five years ago. CEO Brian Roberts at the time blamed the troubles on Comcast’s enormity — taking 250 million calls a year handling orders, customer complaints, etc., is a lot for one company to handle.

“With that many calls, you are going to have failures,” Roberts admitted.

With more than 10 million Time Warner Cable customers waiting to move in at Comcast, if what Roberts says is true, things are about to get much worse. In fact, even before the merger was announced Comcast was just as despised as ever, thanks to rate hikes, usage caps, and poor service often delivered from their notorious sub-contractors that appear on the news for falling asleep, murder, digging in the wrong yard or blowing up laptops, dishwashers or homes.

Judging from the enormous negative reaction customers of both Time Warner Cable and Comcast had to the news the two were combining, it’s clear this merger isn’t the exciting opportunity Marcus and Roberts would have you believe.

‘If you despise Comcast today, your hate will know no bounds tomorrow as Comcast spends the next two years distracted with digesting Time Warner Cable,’ suggested one customer.

Another asked whether Americans have resigned themselves to a trap of low expectations, seeking out one abusive telecom company relationship after another.

highlights“After twenty years of Time Warner’s broken promises, service you can’t count on, and price hikes you can, I made the fatal mistake of running away from one bad relationship into the arms of another with the Bernie Madoff of broadband: AT&T,” wrote another. “Slower service, an unnecessary allowance on broadband usage, and one rate increase too many is hardly the improvement we were promised in the shiny brochure. But we have nowhere else to go.”

Being stuck with an independent phone company with no cable provider nearby can mean even worse service.

“I live in Seattle, and the only option in my neighborhood is CenturyLink DSL,” wrote Jen Wilson.

CenturyLink’s top speed in Wilson’s neighborhood? 1Mbps. At night, speeds drop to 122kbps — just twice the speed of dial-up Internet.

CNN’s Frida Ghitis observed the current state of broadband in the United States is alarmingly bad, and allowing Comcast and Time Warner Cable to merge won’t fix it:

Americans are divided on many issues, but resentment against these telecom giants is so pervasive that it may just be the most heartwarming symbol of national unity. And that’s as it should be. Except that the resentment should extend to politicians who have made this disastrous system possible and allow political contributions to prevent them from fixing it. The problem is not just one of dismal customer service. Instead, it is a growing threat to the country’s economic and strategic position.

If you travel overseas, you will quickly notice that Web access in much of the developed world is light years ahead of America’s. You may also be irritated to discover that far better Internet is much, much cheaper in other countries.

Time Warner's notorious modem rental fee was just a hidden rate hike, according to the ex-CEO.

Time Warner’s notorious modem rental fee was just a hidden rate hike, according to the ex-CEO.

Thus far, Time Warner’s remedy to improve service is yet another rate increase. Broadband prices are rising an average of $3 a month — $36 a year, with no speed enhancements on the horizon except in New York, Los Angeles, and cities where Google Fiber is threatening to kick the cable company in the pants. That means Time Warner’s 11.1 million broadband customers will deliver as much as $33.3 million more in revenue each month for broadband service alone. What will you get in return? In most cases, nothing.

Television customers will be pick-pocketed for the newly-”enhanced” on-screen guide many still loathe, which carries a new surcharge applied to the cost of set-top boxes and DVRs. This “enhancement” alone will cost most customers with two boxes an extra $30 a year. It will provide Time Warner with more than $170 million each year in revenue enhancement.

The cable company that fought a battle with CBS last summer “on behalf of customers” faced with paying extortionist pricing for CBS-owned cable networks and local stations will instead send their extortion payment direct to Time Warner, thanks to a new $2.25/mo “Broadcast TV Fee” imposed this spring by the cable company.

But Time Warner is unlikely to hang on to that money for long.

If it wanted to discourage programmers from demanding double-digit percentage rate increases, the plan is likely to backfire once the networks smell the money — more than $25 million a month, $300 million a year — Time Warner claims to be collecting on their behalf.

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Time Warner Cable Admits Usage-Based Pricing is a Big Failure; Only Thousands Enrolled

Phillip Dampier March 13, 2014 Audio, Internet Overcharging, Time Warner Cable No Comments
internet limit

Time Warner Cable customer hate usage caps and usage-based pricing.

Time Warner Cable admits customers don’t want usage-based pricing of their broadband service, with only a fraction of one percent of their nationwide customer base choosing to enroll in usage-limited plans in return for a discount.

