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AT&T Treats Their Retirees as Bad as the Rest: California Couple Fights for $3,000 in Denied Discounts

Phillip Dampier July 9, 2014 AT&T, Consumer News, Video, Wireless Broadband No Comments

attA Mill Valley, Calif. woman was overcharged by more than $3,000 after AT&T removed her company retiree discount and refused to reimburse her for its own billing mistake.

Tes Norlin and her husband travel the world and make a lot of overseas calls using their AT&T cell phone along the way. It wasn’t much of a surprise when the couple began receiving AT&T bills for more than $600, but when their travel was finished, AT&T wasn’t — the Norlin family continued to see surprisingly high bills.

high billTes is a victim of autobill complacency. The convenience of automatic bill payments has too often given people an excuse not to scrutinize their monthly bills, as long as the amount seems somewhat reasonable. It is only after an unexpectedly high bill arrives when customers finally begin to investigate.

The Norlin family bundles every telecommunications service they have with AT&T – cell phones, broadband, and television service. For that loyalty, and because of Norlin’s former employment with AT&T, she qualified for a substantial discount — $263 a month. AT&T mistakenly removed that discount when it deleted her Social Security number from the account… 14 months earlier.

“And [that discount] amounted to over $3,000 which is a substantial amount of money,” Tes told San Francisco television station KGO. “$263.88 times the 14 months, basically. Then you can do the math.”

AT&T did its own math. Despite more than two dozen calls to AT&T customer service and executive customer relations, the company’s final offer was a courtesy credit amounting to three months of the missing discount AT&T admitted accidentally removing.

deniedThe phone company says it’s the customer’s fault if they don’t analyze their AT&T bill and promptly call attention to billing errors.

“Rules are rules,” said AT&T.

Of course, AT&T wrote those rules and when KGO threatened to tell the story on the evening news, a full refund was quickly on the way.

“We provided an adjustment for the full amount, as requested, after discovering that the customer had been removed from the database of former employees eligible to receive this discount,” said AT&T in a change of heart.

Customers who don’t have the backing of Channel 7′s investigative reporter are much less likely to win that outcome so a word to the wise: even if your account is configured with autopay, always scrutinize your monthly bill for mistakes. Many cell phone companies are deleting employee discounts for customers that do not respond to employer verification requests. The re-verification procedure is detailed on the bill you may be ignoring.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KGO San Francisco Woman struggles to get employee discount from ATT 7-9-14.flv

KGO TV’s consumer reporter helps wrestle a substantial service credit from AT&T over a discount the company accidentally deleted from a customer’s account. (3:24)

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Sun Valley Conference Could Spark More Giant Merger Deals; Murdoch, Verizon Sniffing Around

Phillip Dampier July 8, 2014 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon, Video No Comments
big fish

All of these media and content companies may be up for grabs.

Could Rupert Murdoch become the next owner of CNN? Will Verizon consider buying out the owner of more than a dozen cable networks, or the Walt Disney Company, owner of ABC?

Since 1983, media moguls have assembled annually in posh Sun Valley, Idaho to talk business. But never have they met while several huge consolidation and merger deals are on the table among their colleagues. Comcast acquiring Time Warner Cable and AT&T buying out DirecTV are both seen as game-changers among Wall Street bankers and the media elite, leaving many self-consciously pondering whether they are no longer big enough to stay competitive in a consolidated media world.

The Wall Street Journal and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution both report that at least one huge merger deal could emerge as a result of this week’s conference. Among the most likely buyers is FOX CEO Rupert Murdoch, who is reportedly looking to buy a major content company.

The most likely target is Time Warner (Entertainment), former owner of Time Warner Cable. After spinning off its money-losing magazine unit, TW has become much more focused on content and distribution – exactly what Murdoch is looking for. Time Warner owns New Line Cinema, HBO, Turner Broadcasting System, The CW Television Network, Warner Bros., Kids’ WB, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Adult Swim, CNN, DC Comics, Warner Bros. Animation, Cartoon Network Studios, Hanna-Barbera, MLB Network and Castle Rock Entertainment. In fact, altogether the company owns or controls dozens of television channels which could all soon fall into the hands of Murdoch.

A Murdoch acquisition would be the last death-blow for Ted Turner’s Turner Broadcasting System, which launched CNN, TBS, and TNT and is now a division within Time Warner. Murdoch’s Fox News Channel was launched as a conservative alternative to CNN’s perceived left-leaning reporting. A Murdoch buyout would either deliver bipartisan profits to the media mogul or allow him to shut down the network or relaunch it under the Fox News brand.

Such an acquisition would not be cheap. Time Warner is worth as estimated $62 billion.

A Murdoch buyout would be especially troublesome for those already upset with corporate media consolidation. Murdoch would end up controlling three major U.S. networks – FOX, CW, and MyNetworkTV, multiple cable news channels, dozens of local television stations in major media markets, and more cable networks than most people can count. In fact, the assembled list of Murdoch-owned media properties is enormous:

Murdoch: The next owner of CNN?

Murdoch: The next owner of CNN?

