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Quid Pro Quo: Boys & Girls Club That Supported Comcast/TWC Merger Gets $8 Million from Comcast CEO

After sending 25 letters of support for the Comcast-TWC merger, the Boys & Girls Club is getting $8 million to construct the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club (Roberts is the founder of Comcast.)

After sending 25 letters of support for the Comcast-TWC merger, the Boys & Girls Club is getting $8 million to build the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club in Germantown, Penn. (Roberts is the founder of Comcast.)

One of Comcast’s most enthusiastic supporters for its (failed) merger deal with Time Warner Cable has just received a multi-million dollar donation from Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast to build a new state-of-the-art facility in Germantown, a neighborhood in Philadelphia.

The Boys & Girls Club and its various chapters pelted state and federal regulators with letters supporting Comcast at a time when the company was seeking approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable. Just a few weeks after the merger left the headlines, Comcast has announced it will spearhead a $40 million campaign to renovate six clubs in the region. Senior executive vice president David Cohen will serve as campaign chair.

An $8 million contribution from Comcast’s CEO and the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation will cover much of the construction costs for the Germantown facility, which the non-profit group will name the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club, in honor of Comcast’s founder.

For much of the 14 months the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger was being reviewed by regulators, Comcast repeatedly name-dropped the non-profit as a supporter of the transaction. The group’s various chapters sent not less than 25 letters of support for the deal:

“We believe that a company as committed to community service as Comcast deserves our support and our gratitude,” wrote Joseph and Lisabeth Marziello, the CEOs of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, in a letter to the FCC. “We are confident that if Comcast extends its footprint into the areas now served by Time Warner Cable, nonprofit agencies in those communities will reap the benefits.”

Asking nonprofit groups to write letters of support is “good politics” for Comcast, said Free Press’ Matt Wood, because it gives the merger a “public-interest veneer.”

Pennsylvania’s Sens. Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R) went out of their way to mention the group in a letter to FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler:

We have seen firsthand Comcast’s record as an outstanding corporate citizen. Comcast assists 1,200 non-profits through its foundation, serves hundreds of thousands of young people through the Boys and Girls Club of America, and has invested $57 million in training for workers to keep them competitive in today’s economy.

Lost in the millions of dollars now changing hands was the impact of the proposed merger on consumers, including the kids that use the Boys & Girls Club facilities. Comcast has raised prices on its broadband service repeatedly and made participating in its Internet Essentials discount program too cumbersome for many income-challenged residents to participate. But the Boys & Girls Club came out ahead.

Stop the Cap! continues to urge our readers to consider donating only to non-profits that focus on their mission, not on quid pro quo back-scratching that works against the best interests of the very people who give their time and money to non-profits. It’s clear the Boys & Girls Club is already getting plenty of help from Comcast. They don’t need yours.

Comcast Raising Rates July 1st; Higher Cable TV Surcharges, $3 More for Double-Play Broadband/TV Package

Phillip Dampier May 26, 2015 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 3 Comments

comcastJust in time for the summer fireworks, Comcast’s own rate explosion may be arriving in your mailbox. The cable company is boosting rates on cable television and broadband service in several regions, including higher Broadcast TV surcharges and, for some, the introduction of a new compulsory sports programming fee. Comcast customers shared their rate increase letter with Broadband Reports.

The original notification letter was littered with grammatical and spelling errors and obviously was never proofread. Maybe they are using the extra money to hire someone to help out with that. We’ve translated the text into the English language:

At Comcast, we are committed to constantly improving your entertainment and communications experience, and we continue to invest in making your services even better. Due to increases we incur in programming and other business costs, we periodically need to adjust our prices as we make these and other investments.

Starting on July 1, 2015, the prices of select XFINITY TV and Internet services and equipment will change. We’ve included the changes in this notice. Among these price changes, we have itemized a Regional Sports fee for customers receiving Digital Starter service tiers and above to offset the rising costs of distributing regional sports networks.

In the Atlanta area, a sample of rate changes include: a Limited Basic rate hike between $1-3 a month, a Standard Cable increase of $1 a month, a $2 hike in HD DVR Service (was $8, soon to be $10), a $1 Regional Sports fee, a $1.75 a month increase in the Broadcast TV Fee (this varies widely in different Comcast markets), and a $3 increase in the cost of Blast! With XFINITY TV or Voice Service (was $67.95, now $70.95). The modem rental fee remains unchanged at $10/mo.

Rates are unaffected for customers on term contracts or promotions until those plans expire. It will also not affect customers who have previously received a notification of a rate hike during 2015.

Analysis: Charter Communications Will Acquire Time Warner Cable/Bright House – What It Means for You

charter twc bhAs expected, Charter Communications formally announced its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in a deal worth, including debt, $78.7 billion.

The deal brings Dr. John Malone, a cable magnate during the 80s and 90s, back into the top echelon of cable providers. Malone orchestrated today’s deal as part of his plan to dramatically consolidate the American cable industry. Malone’s Liberty Broadband Corp. assisted in pushing the deal across the finish line with an extra $5 billion (supplied by three hedge funds) in Charter stock purchases.

