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Time Warner Cable’s CEO Reflects on His Efforts to Transform Company’s Image; Gigabit Speed Arrives by 2017

Marcus

Marcus

Even as some of the largest investment banks on Wall Street are assembling a $24 billion loan package to further Charter Communication’s next effort to acquire Time Warner Cable, CEO Robert Marcus has learned not to take his eyes off the day-to-day business of running the country’s second largest cable operator.

Marcus turned up late last week at Le Parker Meridien in New York to speak at the 2nd Annual MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit, largely an affair putting Wall Street investors together with top cable executives to learn about industry trends.

Immediately peppered with questions about the failed merger between Time Warner and Comcast, Marcus sought to turn the page on the deal that would have handed him an $80 million golden parachute.

“The horse is dead,” Marcus said in response to continued questions about the deal.

But Marcus did say he felt the deal was rejected for reasons that were never explained to him or the industry, which could have an impact on future cable mergers and acquisitions. Regulator-inspired uncertainty could make some companies think twice about pursuing the next big deal, but so far that does not seem to apply to Charter Communications — still hot on the trail for a deal with the much larger Time Warner Cable.

twc maxxMarcus claims he understood Time Warner Cable’s image with customers was a real problem that needed to be addressed immediately after becoming the company’s new CEO in  January 2014.

“The residential business was where the work needed to be done,” said Marcus.

Reliability became the top priority for Marcus’ team.

“It trumped features and functionality,” Marcus said, noting that if its network performed as it should, that would result in fewer calls into its customer care centers and reduced “truck rolls” to customer homes, saving Time Warner Cable time and money and improving its image. Marcus claims those efforts paid off.

“It works, we’re not pixelating, and we don’t have [huge] outages,” Marcus said.

Under Marcus’ leadership, Time Warner has adopted a “non-sexy stuff” approach to the cable business, focusing on making sure its existing products work before jumping into new products. That may explain why Time Warner has traditionally been behind other operators introducing vast broadband speed increases, cloud-based set-top boxes with improved user interfaces, more TV Everywhere contract arrangements allowing Time Warner customers to access online video content from third-party cable network websites, and the largest on-demand video libraries.

Not much is likely to change for the time being. Marcus reiterated his plan for major network upgrades under his Time Warner Cable Maxx program remain on track to reach 75% of Time Warner Cable service areas by the end of 2016.

When Maxx upgrades are complete, customers are transitioned to an all-digital television platform and Standard broadband customers move from 15/1Mbps service to 50/5Mbps at no additional charge. Although the top speed for Time Warner Cable broadband is currently 300/20Mbps in Maxx markets like New York, Los Angeles, Austin and Kansas City, Marcus said he was ready to bring 1Gbps broadband to Time Warner Cable customers sometime in late 2016, after DOCSIS 3.1 equipment becomes available.

“As the market evolves to that place, we’ll make it available,” Marcus said.

Recent movement at the Federal Communications Commission to introduce additional oversight over the cable industry has not made much impact at Time Warner Cable, which plans business as usual.

“I live in a different world than Chairman Wheeler in terms of the competitive dynamic,” Marcus said. “We’re fighting it out everyday in the trenches to gain and keep High Speed Data subscribers. The idea we would pull back and not press any competitive advantages of product enhancements we’re capable of delivering, just feels counter-intuitive and bad business.”

The idea that policy changes in Washington would somehow impact the investment in and introduction of new and better services from Time Warner Cable was ridiculous to Marcus.

“I cannot translate that into holding back the product and I can’t imagine what the policy objective would be that would encourage holding back the product,” Marcus said.

Time Warner Cable Maxx Developments in Charlotte, N.C., San Antonio

Phillip Dampier May 14, 2015 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 1 Comment

twc maxxTime Warner Cable is notifying its customers in Charlotte, N.C. to prepare for the transition to all-digital cable television service which will be complete by the end of this summer. Further south, San Antonio customers can swing by their local cable store and pick up Time Warner Cable’s new terabyte DVR, which can record up to six different programs at the same time and store six times more content than current DVR boxes.

The changes are part of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade program, which will vastly increase broadband speeds and deliver an all-digital experience to current customers in cities where the upgrade is underway.

