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Lexington, Ky.: “What Abuse Will Be Heaped On Us Next by Charter/Spectrum”

Lexington, Ky. officials are mad as hell about some of the sales and customer service tactics heaped on the local citizenry courtesy of Charter Communications, better loathed as “Spectrum.”

In a letter released yesterday, Lexington’s chief administrative officer Sally Hamilton told the cable company her office mail is running hot and a lot of it is from local residents furious about Charter’s business practices and pricing.

The city now wants Charter officials to turn over company records detailing customer complaints and attend a public hearing to discuss the cable company’s performance since taking over for Time Warner Cable.

Lexington officials are also unhappy that Charter recently laid off 56 customer service employees in its local office.

“The city is left wondering what abuse will be heaped upon it next by Charter-Spectrum,” the letter said. “Because of the public urgency regarding Charter’s actions regarding its Spectrum service, we insist on a swift response to this letter,” Hamilton added.

The Herald-Leader obtained copies of earlier correspondence between the city and the cable company detailing its response to accusations of “shoddy customer service.”

Local residents are unhappy that Charter has dramatically raised rates, shows an unwillingness to negotiate over its pricing, and has removed a number of channels from Spectrum’s basic cable lineup.

The cable company has also been accused of aggressive sales techniques, including using door-to-door agents to browbeat mentally and developmentally impaired people into signing up for cable service, even though they are legally not able to sign contracts. The city is demanding to know how many times that has happened.

Charter is also accused of preventing customers from talking to supervisors, lowering advertised broadband speeds, and no longer accepting returned cable equipment through the mail.

Charter’s June 5 letter assured the city that “quality customer service is of the utmost importance to Charter,” and claimed the company was in the process of spending $3.1 million on local improvements, including 860 new outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots, and low-cost internet access for the poor.

Kenya Has Faster Mobile Broadband Than U.S.A.

Phillip Dampier June 14, 2017 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment

Despite claims from America’s wireless companies that they deliver world-class wireless speeds, a new report from Akamai shows the United States only ranked 28th fastest in the world, beaten by the African nation of Kenya that ranked 14th.

Kenya’s 13.7Mbps average mobile broadband speed is almost twice as fast as the global average and consistently better than the U.S., where 10.7Mbps is the average. Nearly 90% of Kenya relies on mobile phones to reach the internet, primarily because its fixed line network never developed adequately to support faster broadband speeds. Kenyans have cell phones with cheap data plans, supported by a growing optical fiber backhaul network.

The United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, France, Norway and Denmark all scored the highest, with UK customers now getting an average speed of 26Mbps over 4G connections.

What two North American countries are not on this list?

Comcast Introduces Gigabit DOCSIS 3.1 Broadband in 7 New Cities: $70-109.99/Month

Comcast may be undercutting its own fiber broadband aspirations by introducing a cheaper way for customers to get gigabit broadband service over their existing Comcast cable connection.

Customers in seven new areas, including most of Colorado, Oregon, southwest Washington State, and the cities of Houston, Kansas City, San Francisco and Seattle now have access to Comcast’s DOCSIS 3.1-powered gigabit downloads. (Upload speeds are limited to a much less impressive 35Mbps.)

Comcast announced the new communities as part of their gradual rollout of DOCSIS 3.1 — the standard that powers cable broadband — across their national footprint. These communities join Utah, Detroit, Tennessee, Chicago, Atlanta, and Miami where Comcast has already introduced the new speeds.

It is Comcast’s latest foray into gigabit speed broadband, and it is decidedly focused on the cities outside of the northeast (except Boston) where Comcast has not faced significant competition from Google Fiber or AT&T Fiber, both delivering gigabit speed internet access. Verizon FiOS, predominately in the northeast, only recently introduced gigabit speed options for its residential customers. Comcast continues to be among the most aggressive cable operators willing to boost broadband speeds for its customers, in direct contrast to Charter Communications, the second largest cable operator in the country that is predominately focused on selling 60-100Mbps internet packages to its customers.

Comcast sells multiple broadband speed tiers to its customers.

Comcast’s efforts may undercut its own fiber-on-demand project, which wires fiber to the home service for some Comcast customers seeking up to 2Gbps service. That plan comes with a steep installation fee and term commitment, making it a harder sell for customers. Comcast’s DOCSIS-powered gigabit will retail for $159.95 a month, but Comcast is offering pricing promotions ranging from $70-109.99 a month with a one-year term commitment in several cities. The more competition, the lower the price.

In Kansas City, where Google Fiber premiered and AT&T is wiring its own gigabit fiber, Comcast charges $70 a month, price-locked for two years with a one-year contract. Customers who don’t want a contract will pay dearly for that option — $160 a month, which is more than double the promotional price.