Time Warner began offering customers a usage-based plan more than two years ago, with discounts starting at $5 a month for light users. Sources at the cable company have repeatedly told Stop the Cap! usage-based pricing has never been popular with customers with only a handful enrolling every month. That was confirmed this week by Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus, noting despite offers of discounts for 5GB and 30GB usage-allowance plans, neither are popular. In fact, Marcus admitted customers strongly want to keep their unlimited use plans.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet, and Telecom Conference, Marcus added that regardless of the plans’ unpopularity, he intends to keep them around to sell the idea that customers should get acquainted with paying based on usage.

twc logo“If you take the 30GB a month and compare it to what median usage is, let’s say high 20s — 27GB a month, that would suggest a whole lot of customers would do well by taking the 30GB service,” Marcus said. “Notwithstanding that, very few customers — in the thousands — have taken the usage based tiers and I think that speaks to the value they place on unlimited — not bad because we plan to continue to offer unlimited for as far out as we can possibly see.”

Despite the low enrollment, Marcus has no plans to jettison usage pricing anytime soon.

“I think that the concept of ‘use more-pay more – use less-pay less’ is an important principle to have established, so notwithstanding the low uptake of the usage-based tiers I think it is a very important component of our overall pricing philosophy.”

Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus admits usage based pricing plans for broadband are exceptionally unpopular with customers, with only a few thousand enrolled. Mar. 12, 2014 (2:03)
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House of (Credit) Cards: How to Blow Through Your Usage Cap With One Netflix Show

house-of-cards

“…every kitten grows up to be a cat. They seem so harmless, at first, small, quiet, lapping up their saucer of milk. But once their claws get long enough, they draw blood, sometimes from the hand that feeds them. For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: Hunt or be hunted.” — Francis Underwood

Addicts of Netflix’s hit series House of Cards may need to grab a card of a different kind to cover overlimit fees charged by your Internet Service Provider for blowing past your usage allowance.

As online video streaming moves into the realm of 4K — the next generation of high-definition video — watching television shows and movies online could get very expensive because of the massive file sizes involved. It’s all just in time for ISP’s increasing enforcement of usage caps.

courtesy-notice-640x259Gizmodo just did the math for those intending to spend a weekend watching the entire second season of the made-for-Netflix series in high-definition:

Streaming in 1080p on Netflix takes up 4.7GB/hour. So a regular one-hour episode of something debiting less than 5GB from your allotment is no big deal. However, with 4K, you’ve got quadruple the pixel count, so you’re burning through 18.8GB/hour. Even if you’re streaming with the new h.265 codec—which cuts the bit rate by about half, but still hasn’t found its way into many consumer products—you’re still looking at 7GB/hour.

But you’re not watching just one episode, are you? Of course not! You’re binging on House of Cards, watching the whole series if not in one weekend then certainly in one month. That’s 639 minutes of top-quality TV, which in 4K tallies up to 75GB if you’re using the latest and greatest codec, and nearly 200GB if not. That means, best case scenario, a quarter of your cap—a third, if you’re a U-Verse customer with a 250GB cap—spent on one television show. Throw in a normal month’s internet usage, and you’re toast.

Sure you can send 900+ emails, download hundreds of songs, upload hundreds of pictures, but you can't watch one standard and one HD movie a day at the same time without blowing past your AT&T DSL limit.

Sure you can send 900+ emails, download hundreds of songs, upload hundreds of pictures, and play online games 24 hours a day, but you can’t also watch one standard and one HD movie a day at the same time without blowing well past your AT&T DSL limit.

What is worse is that h.265 is still more theoretical than actually available to most consumers, so customers will either have to settle with degraded video or prepare to eat close to 19GB an hour at the highest resolution. No wonder Netflix has introduced video degradation settings to save you from your ISP’s arbitrary cap. Of course, your video quality will suffer, especially on a big screen television.

Comcast customers (and presumably Time Warner Cable customers also eventually subjected to Comcast’s cap) will still have a generous 100GB left over to watch, browse, and send that avalanche of e-mails usage cappers love to boast about. If you live in the reality-based community and have a family active online, that 100GB isn’t going to go too far. Video game addicts regularly face downloading huge updates, many ranging from 8-12GB apiece. Call of Duty: Ghosts? That’s 39.5GB. Madden NFL 25? Another 12.51GB, says Gizmodo. Using a file backup cloud storage service can also eat your allowance for breakfast.

Gizmodo also mentions Sony’s Unlimited Video service has 70 titles (and growing) available in 4K. A Sony representative admits a single two-hour movie will burn up 40GB. Watch a few of those and you are well on your way to blowing your allowance Vegas-style.

AT&T cooked up the arbitrary de facto standard overlimit fee now adopted by many American ISPs, and granular it isn’t. Exceed your allowance by even 1 kilobyte and you will be charged an extra $10 for 50 extra gigabytes. Because AT&T, Comcast, Suddenlink, and others are not already paid enough for broadband service and their modem rental.