The companies expect to win regulator approval and close the deal by the end of 2015.

“No one has ever had a better sense of the multichannel world than John [Malone],” Leo Hindery, a veteran cable-industry executive, told the Wall Street Journal. “Obviously he sees in Charter and Time Warner Cable a way to perpetuate a legacy that is unrivaled.”

But the man who may have made today’s deal ultimately possible was FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Last week, he personally called cable executives at Charter and Time Warner Cable to reassure them the FCC was not against all cable mergers just because it rejected one involving Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

But Wheeler warned he would only approve deals that were in the public interest.

“In applying the public interest test, an absence of harm is not sufficient,” Mr. Wheeler said.

Consumer groups are wary.

“The cable platform is quickly becoming America’s local monopoly broadband infrastructure,” said Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner. “Charter will have a tough time making a credible argument that consolidating local monopoly power on a nationwide basis will benefit consumers. Indeed, the issue of the cable industry’s power to harm online video competition, which is what ultimately sank Comcast’s consolidation plans, are very much at play in this deal.”

“Ultimately, this merger is yet another example of the poor incentives Wall Street’s quarterly-result mentality creates,” Turner added. “Charter would rather take on an enormous amount of debt to pay a premium for Time Warner Cable than build fiber infrastructure, improve service for its existing customers or bring competition into new communities.”

new charter

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Inside the Charter Plan to Buy Time Warner Cable 5-26-15.flv

A panel of Wall Street analysts discusses the chances for Charter’s plan to buy Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Some analysts continue to frame regulator approval over video programming costs, while others argue broadband is the key issue the FCC and Justice Department will consider when reviewing the merger. From Bloomberg TV. (5:36)

A heavily indebted Charter Communications will not own the combined entity free and clear. At the close of the deal, Time Warner Cable shareholders will own up to 44% of the new company, Liberty Broadband up to 20%, Advance/Newhouse (Bright House) up to 14%. Charter itself will own just 22%, but will be able to leverage voting control over the entity with the help of Malone’s Liberty, which will get almost 25% of the voting power. That will give Charter just enough of a combined edge to control the destiny of “New Charter.”

As with the aborted deal with Comcast, lucrative golden parachutes are expected for Time Warner’s top executives who will be departing if the deal wins approval. In their place will be Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge and a board compromised of 13 directors (including Rutledge himself). Seven directors will be appointed by independent directors serving on Charter’s board, two designated by Advance/Newhouse and three from Liberty Broadband, again giving Rutledge and Malone effective control.

Current Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers will see major changes if Charter follows through on its commitment to bring Charter’s way of doing business to both operators.

No More Analog Television

all digitalCharter told investors at today’s merger announcement it will accelerate the removal of all analog television signals on TWC and Bright House cable TV lineups to free capacity for faster Internet products, more HD channels, and “other advanced products.”

Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus told investors earlier this month TWC was already well-positioned with excess spectrum from moving lesser-watched analog channels to digital service and using “Switched Digital Video,” a technology that conserves bandwidth by only sending certain cable channels into neighborhoods where customers are actively watching them. This allowed Time Warner Cable customers to avoid renting a cable box for lesser-watched, cable-connected televisions in the home.

Charter’s plan requires a cable box on every connected television, at an added cost. The standard lease rate for the digital decoder box is $6.99 per month, and those customers on the lowest basic tier will likely receive at least two devices for up to two years for free, or five years for customers on Medicaid. Customers who subscribe to higher tiers of service or premium channels may receive only one device for free for one year before the monthly lease rate applies. For a home with an average of three connected televisions, this will eventually cost an extra $21 a month. DVR boxes cost considerably more.

No More Modem Lease Fee, But Only Two Choices for Internet Service

The good news is Charter does not apply any modem lease fees and there is a good chance if you already purchased your own modem, Charter will continue to let you use it. The bad news is that if you were used to sticking with a lower-speed broadband tier to save money, those days are likely coming to an end. Charter’s “simplified” menu of broadband options cuts Time Warner’s six choices and Bright House’s five options to just two:

  • 60/4Mbps for Spectrum Internet ($59.99)
  • 100/5Mbps for Internet Ultra ($109.99)

Charter_Spectrum_Mobile_Internet-finalThis is likely to be a red flag for regulators concerned about broadband affordability. Although it is likely Charter may offer concessions by grandfathering existing Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers under their current plans, Charter has nothing comparable to Time Warner’s “Everyday Low Price Internet” for $14.99 a month or a 6Mbps Basic broadband alternative far less expensive than Charter’s entry-level Internet tier. Bright House customers are not likely to experience something similar. The entry-level 15Mbps broadband-only plan is $65 a month without a promotion, according to Bright House.

Charter is rumored to be testing speed boosts for those two tiers for deployment in areas where they face fiber competitors. The first phase would raise Spectrum speeds to 100/25Mbps and Ultra to 300/50Mbps with plans to further increase speeds when DOCSIS 3.1 arrives — likely to 300/50Mbps for Spectrum and 500/300 for Ultra, at least where Google Fiber, U-verse with GigaPower, and Verizon FiOS offers competition.