In Houston, where AT&T has not exactly blanketed the city with gigabit fiber service and Comcast has been the dominant cable operator for decades, gigabit speed will cost you $109.99 — almost $40 more a month because of the relative lack of competition. Customers who bundle other Comcast services will get a price break however. Upgrading to gigabit service will cost those customers an additional $50 to $70 a month, depending on their current package.

“Additional prices and promotions may be tested in the future,” the company said in a news release.

Comcast does not expect many customers will want to make the jump to gigabit speeds and a higher broadband bill. Rich Jennings, senior vice president of Comcast’s Western/Mountain region, told the Colorado Springs Gazette that gigabit service was a “niche product for people who want that kind of speed.”

Comcast does suspect a number of signups will be from broadband-only customers who don’t subscribe to cable television.

Mike Spaulding, Comcast’s vice president of engineering, thinks the service will appeal most to those who rely entirely on a broadband connection for entertainment and communications.

“There’s not a lot of need for gigabit service for one customer to do one thing,” Spaulding told the Denver Post. “But what it does is enable an even better experience as more devices in the home are streaming, whether it’s video or gaming or whatever they are doing in the home. Most of our customers subscribe to the 100Mbps package today. Less than 10 percent of our customers are in the 200-250Mbps. We’ll see where one gig takes us.”

One place a gig may take customers is perilously close to Comcast’s notorious 1TB usage cap, which is currently enforced in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Western Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, Utah, Southwest Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, even for this premium-priced internet tier. Customers exceeding it will automatically pay a $10 overlimit fee for each 50GB of excess usage, up to a maximum of $200 a month. An unlimited ‘insurance plan’ is also available for $50 a month, which removes the 1TB cap.

Customers will have to use a new modem if they upgrade to gigabit service, either renting one from Comcast for around $10 a month or buying a compatible DOCSIS 3.1 modem. Two of the most recommended: the Arris Surfboard SB8200 ($189) or the Netgear CM1000 ($171.99) (prices subject to change).

Charter Tells N.Y. Regulators It Will Prioritize Upgrades for Central N.Y. Region This Year

Just days before the finalizing of the acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Charter Communications, customers in Central New York were a week away from the completion of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade program targeting Syracuse and other communities in the region. But once Charter took over, all upgrades were put on hold, leaving some customers with Maxx speeds of 300Mbps while others languished with top speeds of 50Mbps.

Good news for those customers, at least. In a communication with the New York State Public Service Commission, Charter told regulators it intends to focus its efforts on completing those upgrades over the course of 2017. In fact, it will likely be the only region of New York targeted for speed upgrades of up to 300Mbps this year. For other upstate cities including Buffalo, Rochester, and Binghamton, Charter has upgraded its top speed to 100Mbps for those willing to pay approximately $105 a month and a one-time upgrade fee of $199.

Sometime this year, those New York communities still not able to buy 300Mbps will commence a full transition to all digital and encrypted cable television service, a prerequisite for the faster broadband speeds. Charter has a deadline of 2019 to introduce up to 300Mbps service across all areas it services in New York State. The company seems to hint it will achieve that well before the deadline, which likely means sometime in 2018.

In February, the cable company also reported it had completed building out new service to an additional 2,860 homes across 49 counties and approximately 250 municipalities. But the company is committed to expanding service to approximately 145,000 New York households, which means it has a long way to go. This week, Charter formally applied for an extension of the deadline, blaming utility pole owners for taking too long to “make-ready” utility poles for cable service and admitting it will fall short of regulator expectations.

The areas where Charter has most recently managed to complete expanded service areas include:

  • Albany County for approximately 281 passings, including the Village of Menands, Towns of Colonie, Bethlehem, and New Scotland, and the City of Albany.
  • Erie County for approximately 336 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Amherst, Boston, Orchard Park, Derby, and the City of Buffalo.
  • Kings County for approximately 285 passings in Brooklyn.
  • New York County for approximately 553 passings in the City of New York.
  • Saratoga County for approximately 373 passings, including the Towns of Milton, Northumberland, Stillwater, Clifton Park, Ballston Lake, Halfmoon, and Wilton, and the City of Saratoga Springs.
  • Sullivan County for approximately 84 passings, including the Towns of Fallsburg, Liberty, Victor, Thompson, and the Village of Woodridge.
  • Ulster County for approximately 143 passings, including the Towns of Rochester, Ulster, and Saugerties, and the City of Kingston.
  • Wayne County for approximately 78 passings, including the Towns of Macedon, Walworth, Newark, and Williamson.

California Legislature Wants to Give $300 Million of Your Money Away to AT&T, Frontier, and Big Cable

Delivering 21st century broadband speeds to rural Californians just doesn’t interest incumbent phone companies like AT&T and Frontier Communications, so the California legislature has been hard at work trying to entice upgrades on the taxpayer’s dime while reassuring ISPs they won’t have to break a sweat doing it.

