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Cable One Spinning Away From Graham Family In Likely Move Towards Eventual Sale

Phillip Dampier November 18, 2014 Cable One, Competition, Consumer News, Rural Broadband No Comments

cableoneCable One’s history as a former part of the Washington Post and its publishers — the Graham family — will come to an end next year as it is spun off to shareholders, positioned for a quick sale as the march towards consolidation of the cable industry continues.

The board of directors of Graham Holdings authorized company management to spin-off the cable company in a tax-free transaction. Many industry analysts believe that is a prelude to maximizing shareholder value by selling the cable operator to a larger cable operator, most likely Charter Communications.

Cable One serves just under 500,000 customers in rural markets in 19 states. The company struggled in 2014 with high-profile battles over programming costs, notably with Viacom, that has led to channel blackouts running nearly seven months. Cable One’s small footprint has put the cable company at a disadvantage, unable to qualify for deep volume discounts for cable programming. Frequent competitor AT&T U-verse has taken a toll on the cable company’s video subscribers, down 15% since the fall of 2013. Cable One spent much of 2014 investing in network upgrades, particularly to improve its newly prioritized broadband service.

The news boosted shares of Graham Holdings stock, increasing in value as much as 12% to $886.05 per share late last week. Shareholders are positioned to benefit the most from a sale of the company, which could fetch as much as $2.5 billion in a sale. The most likely buyer is Charter Communications, which serves similar-sized communities in the central and southern United States and is ready to grow larger with acquisitions of smaller companies like Cable One.

Time Warner Cable Finishes Maxx Upgrades in NY, LA; Will Upgrade Only 7 Additional Areas in 2015

Phillip Dampier November 13, 2014 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 4 Comments

twcGreenTime Warner Cable has finished the rollout of TWC Maxx upgrades in New York and Los Angeles and will likely finish in Austin by the end of this year, delivering free broadband speed upgrades up to 300Mbps and a better television experience.

“Today marks an important milestone in Time Warner Cable’s commitment to provide our customers with best-in-class products and service,” said Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO Robert Marcus, in a release. “Every customer in our two largest markets now has access to the superfast Internet and new TV experience promised by TWC Maxx.  Faster speeds are also available to every customer in the Austin, Texas, market, and we’ve committed to reinvent the service experience in seven additional markets in 2015.”

Unless you live in Kansas City, Dallas, San Antonio, San Diego, Hawaii, Charlotte or Raleigh, there will likely be no reinvention of broadband service for you, with top speeds still “maxing” out at just 50/5Mbps at the beginning of 2016.

maxed outWhile Time Warner Cable customers have seen the company’s top premium speed stagnate at 50/5Mbps in many parts of upstate New York, South Carolina, western Ohio, and Maine for several years, TWC Maxx communities will see Standard Service speeds start at 50Mbps and rapidly increase from there. The differences in speed and price paid for broadband in Maxx markets vs. non-Maxx markets is staggering.

The average Time Warner Cable customer in Los Angeles will pay a promotional price of $35 a month for 50/5Mbps service. In upstate New York and other un-Maxxed areas, the price for that speed is $70 a month — twice as much.

Some customers in Los Angeles are being provided rent-free cable modems while subscribers in other cities continue to pay $6 a month.

There is speculation Time Warner Cable has set a conservative upgrade schedule for Maxx upgrades with the understanding the company will probably no longer exist long before the end of 2015, becoming a part of Comcast sometime early next year. Whether Comcast will continue the Maxx upgrade program is unknown, but it is doubtful — Time Warner’s maximum cable broadband speeds in Maxx markets are considerably faster than what Comcast offers most of its own customers.

 

Comcast Boosting Speeds in Pacific Northwest to Fend Off CenturyLink, Frontier, and Google

Phillip Dampier November 5, 2014 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Competition No Comments

Comcast-LogoAfter raising prices for Internet service and imposing the nation’s highest modem rental fee, Comcast customers in Oregon and southwest Washington are finally getting some good news: speed boosts.

Comcast will double Internet speeds for “the vast majority” in the Pacific Northwest between now and the end of the year, bringing 100Mbps service to Comcast’s “Blast” Internet plan and 50Mbps to “Performance” tier customers. Comcast says it is the 13th speed increase in the last dozen years in the region, but that isn’t all that has increased.

Comcast raised prices for its broadband plans last month: $66.95 for standalone Performance service ($53.95 if you bundle), $78.95 for Blast ($65.95 for those also taking cable TV or phone service). The modem rental fee remains a steep $10 a month.