Online video is the online application most likely to put you over your limit. Most ISPs don’t like to talk about that, however. They prefer to explain caps in terms of activities no online user is likely to ever exceed, including sending thousands of e-mails, viewing hundreds of thousands of web pages, transferring boatloads of songs and images, and watching YouTube videos at low resolution.

If you don’t watch online video, your cable or phone company thanks you for paying for cable television instead. If you haven’t used a peer-to-peer network in years, chances are you won’t exceed any limits either. But as Internet usage continues to evolve, anything that appears to be a competitive threat delivered over your ISP’s broadband pipe can be effectively controlled with the elimination of flat rate Internet service and imposing overlimit fees that deter usage.

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Sticker Shock for Time Warner Customers: A Review of Comcast’s Rates & Packages

comcast twcShould a deal to merge Time Warner Cable with Comcast be approved by regulators, Time Warner Cable customers can expect a number of changes to their cable, Internet, and phone service because of Comcast’s much more involved rate plans¹.

Customers should expect to pay significantly higher prices for a package comparable to what Time Warner Cable offers today, especially for cable television.

Broadband speeds will be faster with Comcast, but also likely usage-capped at 300GB a month, with overlimit fees applied to “heavy users.”

A sample Comcast bill

A sample Comcast bill

Customers may also be surprised to discover Comcast levies a number of ancillary fees that Time Warner does not, especially for various tasks completed by a Comcast customer service representative.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable have very different operating philosophies. Comcast is quickly moving customers to all-digital cable television service, so those Time Warner customers without set-top boxes or CableCARDs should be ready for a rapid transition to all-digital TV. Time Warner Cable, in comparison, has moved slowly towards digital service and uses a stop-gap technology that delivers some digital channels to neighborhoods only when being watched as a bandwidth conservation measure. Comcast will likely scrap that technology in favor of an all-out drive to switch to digital service.

Comcast’s television packages are very different from what TWC customers are used to buying. Time Warner customers can expect significant channel losses with Comcast’s nearest equivalent basic cable service. If you enjoy a lot of sports or old movies, Comcast will make you spend nearly $20 more on a higher-cost tier to get back the networks that Time Warner used to bundle as part of their basic cable service. But Comcast makes adding “whole home” DVR service look a lot more affordable than the $30+ unbundled fee Time Warner Cable has traditionally charged for the equipment and service.

In general Time Warner Cable customers should expect a higher bill for cable television, unless they want to downgrade service (for which Comcast also charges a service fee).

Broadband service from Comcast is also very different from what Time Warner Cable has offered. Most TWC customers now get 15/1Mbps service. Most Comcast customers get 25/5 or 50/15Mbps service. However, TWC doesn’t force usage caps on customers and Comcast is systematically reimposing them on theirs city by city, usually 300GB a month. The tradeoff with Comcast is faster advertised speed that comes usage-limited vs. slower speeds you can use as much as you want. Comcast also charges the highest modem rental fees in the country — now $8 a month in most places. Customers can and should buy their own modems. Those Time Warner Cable customers who already have better double-check to make certain Comcast will still support that equipment.

Phone service isn’t much different between the two companies, so we’re not covering it here.

Television Packages

Comcast offers a bigger variety of television packages than Time Warner Cable. Comcast likes to bundle premium channels into some of their higher end packages. Time Warner Cable’s prefers an a-la-carte approach with HBO and other similar networks.

tvComcast customers start with Limited Basic service, comparable to Time Warner Cable’s Broadcast Basic package. It primarily features over the air local television stations and often runs under $10 a month. Effective this year, there is also a $1.50/month Broadcast TV surcharge applicable to all cable TV customers.

A new concept for Time Warner Cable customers is Comcast’s Digital Economy package that includes Limited Basic, Digital Economy channels, and a standard definition cable box and remote. Consider this barely promoted tier the economy bare bones basic cable package. In addition to local channels, Digital Economy offers a lineup of home shopping channels, CNN, HSN, Cartoon Network, Lifetime, History, A&E, E!, Comedy Central, Spike TV, USA Network, Fox News Channel, The Weather Channel, Food Network, Animal Planet, TLN, BET, TV Guide Network, Discovery Channel, Comcast Network, CSPAN, EWTN, Jewelry Television, and Music Choice. This package is $40 a month, although promotions may cut the cost. For some, this may be more than enough.