Adult Swim, Boomerang, Cartoon Network, CNN Worldwide, HLN, Inside CNN Tour & Store, TBS, TCM, TheSmokingGun.com, TNT, truTV, Turner Sports, Fox Business Network, Fox News, Star India, YES Network, Twentieth Century Fox, Fox 2000 Pictures, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox International Productions, Twentieth Century Fox Television, Fox Home Entertainment, Shine Group, Twentieth Century Fox Animation, The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times, Times Literary Supplement, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, The Australian, The Daily Telegraph (Australia), The Sunday Telegraph (Australia), The Herald Sun, The Sunday Herald Sun, The Courier Mail, The Sunday Mail, The Advertiser, NT News, The Sunday Territorian, The Sunday Times (Australia), The Sunday Tasmanian, Mercury, Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures International, New Line Cinema, Warner Home Video, Warner Bros. Advanced Digital Services, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Warner Bros. Technical Operations, Warner Bros. Anti-Piracy Operations, Warner Bros. Television Group, Warner Bros. Television, Telepictures Productions, Warner Horizon Television, Warner Bros. Animation, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, Warner Bros. International Television Distribution, Warner Bros. International Television Production, Warner Bros. International Branded Services, Studio 2.0, The CW Television Network, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, HarperCollins General Books Group, HarperCollins Children’s Books Group, HarperCollins Christian Publishers, HarperCollins UK, HarperCollins Canada, HarperCollins Australia/New Zealand, HarperCollins India, FX, FXX, FXM, National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, Nat Geo Mundo, FSN, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2, FOX Soccer Plus, FOX College Sports, FOX Deportes, FOX Life, Baby TV, Fox Broadcasting Company, Sky 1, Sky Atlantic, Sky Living, Sky Arts, Sky Sports, Sky Movies, Sky News, Sky Deutschland, Sky Italia, MyNetworkTV, MundoFox, FOX International Channels, Fox Sports Enterprises, HBO, HBO On Demand, HBO GO, Cinemax, Cinemax on Demand, MAX GO, HBO2, HBO Signature, HBO Family, HBO Comedy, HBO Zone, HBO Latino, More Max, Action Max, Thriller Max, 5 Star Max, Max Latino, Outer Max, Movie Max, Barron’s, MarketWatch, Factiva, Dow Jones Risk & Compliance, Dow Jones VentureSource, All Things Digital, Amplify, News America Marketing, and Storyful.

Murdoch has already shown a willingness to spend big. He has recently taken an ownership interest in the up and coming Vice Media, popular with the under 30-viewing crowd. He also spent $415 million to buy romance novel publisher Harlequin Enterprises.

But Murdoch may not be the only one shopping for a deal. The Wall Street Journal offered a shopping list:

  • Small cable network owners: Nobody just owns three or four cable networks these days. Content conglomerates like CBS, Disney, Time Warner and Comcast own 15, 30, or even 40 different channels. Smaller players are ripe for the picking. Chief among them include Scripps Networks Interactive (Food Network, HGTV), AMC Networks (AMC, IFC, Sundance), and Crown Media (Hallmark).
  • Small studios: Owning a small Hollywood studio is quaint, but Wall Street investment bankers think the time is long past to sell out to larger corporate entities who can better leverage distribution of their releases, easy enough if you own your own theater chain, pay cable network, broadcast stations, and basic cable outlets.
Both phone companies are attending Sun Valley for the first time.

Both phone companies are attending Sun Valley for the first time.

In addition to buyout offers from the largest networks around, Discovery Networks is also in the mood to grow larger at the urging of its board of directors, which includes Dr. John Malone, CEO of Liberty Global. Malone is behind much of the cheerleading to consolidate the cable industry and helped spark the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal when his partly owned Charter Communications sought a takeover of Time Warner Cable itself.

Wall Street bankers love even better the idea of selling Discovery to a new owner – Disney.

For the first time, phone companies AT&T and Verizon are also in attendance at Sun Valley, and analysts don’t believe the CEOs are there for summer vacation.

Jimmy Schaeffler, chairman of media and telecom consulting firm Carmel Group, says Verizon has been most lacking in the content ownership department and “needs something else right now” as rivals bulk up. AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV only underlines that sentiment among many Wall Street analysts who think Time Warner (Entertainment) could be an option if Verizon isn’t outbid by Murdoch.

All of this shopping has caused alarm for some, including CNN’s media reporter Brian Stelter who declared, “I will eat my remote control … in fact, I will eat my copy of the New York Post … if Murdoch becomes the owner of CNN.” 

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ Digits Media Consolidation 7-7-14.flv

The Wall Street Journal’s ‘Digits’ explores the ongoing consolidation of media creators and distributors. This year’s media conference in Sun Valley could spark more merger deals. (5:02)

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Antitrust Us: Is ComVerizablAsT&TWCDirecTV Really Best for American Broadband?

Bad enough

Bad enough

A big company needs a big name, and so what if you can’t say it out loud, so long as your check reaches the cable cartel on time to avoid those inconvenient late fees.

The shock waves of the $45 billion dollar proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable (not to mention AT&T and DirecTV) have reached as far as Great Britain where appalled editorial writers in the British press are pondering whether Washington has lost its mind or just its integrity… or a combination of both, by actually contemplating the unthinkable rebirth of the American Robber Baron.

Only instead of railroads powering America’s early 20th century economy, today its broadband. Overseas, broadband is plentiful, fast, and cheap. Back home, cable operators are hard at work in a comfortable monopoly/duopoly working on excuses to justify Internet rationing with usage caps, outrageous equipment rental fees, rate hikes, and usage billing for a product about as cheap to offer as a phone call on one of those unlimited calling plans you probably already have.

From The Economist:

“On “OUTLAW”, a drama that aired on NBC, a Supreme Court justice leaves the bench to join a law firm. In real life he might have begun working for Comcast, America’s largest cable company, which owns NBC. Many of Washington’s top brass are on Comcast’s payroll, including Margaret Attwell Baker, a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), America’s telecoms regulator, who in government had helped approve Comcast’s takeover of NBCUniversal in 2011. Even Barack Obama has Comcast ties. “I have been here so much, the only thing I haven’t done in this house is have seder dinner,” he quipped at a fundraiser hosted last year at the home of David Cohen, Comcast’s chief lobbyist.

“It helps to have influential friends, especially if you are seeking to expand your grip on America’s pay-TV and broadband markets.

“[...] The deal would create a Goliath far more fearsome than the latest ride at the Universal Studios theme park (also Comcast-owned). Comcast has said it would forfeit 3m subscribers, but even with that concession the combination of the two firms would have around 30m—more than 30% of all TV subscribers and around 33% of broadband customers. In the cable market alone (ie, not counting suppliers of satellite services such as DirecTV), Comcast has as much as 55% of all TV and broadband subscribers.