Customers will receive e-mail when the faster speeds become available in their area, and a modem reset (unplug it briefly) will be required to get the new speeds.

Comcast is facing competition from CenturyLink, which is installing fiber optics in the area and Frontier, which inherited Verizon’s FiOS network when it acquired landlines in the region. Google Fiber is also expected to eventually make an appearance in the Portland area. Comcast prices are on the high side in comparison to the competition. CenturyLink’s introductory rate is as low as $50 a month for fiber service and Frontier charges $35 a month for 30Mbps service on its FiOS network.

For now, Comcast broadband service remains uncapped in the region, but Comcast is continuing market trials elsewhere that include a 300GB usage cap and an overlimit fee for those exceeding it.

Netherlands Telecom Regulator: A Broadband Duopoly Doesn’t Equal Competition

Phillip Dampier November 3, 2014 Broadband Speed, Competition, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

logo-acm-enIn the Netherlands, having access to two broadband competitors isn’t enough to guarantee broadband competition, and Dutch telecom regulators are not about to deregulate Internet service in the country until consumers have more choices for broadband access.

The Dutch telecom regulator on Friday announced it will keep wholesale access regulations in place for an extra three years to guarantee KPN – the former state-owned telephone company – plays fair with competitors.

“If ACM were not to step in, there would be too little choice: Dutch telecom company KPN and cable company UPC/Ziggo would then dominate the market,” says the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) in a written statement. “In ACM’s opinion, having just two providers in these markets cannot be considered healthy competition.”

“Furthermore, KPN and UPC/Ziggo are challenged by their competitors to continue to invest in their networks and to innovate,” said Henk Don, a board member of ACM. “As a result, faster and better connections become available in the Netherlands.”

kpn

KPN

The Dutch telephone and mobile provider will be required to continue allowing competitors such as Vodafone and Tele2 access to KPN’s landline and fiber to the home networks to offer competitive broadband service. ACM reports that Dutch consumers are saving at least $312 million a year in lower Internet access pricing just by forcing KPN to allow other companies to compete using its network.

KPN isn’t hampered by the forced openness, because ACM has also given the phone company relaxed operating rules to allow it to invest in DSL upgrades including vectoring and the forthcoming G.Fast standard, which could dramatically boost broadband speeds.

Most Dutch consumers, like those in North America, realistically have a choice between one telephone and one cable company — usually Ziggo (currently merging with UPC), for broadband service. But unlike in the United States, Dutch regulators have remained wholly unconvinced an effective duopoly is subject to enough competitive pressure to protect consumers and nascent competition from upstarts. Therefore, ACM has applied regulatory checks and balances to protect the marketplace and consumers from abusive pricing and service practices.

U.S. telecom companies argue that regulations hamper investment and delay network improvements. In the Netherlands, where broadband speed rankings exceed the United States, prices are also lower.

Russia Accelerating Broadband Speed Upgrades In Global Broadband Catch-Up

onlimeRussian Internet Service Providers have been strongly encouraged to upgrade their service and speeds as a matter of national pride as the Kremlin encourages broadband improvements across the vast expanse of the country.

Responding to the call, regional ISP Onlime, operated by Russian telecom giant Rostelecom, has introduced new broadband packages to subscribers at prices that would make most North Americans drool:

  • “100 for 500″ is Onlime’s most aggressive promotion, offering unlimited 100Mbps service for 500 Russian rubles, equal to $11.47US a month on promotion. The regular rate after the promotion expires should run around $20 a month;
  • beeline15Mbps budget Internet is regularly priced at $6.88 a month;
  • 30Mbps standard service costs $9.18 a month;
  • 60Mbps turbo service runs $11.47 a month;
  • 80Mbps deluxe service was tariffed before the “100 for 500″ promotion, and its everyday price is $16.06 a month.

Meanwhile, Russian wireless mobile operator Vimpelcom also runs wired broadband service in parts of Russia and is boosting speeds without raising prices. Customers signed up with “Beeline” in the Moscow Oblast, including the communities of Moscow, Domodedovo, Zelenograd, Sergyev-Posad, Serpukhov, Chekhov, and Lyubertsy will now receive up to 30Mbps service. You can’t beat the price. At just 350 Russian rubles, that is just over $8 a month in U.S. dollars.

The speed increases start Nov. 10.