Recently, Charter has followed Time Warner Cable’s marketing script and is actively promoting the fact the company has no data caps on broadband service, but Charter had a history of loosely enforced “soft caps” for several years in the recent past, so we’re not convinced data caps are gone for good at Charter.

Pricing & Service

billCharter enjoys a higher rate of revenue per customer than either Time Warner or Bright House, which is a sign customers are paying more. It is likely Charter’s reduced menu of choices is responsible for this. Although customers do get a better advertised level of service, they are paying a higher price for it, with no downgrade options. Ancillary equipment rental fees for television set-top boxes are also a likely culprit.

Charter also tells investors its merger with Time Warner and Bright House will bring “manageable promotional rate step-ups and rate discipline” to both companies. That means Charter will likely be less generous offering promotions to new and existing customers. Like Time Warner and Bright House, Charter will gradually raise rates on customers coming off a promotion until they eventually reset a customer’s rates to the regular price. But while Time Warner, in particular, was receptive to putting complaining customers back on aggressively priced promotions after an old promotion ended, Charter is not.

Charter customers tell us the company’s customer service department is notoriously inconsistent and promotional rates and offers can vary wildly. For some, Charter only got aggressive on price after they turned in their cable equipment and closed their accounts.

As far as service is concerned, CEO Thomas Rutledge has managed significant improvements while at Charter. What used to rival Mediacom in Consumer Reports’ annual ranking of the worst cable companies in America is now ranked number nine (Bright House took fourth place, Time Warner Cable: 12th).

But the presence of Malone in this deal, even peripherally, is a major concern. Malone-run cable companies are notorious for massive rate increases and poor customer service. Sen. Al Gore routinely called his leadership style of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), since sold to Comcast, the Darth Vader of a cable Cosa Nostra and Sen. Daniel Inouye from Hawaii once remarked in a Senate oversight hearing that Malone’s executives were a “bunch of thugs.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Charter CEO Comfortable With Price Paid for Time Warner 5-26-15.flv

Watch Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge stumble his way through an answer to a simple question: What are the public benefits of your merger with Time Warner Cable that the deal with Comcast didn’t offer? Did you like his answer? (5:28)

Stop the Cap! Declares War on Cox’s Usage Cap Ripoff in Cleveland; It’s About the Money, Not Fairness

Stopping the money party from getting started, if we can help it.

Stopping Cox’s money party from getting started, if we can help it.

Stop the Cap! today formally declares war on Cox’s usage cap experiment in Cleveland, Ohio and will coordinate several protest actions to educate consumers about the true nature of usage-based billing and how they can effectively fight back against these types of Internet Overcharging schemes.

Time Warner Cable quickly learned it was deeply mistaken telling customers that a 40GB monthly usage allowance was more than 95% of customers would ever need when introducing a similar concept April 1, 2009 in test markets including Rochester, N.Y., Austin and San Antonio, Tex., and Greensboro, N.C. The company repeatedly suggested only about five percent of customers would ever exceed that cap.

Six years later, it is likely 95% of customers would be paying a higher broadband bill to cover applicable overlimit fees or be forced to upgrade to a more expensive plan to avoid them. Before Time Warner realized the errors of its way, it claimed with a straight face it was acceptable to charge customers $150 a month for the same unlimited broadband experience that used to cost $50.

Cox’s talking points for customers and the media frames usage caps as a fairness enforcement tool. It is a tired argument and lacks merit because nobody ever pays less for usage-capped broadband service. At best, you pay at least the same and risk new overlimit charges for exceeding an arbitrary usage allowance created out of thin air. At worst, you are forced by cost issues to downgrade service to a cheaper plan that comes with an even lower allowance and an even bigger risk of facing overlimit fees.

Industry trade journal Multichannel News, which covers the cable industry for the cable industry does not frame usage caps in the context of fairness. It’s all about the money.

“If you’re a cable operator, you might want to strike [with new usage caps] while the iron is hot,” said MoffettNathanson principal and senior analyst Craig Moffett, a Wall Street analyst and major proponent of investing in cable industry stocks.

Multichannel News warned operators they “must tread carefully in how they deliver the usage-based message.” Instead of getting away with punitive caps, Time Warner Cable had to “rethink” its definition of fairness, keeping prices the same for heavy users of bandwidth but offering discounts to customers whose usage was lighter. No money party for them.

So how did Cox frame its message in the pages of an industry trade journal to fellow members of the cable industry? Was it about fairness or collecting more of your money. You decide:

Customers will be notified of their data usage and any potential overages beginning in mid- June but won’t have to pay for overages until the October billing cycle, a Cox spokesman said. That gives customers the chance either to alter their usage or step up to a more data-intensive plan.   The additional charges serve as a temporary step-up plan for certain consumers, the spokesman said — they can keep their current level of service and pay the additional fee during months when usage spikes, like when their kids come home from college.

cox say noThe Government Accounting Office, charged with studying the issue of data caps, found plenty to be concerned about. Consumers rightfully expressed fears about price increases and confusion over data consumption issues. In short, customers hate the kind of usage-based pricing proposed by Cox. It’s a rate hike wrapped in uncertainty and an important tool to discourage consumers from cutting their cable television package.