Worse

Worse

“Comcast will argue that its share of customers in any individual market is not increasing. That is true only because cable companies decided years ago not to compete head-to-head, and divided the country among themselves. More than three-quarters of households have no choice other than their local cable monopoly for high-speed, high-capacity internet.

“For consumers the deal would mean the union of two companies that are already reviled for their poor customer service and high prices. Greater size will fix neither problem. Mr Cohen has said, “We’re certainly not promising that customer bills are going to go down or even that they’re going to increase less rapidly.” Between 1995 and 2012 the average price of a cable subscription increased at a compound annual rate of more than 6%.”

Before blaming it all on President Obama’s close relationship with Comcast’s top executives, it was the Republicans in Washington that set this tragic monopolistic farce into motion. Michael Powell, President George W. Bush’s idea of the best man in America to protect the public interest at the FCC, represented the American people about as well as ‘Heckuva Job Brownie.’ Instead of promoting competition, Powell used his time to beef-up his résumé for a very cushy post-government job heading America’s top cable lobby – the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Attwell-Baker was even more shameless, departing the FCC for her sweet new executive digs at Comcast just a short time after enthusiastically voting in favor of its NBCUniversal merger deal.

snakePowell and others made certain that Internet Service Providers would not be classified as “common carriers,” which would require them to rent their broadband pipes at a reasonable wholesale rate to competitors. The industry and their well-compensated friends in the House and Senate argued such a status would destroy investment in broadband expansion and innovation. Instead it destroyed the family budget as prices for mediocre service in uncompetitive markets soared. Today, consumers in common carrier countries including France and Britain pay a fraction of what Americans do for Internet access, and get faster speeds as well.

Letting Comcast grow even larger, The Economist argues, will allow one company to dominate not just your Internet experience, but also the content consumers access and at what speed.

“There is plenty for Mr Obama and Mr Cohen to discuss at their next dinner,” concludes the magazine. “But better yet, officials could keep their distance from Comcast, and reject a merger that would reduce competition, provide no benefit to consumers and sap the incentive to innovate.”

Considering the enormous sums of money Comcast has shown a willingness to spend on winning over supporters for its business agenda, restraint on the part of Washington will need voter vigilance, much the same way calling out non-profits who gush over Comcast while quietly cashing their contribution checks must also be fully exposed to regulators who will ultimately decide the fate of the merger.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Antitrust Us.mp4

Antitrust Us: Cartoonist Mark Fiore takes on the corporate idea that merging cable companies together creates more competition. (1:50)

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Los Angeles Has Accumulated $35 Million in Cable Franchise Fees It Has No Idea How to Spend

35-LACityView

Channel 35 is Los Angeles’ Government Access station

Los Angeles cable subscribers are paying $30-50 a year in extra franchise fees the city government has no idea what to do with, allowing a bank account dedicated to housing the unspent funds to reach $35 million and counting.

A new audit by the Office of the City Controller found no misappropriation or ethical lapses by the city government, but it did criticize the lack of long-term planning regarding how franchise revenue should be used, as well as lax auditing of expenses that were paid from the fund. Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin added the city’s lack of consistent auditing of the five major cable operators servicing greater Los Angeles may be allowing cable operators to charge customers franchise fees the companies are keeping for themselves. A 2006 law passed at the behest of Verizon and AT&T allowing statewide video franchise agreements in California isn’t helping either.

For decades, communities have been able to demand up to a 5% franchise fee from cable and phone companies offering video services in their areas in return for access to public rights-of-way and other public property. Most cities, including Los Angeles, have requested the maximum allowed – 5% of the provider’s gross annual revenue earned within the city. Cable operators retaliated by recouping the franchise fee by billing cable customers for it on a separate line on monthly cable bills.

In Los Angeles, 60% of all franchise fees ($31 million) paid are transferred to the city’s all-purpose General Fund, used for all types of city expenses. The remaining 40 percent ($12.4 million) is supposed to be earmarked for a Telecommunications Fund, but the city often raids that account as well. Time Warner Cable subscribers account for 85% of Los Angeles’ cable franchise revenue, AT&T U-verse contributes another 10% with other operators paying considerably less. Last year, Charter Cable wrote a check for less than $5,000, primarily because only a tiny part of the city of Los Angeles is served by Charter today.

So where is the excess money still in the account coming from?

fund balance

The Unintended Consequences of Statewide Video Franchising

Eight years ago, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 2987:  the “Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006” (DIVCA). In reality, DIVCA was just another statewide video franchise bill heavily pushed by the state’s dominant phone companies — AT&T and Verizon — to let them begin offering video services without having to sign franchise agreements with thousands of local governments across the state.

verizon attAT&T and Verizon sold the legislation to the public as a red-tape cutter to bring Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse to millions of Californians without unnecessary bureaucratic delay.

But lobbyists from both phone companies, as well as several cable companies, were successful in inserting their own amendments into the law that undercut their arguments for passing the legislation:

  • As local franchise agreements expired, companies took their franchise renewal business direct to the state, cutting off local oversight. Communities could no longer require operators to expand into rural areas or impose fines for sub-standard service;
  • Cable companies won the right to toss Public, Educational, and Government Access (PEG) channels out of their buildings. Many communities assigned responsibility for housing and operating PEG channels as part of their franchise agreement. DIVCA rendered those agreements void and unenforceable;
  • Cable companies no longer had to offer institutional broadband networks for free or at a discount to local governments, schools and libraries, and many existing networks were closed down as soon as the local franchise agreement expired and communities balked at the new prices charged by telecom companies.

But perhaps the most controversial amendment was language that gets AT&T and Verizon out of meeting obligations to build out their fiber networks where they choose not to built them, while still compelling smaller independent telephone companies to offer service to every customer within their telephone service area within a reasonable amount of time.