“The bad news is you need boxes on all of your televisions,” writes Stop the Cap! reader Susan in Charlotte, who had to pick up three new set-top boxes to keep cable television running in her home. “They are going to move channels in groups to digital-only service over the summer so you will gradually lose your cable television unless you have a box on every set.”

The transition begins in early June and will last into August. Time Warner is offering customers a digital adapter to bring back the digital-only channels on older televisions. Those ordering before Dec. 10 will get them free until Aug. 11, 2016. After that, they will cost $2.75 a month each.

“Weren’t they going to rent these things for $0.99 a month,” asks Susan.

Indeed, when Time Warner Cable unveiled the small devices, they promoted the post-promotional price as $0.99 a month. Earlier this year, the price jumped to $2.75 without explanation. Standard set-top boxes can cost $7 or more a month, but are equipped with an on-screen guide and can access on-demand shows that the digital adapters cannot.

In San Antonio, customers can ditch their old DVR for a major upgrade with more storage space and a better user experience, or so the company claims. Current DVR users should be able to swap out the equipment by bringing in their existing box for an exchange. Be aware all recorded shows will be lost.

Cox Boosting Its Economy Class Broadband Speeds in Arizona: 5Mbps is Now the Minimum

COX_RES_RGBCox Communications has raised Internet speeds for its economy class customers in Arizona as it continues network enhancements across the state.

One-third of Cox customers in Arizona subscribe to the company’s two cheapest tiers — Internet Starter and Internet Essential. Both packages are getting free speed upgrades that began in late March. Now all Cox customers in the state should have the higher speeds:

  • Cox High Speed Internet Starter was 1Mbps and is now 5Mbps;
  • Cox High Speed Internet Essential was 5Mbps and is now 15Mbps.

Speed increases in one state often eventually turn up in other states where Cox provides service.

Last July, Cox doubled speeds for its Preferred tier (increased from 25 to 50Mbps) and Premiere tier (increased from 50 to 100Mbps).

Usage caps are still in place on Cox broadband packages, but they are widely ignored by most customers because Cox rarely cracks down on offenders, and usually backs off if a customer threatens to cancel service over the issue.

N.Y. Broadband Improvement Fund to Public Broadband Networks: Don’t Call Us, We’ll Never Call You

A $500 million New York State broadband improvement fund is effectively off-limits for would-be community-owned broadband networks trying to deliver broadband service in areas for-profit providers have deemed unprofitable.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ambitious plan to revolutionize Internet access for New Yorkers depends almost exclusively on for-profit providers and the state’s largest cable operator, Time Warner Cable – the company that has so far received the largest share of state funds earmarked for better broadband.

Cuomo wants all of New York wired for 100Mbps service no later than 2018. His goal is ambitious because the overwhelming majority of upstate New York barely now receives a maximum of 50Mbps from Time Warner Cable, the only significant cable operator in the region.

The broadband map from N.Y. State shows 100Mbps service is available to most New Yorkers from Verizon FiOS, Cablevision, and a handful of municipal/co-op operators. Time Warner Cable only provides a maximum of 50Mbps service across upstate New York.

The broadband map from N.Y. State shows 100Mbps service is available only from Verizon FiOS, Cablevision, and a handful of municipal/co-op operators. Time Warner Cable only provides a maximum of 50Mbps service across upstate New York. Cablevision and FiOS compete on Long Island, Time Warner Cable Maxx competes with Verizon in New York City, and most of upstate New York is served by Verizon or Frontier DSL competing with Time Warner Cable.

Six months after the program was announced, Capital magazine reports the “New NY Broadband” plan is languishing with no defined guidelines, rules, or any clear sense about how the program will be implemented and the money spent.

Salway

Salway

In fact, one of the only clear statements coming from David Salway, a former telecommunications consultant who now administers the program, is that local governments should not bother applying because he doesn’t want them competing with Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and Frontier. It’s private enterprise only:

“The primary focus of our program is that we’re not going to be in the building business,” Salway said. He emphasized that municipal governments won’t be specifically precluded from receiving funds under the program, but said that the state is “wary” of “the government building and competing with the private sector. We see this as a provider partnership process where an incumbent provider or maybe a new entrant comes in.”

