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Comcast Screw Up Forces Washington Man to Sell His New Home; Quoted Him $60,000 Installation Fee

MasterMap_Oct2012A Washington state man who just moved into his new home is now being forced to consider selling it to somebody else because Comcast repeatedly misled him about its ability to provide service.

Seth told his extensive story to The Consumerist, which detailed his repeated attempts to get Comcast broadband service after multiple missed or unfinished service appointments. More importantly, Seth is representative of many Americans who have been told broadband is a fiercely competitive industry, yet they cannot sign up for service at a reasonable price from any provider.

For Seth, having reliable broadband service is not just a convenience — it is essential if he wants to stay employed. Before even considering making an offer on his new home in Kitsap County, Seth did his homework verifying Comcast provided service in the neighborhood. Comcast repeatedly assured him it did, and one sales rep confirmed a former resident at the same address had Comcast service. Seth was satisfied, bought the home and called to get Comcast service installed. But when a Comcast crew arrived Jan. 31, they quickly discovered there was no cable line strung to Seth’s property. That isn’t typically a deal-breaker and the techs completed a “drop bury request” that would normally result in the arrival of a Comcast cable burial crew to bring service from a nearby utility pole. Not this time.

Comcast determined the same home that its own sales rep promised used to have Comcast service was now suddenly too far away from Comcast’s infrastructure. If it decided to offer Seth service, the company quoted an installation fee approaching $60,000.

Seth consulted the FCC’s Broadband Map which depicted Kitsap County a veritable paradise of competition, with at least 10 providers fighting for his business. But Seth quickly realized the FCC’s map was misleading and inaccurate.

comcast whoppersFour of his options were wireless carriers that don’t provide a strong signal to his home or charge obscenely high prices for usage capped Internet access. ViaSat was on the list promising up to 25Mbps, but ViaSat satellite customers can testify the actual speeds received are much slower, and do not reliably support the VPN access Seth required.

Neither Comcast or CenturyLink offer broadband service to Seth, despite the fact both told the FCC they did for the purpose of its map. StarTouch uses microwave signals to reach its customers, but not in Seth’s part of Kitsap County. It seems someone put up a large building in between StarTouch’s transmission facilities and Seth’s home, blocking the service for a significant part of the county.

XO Communications does provide reliable T1 service to businesses at speeds from 1.544Mbps – 6Mbps. The biggest downside is its cost — $600 a month. Finally, Seth’s only other alternative is a gigabit fiber network run by the Kitsap Public Utility District. But cable companies like Comcast effectively lobbied to guarantee those types of networks would never be a competitor by pushing for laws that forbid retail service to individual homes or businesses. In Washington, the law only allows the utility district to sell wholesale access to its network to companies like… Comcast.

In the end, Comcast decided it wasn’t interested in serving Seth even if he found the $60,000 to cover the installation fee. CenturyLink shrugged its shoulders over why it isn’t offering DSL in Seth’s neighborhood. Seth is preparing to put his home back on the market. It’s a perfect choice for Luddites everywhere.

The moral of the story?

  • Comcast is not always forthcoming and honest when signing up customers and led Seth through two months of missed appointments and misinformation;
  • The accuracy of the FCC’s broadband availability map is questionable.

Sorry, That Competing Online Video/Cord-Cutter Competitor is Dead in the Water When Usage Caps Arrive

Phillip "It isn't so dumb to own the pipes" Dampier

Phillip “It isn’t so dumb to own the pipes” Dampier

In 2006, AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre thought his company was at a disadvantage being stuck with “dumb pipes” while Google, Yahoo! (remember them?) and Vonage couldn’t count their earnings fast enough. While AT&T sold consumers plain DSL service, content was king on Wall Street and Whitacre groused it was unfair for bandwidth hogs to use “the pipes for free.” That one statement was the equivalent of throwing a lit match on a hillside in Malibu Canyon and a predictable firestorm over Net Neutrality ensued.