So instead of promoting a rush towards video competition, both AT&T and Verizon won concessions that let them cherry pick — on their own schedule — customers for AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS:

  • Verizon is in compliance with DIVCA as long as 25% of the households where service is available are low-income and within 5 years, Verizon increases that to at least 40%;
  • AT&T stays out of trouble with DIVCA by providing video service to 35% of low-income households where service is available. Within five years, AT&T must reach at least 50%.

One of the biggest victims of DIVCA are PEG channels which lost the sponsorship of the cable companies that used to underwrite them as part of their franchise agreements. American Community Television reported in California, Illinois and Indiana, where statewide video franchising laws were passed, cable operators that operated PEG channels closed the doors, sometimes with only 30 days notice. Even in states where PEG funding remained, channels have been exiled to Channel Siberia (eg. Channel 1,512) or are under constant threat of losing their channel if they don’t meet an operator’s arbitrary quality of programming criteria.

Time Warner Cable has moved PEG channels to digital service in a majority of their service areas, requiring many customers to have an added-cost cable box to watch.

To help Californian PEG services cope, a state law permitted cities to collect an extra 1% of gross revenue from cable operators to keep funding these channels. But if a city already collects a full 5% franchise fee, any money collected from PEG channels must only be spent on their operations — no raiding of funds allowed. If the local government thinks there are bigger priorities than supporting public, educational, and government access, the future of PEG channels is questionable.

How to Spend the Untouchable Proceeds

The new home of Los Angeles' Government Access channel

The new home of Los Angeles’ Government Access channel

With Los Angeles-area cable companies collecting and sending on the proceeds of the 1% PEG surcharge to city coffers, the money has been more or less just piling up over the last seven years, unspent.

As of the end of June last year, the city had squirreled away about $22 million collected from cable TV customers stashed in a non interest-bearing account. PEG operations across the United States are not known for being profligate spenders, relying on budgets that would be insufficient to keep the lights on at a typical local public television station. So some question whether Los Angeles’ Public Access, Educational Access, and Government Access networks need $22 million to continue operations.

The city has decided the Government Access channel — the one that airs council meetings and other political functions — does need a new home.  So the city is spending $20 million to completely renovate one of the oldest buildings in Los Angeles, the long-vacant three-story Merced Theater near Olvera Street.

When complete, the state-of-the-art digital facilities of Cityview Channel 35 may rival those of some commercial television stations in Los Angeles. The building will house a small performance venue on the first floor, a studio with space for a 70-person live audience, and plenty of office space on the third floor. What it evidently won’t have room for is the Public Access and Educational Access channels that make up the rest of the PEG trio. The new facility is for the exclusive use of Channel 35.

Local residents are happy someone is finally doing something with the theater, which has been empty and unused for at least 30 years. The project could also make Los Angeles’ Government Access channel one of the most capable in the country, producing high quality programming well beyond the ubiquitous city council meetings.

“Space for a live audience of about 70 people will allow us to engage the public with debates, town halls and other events that we weren’t able to do,” Mark Wolf, executive officer at the city Information Technology Agency, which oversees Channel 35, told Downtown News. “The venue also gives us a full upgrade to digital technology, as we’ve been operating in an analog environment.”

Downtown News partly misled its readers when it suggested cable providers are footing the bill for the renovated home of Channel 35. Although money from the city’s general fund won’t be used for the project, the money did originate from cable subscribers who have paid higher cable bills since 2007 because the city elected to collect a 1% PEG franchise fee.

Galperin

Galperin

Even after spending $20 million on the Merced Theater, the money from Time Warner Cable, Cox, AT&T, Verizon, and Charter cable TV subscribers will keep rolling in. The audit found that by the time the new Merced Theater facility opens in 2016, the city will again have between $21-25 million in unspent PEG funds.

Galperin thinks throwing more money at traditional PEG operations would be a mistake, particularly when younger audiences are not even subscribing to cable television.

“We’re in a new era,” Galperin said. “The old rules that envisioned everybody getting their programming from cable are changing before our very eyes. We are in a totally different era in terms of how people get their information, so much of viewership is on the Internet now, not necessarily on cable.”

Because PEG funds can only be spent on PEG operations, as a starting point, funds could be spent to build up what is now an anemic, barely functioning website for Channel 35. Although the channel does stream online, it is intermittent in our experience. Channel 35 might also partner with local public broadcasting and minority-interest channels in co-production ventures. It should also develop a robust on-demand library of its content for site visitors because that is increasingly how Americans choose to watch television.

Galperin suggested other uses including a public Wi-Fi network and city Internet sites for programming and other information, but these may stray outside of the boundaries of what is permissible under current California and federal law.

Of course, there is one other alternative – rescind the PEG fee altogether until there is a legitimate need to collect the money from already overburdened cable subscribers.

franchise fees

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Surviving DIVCA.mp4

Silicon Valley Community Television aired this lengthy conference last fall for the benefit of local governments across California still trying to make sense of the 2006 Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act, a provider-influenced piece of legislation that has tied the hands of most communities to manage their local telecommunications infrastructure for the good of their citizens. (2 hours, 47 minutes)

 

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AT&T Piles On U-verse Junk Fees: Say Hello to the 24¢ ‘Regulatory Video Cost Recovery Charge’

We get to keep all the money!

We get to keep all the money!

AT&T has begun charging U-verse television customers a new monthly fee to cover the cost of an FCC charge now extended to IPTV providers like AT&T that used to be paid only by cable operators.

AT&T’s “Regulatory Video Cost Recovery Charge” is defined by AT&T as a new “monthly fee that is charged to each U-verse TV subscriber’s bill to recover the regulatory fee imposed on providers of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) Service.”

The new fee is reportedly set at $0.24 a month. AT&T will collect $2.88 a year from 5.7 million television customers annually beginning June 1, 2014.

Cable operators have paid similar fees all along but have generally considered them part of the cost of doing business. AT&T wants to pass the cost directly on to its customers.

But a review of the FCC’s 2013 Fiscal Year fee schedule shows a major discrepancy between the amount AT&T intends to collect from customers and the actual cost of the fee AT&T will have to pay the FCC.