But most Comcast cable TV customers choose the Digital Starter package that also includes Limited Basic, Expanded Basic, MoviePlex, and Music Choice. The lineup includes just over 80 channels. This $69.95 package is still smaller than what Time Warner Cable offers its digital cable customers, leaving out networks including Cloo, CNBC World, Al Jazeera America, Discovery Fit & Health, Disney XD, DIY, a range of ESPN’s extra networks, EWTN, Fine Living, Fox Business News, Great American Country, IFC, Investigation Discovery, Lifetime Real Women, Military Channel, MLB, most of MTV’s extra networks, NBA, National Geographic Channel, NFL Network, NHL Network, most of Nickelodeon’s extra networks, OWN, Oxygen, Sundance, Turner Classic Movies, The Science Channel, and VH1′s extra networks. There are other channels left out of the lineup as well. But Digital Starter customers do get the full lineup of Encore movie channels, for which TWC charges extra. However, sports and old movie fans will be dismayed to find so many sports networks and Turner Classic Movies excluded. Comcast customers have to pay more to get them back in the lineup.

Those who can’t live without sports networks and TCM, among other networks noted above, will have to pay for Comcast’s 150+ channel Digital Preferred package. This tier brings back the cable channels you used to get with Time Warner Cable (plus Encore), but it costs an extra $17.95 a month. Check your current Time Warner Cable TV bill. Compare it against Comcast’s total combined charge of $87.89 a month for a comparable lineup. How much is your cable TV bill going to increase after Comcast takes over?

special reportFor those who want even more, Comcast offers Digital Premier, with more than 190 channels. This package includes Digital Preferred, HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax and Comcast’s Sports Entertainment Package. It adds an extra $57.45 a month on top of the $69.95 Digital Starter package. That is $127.40 a month just for television service.

Time Warner customers looking for a DVR will probably be mystified by the way Comcast charges for DVR service. Comcast markets “whole house” DVR service much more aggressively than TWC. This service, dubbed AnyRoom, lets customers watch recorded shows on any set-top box-equipped television in the home, along with managing recordings. DVR service with Comcast costs an extra $8-10 a month, but Comcast also charges an “HD Technology Fee” of $9.95 a month to enable “whole house” service. Many higher end bundled packages incorporate the DVR service into the package, along with the Technology Fee.

At regular prices, a Comcast triple play customer should expect to pay $141.99 for the most bare bones TV, phone, and broadband package, $154.99 for the most popular package without premium channels, and $164.99 a month for a bundle that brings along a similar lineup to what TWC offers, along with Starz. Comcast’s nearest equivalent to Time Warner Cable’s $200 Signature Home service costs $239.99 a month and offers no better Internet speeds than what “regular” customers get.

Internet Plans

comcast-splash-internetComcast does offer faster Internet service than what Time Warner Cable has sold for the last 3-4 years, but it will likely come with a usage cap of 300GB per month, with overlimit fees applied to those who exceed their allowance. Internet-only customers are going to find higher prices for broadband service than what Time Warner Cable charges. Comcast prefers bundled service customers, and deters cord-cutters with extremely high Internet-only pricing.

Comcast’s Internet Tiers (The first price is for Internet-only service followed by the price, when different, for customers subscribing to more than broadband)

  • Economy: 1.5Mbps/384kb (N/A)
  • Economy Plus: 3Mbps/768kbps ($39.95 $29.95)
  • Performance Starter: 6/1Mbps ($49.95)
  • Performance: 25/5Mbps ($64.95 $51.95)
  • Blast: 50/15Mbps ($74.95 $61.95)
  • Extreme 105: 105/20Mbps ($114.95 $99.95)

Modem fees are extra unless you buy your own equipment.

Other Comcast Fees You Better Know About

fine printComcast charges a number of extra fees and surcharges that raise customer bills without affecting Comcast’s advertised prices. The ones we have not already covered are included below. Among our favorites: Comcast charging $20 to hound you at your front door for a past due payment, charging shipping/handling and other fees for “self-install” kits that save Comcast money not having to dispatch a technician to your home, installation -and- activation fees for extra outlets, and that $249 “go away” service charge for their 105Mbps broadband tier. It is important to note not everyone will pay these fees and promotions often waive some of them. Customer service representatives will also drop some of them when asked, and may remove them from your bill if you complain loudly enough.

Ancillary Service Fees You May Encounter

  • Reactivation fees: Shut off for non-payment or vacation? Comcast charges $5 to reactivate Internet service, $5 to reactivate a phone line, and $1.99 to turn back on your cable television;
  • Field Collection Charge: If Comcast sends someone to your residence to collect a past due balance or pick up unreturned equipment, there is a $20 charge per visit;
  • Returned Payment Fee: $20 per returned payment;
  • Late Fee: 5% of your account balance;
  • Name Change Fee: $1.99;
  • Pay by Phone Convenience Fee: Making a payment by phone with a customer care representative will cost $5.99 per payment;
  • Copy of Bill: For bill statement copy requested by phone or in person, there is a $5 charge per bill;
  • Unreturned/Damaged Equipment: Charged at the suggested manufacturer’s replacement cost.