Nine years later, Net Neutrality is now official FCC policy, although the sour grape-eating Republicans will continue to throw Congressional hissyfits along the way. While they rely on tissue-thin evidence to back their assertion the FCC secretly colluded with the Obama Administration to stick it to AT&T and demand its repeal, the future of Net Neutrality will more likely be decided in a courtroom a year or two from now.

Back in 2006 AT&T primarily sold DSL service and was looking for cash to finance its then emerging U-verse platform. AT&T planned to follow cable’s lead, devoting most of the available bandwidth on its fiber to the neighborhood network to cable television programming. Broadband speeds were limited to just under 25Mbps — even less if a large household had multiple television sets in use.

But as the Great Recession arrived and wages stagnated, the cost of what used to be a “must-have” service for most Americans increasingly began to exceed the household budget and the day finally arrived when cable companies started losing more television customers than they were adding. Even worse, cable programming costs continue to spiral upwards and no major cable company can increase cable television rates fast enough to support the usual profit margin the industry counted on.

What Whitacre failed to realize nine years earlier is that broadband providers did not simply own “dumb pipes.” AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, Charter and other providers actually occupy two gilded catbird seats, with AT&T and Verizon dominating the wireless Internet business and Comcast, Time Warner, and Charter dominating at-home viewing and wired broadband. Lawmakers who deregulated both industries predicted pitting AT&T against Comcast or Verizon against Time Warner Cable would create competition not seen since Coke vs. Pepsi. Consumers would benefit and world-class service would result.

Instead, Time Warner Cable now sells Verizon Wireless phone service. Verizon gave up on expanding its FiOS network and is selling off its DSL and FiOS business in pieces to focus on its best moneymaker, Verizon Wireless. Comcast in turn threw in the towel on any notion of offering competing cellular service and, in fact, sold its acquired wireless spectrum to Verizon.

PlayStation Vue's lineup

PlayStation Vue’s lineup

The best way to make money is to avoid price wars with your competitors and the evidence shows there is growing peace in America’s Telecom Valley. Comcast can now raise your broadband bill because, for most, Verizon FiOS isn’t an option. AT&T U-verse does not have to hurry speed upgrades to customers if Time Warner Cable delivers no better than 50/5Mbps service in large parts of its service area. Google Fiber remains a minor threat, only available in a handful of cities. AT&T distributed more copies of its press release touting U-verse Gigapower — its gigabit Internet offering — than there are customers qualified to sign up.

Notice that we’ve drifted away from talking about cable television programming. So has the industry, now increasingly dependent on broadband rate increases to make up the difference in revenue they used to take home from their television packages.

But now that the biggest players have a predictable source of revenue, allowing disruptors to further challenge earnings isn’t something your local cable and phone company will allow for long. At the moment, those most likely to cause problems are the growing number of “over the top” streaming video services that do not require a cable television subscription to watch. But they do need broadband — Whitacre’s “dumb pipes” — to reach subscribers. To manage that, services like Apple, PlayStation Vue and Sling TV and their customers must deal with the gatekeepers — AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and others.

What Whitacre thought was a disadvantage is now becoming the best thing in the world — manning a toll booth on the only two roads most Americans can use to access online content.

Today, Sony officially launched its Internet-TV service, “PlayStation Vue” in three cities (New York, Chicago and Philadelphia) with a base price of $49.99/month. In includes more than 50 cable networks and in the three launch cities — local network affiliates. In Chicago and Philadelphia, where Comcast provides cable service, potential customers will need to pay $50 a month for Vue and another $64.95 a month for 50Mbps broadband — the least expensive broadband-only tier that is suitable for high quality viewing. Your combined bill for both services is $114.94 a month. Comcast charges $99.99 a month for its double play – 220 TV channels and 50Mbps broadband — almost $15 a month less for its package, and it includes around 150 more channels than Vue.

Comcast explans its new usage caps.

Comcast explains its new usage caps.