While AT&T will bank $2.88 annually from each television customer, it only has to pay the FCC $1.02 a year per subscriber — a difference of $1.86. That doesn’t sound like much until you factor in the number of AT&T U-verse TV customers. AT&T will pocket $10,602,000 a year in “regulatory cost recovery” charges it will apparently keep for itself.

That suggests AT&T has imposed another hidden rate increase on customers who already pay a range of surcharges and fees. AT&T has created so many fees, surcharges, and other ancillary charges, it has published a Billing Glossary explaining them for the benefit of confused customers. AT&T usually keeps all the money associated with these fees — most are not taxes, although some fund state initiatives.

Here are some customers may already be acquainted with:

Activation Fee
A one-time fee charged when you activate new service. It is billed in full on your first bill.

Bill Statement Fee
The Bill Statement Fee is to cover the expenses associated with providing your AT&T Long Distance charges as part of your local phone company bill.

Broadcast TV Surcharge
This surcharge is to recover a portion of the amount local broadcasters charge AT&T to carry their channels.

CA Advanced Services Fund (CASF) (California Only)
The fund is used to spur deployment of broadband facilities in un-served and underserved areas of California. Funding for the CASF program will not increase total surcharges, since the CASF surcharge will be offset by an equal reduction of the High Cost Fund-B surcharge. For billing purposes, the CASF surcharge may appear as a separate item on a bill or may be combined with the CHCF-B surcharge if the item is renamed to reflect both the “CHCF-B and the CASF.”

CA CHCF A and CA CHCF B [High Cost Fund (CHCF) Surcharges A and B] (California Only)
These surcharges subsidize basic rates for local telephone companies servicing rural areas and compensate carriers for providing basic residential service in areas where the cost exceeds the CPUC determined statewide average.

CA Relay Service and Communications Devices Fund (California Only)
A surcharge utilized by the state to provide telecommunications devices to deaf or hard of hearing consumers.

CA Teleconnect Fund (California Only)
This surcharge provides discounts on telecommunications services to qualifying schools, libraries, community-based organizations, county-owned hospital and health clinics.

All these fees and surcharges...

All these fees and surcharges…

Carrier Cost Recovery Fee
This fee helps recover costs associated with providing state-to-state and international long distance service, including expenses for national regulatory fees and programs, as well as connection and account servicing charges.

Change Fee
A charge applied if a TV service or package is downgraded or cancelled within the first 30 days of ordering.

Chicago Amusement Tax (City of Chicago Only)
A tax imposed by the City of Chicago on amusement services (i.e. paid television programming, recreational activities, etc.) provided within the city limits.

Convenience Fee
A fee applied when a customer payment is processed by a customer service representative. This fee does not apply for payments made online or through our automated phone system.

CT Community Access Support Fee (Connecticut Only)
Fee required to be imposed by AT&T upon its customers by Connecticut General Statutes in order to support community access operations.

CT Public Programming Gross Earnings Tax Recovery (Connecticut Only)
Connecticut fee imposed to support Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) programming.

CT Video Provider Gross Earnings Tax Recovery (Connecticut Only)
Connecticut fee imposed on U-verse video service.

...and their advertised price was so low.

…and their advertised price was so low.

DEAF Surcharge
This surcharge shall be identified on the telephone bill as the “CA Relay Service and Communications Devices Fund.”

Early Termination Fee
A fee associated with early termination of one or more of your services before the end of the associated service plan term.

Federal Subscriber Line Charge
This charge was instituted in 1984 to cover the costs of a portion of the local phone network.

HD Technology Fee
A monthly fee for access to high-definition (HD) U-verse television service.

High Speed Internet Equipment Fee
A monthly fee for customers who have U-verse TV and Internet equipment.

Infrastructure Maintenance Fee (IMF)
All telecommunications carriers on a customer’s bill must collect this fee. The funds for the state IMF help to support the costs of providing and maintaining utility rights of way. Revenue from the IMF is dedicated for Personal Property Replacement Tax (PPRT) and is disbursed to all taxing districts.

In-State Connection Fee
The In-State Connection Fee helps to cover the costs AT&T is charged by your local phone company to provide you access to local phone lines.

Local Connectivity Charge
This fee helps recover increased connectivity costs associated with providing local service in your state.

Local Number Portability (LNP) Charge
A charge permitted by the FCC to recover costs of upgrading the network to provide customers the ability to keep their phone numbers when changing local service providers.

moneyLocal Video Facilities Fee
A state or local government fee to support Public Educational and Governmental (PEG) programming.

Local Video Service Franchise Fee
Fee imposed by state or local government on U-verse video service.

Minimum Monthly Usage Charge
A charge to an account that does not meet a specified minimum total amount for a particular service.

Municipal Charge
A charge to cover costs of installing telephone poles and lines, manholes, and other telephone items on public property such as city streets.

NV Universal Service Fund Surcharge (Nevada Only)
A fee imposed by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada that supports telecommunication needs of low-income households, consumers living in high cost areas, schools, libraries, and rural hospitals. This surcharge will be based on a percentage of intrastate long distance charges associated with your U-verse Voice service and will be modified as needed to stay consistent with any required changes in fund contributions.

Number Portability Service Charge
A charge permitted by the FCC to recover costs of upgrading the network to provide customers the ability to keep their phone numbers when changing local service providers.

Receiver Fee
A monthly charge for additional U-verse receivers (set top boxes).

Regulatory Video Cost Recovery Charge
The Regulatory Video Cost Recovery Charge is the monthly fee that is charged to each U-verse TV subscriber’s bill to recover the regulatory fee imposed on providers of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) Service.

Restoral Fee
A charge to restore service that was suspended or disconnected.

State Cost-Recovery Fee (Texas Only)
Fee/Surcharge imposed by AT&T to recover franchise costs imposed on the company by Texas law.