It’s also nakedly anti-competitive because Cox has conveniently exempted its television, home phone, and home security products from its usage cap. Subscribe to Cox home phone service? The cap does not apply. Use Ooma or Vonage? The cap does apply so talk fast. If a customer wants to use Cox’s Home Security service to monitor their home while away, they won’t eat away their usage cap. If they use ADT to do the same, Cox steals a portion of your usage allowance. Watch a favorite television show on Cox cable television and your usage allowance is unaffected. Watch it on Netflix and look out, another chunk is gone.

While Cox starts rationing your Internet usage, it isn’t lowering your price. A truly fair usage plan would offer customers a discount if they voluntarily agreed to limit their usage. But nothing about Cox’s rationing plan is fair. It’s compulsory, so customers looking for a worry-free unlimited plan are out of luck. It’s punitive, punishing customers for using a broadband connection they already paid good money to buy. It’s arbitrary — nobody asked customers what they wanted. It doesn’t even make sense. But it will make a lot of dollars for Cox.

Cox claims it only wants usage caps to help customers choose the “right plan.”

The right plan for Cox.

To escape Cox’s $10 overlimit fees, a customer will have to pay at least $10 more to buy a higher allowance plan — turning a service that costs less to offer than ever into an ever-more expensive necessity, with few competitive alternatives. Will Cox ever recommend customers downgrade to a cheaper plan? We don’t think so. Customers could easily pay $78-100+ for broadband service that used to cost $52-66.

Back in 2009, the same arguments against usage caps applied as they do today. Industry expert Dave Burstein made it clear usage caps were about one thing:

“Anybody who thinks that’s not an attempt to raise prices and keep competitive video off the network — I have a bridge to sell them, and it goes to Brooklyn,” Burstein said.

85% of Italy Will Get Fiber to the Home Broadband Service Within Six Years

enelItaly’s power utility Enel has offered to help the country build a massive fiber to the home broadband network capable of bringing ultrafast Internet speeds to 85% of the country within six years if it can sort out a potential conflict with Telecom Italia, the country’s largest telecom company.

Enel, still controlled by the Italian government, volunteered its domestic network infrastructure to help install fiber optics more cheaply than Telecom Italia could manage on its own, especially in rural and industrial areas.

The offer is controversial because it could put the new fiber network under public control by using Enel, whereas Telecom Italia is a publicly traded company now majority controlled by Spain’s Telefónica and several Italian banks.

Enel, which is focusing much of its domestic strategy on developing its power distribution grid and smart digital technology, has about 1.2 million kilometers of power lines and 450,000 power distribution cabinets across Italy. Smart grid technology is often dependent on fiber optic communications, so making room for Italy’s Metroweb fiber network seemed easy enough.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is backing the $13.35 billion project under the Metroweb brand, a company partly owned by state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP).

telecom italiaSuch a deal could potentially lock out Telecom Italia, which is already upset with the government over ownership issues, technology and its inability to buy into the Metroweb project.

Enel insists their involvement would be “synergistic with what the telecom operators have done and planned,” not in competition with those efforts. But Telecom Italia remains concerned it could be left behind by a project that would likely dominate Italian telecommunications for decades.

This isn’t the first venture into telecommunications Enel has made. The power company earlier launched Wind, the third biggest of Italy’s four mobile network operators, which is today owned by Vimpelcom.

Telecom Italia is widely blamed for Italy’s lagging broadband rankings, having failed to invest in up-to-date network technology because of the company’s high debt and falling revenues. Fewer than 1 percent of Italians with an Internet subscription receive connection speeds of at least 30 megabits per second, according to the Agcom communications authority. That compares with the European average of 21 percent. The Italian government considers anything short of a modern fiber optic network a drag on the country’s competitiveness and wants the network built as fast as possible.

Source: FCC Will Get Serious About Data Caps if Comcast Moves to Impose Them Nationwide

fccA well-placed source in Washington, D.C. with knowledge of the matter tells Stop the Cap! the Federal Communications Commission is prepared to take a hard look at the issue of Internet data caps and usage-based billing if a major cable operator like Comcast imposes usage allowances on its broadband customers nationwide.

Comcast introduced its usage cap market trial in Nashville, Tenn. in 2012 but gradually expanded it to include Huntsville and Mobile, Alabama; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Georgia; Central Kentucky; Maine; Jackson, Mississippi; Knoxville and Memphis, Tennessee; Charleston, South Carolina; and Tucson, Arizona.

“Two and a half-years is exceptionally long for a ‘market trial,’ and we expected Comcast would avoid creating an issue for regulators by drawing attention to the data cap issue during its attempted merger with Time Warner Cable,” said our source. “Now that the merger is off, there is growing expectation Comcast will make a decision about its ‘data usage plans’ soon.”

In most test markets, Comcast is limiting residential customers to 300GB of usage per month, after which an overlimit fee of $10 per 50GB applies. Despite that, Comcast’s forthcoming premium gigabit speed plans are exempt from usage caps, the company announced.