Local government leaders can read between the lines and most will not bother applying for funding if Salway’s vision guides the grant-making process. Instead, Salway wants to funnel money that effectively belongs to New York taxpayers into the pockets of for-profit providers like Verizon, Frontier, Windstream, Time Warner Cable and other providers that have consistently refused to expand their networks into rural areas on their own dime. The money earmarked for broadband is part of a $6 billion legal settlement the New York Attorney General’s office negotiated with Wall Street and commercial banks that helped plunge the country into The Great Recession.

statewide availability 1

statewide availability 2

statewide availability 3

Broadband advocates across the political spectrum are slamming the broadband program for different reasons. Christopher Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self Reliance predicts providers will deliver bait and switch broadband on the taxpayer’s dime and send the proceeds out of the area.

“When you subsidize the private sector, you don’t really know what kind of services they’re going to provide in the future,” Mitchell said. “There’s a fair number that basically rip off consumers,” and they “basically extract resources from the community they serve.”

Mitchell

Mitchell

“The only clear beneficiaries of this program will be cable and Internet providers, who will have a new state subsidy to expand their footprints into areas in which their competitors have demonstrated an inability to operate profitably,” said Ken Girardin of the conservative Empire Center for Public Policy, in a scathing review of the New NY plan.

So far, Verizon has shown no interest in the program. It’s eventual intent is to decommission rural landline service and push existing customers to wireless service, so applying for wired broadband expansion funding isn’t a priority. The most likely applicants include Windstream, which serves a small percentage of rural New York telephone exchanges, Frontier Communications, which dominates Rochester and parts of the Finger Lakes region, and Time Warner Cable, which used earlier funding to connect two rural communities to its cable service. But all three companies are waiting for the program and its grant terms to be better defined.

With incumbent cable and phone companies reluctant to take part, there are several wired and wireless broadband initiatives in rural areas around New York starved of resources to expand their networks. The “white space” wireless broadband project in Thurman, for example, will be seeking funding to expand its wireless high-speed network into other parts of the community. Other initiatives could allow existing middle mile fiber networks in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region to explore building out “last mile” service to homes and businesses that now receive only DSL or no Internet access at all.

Salway promises he’ll consider funding networks that deliver the best broadband speeds for the lowest relative price in similarly sized communities. But all the money in the world won’t help if an existing phone or cable company shows no interest in serving unprofitable rural areas even after the state defrays the initial cost of placing the infrastructure to provide the service.

Mitchell believes local communities are best positioned to know what their residents want and many support publicly funded fiber technology rollouts. He points to Longmont, Col., a community that fought off propaganda mailers and a $300,000 marketing effort by CenturyLink and Comcast to defeat public fiber broadband in the city. The residents voted in favor of building their own network to move beyond the “good enough for you” broadband coming from the phone and cable company.

“The Longmonts of the country can decide to wait until these private sector companies decide its in their interest to finally build these fiber networks out, or they can say, ‘You know, we’re always going to be behind the greater technological curve of the nation,’ and do it themselves,” Tom Roiniotis, Longmont’s general manager, told Capital.

Frontier Boosts Internet Speeds for its FiOS Customers in Oregon, Washington; But You Have to Ask for Them

Phillip Dampier April 6, 2015 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Frontier No Comments

frontier fiosFrontier Communications customers lucky enough to have access to fiber to the home service will find broadband speeds have been increased to offer identical upload and download rates.

In FiOS areas of Washington and Oregon, symmetrical broadband speeds of 30/30, 50/50, 75/75, 100/100, and 150/150Mbps are now available.

Both the 75 and 150Mbps tiers are new to customers.

Existing customers will not be upgraded to the new speed tiers until they call Frontier and request them.

“Customers have been demanding faster upload speeds for access to the cloud, gaming and streaming applications, and Frontier is committed to fulfilling those needs,” said Vicky Oxley, Frontier vice president and Washington general manager. “This is something our competitors don’t offer.”

The majority of Frontier’s customers receive DSL service at speeds averaging 6Mbps.

AT&T Gigabit Price Gouging in Cupertino, Calif.: $110/Mo (It’s $40 Less in Cities Where Google Fiber Competes)

Phillip Dampier April 2, 2015 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News No Comments

uverse gigapowerAT&T is rolling out its gigabit fiber service in Cupertino, Calif., but if you want it you will pay $40 a month more than those who live in cities where Google Fiber offers competition.