But Comcast also has another weapon it is testing is several of its markets — the resumption of usage caps and overlimit fees on its broadband service. Comcast customers in most test markets are given 300GB a month, after which they face overlimit fees of $10 for each additional increment of 50GB. While web browsing and e-mail fit more than comfortably within those caps, watching HD video may not. That leaves a potential Vue customer with a major dilemma. Should they pay $15 a month more for service than they can pay Comcast for a better package -and- chew away their usage allowance using it?

Comcast has yet to figure out how to install a coin collector on top of your television set, so you can watch as much Comcast cable television as you’d like. But watching streaming video could get very expensive if it exceeds a future Comcast usage allowance.

Smaller video packages from providers like Sling TV or the forthcoming Apple streaming service might make more sense, but will still be subject to Comcast’s usage caps if/when they are reintroduced around the country, while Comcast’s own television service will not.

This is why cable and phone companies hold enormous power over their potential competitors, even if Net Neutrality is fiercely enforced. Usage caps and usage-based billing represent an end run around Net Neutrality and both are permitted. The FCC has consistently refused to engage on the issue of broadband usage caps, leaving providers with a useful weapon to deter customers from dropping their television package in favor of an online alternative.

With most Americans having a choice of only one or two “dumb pipes” over which they can reach these services, being an owner of those pipes and getting to set the rates and conditions to use them is a very comfortable (and profitable) place to be.

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

suddenlink meter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Score a Better Deal From Time Warner Cable and Save Over $700 a Year: 2015 Edition

In 2012, Stop the Cap! helped thousands of readers slash their Time Warner cable bills by more than $50 a month with less than 10 minutes of effort. This year, it will take you longer to read this article than it will to get a better deal from Time Warner Cable.

Many of our readers have contacted us to let us know their promotional rate has expired and have sought help scoring more savings from Time Warner Cable. This year, we decided to enlist the help of Stop the Cap! volunteers who are also Time Warner Cable customers to see what kind of savings we could negotiate from the cable company that dominates much of the northeast, Texas, southern California, and parts of the midwest. We’re happy to report even greater savings (more than $700 annually for some) are there for the asking. Even better, it took some of us less than five minutes to win a better deal and by using social media, we never had to argue with anyone — great news if you don’t like negotiating on the phone.

When your Time Warner Cable promotion expires, expect to receive a letter like this in the mail, gradually increasing your rates.

When your Time Warner Cable promotion expires, expect to receive a letter like this in the mail, gradually increasing your rates.

Our volunteers for this effort came from Rochester, N.Y. (myself), Greensboro, N.C.,  Flower Mound, Tex., Los Angeles, Calif., and Portland, Maine. Two of us are triple play customers with 50/5Mbps broadband, Preferred TV (the 200+ channel package), and Time Warner home phone service. Two others are double play customers with Preferred TV and 30/5Mbps service, and our volunteer in Portland is a broadband-only customer.

We used three methods to contact Time Warner to discuss our current bills:

  • Calling Time Warner Cable’s office and asking for a lower rate or to cancel service;
  • Tweeting a message to Time Warner threatening to change providers;
  • Posting a complaint about our cable bill on the company’s Facebook page.

Dealing with customer churn – the rate of customers coming and going – is always a concern at cable companies. New customer promotions are costly and often include a cash rebate. It is much less expensive for Time Warner to lower the bills of current customers than trying to win back wayward ex-customers with promotions later on. The company maintains several specialized customer retention call centers around the country that pay employees around $14 an hour + a bonus for each customer they keep. Employees are trained to deal with hostile callers and pleas for lower bills by escalating unresolved service problems to technical specialists, issuing service credits, and cutting rates.

bill shockBut telephone retention specialists also have an incentive to cut back on your package before they cut the price. Just as we found three years ago, the two volunteers that phoned for a better deal were significantly less happy with the outcome than those who relied on social media.

“Their ‘review’ of my package quickly turned into an interrogation about whether I needed this movie channel or that Internet speed,” said Stop the Cap! volunteer Denise, who insisted on a better deal or her next phone call would be to sign up for service from Verizon. “Before they talk price, they want you to cut back on services.”