Common Equipment Fees

  • Signal Amplifier: $35/each
  • Self-Install Kit Convenience Fee: $40
  • Self-Install Kit Shipping & Handling: $9.95 (Standard Delivery)
  • Self-Install Kit Shipping & Handling: $29.95 (Priority Mail)
  • Remote Control Replacement by Mail (Separate Shipping): $5.95/each
  • other chargesVoice/Data Modem (Used for customers with phone and Internet service): $8/mo²
  • Wireless Gateway (Provides Wi-Fi service): $8/mo²
  • Cienna 3931 Modem & Netgear Wireless Router: $19.95/mo
  • Wireless Adapter (each, one-time charge): $30.00
  • Limited Basic Only Service Converter: $1/mo
  • Digital Converter: $2.50/mo
  • Remote Control: $0.18/mo
  • HD Digital Converter (Limited Basic Only): $2.20/mo
  • Digital Adapter (Limited Basic Only): $0.50/mo each
  • CableCARD: 1st card is free, each additional is $1/mo
  • Customer-Owned Video Equipment Credit: $2.50/mo

Installation and Service Calls (May vary with promotions)

  • Installation fee for one product: $32
  • Installation fee for two products: $80
  • Installation fee for three products: $90
  • In-Home Service Call: $32.10
  • Service Charge for Custom Installation Work: $33.20/hr
  • Installation fee for additional outlets: $13.35/ea at time of new customer visit, $32.15/ea for existing customers
  • Activation fee for additional outlets: $5.60/ea for new customers, $22.05/ea for existing customers
  • Relocation fee for additional outlets: $13.60/ea for new customers, $28.55/ea for existing customers
  • VCR/DVD Connection Charge: $7.90 for new customers, $16.35 for existing customers
  • Upgrade/Downgrade Service Fee (no in-home visit required): $1.99 per instance
  • Upgrade/Downgrade Service Fee (in-home visit required): $26.30 per instance of an upgrade, $12.05 per instance of a downgrade
  • payment centerUpgrade Standard Definition DVR or HD DVR Service: $26.30

Broadband-Specific Installation/Service Charges

  • Additional IP Address (first): $4.95/mo
  • Additional IP Addresses (second and/or third) $9.00/mo each
  • Professional Internet Installation: $99.95
  • Wireless Networking On-Site Professional Set-up (up to 4 devices per trip): $49.95
  • Wireless Networking On-Site Professional Set-Up (extra trips): $99.95/ea
  • Wireless Networking On-Site Professional Set-Up (each additional device over 4): $29.95/ea
  • Broadband-related In-Home Service Visit: $40/per trip
  • Extreme 105Mbps Broadband Professional Installation/Activation Surcharge: $249.00

¹The rates and services quoted in this piece were taken from Comcast’s current rate card for Cambridge, Mass. Rates and services may vary slightly in other markets. The rate card was effective June 2013.
²Comcast charges $7 a month for their modem rental in certain other markets.

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AT&T Mailing More Warning Letters to Customers Exceeding Their Usage Allowance

Phillip Dampier February 17, 2014 AT&T, Editorial & Site News, Internet Overcharging 3 Comments

att-logo-221x300AT&T wants customers to pay attention to their broadband account’s monthly usage limits: 150GB for DSL or 250GB for U-verse. Customers who exceed their allowance are more likely than ever to get a warning letter from AT&T threatening overlimit fees if they continue to ‘use too much’ Internet.

AT&T customers in Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Florida have shared identical warnings with Stop the Cap! received during the last 10 days — in each case it was the first warning notice received about exceeding AT&T’s arbitrary allowance:

Dear AT&T High Speed Internet Service Customer,

We want to remind you that your AT&T High Speed Internet service includes 150 gigabytes (GB) of data for each billing period.

You have exceeded 150 GB this billing period.

We’ll waive the charges for additional data this month and notify you as your usage approaches 150 GB in future months.

The next time you exceed 150 GB you’ll be notified, but not billed. However if you go over your data plan in any subsequent billing period, we’ll provide you with an additional 50 GB of data for $10. You’ll be charged $10 for every incremental 50 GB of usage beyond your plan.