Time Warner Cable Recommits: No Mandatory Usage Caps As Long As Company Remains Independent

timewarner twcTime Warner Cable today recommitted itself to providing unlimited broadband service to any customer that wants it, promising customers they won’t be forced into a tiered usage plan as long as Time Warner Cable remains an independent company.

“We have no intention of abandoning an unlimited product we think that something that customers value and are willing to pay for,” said Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus. “The way we’ve approached usage-based pricing is to offer it as an option for customers who prefer to pay less because they tend to use less. And we’ve made those available at 5 gigabytes per month and 30 gigabytes per month levels.”

Marcus told Wall Street analysts on an afternoon conference call that the average Time Warner Cable customer now generates 35GB of traffic per month, and that a significant percentage of light users might realize some savings choosing a 30GB optional usage plan. But Marcus also admitted that few do.

marcus

Marcus

“I think that’s a testament to the value they place on unlimited,” said Marcus.

Marcus’ decision to stay away from compulsory usage-capped Internet was questioned by Marci Ryvicker from Wells Fargo Securities, LLC., a Wall Street investment firm. Ryvicker tied the growth of online video consumption to the implementation of usage caps as way of protecting video revenue and regaining money lost from lost cable television subscriptions.

“I guess the underlying question is do you think you can monetize the pipe enough through high-speed data pricing to offset video decline,” asked Ryvicker.

“We haven’t really viewed usage-based pricing quite the way you’re postulating,” responded Marcus. “I think there’s a separate question as to whether or not we have the ability to offset video declines with [broadband]. I think it’s fair to say we’re very bullish on the high-speed data business and think we can continue to grow it based on both subscriber volume and incremental ARPU per [broadband] customer.”

Marcus added that Time Warner can continue to boost revenue by raising broadband prices and encouraging customers to upgrade to faster speed tiers at a higher price.

Comcast has a very different philosophy about usage caps — it embraces them. Comcast continues to test mandatory usage caps in several markets, leading to howls of complaints from customers and bill shock. One customer complained their cable bill frightens them every time they receive it, not knowing how much Comcast would charge them for that month of service. The family’s last cable bill, including Internet, exceeded $560, primarily due to Comcast’s overlimit usage fees. Comcast has also received complaints about its usage meter’s accuracy, but the company adamantly bills customers according to the readings of their meter.

“I’ll tell you what really isn’t fair,” wrote one customer. “That is that in ‘test markets’ like mine, Atlanta, we have the 300GB [cap] enforced with the penalty overage charge and we pay the SAME rates as people in other markets that aren’t yet one of the ‘test markets.’

Most analysts expect Comcast will eventually roll out usage caps to all of its customers, including any it acquires from Time Warner Cable. Customers cannot choose an unlimited use option in Comcast’s usage cap test markets.

Rural America: Welcome to Verizon LTE Broadband – $120/Mo for 5-12Mbps With 30GB Cap

They are coming.

With both AT&T and Verizon petitioning various state regulators for permission to switch off rural landline phone and broadband customers and force customers to use wireless alternatives, getting affordable broadband in the countryside is becoming increasingly difficult.

Last week, Millenicom — a reseller of wireless broadband service specializing in serving rural, long-haul truckers, and recreational vehicle users notified customers it was transferring their accounts directly to Verizon Wireless and will no longer have any role selling discounted Verizon Wireless broadband service.

Reports indicate that Millenicom’s contract renewal negotiations with Verizon did not go as expected and as a result customers are facing potential price increases and long-term contracts to continue their wireless broadband service.

Both AT&T and Verizon have told regulators they can satisfactorily serve rural customers with wireless LTE broadband service as an alternative to maintaining rural landline infrastructure. Neither company likes to talk about the price rural customers will pay if they want to keep broadband in their homes or businesses.

Some Millenicom customers have been invited to preview Verizon Wireless’ Home LTE Installed Internet plans (formerly known as HomeFusion) and many are not too pleased with their options:

lte1

lte2

Verizon’s overlimit fee is $10/GB for those that exceed their plan limit. According to several Amazon.com reviews of the service (it received 1.5 stars), customers are quickly introduced to “Verizon’s shady usage meter” that consistently measures phantom usage. Bills of $400-500 a month are not uncommon. One customer was billed for 18GB ($180) in extra usage despite following Verizon’s suggestion to stop using the service when it reported he reached 29GB of usage.

verizon bill

This bill includes more than $3,000 in data overlimit fees.