Cerise, a broadband-only customer in Portland had the same experience.

“I wanted a better deal than the $60 I am paying them for 15Mbps Internet-only service and they wanted to cut my speed to 6Mbps before we would even talk price,” Cerise said. “They knew my only other choice was DSL from FairPoint.”

My experience with Twitter was even easier than it was three years ago. Time Warner acceded to my request for a better deal in a message left on my voicemail: a rate cut of $63 a month with no change in service. I never had to speak with anyone and the new rate has already been applied to my account.

Sam, a triple play customer in Los Angeles took a phone call from Time Warner after his wife blasted the company on its Facebook page about a “new special promotional rate” that was “neither special or promotional” in her eyes.

“Their letter in the mail makes it sound like they are doing you a favor, but it’s really just the dead-end road back to paying normal prices.”

Time Warner Cable promotions run typically 12 or 24 months, after which the company mails a letter inviting you to experience a new “promotional rate” reset to a higher price, but not one that will usually deliver bill shock. A year after that less generous promotion expires, in most cases rates reset to regular pricing.

How to Negotiate

Because our experiences consistently found that interacting with Time Warner’s social media team is more effective at winning the best possible deal, we again strongly recommend you do not call Time Warner looking for a better deal. Instead, engage them through Twitter or Facebook. But before that happens, get organized:

1. Visit Time Warner Cable’s current plans and promotions web page. Your goal is to note the current promotions available and find the package that most closely resembles the services you have now. You can get a current copy of your Time Warner bill from the My Services section of Time Warner’s website.

Second, visit the competition. Check your phone company for any promotional offers for services like U-verse or FiOS, or satellite television promotions many telephone companies bundle with DSL. Familiarize yourself with the packages you would consider signing up for and jot down the prices.

Are you overpaying for premium movie channels? If you are paying more than this, you are.

Are you overpaying for premium movie channels? If you are paying more than this, you are.

Third, be flexible. The best promotional deals go to those who sign up for Time Warner Cable’s triple play packages. If you are a double play customer, adding phone service may actually cost you less on certain promotions than the best double play offers, even if you never use the phone line. If you have landline service from the phone company, Time Warner’s triple play offers will certainly save you in the long run, because unlimited long distance and local calling can often be added for as little as $10 a month. You can also consider switching to Ooma, a top-rated landline provider that works over your broadband connection and costs as little as $5 a month.

Fourth, ask about free or discounted upgrades to your existing service. Time Warner Cable has several attractive promotions for services that many customers dismiss as too expensive. Whole House DVR lets you watch DVR recordings on other televisions in the home. Some promotions add this feature for just a few dollars extra a month — less than maintaining two DVRs in the home. Also consider a broadband speed upgrade to 30/5 or 50/5Mbps. Attractive promotions are usually available for these as well.

Fifth, be willing to drop premium movie channels before you start negotiations. Time Warner raised the price of add-on HBO to $16.99 in January and other premium channels typically cost around $13 a month each. You are better off dropping them before negotiating for a better deal. After your new deal is in place, you can visit Time Warner’s website and add back the premiums you want at new promotional prices:

  • A 12-month premium promotional package combining HBO, Cinemax, Starz, and Showtime runs $29.99 a month and can be ordered online;
  • HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz can be had a-la-carte for $9.99 a month each for one year (The Movie Channel is inexplicably not included and costs $15.99/mo — you won’t miss it) and you may also qualify for a $50 rebate by adding Starz before March 31, 2015.

Finally, unless you live in a Time Warner Cable Maxx city (New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Kansas City, etc.), it usually doesn’t pay to negotiate over modem rental fees. Time Warner has waived modem fees in certain cases in Los Angeles, but we recommend you invest in buying your own modem and be rid of the modem rental fee  for good. If you are not in a Maxx market, we still recommend the Motorola SB6141, which will work at speeds up to 100Mbps on Time Warner’s network. If Maxx is coming to your area and you want even faster speeds, we recommend the ARRIS/Motorola SB6183 ($130+). It is approved to work at 300Mbps speeds in Maxx-upgraded areas.