Comcast sustomers in market test cities have not been happy with the usage caps, some confronted with inaccurate usage measurement tools or “bill shock” after claiming to find surprise charges on their cable bill. One federal employee offered his own story of bill shock — $200 in overlimit fees on his April Comcast bill. The customer spent $70 a month on broadcast basic cable television and Comcast Internet service. As an almost cord-cutter, he could instead rely on one of several alternative online video providers like Netflix or Hulu, but watching video that did not come from Comcast’s cable TV package contributed to eating his monthly usage allowance and subjected him to hundreds of dollars in extra fees.

cohen“I’ve reviewed [the] account to see and can confirm the charges are valid,” responded a Comcast representative who defended the company’s usage cap trials. “Please understand that we are not here to take advantage of customers. We are here to provide a great customer service experience.  After researching [the] account, at this time no matter what level of service you obtain, the Internet usage [allowance] will remain the same.”

To date, the Federal Communications Commission has left the issue of data caps and usage-based billing on the back burner, despite a Government Accounting Office report that found little justification for usage limits or compulsory usage allowances on broadband.

In 2012, former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski defended the practice, claiming it would bring lower prices to light users, spur “innovation” and enable consumer choice. But Comcast customers have found little, if any savings from Comcast’s so-called “data usage plans.” The only savings comes from enrollment in Comcast’s Flexible Data Option, which offers a $5 discount if a customer keeps usage under 5GB a month on just one plan — Comcast’s 3Mbps $39.95/mo Economy Plus tier.

“We don’t see much innovation coming from Comcast’s usage limit trials because Internet pricing continues to rise and the plans have the side effect of discouraging customers from using competing video providers, which can consume a lot of a customer’s usage allowance,” our source adds.

You're over our arbitrary usage limit!

You are over our arbitrary usage limit!

As far as enabling consumer choice, Comcast’s own representative put the kibosh on that, unless a customer wants to pay higher Internet bills.

Net Neutrality and issues surrounding Title II have consumed much of the FCC’s attention in the residential broadband business during the first half of the Obama Administration’s second term. Usage billing and data caps are likely to become bigger issues during the second half if there is a decisive move towards compulsory usage limits and consumption billing by large operators.

“An operator the size of Comcast absolutely will draw scrutiny,” said our source. “If Comcast decides to impose its currently tested market trial plans on Comcast customers nationwide, the FCC will take a closer look. Under Title II, the agency is empowered to watch for attempts to circumvent Net Neutrality policies. Usage caps and charging additional fees to customers looking for an alternative to the cable television package will qualify, especially if Comcast continues to try to exempt itself.”

Cable industry officials have also become aware of the buzz surrounding usage caps and growing regulator concern. Some reportedly discussed the possibility of FCC intervention behind closed doors at the recent cable industry conference in Chicago. Multichannel News reported (sub. req.) cable industry executives increasingly fear federal officials will ban usage pricing for wired broadband service on competitive grounds. Online video competitors rely on large cable and phone companies to reach prospective customers, many that may think twice if usage allowances are imposed on consumer broadband accounts.

Verizon Buys AOL for $4.4 Billion; Bolsters Verizon’s Mobile Video/Advertising Business

aolVerizon Communications this morning announced it will buy AOL, Inc., in a $4.4 billion cash deal that will provide Verizon with powerful mobile video and advertising platforms.

Originally known for its ubiquitous dial-up Internet access, AOL today is better described as a content and advertising aggregator — putting online video in front of viewers bolstered by AOL’s powerful advertising technology that can match a targeted advertising message to a specific viewer in milliseconds.

AOL’s portfolio also includes the well-known EngadgetTechCrunch and Huffington Post websites, which many analysts expect will not be part of the deal, quickly spun off to a new owner(s) to avoid any political headaches over Verizon’s control of the well-known content sites, some including coverage critical of Verizon.

Verizon-logoAll signs point to the AOL acquisition as more evidence Verizon management is shifting priorities to its mobile business, Verizon Wireless. In 2014, Verizon acquired the assets of Intel Media, which was planning an Internet TV service called OnCue. Verizon’s acquisition will help it develop an alternative television platform and many analysts expect it will primarily reach Verizon Wireless customers.

Complimenting online video with AOL’s ad placement and insertion platform will likely be the best chance Verizon has to monetize that video content.

“Certainly the subscription business and the content businesses are very noteworthy,” confirmed Verizon’s president of operations, John Stratton. “For us, the principal interest was around the ad tech platform.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Why Verizon Coveted AOLs Ad Technology and Mobile Video 5-12-15.flv

Bloomberg says Verizon’s real interest in AOL is their online advertising platform, which can bolster Verizon Wireless’ mobile video service. (2:39)

Verizon’s $4 billion investment in AOL did not go into expanding its fiber optic platform FiOS.