“The bill came with the bogus data charges, and it was twice as much as the meter detected,” the customer reported.

In fact, the phantom usage has become so pervasive, Verizon customers have dubbed the phenomenon “ghost data,” but the overlimit fees Verizon expects customers to pay are very real.

“[It] went out more than my DSL and my first bill from Verizon was $1300+,” reported Jill Kloberdanz. “I want this demon out of my house.”

“According to [Verizon], I used over 65GB in just one week,” reported Aron Fox. “And they want almost $800 for it. My wife and I are two 60-somethings that never game and rarely stream.”

“Definitely stay away […] unless you like to see your data charges skyrocket (in my case more than doubling) when your use doesn’t,” reported Richard Thompson. “I’ve pulled the plug on it — literally.”

“We have the same problem – huge data overages, meter does not match our usage,” writes Heather Comer. “We turn the router off at night and when we check the next morning, it is still accumulating data.”

There are close to a dozen more complaints about Verizon’s usage meter, all stating they were charged for usage even when the equipment was switched off.

While both Verizon and AT&T stand to save millions disconnecting rural landline customers, they stand to earn even more switching rural customers to their more costly (and profitable) wireless alternatives.

Alaska’s GCI Boosts Speeds But Leaves Its Caps and Overlimit Fees Intact

redAlaska-based GCI has rolled out a free upgrade for customers in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Mat-Su Valley, and Sitka that delivers broadband speeds up to 250/10Mbps.

GCI’s re:D broadband used to max out at 200Mbps, but thanks to channel bonding on the cable system, download speeds will be upgraded to 250Mbps in re:D service areas by the end of this year.

But getting 250Mbps broadband is not cheap in Alaska. The service is priced at $174.99 a month when part of a service bundle. Broadband-only customers also pay a $11.99 monthly access fee. Both come with 24-month contracts at that price. Customers who don’t want to be tied down can choose month-to-month service for $5 more per month.

At those prices, one might hope GCI would drop its usage cap, but customers can forget it. A 500GB monthly usage cap applies, with overlimit fees up to $30/GB on some plans.

GCI also announced it would deliver 1Gbps next year over a fiber to the home network under construction in Anchorage, promising “no limits with what you can do with broadband” without mentioning whether it planned usage limits for its fiber service as well.

GCI is asking customers to vote support for their neighborhoods getting fiber upgrades. The more red this map of Anchorage shows, the more customers who have shown support for fiber broadband.

GCI is asking customers to vote support for their neighborhoods getting fiber upgrades. The more red sections of this map of Anchorage shows, the more customers who have shown support for fiber broadband.

For most GCI customers, however, broadband will continue to arrive over the company’s HFC coaxial cable network. To better manage speeds, the company’s DOCSIS 3 platform is bonding eight cable channels, but in re:D areas the company bonds up to 24 cable channels, with plans to increase to 32 channels.

acs logoThe speed increases come after its competitor Alaska Communications announced speed increases of its own. ACS sells unlimited access broadband service at speeds up to 50Mbps. ACS has beefed up its copper infrastructure to support faster Internet speeds, starting with 15Mbps introduced across the state in May. Now customers in Anchorage can subscribe to faster tiers including 30 and 50Mbps.

“Alaskans asked for faster Home Internet, and we’ve responded with these increased speeds, delivered with great customer service and without overage charges,” said ACS president and CEO Anand Vadapalli. “In addition to faster download speeds, customers choosing our product get the highest upload speeds that are so important for sharing videos and gaming.”

ACS has found its unlimited broadband offering attractive to customers who don’t want to worry about GCI’s overlimit fees. ACS also claims its customers get broadband over a dedicated line, not shared infrastructure like GCI, resulting in no speed slowdowns at peak usage times.

Fiber to the Press Release: Atlantic Broadband Announces 1Gbps in Miami… (For 40 Homes)

atlanticMore people will read this story than Atlantic Broadband has current customers for its 1Gbps broadband project in Miami.

“Atlantic Broadband is proud to be the first company to deliver 1 Gigabit Internet service to its customers here in the Miami Beach area,” said David Keefe, Atlantic Broadband’s senior vice president and general manager of the South Florida region. “While other companies are talking about what they will be doing, Atlantic Broadband moved forward and started offering this service in one of its communities. We look forward to extending access to our Gigabit Internet service to other properties and communities within our Miami footprint.”

Although Mr. Keefe isn’t being modest, his company’s gigabit broadband coverage area certainly is.