Now you are ready to reach out!

twitter_logo

Sign up for a Twitter account.

tweet

Once registered and logged in, click the button that appears like a quill pen at the upper right corner of your screen and a new window will appear where you can compose a message of 140 characters or less. You will address your message to @TWC_Help (note the underscore – you can cut and paste that address into your message or use Twitter’s search function – type in TWC and you should be able to find and select it there). Here is a sample Tweet we came up with, but you can compose your own, of course:

twc_help

After clicking the Tweet button, your message will be read by Time Warner’s social media team. Sometime later, you will receive a response asking for your contact information and account number. This should be sent in a private “Direct Message,” not as an open Tweet:

response

Click the three dots and find the option Share via Direct Message. Click it, add TWC_Help as a recipient and click Next. A conversation window will appear with their message and a space for your private response. Include your Account Number and PIN from your Time Warner Cable bill and a callback number, as shown below.

direct message

 

Time Warner should call you back within the next three days. If you do not receive a reply to your Tweet, send another one during regular business hours. They may have missed your first message.

facebook_logoYou can also try Facebook to lodge your rate protest.

Visit the Time Warner Cable Facebook page and find the box (as shown highlighted below) where you can write a public message on the page.

As with Twitter, you want to get straight to the point and tell Time Warner you are paying too much for cable service and have a better offer from a competitor. Let them know you are willing to consider their counter-offer, if it arrives soon.

They are likely to respond asking for your account information, including the account number and PIN as shown on your monthly bill. Again, send this information privately using the Facebook Messenger. Include your best contact number.

twc facebook

Here is where your write your public complaint about your cable bill and ask for a better deal. You should keep this short and to the point, and do not post your account information here. Wait for their reply and respond in a private message.

 

Our Results

Was $175. Now $112.

Was $175. Now $112.

Myself – Rochester, N.Y.: Full package of every cable television channel on offer, no premiums, Whole-House DVR with five cable boxes, 50/5Mbps broadband, Unlimited Home Phone: $112/mo, down from a fading promotional price now resetting to $175 (had been gradually increasing from $110 since 2014)

Tania, Greensboro, N.C.: Double play of all cable television channels, no premiums, DVR and one traditional set-top box with 30/5Mbps broadband: Was paying $156. Offered $99 with free upgrade to 50/5Mbps and Whole House DVR; offered and declined Unlimited Home Phone for extra $10/month. This promotion essentially matched AT&T U-verse introductory pricing for comparable services with slower broadband.

Denise, Flower Mound, Tex.: Started by calling Time Warner to cancel over $175 cable bill covering all cable channels, one premium, DVR with extra set-top boxes, 50/5Mbps broadband. Representative wanted her to cancel HBO and drop Internet speed to a lower 15Mbps tier to bring price to $125 range. She threatened to call Verizon, representative told her to ‘go ahead.’ On the second attempt Denise used Twitter and representative phoned back the next day with a message her bill was instantly cut to $120 and she will receive a one time $30 inconvenience credit for the rudeness she experienced over the phone. She keeps HBO and all of her other services and was offered to call back to discuss free Whole House DVR service.

Sam, Los Angeles: Used Facebook to contact Time Warner Cable about his $215 cable bill. Sam appreciated the fact TWC Maxx had arrived in Los Angeles and boosted his broadband speed to around 200Mbps, but didn’t appreciate the $25 a month rate reset that occurred this month as his promotional rate ended. Sam has a full cable television package, three premium movie channels, fast Internet, and Home Phone Unlimited. He also has two DVR boxes, two standard cable boxes, and rented his cable modem. Sam told Time Warner he would rather spend his money with Netflix, Amazon, and Sling’s $20 cable television over the Internet package and he was prepared to cut the cord. Time Warner cut his bill instead. He’s temporarily dropping all of his premium movie channels to score a promotion of $129 a month, drop the second DVR in favor of Whole House DVR service, and he is buying his own modem. He will add back his premiums on the aforementioned $30 a month promotion, which also gives him Starz and a $50 rebate.