Verizon Wireless Multicast

Verizon Wireless Multicast

“For the price it’s paying for AOL, Verizon could deploy its FiOS broadband service across the rest of its service area, bringing much-needed services and competition to communities like Baltimore, Boston and Buffalo,” said Free Press research director S. Derek Turner. “Instead, the company is spending a fortune to wade into the advertising and content-production markets. In terms of the latter, Verizon has already shown a willingness to block content and skew news coverage.”

As Stop the Cap! reported last week, that isn’t a surprise to some utility companies that believe all signs point to Verizon’s growing disinterest in its wireline division. Florida Power & Light expects Verizon will become a wireless only company within the next 10 years.

While AT&T explores expanding its wireless service internationally and seeks approval for its acquisition of satellite service DirecTV, Verizon Wireless is moving to monetize increased customer usage of its network with the forthcoming introduction of a video service this summer. The product would offer a mix of ad-supported and paid short video content and may offer live multicast programming that can reach a larger audience without disrupting network capacity.

Increased viewing of high bandwidth video will force Verizon customers to continually upgrade data plans, further monetizing Verizon’s wireless business. AOL’s ad insertion technology will allow Verizon to earn advertising income from viewers, creating a dual revenue stream.

Verizon can also sell advertisers information about its massive customer base of wired and wireless customers, including their browsing habits and demographic profile to deliver “data-driven marketing and addressable advertising.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Verizon-AOL Deal 1999 All Over Again 5-12-15.flv

Bloomberg News puts together several of Verizon’s puzzling recent acquisitions, which point to a shift of Verizon’s business towards its mobile and content platforms. (5:42)

Time Warner Cable’s Post-Merger Conference Call: Improved Subscriber Numbers But ‘We’ll Let Others Take the Lead’

road runner

Time Warner Cable held its first post-merger-flop conference call with investors this morning and reported surprisingly good subscriber numbers for the first quarter of 2015.

Despite disappointing investors for not meeting projected profit and revenue numbers for the first three months of the year, Time Warner managed to add 30,000 net video customers for the first time since 2009. High-speed data customers grew by 315,000, compared with 269,000 a year ago, while voice customers increased by 320,000, compared with 107,000 in the prior-year period. The company also reported $26 million in wasted merger-related costs.

8999

Time Warner’s latest triple play promotion has fewer gotchas in the fine print than usual, but the modem fee is still there so buy your own.

A renewed love for Time Warner Cable was not the reason the cable company added customers. Aggressive pricing with fewer fine print “gotchas” and Time Warner Cable Maxx upgrades helped the company pick up new subscribers. Last October, Time Warner added a $90 triple play offer valid across much of its service area, offering unlimited calling phone, Preferred TV, and 30Mbps broadband with one set-top box for $89.99 a month for one year, an offer Artie Minson, chief financial officer of Time Warner Cable called “clean.”

For the last two years, Time Warner Cable executives decided to de-emphasize promotional pricing on phone service, preferring to draw more attention to its double-play television and broadband offers. This year, that thinking is long gone as the cable company re-emphasizes its triple-play packages and offers current customers the chance to add phone service for as little as $10 a month. The strong growth in new phone customers during the quarter reflects the success of those promotions.

Minson was less impressed with the sales of “skinny bundles” of bare basic cable television, HBO, and broadband service, noting it had little impact on Time Warner’s subscriber growth. The allure of its $14.99 everyday low price, low speed Internet offer has also waned.

“There’s a lot of attraction in the press about skinny packages,” echoed Dinesh C. Jain, chief operating officer of Time Warner Cable. “I think a lot of the times, customers don’t want to get bogged down in a lot of choices to make on those kinds of things. There’s a lot of value in our triple-play packaging right now and it’s a simpler sale.”

Marcus used the conference call to re-emphasize the company has not been distracted by 14 months of merger talks with Comcast and has executed on its pre-merger business plan all along.

twc maxx

Coming in 2017 (If We Live That Long)

Network upgrades under the TWC Maxx program are continuing on schedule.

“New York City, LA and Austin are complete, Dallas, San Antonio and Kansas City are underway and Charlotte, Raleigh and Hawaii on the docket for later in the year,” said Marcus. “We also plan to begin the Maxx process in San Diego this year and finish up in early 2016. It’s still early days, but Maxx certainly appears to be making a difference. Customer feedback has been great and churn among Maxx customers with new DOCSIS 3.0 modems is dramatically lower.”

But it will take another two years to complete the entire Time Warner footprint, of which 40-50% will be upgraded by the end of this year.

“The exact pace at which we continue that process in 2016 and 2017 depends on the experience we have in 2015. We’re feeling better about our ability to roll out all-digital this year than we did last year, which was really the first year of the program,” said Marcus. “And we’ll evaluate, as we go into 2016, how quickly we think we can ramp the next batch of systems.”

In a recurring theme throughout the conference call, executives emphasized Time Warner does not want to pioneer tinkering with the traditional cable package.

For example, Marcus acknowledged Cablevision’s experiment with Wi-Fi calling as a cellular replacement strategy, but said Time Warner Cable will take a wait and see approach.

“I’m inclined to watch and see how that evolves and then we’ll see how best to develop our own strategy on that front,” Marcus said.