State Infrastructure Maintenance Fee
All telecommunications carriers on a customer’s bill must collect this fee. The funds for the State IMF help to support the costs of providing and maintaining utility rights of way. Revenue from the IMF is dedicated for Personal Property Replacement Tax (PPRT) purposes and is disbursed to all taxing districts.

Universal Connectivity Charge
The Universal Connectivity Charge is the monthly fee that is charged to each residential customer’s phone bill to recover the expenses associated with AT&T’s payments into the Universal Service Fund.

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GOP Senators Attack FCC on Sweeping Away Municipal Broadband Bans, Citing “State’s Rights”

Cruz Control

Cruz Control

A group of Republican senators are warning the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission he’d better not touch statewide bans on community broadband networks.

In a letter sent to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Republican Sens. Deb Fisher, Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz, Mike Enzi, John Barrasso, Pat Roberts, Lamar Alexander, John Cornyn, Tom Coburn, Tim Scott and Marco Rubio slammed Wheeler for his willingness to override or ignore state laws co-written by cable and telephone companies that banish municipal broadband from providing any competition.

“The insinuation that the Federal Communications Commission will force taxpayer-funded competition against private broadband providers — against the wishes of the states — is deeply troubling,” said the senators. “Inserting the commission into states’ economic and fiscal affairs in such a cavalier fashion shows a lack of respect for states’ rights,” they said.

Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and other operators are among the campaign contributors of the nine senators.

Echoing the sentiment of the cable and phone companies, the Republicans called community owned broadband “an unnecessary and risky government liability” and warned Wheeler there would be consequences if he was serious about ignoring the state laws, many enacted with the assistance of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

“State political leaders are accountable to the voters who elect them, and the Commission would be well-advised to respect state sovereignty,” said the senators. “We look forward to your timely response, and we hope you will think critically about the Commission’s role and how it can more appropriately interact with our state authorities.”

Community broadband has largely been the only wired competitor facing off against cable and phone companies. Consumers have a much bigger chance of seeing a municipal provider in their community than Google Fiber or another overbuilder.

“Those are nine senators that moonlight for Comcast and AT&T I won’t be voting for,” says Stop the Cap! reader Tom Resden who shared the story. “Municipal broadband balances a playing field that has favored big cable and phone companies for years. These are the same type of senators that 100 years ago would have opposed municipal power and co-ops, willing to leave people in the dark rather than allow a player that answers only to customers get traction. It’s not a state rights issue when the corporations wrote the legislation their well-funded lackeys in statehouses around the country helped hurry into law. What we are really talking about is the corporate right to suppress competition.”

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What is Al Jazeera Trying to Keep Secret in Its Settled Lawsuit Against AT&T?

Phillip Dampier June 10, 2014 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

al-jazeera-americaAT&T U-verse television customers: Al Jazeera America is coming soon to your television lineup whether you want the network or not.

Just days after the final closedown of Current TV — purchased by Qatar-based Al Jazeera as a platform to launch Al Jazeera America, a new U.S. based news network — AT&T suddenly threw the network off its lineup.

Both companies accused each other of violating the contract. AT&T said it never signed on to carry Al Jazeera America, it signed a contract to carry Current TV. Al Jazeera said it bought Current TV and had an iron clad contract with AT&T to carry whatever programming came from the channel.

Whether called Current TV or Al Jazeera America, it wasn’t on AT&T’s lineup after launching last August. Al Jazeera promptly sued AT&T for violating its contract in its complaint: Al Jazeera America LLC v. AT&T Services Inc.

What made the case unusual is that Al Jazeera filed a confidential lawsuit in the Delaware Chancery Court. In most program disputes, the players are only too happy to supply the media with their respective sides, including copies of any legal complaints.

When the media requested a copy of Al Jazeera’s lawsuit, it arrived heavily redacted to a four line summary Bloomberg News called “nonsense.”

A group of five journalists and Bloomberg filed their own complaint with the court requesting to unseal details of the case, arguing if the Qatari news channel wanted to use the U.S. court system, it had to follow court procedure and respect America’s First Amendment.

Top secret.

Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III agreed with the journalists, ruling the American public was being kept in the dark about the case with redactions so severe, no one could learn about the disputed contract terms, much less read a complete description of the dispute.

Desperate to avoid having to make the case public, Al Jazeera quickly appealed Glasscock’s decision, but that appeal was dismissed by the Delaware Supreme Court last week as having been accepted improvidently.

That decision appears to have rung alarm bells back in Qatar and Al Jazeera’s owners announced it would drop the case completely after reaching a quick settlement with AT&T. They claimed their actions would wipe the public record clean of the lawsuit, erasing the complaint and related papers from the public record and preventing Bloomberg and other journalists from getting access to the lawsuit.

chanceryDespite the court order to unseal the lawsuit, the Delaware Court of Chancery granted a 10-day stay to allow the parties to finish their settlement and seek an order to expunge the record of the lawsuit.

That brought a hostile response from the journalists. David Finger, a lawyer for some of the media challengers, said Al Jazeera’s argument around the unsealing order “lacks any basis in law.”

“If the complaint was improperly filed under seal (as this court has already found), the public had the right to review the complaint at the moment of filing,” Finger’s letter states. “That right cannot be taken away retroactively.”

Finger also argued the right to public access is not squelched because an action is close to settlement and the Chancery Court has rejected arguments to the contrary in past cases.

The strenuous objections from Al Jazeera are only bringing more attention to the case. AT&T has decided to steer clear of the controversy, only stating it had reached an agreement in principle to add Al Jazeera America to the U-verse lineup.