Cerise, Portland, Me.: Our broadband-only volunteer, Cerise had the most trouble securing a better deal. Time Warner Cable initially wouldn’t budge beyond offering the same rate new customers get for one year: $34.99/mo + modem rental fee for 15/1Mbps service. Stop the Cap! intervened before Cerise considered her alternative – 6Mbps DSL from FairPoint Communications. After we pointed out Earthlink was selling identical broadband service on Time Warner’s network for $29.95 a month for six months, Time Warner’s “no” turned into “yes” and they agreed to match that price. If they don’t match that price again next year, Cerise can make a phone call and jump ship to Earthlink for their $29.95 promotion and then jump back to Time Warner six months after that. Cerise is also buying her own modem.

Let us know about how your negotiations went in the comment section below.

West Virginia Legislature Won’t Consider Any Bill That Could Offend Frontier, GOP Delegate Claims

frontier loveThe Republican leadership of West Virginia’s House of Delegates is alleged to have quietly placed a ban on considering any bill that could potentially offend Frontier Communications, frustrating state lawmakers attempting to introduce broadband improvement and consumer protection measures.

In a press release posted to his Facebook page, Delegate Randy Smith (R-Preston) complained that the House GOP leadership told him his two broadband-related bills waiting for consideration would “go nowhere because it would hurt Frontier.”

“Frontier has its hands in the state Capitol,” Smith said in the release obtained by the Charleston Gazette. “The company knows how to play hardball with the legislative process.”

When asked to name names of those obstructing his broadband-related measures, Smith declined, at least for now.

“It was one individual,” Smith said. “He said leadership wouldn’t support this because they feel like it’s targeting Frontier. If it comes to the point I have to, I’ll give names. I know you’re wanting names.”

Last December, Smith’s frustration with Frontier boiled over.

Smith

Smith

“For too long, West Virginia has lagged behind other states when it comes to accessible computer technology and infrastructure,” Smith said. “We’ve been offered excuses about our state being too mountainous for improving conditions here. But it’s not the state’s rugged terrain holding us back. Although a few areas of the state have a choice of service providers, most are stuck with whatever Frontier decides is enough. And not only do I receive complaints about their service, there are multiple grievances about how they bill their customers. We can, and must, do more to create competition to drive the quality of services up and drive costs down.”

“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is a West Virginia issue,” Smith said. “And we need to catch up to other states in the 21st century.”

For the first time in 80 years, Republicans won a majority in the House of Delegates, pledging to transform West Virginia into a “business friendly state.” But even Smith, an assistant majority whip for the new Republican leadership, seemed stunned by the willingness to grant Frontier de facto veto power over telecom-related legislation.

Last week he learned his two broadband bills were essentially dead on arrival, because they would not be supported by Frontier.

  • HB2551, co-sponsored by 10 GOP delegates, would prohibit Internet providers from advertising broadband service as “high-speed Internet” unless the company offered a download speed of 10Mbps or higher. The majority of West Virginia experiences real world speeds far slower than that from Frontier;
  • HB2552, intended to address chronic billing problems by Frontier, would allow Internet customers to take billing disputes to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office, if the state Public Service Commission refuses to review their complaints.
Speed tests on Frontier's "High-Speed Max" Internet service aren't high speed at all.

Speed tests on Frontier’s “High-Speed Max” Internet service aren’t high speed at all.

When Smith’s accusations went public in the pages of the Gazette, Republican leaders scrambled to deny his allegations.

House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles (R-Berkeley) told the Gazette House Republicans have no “blanket position” against bills that Frontier opposes.