Marcus

Marcus

“There’s a lot of talk and a lot of work going on out there from other guys,” said Jain, referring to slimmed down cable packages and unbundling. “And if any of their things work, we’ll just be fast followers on that stuff because I think there are some segments of our customer base where that is going to have appeal.”

Marcus also complained there was far too much attention being paid on Millennials as an excuse to break up the traditional cable experience.

“There tends to be, in my opinion, an obsessive interest in Millennials, maybe at the expense of the broader customer base,” Marcus said. “For the vast majority of our customers, the way we currently deliver the video product is pretty darn attractive. That said, sure, there’s a group of customers who might very well like to access video via other means. So it is definitely the case that over time, I can see a world where more and more customers consume our offering without needing to lease a set-top box from us. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to abandon the largest portion of our customers who actually do like the current model.”

On other subjects, the implementation of Net Neutrality under Title II regulations will have no impact on Time Warner’s future plans or investments, according to Marcus.

“We’ve said in the past that our normal business practices comply entirely with the notion of the open Internet, no blocking, no discrimination, no throttling, and transparency are fundamental parts of the way we do business. So to the extent that that’s the full scope of what’s getting incremented under Title II, I think you won’t see a change in the way we do business.”

But he warned if the FCC intends to more broadly regulate Internet access, that could have an impact on pricing and future investment.

Marcus also re-emphasized his intention not to change the way Time Warner sells broadband. That means no compulsory usage caps or usage-based pricing.

“We’re very focused on delivering compelling products to customers at a price that delivers real value,” said Marcus. “We can’t think in terms of taking gross margin dollars that are lost because we lose a video customer and somehow embedding those into high-speed data [with usage pricing] and not seeing an impact on high-speed data.”

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: Cablevision to Sell Hulu+ to Cable Subscribers

Phillip Dampier April 29, 2015 Cablevision, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

hulu-plusCablevision has conceded online video is now increasingly challenging its cable television package, so instead of trying to put a lid on “over the top” video, the Long Island, N.Y.-based cable company is embracing it with a deal to offer the streaming service Hulu to its customers.

“There is a new generation of consumers who access video through the Internet, and whatever their preference, Cablevision will facilitate a great content experience,” said Kristin Dolan, chief operating officer of Cablevision, in a statement.

cablevisionThe deal covers the service’s entire catalog of on-demand television shows and movies and will be available to Cablevision broadband customers online and possibly through set-top boxes for traditional cable television customers.

The arrangement is unlikely to prove compelling to current broadband customers who can enroll in Hulu free of charge and Hulu + for $7.99/mo, without Cablevision’s help. But if the cable operator bundles the service into existing packages at no extra charge or offers the advertiser-supported pay service at a discount, it may provide a useful option for customers considering cutting Cablevision’s cord.

Hulu has not proved as popular with online video fans as Netflix, perhaps because it forces viewers to sit through a very heavy ad load, even with its premium service. Even with the announcement this week Hulu acquired the streaming video rights to all 180 episodes of Seinfeld, a show that aired its last original episode in 1998, Hulu is unlikely enough to seal a deal with subscribers.

Cablevision may also be interested in Hulu to bolster its new broadband-only “cord-cutting” packages (shown below), which Cablevision hopes will help it save a customer’s business if they are ready to drop cable television. Hulu is often a “must-have” by cord-cutters who enjoy first-run network shows.

CEO Jim Dolan even admitted there may come a day when Cablevision exits the cable TV business completely and relies entirely on selling broadband service.

cord cutter cablevision 1

cord cutter cablevision 2

American Broadband Ripoff: Compare Your Prices With Eight Competing Providers in Bratislava, Slovakia

bratislvaThe largest telecom companies in the United States, their trade associations, and Ajit Pai, one of two Republican commissioners serving at the Federal Communications Commission routinely claim America has the best broadband in the world. From the perspective of providers running to their respective banks to deposit your monthly payment, they might be right. But on virtually every other metric, the United States has some of the most expensive broadband in the world at speeds that would be a gouging embarrassment in other countries.

Slovakia – A Long, Tough History, But Better Broadband than the United States

Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, has existed since the year 907. From the 10th century until just after the end of World War 1, the city (then commonly known by its German name of Pressburg) was part of Hungary and the Austro-Hungarian empire. After the “War to End All Wars,” ethnic Czechs and Slovaks jointly formed a democratic Czechoslovak Republic in 1918 which existed peacefully until the Germans arrived in 1938 and renamed part of Czechoslovakia… Germany.

Unfortunately for the Czechs and Slovaks, life didn’t get much easier after the end of World War II. As Stalin sought to create a buffer zone between Germany (and western Europe) and the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, along with most of Eastern Europe, faded behind the Iron Curtain into the Soviet sphere of influence.

The city center of Bratislava

The city center of Bratislava

After decades of deterioration under autocratic rule, the Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution of 1989 restored multi-party democracy and Communism was was on its way to being fully extirpated across Europe.