AT&T imposed usage caps a few years ago but has generally not enforced them, even when usage meters show an excess of 500GB in Internet traffic. Some AT&T customers still have no access to a working usage meter, making compliance even more difficult. Stop the Cap! has yet to receive a verified copy of a billing statement actually showing overages billed to customers, but the increasing number of warning letters may indicate overlimit fees are forthcoming for persistent ‘violators.’

We recommend that customers receiving these warning letters send a warning of their own by calling AT&T and threatening to cancel service over the issue of unacceptable usage caps. Let AT&T know that you consider usage-based billing a deal-breaker and you will begin exploring your options with other providers. Remind AT&T that they already earn a lot of money from you and that any overlimit fees that appear on your bill will mean the immediate termination of your account.

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HissyFitWatch: Canadian Telecom Companies Annoyed Consumers Getting The Upper Hand

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

As the United States battles back against the introduction of usage caps and rising prices for broadband service, increased competition and regulated open wholesale access to some of Canada’s largest broadband providers have given Canadians an advantage in forcing providers to cut prices and improve service.

Canadians can now easily get unlimited broadband access from one of several independent ISPs that piggyback service on cable and phone networks. Some large ISPs have even introduced all-you-can eat broadband options for customers long-capped by the handful of big players. As customers consider switching providers, cable and phone companies have been forced to cut prices, especially for their best customers. Even cell service is now up for negotiation.

The more services a customer bundles with their provider, the bigger the discount they can negotiate, say analysts who track customer retention. Bell, Rogers, Telus, and others have a major interest keeping your business, even if it means reducing your price.

“It’s far more lucrative for the telecom company to keep you there for the third or fourth service,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told AP. It cuts down on marketing, service and installation calls, he added.

Getting the best deal often depends on your services, payment history, and how long you have been a customer. Cellphone discounts are the hardest to win, but customers are getting them if they have been loyal, carry a large balance and almost never pay late.

telus shawBigger discounts can be had for television and Internet service — cable television remains immensely profitable in Canada and broadband is cheap to offer, especially in cities. Americans often pay $80 or more for digital cable television packages, Canadians pay an average of $60.

Internet service in Canada now averages $45 a month, but many plans include usage caps. It costs more to take to the cap off.

Because of Canada’s past usage cap pervasiveness, online video is not as plentiful in Canada as it is in the United States. There has been considerably less cord-cutting in the north. Despite that, Canadians are ravenous online viewers of what they can find to watch (either legally or otherwise). As usage allowances disappear or become more generous, online video and the Internet will continue to grow in importance for service providers.

Customers should negotiate with their provider for a better deal, particularly if Bell’s Fibe TV is in town. Bell has been among the most aggressive in price cutting its fiber to the neighborhood television service for new customers ready to say goodbye to Rogers or Vidéotron.

Shaw and Telus battle for market share in the west and also have room to cut customer bills and still make a handsome profit.

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AT&T Forced to Slash Prices In Face of T-Mobile’s Price War

Phillip Dampier February 3, 2014 AT&T, Competition, T-Mobile, Video, Wireless Broadband No Comments
AT&T has returned fire in a price war with T-Mobile designed to retain its customers and attract new ones.

AT&T has returned fire in a price war with T-Mobile designed to keep its customers and attract new ones.

AT&T Mobility has cut $40-100 a month off the price of plans targeting some of its most lucrative customers — families with multiple phone sharing a lot of data.

Under its newest offer announced Saturday, a family with four smartphones sharing a 10GB data allowance will see their bill cut from $200 to $160 a month effectively immediately. Any family plan customer with 10GB or higher usage allowances will also see their bill cut by $40-100 a month.

The price cut comes in response to fierce competition from T-Mobile, which has repeatedly bashed AT&T in its advertising campaigns. Now a customer with three smartphones will find AT&T’s new plan price just $5 more than what T-Mobile charges, although T-Mobile’s offer includes unlimited data.

“This is about being competitive,” said David Christopher, chief marketing officer for AT&T Mobility. “We feel we have the best network and the best value in the marketplace,” Christopher said.

AT&T is also offering a $100 bill credit for each new line added or for activating each new tablet, mobile hotspot, or AT&T’s wireless home phone service until March 31.

The contrast in pricing between AT&T, hounded by T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, which has largely ignored the price war, is striking. Verizon Wireless charges up to $125 more a month for its family plans with identical data allowances and features.

att-plan-comparison

The new offer requires no contract, and phones must be purchased at full price either up front or in installments. Existing, on-contract customers with subsidized phones will pay more.

AT&T has also stepped up customer retention efforts, handing out hundreds of dollars in service credits to some threatening to leave for T-Mobile.