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Netflix Rankings Slam FiOS, Speed Alert Messages Prompt Cease & Desist Letter from Verizon

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Netflix Slowdown Who is to Blame 6-6-14.flv

CNN explores who is responsible for Netflix’s streaming problems on Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse. While one industry analyst seems keen to blame Netflix, his other articles on the subject show an increasing bias towards big ISPs like Verizon and AT&T. (2:54)

Netflix’s May speed rankings confirm Verizon FiOS customers are likely to find a degraded video streaming experience while using the otherwise speedy fiber to the home service. Netflix performance on Verizon FiOS dropped considerably last month — so much so that Frontier and Windstream DSL customers now get better Netflix performance than any Verizon customer receives. AT&T U-verse customers fared even worse with streaming performance below that offered by Mediacom — America’s bottom-rated cable company and CenturyLink DSL. In fact AT&T U-verse customers receive only marginally better service than Hughes satellite and Clearwire wireless customers. Verizon’s DSL came in dead last.

usa

Coincidentally, both Verizon and AT&T, following Comcast’s lead, have been in negotiations with Netflix to receive payment from the streaming video provider to better handle its traffic. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said he’s confident about getting payments from Netflix, and he turned out to be correct — Verizon and Netflix reached an agreement in late April that is still being implemented. AT&T also says it is negotiating with Netflix. Verizon’s streaming video partnership with Redbox has not been affected by the sudden deterioration in online video streaming on Verizon’s network.

verizon att

The problems with Netflix on some ISP’s have gone all the way to the top.

“My wife and I like to lay in bed and watch Netflix,” Tom Wheeler, chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, said in January. The two companies serving Wheeler’s neighborhood are Comcast and Verizon. When enough customers launch streams on Netflix, saturating the inbound connection to either ISP, the video stops. When it does, Wheeler’s wife joins the parade of irritated customers.

“You’re chairman of the FCC,” she says to him. “Why is this happening?”

Last week, Netflix decided to answer that question with a more informative error message appearing when available bandwidth is insufficient to support a high quality stream.

verizon throttle

“The Verizon network is crowded right now,” the message says. Netflix then attempts to restore the stream by serving up a degraded, lower quality/bit rate version to the paying customer.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Netflix-Verizon War of Words 6-6-14.flv

Bloomberg interviews Todd O’Boyle from Common Cause. He places the blame for this debacle solely on the shoulders of Verizon and other ISPs. (5:39)

The inability to successfully maintain a stable stream of Netflix content that ranges from 256kbps to 5.8Mbps seems odd on ISPs that offer customers connections far faster than that. The average Netflix stream is 2Mbps, slow enough to be comfortably supported on even a 3Mbps DSL connection. Netflix’s problems with Comcast evaporated after agreeing to pay the cable company to maintain a better connection between its customers and Netflix’s content delivery network. The same cannot be said for perfomance on AT&T’s U-verse platform. Although Verizon signed an agreement with Netflix, it has clearly not been implemented as of yet.

netflix-download-speeds-in-the-united-states-time-warner-cable-verizon-fios-charter-comcast_chartbuilder-2

“We started a small-scale test in early May that lets consumers know, while they’re watching Netflix, that their experience is degraded due to a lack of capacity into their broadband provider’s network,” said Netflix’s Joris Evers. “We are testing this across the U.S. wherever there is significant and persistent network congestion.”

netflix-logoThe companies with the biggest drops in Netflix performance are the same ones strongly advocating special paid “fast lanes” on the Internet for preferred traffic to resolve exactly these kinds of performance problems.

“Some large US ISPs are erecting toll booths, providing sufficient capacity for services requested by their subscribers to flow through only when those services pay the toll,” said Evers. “In this way, ISPs are double-dipping by getting both their subscribers and Internet content providers to pay for access to each other. We believe these ISP tolls are wrong because they raise costs, stifle innovation and harm consumers. ISPs should provide sufficient capacity into their network to provide consumers the broadband experience for which they pay.”

The error message fingering Verizon as the culprit for a poorer Netflix experience brought an angry response from Verizon on its blog:

Reports from this morning have suggested that Netflix is engaging in a PR stunt in an attempt to shift blame to ISPs for the buffering that some of its customers may be experiencing. According to one journalist’s tweet from last night, Netflix is displaying a message on the screen for users who experience buffering which says: “The Verizon network is crowded right now.”

This claim is not only inaccurate, it is deliberately misleading.

The source of the problem is almost certainly NOT congestion in Verizon’s network. Instead, the problem is most likely congestion on the connection that Netflix has chosen to use to reach Verizon’s network. Of course, Netflix is solely responsible for choosing how their traffic is routed into any ISP’s network.

[...] It is sad that Netflix is willing to deliberately mislead its customers so they can be used as pawns in business negotiations and regulatory proceedings.

It would be more accurate for Netflix’s message screen to say: “The path that we have chosen to reach Verizon’s network is crowded right now.”

However, that would highlight their responsibility for the problem.

Milch

Milch

That was quickly followed by a cease and desist letter from Verizon demanding Netflix remove error messages that blame Verizon for the problem. It also demanded a list of Verizon customers that received the Netflix notification.

“Failure to provide this information may lead us to pursue legal remedies,” wrote Verizon general counsel Randal Milch in a letter to Netflix general counsel David Hyman.

“This is about consumers not getting what they paid for from their broadband provider,” Netflix spokesman Jonathan Friedland said. “We are trying to provide more transparency, just like we do with the ISP Speed Index, and Verizon is trying to shut down that discussion.”

“Verizon’s unwillingness to augment its access ports to major Internet backbone providers is squarely Verizon’s fault,” Netflix general counsel David Hyman wrote.

“Netflix does not purposely select congested routes,” added Evers. “We pay some of the world’s largest transit networks to deliver Netflix video right to the front door of an ISP. Where the problem occurs is at that door — the interconnection point — when the broadband provider hasn’t provided enough capacity to accommodate the traffic their customer requested.”

Despite all that, Netflix also admitted it plans to drop the error messages after the “small-scale test” ends on June 16.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Buffering Blame Game 6-6-14.flv

CNBC explains how Netflix content gets to end viewers over a complicated series of Internet connections between Netflix and your ISP. (1:31)

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AT&T’s Magic Fiber Fairy is Back: Fiber for All (If You Approve Our DirecTV Buyout and Ignore Our Math)

Notice the word "may"

AT&T’s Magic Fiber Fairy brings fiber to you, if you approve AT&T’s business agenda.