AT&T U-verse with GigaPower launched Monday in “select areas,” which traditionally means it won’t be immediately available to most customers. The San Jose Mercury News reports AT&T admitted the service will be available only to a few thousand homes for now in the city and refused to give a percentage of how many of Cupertino’s 20,000 homes would ultimately be able to get the service. AT&T is under no obligation to provide the service and can cherry-pick neighborhoods and skip past government buildings, schools, and hospitals. AT&T won’t give any commitments to the city on its gigabit service.

The company justifies charging $110 a month for the same service it charges $70 for in Austin, Kansas City and North Carolina because it can afford to test higher price points where competitors won’t steal their business.

“We are trying to understand how different markets respond,” Eric Boyer, senior vice president of AT&T U-verse told the Wall Street Journal.

AT&T doesn’t treat the home town of their corporate headquarters much better. In Dallas, Gigapower costs $110, down $10 from its initial price. As Time Warner Cable and Google ponder their own broadband upgrades in North Carolina, AT&T suddenly cut the price of GigaPower on Mar. 17 from $120 to $70 in Winston-Salem and Raleigh-Durham.

cupertinoAT&T customers who do not want the company to monitor their browsing activities have to pay $29 more for privacy protection, which opts them out of AT&T’s tracking systems. Despite the high-speed and price, AT&T still insists on usage caps for its most premium broadband offering. Customers can use up to 1TB per month, after which AT&T slaps overlimit fees of $10 for each 50GB customers use over their limit. Its primary competitors, including Google, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and Charter do not have usage caps. Boyer says he knows of no customer that has exceeded the 1,000GB usage cap. But that also brings the question if no customer has exceeded the cap, why have one?

More importantly, Boyer added the company isn’t yet offering services that would be exempt from the cap but might do so in the future. “We are open to a whole host of options,” he said. Critics would likely call that an end run around Net Neutrality.

Competition is the significant driver pushing AT&T and other providers to accelerate broadband upgrades and lower prices for higher speed tiers. In markets where cable operators face DSL competition from the phone companies, speeds are lower and prices are higher. Where an incumbent announces major upgrades like GigaPower or Time Warner Cable Maxx, competitors are forced to respond with upgrades of their own.

That leaves cities served by independent telephone companies like Frontier, CenturyLink, and Windstream at a distinct disadvantage because none of those companies have announced sweeping broadband speed increases and have relied instead on acquired fiber networks (Frontier FiOS and U-verse), limited fiber rollouts (CenturyLink) and incremental speed increases using VDSL and bonded DSL (all three). Frontier claims its customers are not interested in faster broadband speeds.

The northeastern United States has seen only one major market disruptor — Verizon FiOS, and it has shelved future expansion. Dominant cable provider Time Warner Cable has not seen its market share hurt much by limited DSL speeds offered in many areas by Verizon, Frontier, and FairPoint Communications. It continues to offer a maximum of 50/5Mbps broadband in upstate New York, Maine, and Massachusetts.

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.

New Zealand Soars Past U.S. in Fiber Broadband Revolution; Now #1 in Fiber Among OECD Nations

Dunedin is New Zealand's "Gigatown" and ISP Orcon sells unlimited access to gigabit speeds for $68.50US a month.

Dunedin is New Zealand’s “Gigatown” and ISP Orcon sells residents unlimited access to gigabit speeds for $68.50US a month.

New Zealand is now the world leader in fiber optic broadband deployment, achieving an annual growth rate of 272 percent and on the way to becoming one of the top 10 nations for broadband speed.

“We are now ahead of Australia, the United States and Japan for fixed broadband, with more than 31 broadband subscriptions for every 100 New Zealanders signed up for this service,” said Amy Adams, New Zealand’s Communications Minister. “This is an impressive jump and demonstrates the impact that the government’s $2 billion investment in the Ultra-fast Broadband and Rural Broadband Initiative program is having on the telecommunications services available to New Zealanders. People are increasingly choosing fiber for its superior speeds, capacity and reliability as the build continues across New Zealand.”

Before the government intervened, broadband in New Zealand was notoriously slow and rationed with low usage allowances and speed throttling. Most of the country received ADSL service, a technology that is rapidly being discarded by most developed nations in favor of VDSL in rural areas and fiber optic broadband in urban and suburban communities. Government policy defined broadband as an essential service for the country’s current and future economic growth and implemented a nationwide broadband improvement plan designed to replace or augment outdated copper telephone lines with fiber optic infrastructure.