Customers are receiving an average of $55 a month in service credits over the next year by tweeting complaints to AT&T’s social media team: @ATTCustomerCare and @ATT

Those on family share plans with several lines of service complaining that AT&T is charging too much and are planning to switch to T-Mobile are being offered discounts such as $70 a month in service credits for the first six months and $40 a month for the next six months after speaking to an AT&T representative arranged through Twitter.

Customers get a less charitable response in AT&T stores where some employees have dared customers to switch to T-Mobile claiming they will be unhappy with the slow data service and coverage areas. In short, no service credits or retention offers are available from in-store representatives. Customers must appeal to AT&T’s social media team to get a discount.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT New Mobile Share Value Plan for Families 2-1-14.mp4

AT&T explains the new pricing for their Family Share plans. (1:27)

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NorthwesTel’s Usage Meter Runs Amuck; Company Says “Turn Off Your Computer At Night”

1638.OpenMedia-Internet-meterMore than two dozen NorthwesTel customers in Canada’s north are contemplating a class-action lawsuit against their Internet provider after being charged hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in overlimit charges for phantom traffic nobody can seem to identify.

Kyle Jennex of Whitehorse has always checked his usage, particularly because NorthwesTel charges very high prices for access and has a low usage cap. Running over a plan limit can prove costly at $5 per gigabyte. In November, Jennex discovered NorthwesTel’s usage meter was registering between 5-7GB of mysterious upload traffic every night even after the computer was physically disconnected from his Internet connection.

Despite complaining to NorthwesTel, the company billed him for nearly $1000 in overlimit fees, claiming he exceeded his allowance by nearly 200GB.

“I depend on the Internet for our lifestyle,” Jennex told Yukon News. “We like our music and our movies and our TV, so I download a lot of stuff. I also believe that if I’m paying for 150 gigabytes, I’m going to use that up. So because of that I monitor our usage carefully so I can spread it out throughout the month and to make sure we don’t go over.”

NorthwesTel has never suspected their meter of being responsible for the phantom usage measurements. To Curtis Shaw, NorthwesTel’s vice president of marketing, excess usage is entirely the customer’s responsibility. The company told Jennex his high usage was likely caused by torrent/peer-to-peer network traffic or a neighbor who had hacked into his password-protected Wi-Fi network. But neither explanation can account for usage that continued to rack up with nothing connected to his Internet modem.

Shaw recommends NorthwesTel customers shut down their computers when not in use, particularly overnight, to avoid excess charges. He also advises customers to change their passwords, regularly check usage, and install and update anti-virus software on their computers.

badbill

Bill Shock

Shaw also says users can sign up for e-mail that notifies customers when they approach their limit, “really to protect people from receiving a surprise bill.” He adds the company does monitor customer usage and has called customers in the past when their accounts show an unusual amount of activity.

But NorthwesTel didn’t bother to call a customer in Whitehorse who reports he was billed an extra $990 for the extra 198GB of usage he claims he never used. Nor did the company call the woman in the Northwest Territories bill shocked with $3,000 in overlimit fees in a single month.

The company says there have been repeated cases of neighbors “sharing” Wi-Fi connections which can quickly run up usage. But Jennex, who says he well understands the danger of unprotected Wi-Fi, believes he has taken the necessary precautions and has been overbilled anyway.

“The way they’re talking, it’s like every second neighbor is hacking into your wireless,” Jennex said. “I have passwords that are completely random that would take some pretty sophisticated equipment to hack into. We even tried disconnecting all our devices from the router and it still kept happening. The only way I could get them to stop was to physically unplug my modem.”

The company cannot or will not trace Jennex’s mysterious web traffic to identify the source, confident their meter is accurate. Besides, the company says, customers often underestimate the amount of traffic they consume using file sharing programs or watching video online. The company claims it worked hard on its usage meter and it received industry approval for its high degree of accuracy. But providers need not submit their meters for independent verification or subject them to periodic audits to verify meter accuracy.

NorthwesTel does not have a good record on meter accuracy. In 2010 the company was forced to admit it had overbilled hundreds of customers over a “meter glitch” when usage monitors were not reset. As a result, customers found enormous overlimit fees attached to their bills. In one example, a customer was charged a $2,500 overlimit fee on top of his usual bill of $88.

cctsA glitch may indeed be part of the problem as one Yukon customer successfully confronted NorthwesTel for erroneous overlimit fees for consumption of data that was impossible to accrue at the speed of his Internet connection.

Angry customers complain that with so little competition, NorthwesTel has every incentive to play fast and loose with its meter, either because customers will cut their usage, upgrade to a higher cost tier with a bigger allowance, or pay the overlimit fees.

Customers who believe they were unjustly billed overlimit fees should take their case first to the Office of the President. Failing that, they should appeal to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, an independent agency that has a good track record of winning relief.