“There’s no policy by leadership that these bills should move or shouldn’t move based on who’s supporting them or who doesn’t,” Cowles said. “It sounds like Randy is frustrated. He, like many out there, are frustrated by their Internet speeds and service.”

“I was told Friday that there’s no way those bills were going to run,” Smith countered.

Frontier won’t deny its disapproval of Smith’s bills.

“We’re the only provider that chooses to serve much of rural West Virginia, and we see the legislation as having a negative effect on further development of rural broadband services,” said Frontier spokesman Dan Page.

Frontier customers in West Virginia are among the company’s most vocal critics nationwide, complaining about unavailability of DSL, billing errors, poor service, and most common of all: selling service and speed the company cannot consistently deliver. A statewide class action lawsuit against Frontier for failing to provide advertised speeds has attracted hundreds of Frontier customers. The suit maintains Frontier has engaged in “false advertising,” a violation of the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act.

Smith introduced the two broadband measures partly out of his own frustration with the company.

Cowles

Cowles

“I regularly conduct speed tests on my Internet connection and the results are laughable,” Smith told his mostly rural constituents. “I’ve had download speeds of around 0.20Mbps. No wonder they’re called Frontier. Those are the kinds of speeds you’d expect on the American frontier in the 17th century.”

Smith recognized some members of his own party will take Frontier’s side over his.

“Of course, my bills don’t go over well with some members of my own party,” Smith said. “But right is right and wrong is wrong.”

On cue, Cowles rushed to Frontier’s defense.

“Frontier has been trying to spend money to upgrade service, but it hasn’t been easy for those guys,” Cowles said. “We’re trying to expand broadband and improve the speeds everywhere we can. We try to nudge Frontier when we can, push them when we can, while we respect their investment.”

A considerable part of that “investment” came at the cost of U.S. taxpayers. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s inspector general announced an investigation into how Frontier spent a $42 million federal stimulus grant in the state. The inspector general is reviewing thousands of pages of documents turned over by the company. Critics contend Frontier spent the stimulus funds to defray the cost of a statewide fiber network Frontier now owns and controls.

Cowles told the Gazette that despite the media attention on the issue, he remained unsure if Smith’s bills would ever reach the House floor for consideration.

At least three House members — two Republicans and one Democrat — work for Frontier.

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  • fndjdkdkdkj: I don't see any value in god damn TV only to watch 20minutes of Ads ever god damn hour. I cut the cord long ago and have zero intention of ever going ...
  • Rod: But it's not a better value proposition if you simply don't want cable tv or landline. What's the value in paying an extra $25 dollars a month for so...
  • Matt Larsen: For $1500 and the cost of plane tickets to Seattle, I will get this guy service at his house so he doesn't have to sell it. A WISP will find a way t...
  • Charles Dennett: I have a question or 2. Just got my first bill without the previous promotional price. Preferred TV with standard Internet is now 109.99, I assume ...
  • John M. Gillespie: Write the West Virginia Public Services Commission, Consumer Advocate Division, regarding complaints regarding utilities. If that doesn't work write ...
  • John M. Gillespie: Cuju you apparently aren't understanding the problem. Great for you living not far away in Falling Waters and having Comcast. What does that have to...
  • Kimberly S Moore Prescott: I went into AT&T to upgrade my husbands phone to a new Samsung and we were offered a free Galaxy Tab 4 with the purchase. I instructed to employe...
  • Amanda: WOW! This article is amazing. My contract is ending next week and my bill was going to go up $60/month. I looked around and found a good deal from Med...
  • Paul Houle: It is more complex than that. It is underreported that Time Warner Cable and Comcast represent radically different visions of the future. Time W...
  • Limboaz: I suppose they believe the cable cartels are a benefit to California which is home to a really big chunk of the entertainment industry and directly be...
  • chase: Just un f**ing believable... They're national average is 1gb now going to 10gb... And we're still being sold how grand 25mbs is. With only a handful...
  • Paul Houle: I think some of the government organizations are delaying it because they are just trying to stretch it out until Comcast gives up. It is a lose/lo...

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