While countries like the United States and Canada effectively allow private corporations to define and control their digital destinies, New Zealand believes transformational ultra-fast broadband is too important to leave in the hands of industry alone.

“Fiber is very much like electricity was 100 years ago,” said Maxine Elliot, CEO of Ultra-Fast Fibre (New Zealand). “It’s the single biggest infrastructure build we have done in a long time and it will make that kind of difference in our lives. I think when they first began building out electricity, it was all about a light bulb. No one could have imagined we would have microwaves and computers. We cannot begin to imagine the change that we are about to see with fiber.”

Flag of New Zealand

The explosive growth of fiber broadband has helped the country leap ahead of much larger OECD members like Australia and the United States.

“Over the past ten years, we have moved up from 22nd place out of 30 OECD countries in June 2004 to being 15th out of 34 OECD countries for fixed broadband subscriptions as at June 2014,” Adams noted. “At the same time, the quality of people’s broadband packages is improving, with greater numbers of customers using VDSL or fiber, rather than the older ADSL technology.”

The fiber infrastructure has also led to other benefits not originally anticipated. Wireless companies throughout the country have tapped into the fiber connections which deliver backhaul connectivity between cell towers and the fiber broadband network, allowing greater wireless broadband speeds and more capacity. Today, New Zealand is in the top 10 in the OECD for wireless broadband.

New Zealand’s fiber network has allowed providers to cut prices, increase speeds, and offer unlimited access as an affordable option for customers who want the service. It is also expected to dramatically cut the costs of maintaining the country’s telecom network, which were growing as older copper infrastructure aged.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Ultra Fast Fibre Why ultra-fast broadband.mp4

New Zealand believes its digital future depends on fiber optics, not on last generation DSL from the phone company. This video explains the immediate benefits of discarding century-old copper infrastructure in favor of fiber optics. (3:17)

http://phillipdampier.com/video/Ultrafast Fibre Installation process.mp4

Ultra-Fast Fibre installation is orderly, on time, and technicians will even plant new grass seed and color-match any replacement concrete or driveway patches. This video explains the three-step process customers go through to get fiber service installed. (3:59)

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.

Cable Industry’s Profitable Money Party Under Threat As Net Neutrality, FCC Oversight Looms

Moffett

Moffett

Nearly 20 years after the 1996 Telecom Act deregulated much of the cable industry, the renewed threat of increased consumer protection and oversight by the Federal Communications Commission and the dwindling chance regulators will approve the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable has increased pessimism about guaranteed high cable industry profits on Wall Street.

Craig Moffett, senior analyst at MoffettNathanson has departed from his usual optimism about the prospects of cable industry stocks and downgraded Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications this morning to “neutral,” suggesting the Title II reclassification of broadband could eventually lead to FCC mandated price cuts on broadband after the agency finalizes Net Neutrality regulations.

The cable industry had maintained high hopes for the Republican majority in Congress to trample Net Neutrality and allow the cable industry to continue boosting rates and introducing other pricing schemes including usage-based billing, but Moffett has grown increasingly convinced Republicans cannot override President Obama’s veto power if Congress attempts to change or end FCC oversight over the broadband business.

The cable industry has grown increasingly panicked over a new spirit of activism inside the FCC, particularly after FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler began asserting their “worst-case scenarios” for broadband speed and Net Neutrality. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association has warned Net Neutrality and Title II would stifle innovation. But Moffett fears it will more likely stifle profits.

money“It would be naïve to suggest that the implication of Title II, particularly when viewed in the context of the FCC’s repeated findings that the broadband market is non-competitive, doesn’t introduce a real risk of price regulation,” Moffett wrote. “Not tomorrow, of course, so yes, near term numbers won’t change. But terminal growth rate assumptions need to be lowered. Multiples will have to come down.”

Moffett, who had been optimistic about the likely approval of the merger deal between Comcast and Time Warner Cable is much less so today.

His earlier 70-30 odds in favor of the merger are now down to 60-40. The headwind of negative press and the reclassification of broadband to a minimum speed of 25Mbps poses considerable risk the deal will be ruled anti-competitive.

Moffett claims the cable industry was also banking on jacking up prices for Internet access, already a very profitable service, to cover reduced profits from cable television. But now the FCC will be watching.

“In the past, changes to broadband pricing would have been the natural remedy,” Moffett said. “That avenue may be no longer open.”

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