Some customers fear the expensive overlimit fees so much, they are following NorthwesTel’s advice and keeping their computers switched off when not being used, but that isn’t a good enough answer for Jennex, who plans to continue the fight.

“There’s no need to rip us off because we live so far North,” he told CBC North.

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Millenicom Customers Lose Unlimited Wireless Data (Again); Sprint Re-Terminates Agreement

muymMillenicom customers have had their ups and downs over the last two weeks coping with e-mail notifications they would lose, keep, and once again lose their unlimited wireless data plan.

Just a day after Millenicom heard that Sprint would allow them to continue selling Unlimited and Bring Your Own Device plans, the wireless carrier best known for its “unlimited for life” offer changed its mind:

We are very sorry to report that Sprint has reversed their decision from yesterday and terminated their agreement with the gateway for our Unlimited and BYOD accounts.

We are not certain how long until the accounts will be closed.

sprintnextelWe will be shipping out Hotspot devices to those clients who had opted for that solution and BMI.net is ready to fulfill orders for those choosing to go with them.

We have attempted to keep you informed every step of the way and avoid any abrupt transition. We apologize that we weren’t able to come through.

Thank you for allowing us to be of service and please accept our sincere wish for your future success.

Dennis Castle
Owner

millenicomIt is not the first time Millenicom has had problems with Sprint, which has proved to be a difficult carrier to deal with with respect to unlimited use plans.

Sprint’s decision is a major blow to rural Americans who lack access to cable or DSL broadband and are forced to consider satellite-delivered Internet access or pay even more for wireless data plans that come with puny usage caps, overlimit fees or speed throttles.

There are a few alternatives, but since these providers resell access to Sprint-owned networks, all are potentially vulnerable to Sprint’s evolving views on resellers:

bmi-logoBlue Mountain Internet (BMI) offers an “unlimited plan” that isn’t along with several usage allowance plans. BMI strongly recommends the use of their Mobile Broadband Optimizer software that compresses web traffic, dramatically improving speeds and reducing consumption:

Monthly Plans

  • $39.99/Month – 1 Gig Data (** up to 3GB compressed) ($25/GB Overlimit Fee)
  • $59.99/Month – 3 Gig Data (** up to 9GB compressed) ($20/GB Overlimit Fee)
  • $79.99/Month – 5 Gig Data (** up to 15GB compressed) ($20/GB Overlimit Fee)
  • $99.99/Month – 10 Gig Data (** Up to 45GB compressed) ($15/GB Overlimit Fee)
  • $79.99/Month – Unlimited (Bring Your Own Device) – BYOD
  • $99.99/Month – Unlimited Data (S Network) ***

evdousaThere is a $100 maximum on overlimit fees, but BMI reserves the right to suspend accounts after running 3-5GB over a plan’s allowance to limit exposure to the penalty rate. The compression software is for Windows only and does not work with MIFI devices or with video/audio streaming. BMI warns its wireless service is not intended for video streaming. Customers are not allowed to host computer applications including continuous streaming video and webcam posts that broadcast more than 24 hours; automatic data feeds; automated continuous streaming machine-to-machine connections; or peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing.

EVDODepotUSA offers two truly unlimited use plans starting at $119 a month. The company is only contracted to offer access to Sprint’s woefully congested 3G network and the Clear 4G WiMAX network that typically does not offer much coverage in rural areas. LTE access is not currently available. There is a six month contract obligation, but the company also offers a 10-day free trial.

Their current plans:

evdo

wireless n wifiWireless ‘n Wifi offers two partly unlimited plans with no contract commitment. The company charges a refundable deposit on devices, but they become yours to keep after two years:

  • Unlimited 4G Sprint/Clear WiMAX with 3G Fallback ($58.99) offers unlimited WiMAX service but has a 5GB cap on Sprint’s 3G network, the network rural customers will encounter the most. Total start-up fee is $194.93 which includes an activation fee, modem deposit (refunded upon modem return or after 24 months of service), the first month of service, and shipping for the wireless device.
  • Unlimited 4G LTE with WiMAX and 3G Fallback ($79.99) offers unlimited Sprint 4G LTE and Sprint/Clear WiMAX service with a 35GB cap on Sprint’s 3G network. Customers can select a dual-band device that supports LTE and 3G service for $246.93 (includes activation fee, modem upcharge fee, first month of service, shipping, and refundable $100 modem deposit). Customers looking for access to LTE, 3G, and WiMAX can choose a tri-band device for $315.93 (includes activation fee, modem upcharge, first month of service, shipping and refundable deposit.) Keep in mind Sprint’s 4G LTE network is still very spotty.
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