If it wins approval from regulators to buy satellite TV provider DirecTV, AT&T says it will have enough money to afford to expand its gigabit fiber network Gigapower U-verse to an extra two million homes.

That bit of non-sequitur was the highlight of AT&T’s regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. AT&T claims money for the fiber expansion will come from anticipated savings from programming volume discounts AT&T will get combining DirecTV’s 20.3 million customers with AT&T’s 5.7 million U-verse TV subscribers.

AT&T expects cost synergies to exceed $1.6 billion annual run-rate by three years after closing.  These savings will begin in the first year after closing, ramp up over four years and grow with the addition of video subscribers thereafter.  It is anticipated that at least 40% of these total synergies will be realized by year two after closing.  These synergies are conservative and derived from items such as programming cost reductions, operational efficiencies and reductions in redundant broadcast infrastructure.  Programming cost reductions are the most significant part of the expected cost synergies.  At this time, AT&T’s U-verse content costs represent approximately 60% of its subscriber video revenues.  With the scale this transaction provides, we estimate AT&T’s U-verse content costs after the completion of the transaction will be reduced by approximately 20% or more as compared with our forecasted standalone content costs.

AT&T believes that despite perennially increasing programming costs, especially for popular over-the-air and cable networks, the 20 percent of anticipated savings will give AT&T enough money to vastly expand its fiber network.

“The economics of this transaction will allow the combined company to upgrade two million additional locations to high-speed broadband with Gigapower FTTP (fiber to the premise) and expand our high-speed broadband footprint to an additional 13 million locations where AT&T will be able to offer a pay TV and high-speed broadband bundle,” AT&T wrote.

On AT&T's budget, the company can send you this really nice star ceiling kit, but it won't pay for gigabit broadband.

On AT&T’s budget, the company can send you this really nice star ceiling kit, but it won’t pay for gigabit broadband.

Before announcing its intent to buy DirecTV, AT&T already promised to expand Gigapower U-verse to up to 100 cities, while telling investors it anticipated flat spending on network improvements. On Tuesday, AT&T went further and dramatically cut investments in its wireline network to a level that raised concerns for the financial security of several of its vendors, including those supplying fiber optic cable and equipment.

AT&T predicted savings from the merger will amount to $1.6 billion a year, but not until three years after the merger closes. There are questions whether this amount is enough to fund the kind of fiber expansion AT&T promises.

In 2012, AT&T committed to expanding U-verse to 8.5 million more customer locations at a cost of $6 billion. That investment paid for AT&T’s less-costly fiber to the neighborhood service. Based on AT&T’s figures, the cost to deploy fiber into each neighborhood, while still utilizing existing copper wiring to bring service into each home, was $705 per home or business.

AT&T Gigapower U-verse requires AT&T to spend considerably more to extend fiber service directly to each premises it intends to serve. Google is spending approximately $4,000 to reach each home with fiber optics in Kansas City. But AT&T’s math suggests it only has to spend about $800 per home (based on the $1.6 billion savings figure it expects to begin receiving in 2017) for decommissioning the remaining copper and extending U-verse fiber for each of two million customer homes passed. What does AT&T know that Google does not?

But wait. AT&T is also committing to use that $1.6 billion to expand traditional fiber to the neighborhood U-verse to 13 million additional homes as well. That means AT&T has a budget that limits it to $106 per home for a combined 15 million new locations passed. That amount is enough for a fiber optic star ceiling kit or a really nice fiber strand light fixture, but it isn’t nearly enough to bring gigabit broadband to AT&T customers.

One thing is certain: AT&T will not be passing on any cost savings to customers in the form of lower bills. AT&T’s proposed investment is a blatant appeal to regulators with promises of broadband expansion the company has already made and shows few signs of actually delivering.

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More Evidence of AT&T’s Phoney Phantom Fiber Expansion: Significant Cuts in Wireline Investments

Phillip Dampier June 3, 2014 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News 1 Comment

phantom gigapowerAT&T’s claim it wants to expand gigabit fiber to the home service to as many as 100 cities nationwide requires closer inspection on news this week it has slashed spending on its wireline business.

Investors knocked AT&T’s share price today as they learned earnings from AT&T’s wired networks will be lower than expected.

TheStreet reported this morning the spending cuts are so significant, they are creating a financial risk for a number of AT&T’s major vendors.

Research firm Jefferies issued a research note warning that AT&T’s spending cuts began last month and seem to be ongoing. As a result the companies that have the most exposure to AT&T’s wireline business are at increased financial risk. Those suppliers include optical fiber equipment manufacturer Alcatel-Lucent, as well as Ciena, Juniper, ADTRAN, Finisar, and JDS Uniphase. As a result, all but Finisar saw their share prices drop significantly in morning trading.

Earlier today, AT&T reported it was ahead of schedule to complete its Project VIP expansion of its 4G LTE wireless and U-verse networks. As U-verse expansion nears an end, vendor orders may be in decline. Wall Street analysts see no evidence AT&T is preparing to spend much on any other expansion efforts, including fiber to the home service.

As Broadband Reports’ notes, without significant capital to invest in fiber upgrades, they are not going to happen.

These cuts make it hard to take the company’s claims of meaningful 1 Gbps fiber expansion seriously as there’s simply no budget cordoned off for such a project (“Project VIP” funds are already in use on other efforts). While AT&T has the press believing they’re deploying 1 Gbps to “up to 100 cities,” AT&T’s shrinking CAPEX tells a different story entirely.

Fiber to the home service is more costly than AT&T U-verse’s fiber to the neighborhood service because it requires a fiber cable be brought directly to each home or business — a more costly endeavor that requires careful cable burial or overhead drop line replacement, as well as the possibility of in-home wiring adjustments. Considering the billions spent on U-verse expansion to date, at least as much will be required to upgrade to fiber to the home service and there are no signs AT&T is ready to invest in anything beyond press releases.

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