Steve Blum from Telus Venture Associates reports the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), California’s equivalent of the FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF) – is about to get a makeover sure to delight the two phone companies while throwing some cash at cable operators like Comcast, Cox and Charter to keep them happy as well.

The changes are encompassed in Assembly Bill 1665, sponsored by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D–Riverside County), who counts AT&T as his sixth biggest contributor. The phone company has cut checks to the former mayor of Coachella not less than a dozen times amounting to $16,700. Garcia has also received special attention from AT&T’s lobbyists, who invited him to appear side-by-side with AT&T officials at press-friendly events where the phone company donated $10,000 to an abused women’s shelter and $25,000 to the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Imperial County.

Blum reports that the bill has been largely a placeholder until now as negotiations and dealmaking happened behind the scenes. The result is a corporate welfare bonanza that will raise $330 million for the CASF by reinstating a telephone tax on consumers and businesses than ended last year. Of that, $300 million will end up in the pockets of phone and cable companies, $10 million will go to regional broadband efforts, and the remaining $20 million will be designated for schools, libraries, and non-profit groups to promote broadband use, but only where providers already offer service or will shortly. In effect, that $20 million will turn public institutions into sales agents for ISPs.

The corporate giveaway bill will also sell Californian consumers down the river:

  • The bill effectively replaces the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband (25/3Mbps) with California’s own minimum: 6/1Mbps — conveniently about the same speed telephone company DSL provides. As Blum writes, the language “makes 1990s legacy DSL technology the new 21st century standard.”
  • AT&T and Frontier Communications get monopoly protection with exclusive CASF rights in areas where they currently receive federal CAF funding. This means both companies will get to double-dip federal and state money to expand inferior DSL or fixed wireless service and never have to worry about taxpayer funding going to their competitors or communities that might choose to build their own superior broadband networks. It virtually guarantees rural California will be stuck with sub-standard internet access indefinitely, and at the taxpayer’s expense.
  • CASF funding has always been exclusively for infrastructure construction — building out the last mile to deliver internet access to consumers and businesses. But the new bill now allows the money to also be spent on “operating costs,” a rat hole where millions can quickly disappear with little improvement in broadband expansion or service.
  • The new bill suggests that provider contributions — where providers agree to kick in a percentage (usually 30-40%) of their own money on expansion projects in return for getting taxpayer subsidies, is just too hard on struggling phone companies like AT&T and Frontier. Under the new proposal, this requirement should be eliminated.
  • Individual homeowners would be able to apply for grants to get broadband connections, a direct nod to the state’s cable companies that routinely ask would-be customers just out of reach of the nearest cable line to pay tens of thousands of dollars to build a line extension. If approved, cable companies could set the installation price as high as the sky and get taxpayers to foot the bill, enriching themselves while avoiding any regulatory scrutiny.

Cable companies also get another wish granted — keeping subsidized broadband out the hands of many poor Californians that need connections for education, job-seeking, and training. The bill proposes to ban funding for broadband facilities in public housing. Cable companies have been irritated spending capital on broadband expansion to public housing only to find many of its customers would likely to qualify for their “internet for the poor” programs that cost as little as $10 a month.

Blum reports the language isn’t final and is likely to be amended as negotiations continue. A hearing of the Communications and Conveyance Committee at the State Capitol, Room 437 is scheduled for 1:30pm PDT today on the bill. You can listen to the hearing when in session here.

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  • Paul Houle: It makes more sense than some of the bundles I've heard about. I think many families subscribe to Netflix for the documentaries, and all of these ch...
  • Paul Houle: How many years is this for: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020: If it is really is four years, this is $3230 per sub, which is in the range of what rural fiber...
  • Josh: Not the dumbest use of our money possible, but why the frak don't we just own the service we're paying for?...
  • Joe V: and the fleecing of the U.S. continues....
  • Josh: LOL! That's $0.75 a month less than a TiVo that's not on lifetime service! And of course it's far MORE/month if you have more than one outlet. Yowz...
  • Joe V: I almost pity those that think that this “5G” will good enough once cord cutting internet streaming TV becomes the norm. AT&T’s Direct TV Now chok...
  • Friz: well, at least in my area speeds are relatively staying in line with what I would expect over the years at midco the cost jumped from 30 a month for ...
  • Ralph: Frontier seems to be only interested in acquiring other phone companies' properties for the monthly income from subscribers of the phone and internet ...
  • Lee: They will not be the only company that will have problems paying for debt as rates rise and they have to refinance debt....
  • Daniel: My experience with Verizon was CONSISTENTLY HORRIFIC. The sheer incompetence broke my brain. They would screw up everything they possibly could, and s...
  • Josh: Good grief. If they still have money, they HAVE to spend...I mean it's probably too late, but...what on Earth is wrong with these executives? I mean...
  • Paul Houle: The scary thing is that Frontier has a huge cash flow. There are still enough customers that use Frontier because they don't have a choice. "Cable" ...

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