By the time the June 1992 election results were announced, it was clear the country’s constituent Czechs and Slovaks had irreconcilable differences and were headed to national divorce court. On one side, the Czech-oriented Civic Democratic Party, headed by Václav Klaus. On the other, Vladimír Mečiar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, whose aims were obvious based on its party name alone. With the writing on the wall, Klaus and Mečiar managed to work out an agreement on how to divide the country and on Jan. 1, 1993 the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic were born.

Since the separation, Slovakia has prospered, and is now recognized to have a high-income advanced economy with one of the fastest growth rates in both the European Union and the OECD. It joined the EU in 2004 and adopted the Euro as its currency in 2009. Slovakia had to bring its economy up to date after fifty years of Communism. The country had a functioning telecommunications infrastructure, albeit one highly dependent on dilapidated equipment produced in the German Democratic Republic (the former East Germany) and the Soviet Union.

After the Slovak Republic was born, Slovenské Telekomunikácie maintained a monopoly on Slovak telephone lines and telex circuits under the close watch of the Ministry of Transport, Posts and Telecommunications. It took until the year 2000 for economic reforms to allow for the privatization of telecommunications. As was the case in many other central and eastern European countries, Germany’s Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile) won a majority ownership in the company, which is today still known as Slovak Telecom.

The Slovak Broadband Marketplace Today

Slovak-TelekomThe Slovak government insisted that telecommunications networks in the country be competitive and it maintains oversight to make sure monopolies do not develop. It rejected claims that total deregulation and competition alone would spur investment. Slovakia welcomes outside investment, but also makes certain monopoly pricing power cannot develop. As a result, most residents of Bratislava have a choice of up to eight different broadband providers — a mix of cable, telephone, wireless, and satellite providers that all fiercely compete in the consumer and business markets.

Many providers are foreign-owned entities. UPC, Slovakia’s cable operator, is owned by John Malone’s Liberty Global. Slovak Telecom is owned by Germany’s T-Mobile/Deutsche Telekom. Tooway is a French company.

300Prices are considerably lower than what American providers charge, although speeds remain somewhat lower than broadband services in Bulgaria, Romania, and the Baltic States. At one address on Kláštorská, a street of modest single family homes (some in disrepair), these companies were ready to install service:

  • RadioLAN offers 18/1.5Mbps unlimited wireless service for $21.85 a month;
  • UPC offers 300/20Mbps unlimited cable broadband for $30.63 a month;
  • Slovanet offers 10/1Mbps DSL with a 240GB usage cap for $18.56 a month;
  • Swan offers 10.2Mbps/512kbps unlimited DSL for $24.70 a month;
  • Slovak Telecom offers 10/1Mbps DSL with a 240GB usage cap for $21.96 a month;
  • Benestra offers 10/1Mbps DSL with a 4GB per day usage cap for $24.24 a month;
  • Satro offers 9Mbps/768kbps unlimited wireless service for $29.32 a month;
  • Tooway offers 22/6Mbps satellite Internet with a 25GB usage cap for $54.79 a month.

In other parts of the country, two providers are installing competing fiber broadband services. Slovak Telecom is slowly discarding its old copper wire infrastructure in favor of fiber optics, and is already providing 300Mbps service to some residents to better compete with UPC Cable. Some areas can get straight fiber service, others get VDSL, an advanced form of DSL offering higher speeds than traditional DSL. Orange, a provider not available in the immediate area of our sampled home, has already installed its own fiber service to over 100,000 fiber customers and is growing.

In comparison, Comcast sells 105Mbps service in Nashville, Tenn. for $114.95/mo (not including modem fee) with a 300GB monthly usage cap. That is one-third the speed of UPC Cable at nearly four times the cost… if you stay within your allowance. Prices only get higher after that.

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  • Scott in Austin: Doubtful. I pay $40 a month for 50 Mbps up with Time Warner Cable and have never had a problem. Will I get the same with Charter?...
  • RJW: @Judi Z just to let you know you can find a lot of the 50s like Whirlybirds, I married Joan, Leave it to Beaver etc on YouTube. Just for the heck of ...
  • Phillip Dampier: That is not necessarily true. When companies change hands, it is not uncommon for them to rely on the new owner's existing backbone infrastructure. Th...
  • robmak3: Sounds like TW is worse than that, at least!...
  • dawsonfiberhood: Well Nick, different companies have different policies, and a company's market penetration effects the amount of control it has over the industry, and...
  • oobovigif: The more I hear about this guy the more I feel he belongs as a Comcast CEO....
  • Mike: I don't have cable TV so that side of the merger will not effect me. However the idea of no data caps and a possible upgrade from my 20/2 service to 6...
  • Nick: This isn't how any of this works... Just changing ownership of a company does not at all change the network infrastructure... If people are gett...
  • Phillip Dampier: Are you quoting promotional prices that only new customers can get or the regular price most customers will pay?...
  • Ian L: Devil's advocate here: 100/25 for $60 per month is better than I can get now on TWC. And if I wanted to pay $20 more than I am now (which I've done be...
  • BobInIllinois: Drahi is simply going after the largest cableco systems left out there, to consolidate. #5 Cablevision is East Coast NYC area, #10 Mediacom is heav...
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