At present, the company serves just 40 properties with the super high-speed broadband service in high-income Indian Creek Village — the 8th richest community in the United States.

The tiny village of Indian Creek is made up of 40 properties and is the 8th richest community in the U.S.A.

The tiny village of Indian Creek, in the Miami-Dade area, is made up of 40 properties and is the 8th richest community in the U.S.A.

Designed to appeal to residents who can spare no expense, the Atlantic Broadband package also includes more than 350 TV channels powered by TiVo, integrated access to Netflix, and unlimited phone service for up to four lines.

An Atlantic Broadband spokesperson wouldn’t reveal the price of the package, and admitted customers cannot choose standalone broadband-only service.

“The needs of Indian Creek Village were unique so custom service packages were created that include all of Atlantic Broadband’s TV services, Gigabit Internet and four phone lines,” a spokeswoman told Multichannel News. “Currently, there is not a published a standalone price for Gigabit Internet.”

Residents in the wealthy enclave include Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima, Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, his son Enrique Iglesias, Robert Diener, co-founder of Hotels.com, Edward Lampert, hedge fund billionaire and owner of what is left of Kmart and Sears, Don Shula, retired football coach, Charles Bartlett Johnson, mutual fund billionaire, billionaire investor Carl Icahn and former Philadelphia Eagles owner and billionaire art collector Norman Braman.

Other famous residents both past and present have included Beyoncé and Jay-Z, pro golfer Raymond Floyd, coach Rick Pitino, U.S. Senator George Smathers, Sheik Mohammed al Fassi, television host Don Francisco, co-founder of Calvin Klein Barry Schwartz, radio magnate Raul Alarcon, coal and oil executive, heiress and philanthropist Suzie Linden, Arthur I. Appleton, President of Appleton Electric Company and founder of the Appleton Museum of Art and Bridlewood Farm, and his wife Martha O’Driscoll a former Hollywood actress.

Atlantic Broadband has not ripped out classic cable infrastructure for its less-well-to-do customers outside of the village in the Miami-Dade area and relies on RF over Glass technology for its network extensions. That allows the company to keep its legacy equipment in place while giving some residents access to fiber and others traditional coaxial cable.

Atlantic serves an island of customers in the Miami Beach area, but most of Miami gets its cable service from Comcast. Competitor AT&T has promised fiber upgrades and gigabit speeds for its own customers in the Hialeah, Hollywood, Homestead, Opa-Locka, and Pompano Beach areas, but no time frame has been announced for the upgrade.

Atlantic Broadband will have one advantage over AT&T U-verse. It does not have usage caps.

Atlantic Broadband serves around 230,000 residential and business subs in western Pennsylvania, Miami Beach, Maryland/Delaware, and Aiken, S.C. It is owned by Cogeco Cable of Canada.

Cable Is #1 in Profits: 41% Cash Flow Margin Tops TV, Movies, Music, and Publishing Industries

Phillip Dampier September 17, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Internet Overcharging 2 Comments

eyCable operators leveraged their near-monopoly on high-speed broadband and commercial business services to lead the entertainment and publishing industry in profitability, according to a report from consultant EY (formerly Ernst & Young.)

Cable companies now earn EBITDA (cash flow) margins of 41%, thanks primarily to their broadband divisions. Cable companies have managed to raise prices for Internet access, charge new fees to lease equipment, and monetize broadband usage with usage caps and usage-based billing while their costs to offer broadband service continue to decline rapidly.

“We are seeing that digital is very much driving profits now, instead of disrupting it,” said EY’s Global Media & Entertainment Leader John Nendick. “Companies are figuring out how to monetize the migration of consumers to a variety of digital platforms, and this insatiable demand for content is fueling growth throughout the industry.”

Just a few years ago, cable operators fretted that cord cutting of cable television packages and increased programming costs could take a major bite out of their profitability. But as telephone company broadband competition has waned, cable companies have been able to leverage their near-monopoly on high-speed broadband service with rate increases and usage-control measures that keep costs down and profits up. Customers have also been choosing higher-speed tiers with greater usage allowances at added costs, further increasing profits. The result is more revenue that more than compensates for the loss of profits from cable television.

According to EY, the cable industry will top everyone else in the 2014 survey of the sector. Cash flow margins for other related businesses: cable networks (37%), interactive media (36%), electronic games (29%), conglomerates (26%), satellite television (26%), publishing and information services (21%),  broadcast and network television (19%), film and television production (12%), and music (11%).

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