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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.

FCC Votes to Enforce Net Neutrality and Overturns Municipal Broadband Bans in N.C., Tenn.

Phillip Dampier February 26, 2015 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't 5 Comments
Net Neutrality victory. (Mignon Clyburn (L), Thomas Wheeler (C), and Jessica Rosenworcel (R) celebrate their majority vote in favor of Net Neutrality. (Image: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Net Neutrality victory. Democratic FCC commissioners Mignon Clyburn (L), Thomas Wheeler (C), and Jessica Rosenworcel (R) celebrate their majority vote in favor of Net Neutrality. (Image: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to regulate broadband service as a telecommunications service and public utility, guaranteeing providers will not be allowed to interfere with Internet traffic.

Three of the five commissioners voted in favor of strong Net Neutrality protections, equally applicable to home wired broadband and wireless service, while two Republican commissioners decried the FCC’s move as a regulatory overreach.

“The Internet is too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules,” said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who reacted emotionally to opposition charges that Net Neutrality would lead to a government takeover of the Internet. Wheeler called many of the critical statements made by Net Neutrality opponents “nonsense.”

“Today is the proudest day of my public policy life,” Wheeler said.

The FCC also voted 3-2 in favor of sweeping away state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that restrict municipal broadband development. Wheeler called the anti-public broadband initiatives “red tape” and anticompetitive. The change will allow services like Fibrant and Greenlight in North Carolina and EPB in North Carolina to immediately begin planning expansion outside of their current service areas. It could also spark new community network development, if today’s FCC actions survive an anticipated court challenge.

Today’s decision does not overturn community broadband bans in more than a dozen other states, but does open the door for municipal providers to file requests with the FCC to overturn similar laws.

Despite claims by providers the move would saddle providers with 1930s era telephone regulations, the FCC today adopted a broadly whittled down set of principles under Title II of the Communications Act which redefines broadband as a “telecommunications service.” The FCC will not regulate consumer pricing or how services are marketed to the public. It will observe and referee disputes between providers and content creators and guarantee no blocking, no speed throttling, and no paid Internet fast lanes.

Wall Street had little reaction to today’s events with most cable and telco stocks remaining flat or slightly higher this afternoon. Investors appear to be unconcerned by the new broadband regulatory framework.

CNBC (Comcast)’s Magic Box of Tricks and Traps: The Hit on Tumblr Founder David Karp Debunked

Uh oh... deer in headlights moment for Tumblr founder David Karp.

Uh oh… deer in headlights moment for Tumblr founder David Karp.

Net Neutrality opponents today made hay about an underwhelming, sometimes stumbling debate performance by Tumblr founder David Karp, who was inexplicably CNBC’s go-to-guy to explain the inner machinations of the multi-billion dollar high-speed Internet connectivity business.

TechFreedom, an industry-funded libertarian-leaning group spent much of the day hounding Karp about his “painful, babbling CNBC interview.”

“Those pushing #TitleII have NO FREAKING CLUE what it means,” tweeted TechFreedom’s Berin Szoka.

BTIG Research devoted a whole page to the eight minute performance, where Karp faced interrogation by two CNBC hosts openly hostile to Net Neutrality and another that expressed profound concern the Obama Administration would over-enforce Net Neutrality under Title II regulations. CNBC is owned by Comcast, a fierce opponent of mandatory Net Neutrality.

“Given the importance of Net Neutrality and the central role played by Tumblr’s Karp in getting us to this point, we thought it was very important for everyone to watch his interview earlier today on CNBC in its entirety,” wrote Rich Greenfield, noting the “best parts” (where Karp appeared like a deer frozen by oncoming headlights) were encapsulated into an extra video clip.

Greenfield referred to a Wall Street Journal piece in February that suggested access means everything when it comes to D.C. politics:

“In a lucky coincidence, Tumblr Chief Executive David Karp, who attended the meeting in New York, found himself seated next to Mr. Obama at a fundraiser the following day hosted by investment manager Deven Parekh.

Mr. Karp told Mr. Obama about his concerns with the net-neutrality plan backed by Mr. Wheeler, according to people familiar with the conversation. Those objections were relayed to the White House aides secretly working on an alternative.”

That was sufficient for some to imply Karp was a powerful influence over the president’s sudden pronouncement last November that strong, all-encompassing Net Neutrality was the was to go.

CNBC’s hosts grilled Karp, asking him to prove a negative, set up false premises for Karp to defend, and repeatedly cut his answers off. At the same time, Karp was clearly unprepared and often did not have his facts in order.

Stop the Cap! sorts it all out.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Tumblr Net Neutrality 2-24-15.flv

Nobody’s shining moment on the Net Neutrality debate on CNBC featuring an unprepared David Karp, founder of Tumblr vs. the B-team at CNBC – lackeys with an agenda who can’t wait to interrupt. Truth comes in last place. (8:18)

CNBC Claim: “If you talk to AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, he will say right now they have more capital expenditures than any company in America … and if you turn it into a utility it will not be profitable to continue investing like that.”

Fact: AT&T does invest heavily in its network but also enjoys very healthy returns on that investment. In 2014, AT&T was expected to end the year spending about $21 billion, primarily on its highly profitable wireless network. Last week, USA Today published a list of the top 12 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 that boosted capital spending by 40% or more in the past 12 months and spent at least 15% of revenue on capital expenditures. AT&T was not on it. Outside of claims from telecom companies and their lobbyists, there are no plans by the FCC to turn broadband into a regulated utility.

Karp Claim: “There is a tremendous amount of throttling going on right now.”

CNBC Question from Alternate Universe of Fair, Balanced Journalism:

CNBC Question from Alternate Universe of Fair, Balanced Journalism: “In general, do you think heavy-handed government regulation is a good thing or a bad thing for an industry?”

Fact: “Throttling” is not well-defined here. There is intentional throttling among certain wireless companies, usually under the guise of “fair access policies” and usage caps, and there is throttling as a side effect of congestion in two areas: backbone connectivity among certain ISPs and wholesale traffic handlers and last mile congestion among providers, especially those offering DSL in rural areas, where multiple customers share access to a limited capacity middle mile network. There is no evidence that any significant wired providers are intentionally throttling the speeds of services except as part of a fair access policy or a purposeful lack of investment in network upgrades.

CNBC Claim: “You have a monopoly because it is really expensive to build the pipes so you have not had multiple people who will build pipes to the door.”

Fact: The capital cost required to offer wired broadband service to each home is a clear deterrent for many providers, but not an insurmountable one as Google and community-owned providers have demonstrated. The cable industry won early protection from competition in exclusive franchise agreements that calmed investor fears that the enormous cost of wiring communities for cable might not be repaid if a competition war broke out. AT&T later fought for and won statewide franchising agreements and considerable deregulation in many states where it provides U-verse, arguing regulatory burden reduction would enhance competition. But the same large cable and phone companies that achieved deregulation for themselves have lobbied heavily to regulate and banish community-owned providers from getting off the ground by encouraging the passage of restrictive state laws making such competition nearly impossible.

CNBC Question: “In general, do you think heavy-handed government regulation is a good thing or a bad thing for an industry?”

Our reply: Really?

Karp: I think a bright line rule that sort of spells out these foundational principles that we believe in… I think the Bill of Rights is a good thing… even without getting into the weeds, spelling out something like the First Amendment that says this is a truth that we believe… (cut off).

CNBC: I don’t see how that is an answer at all comparing this to the Bill of… I understand the Bill of Rights but… has there been a problem up to this point where you feel that people… that Net Neutrality has been violated.

Karp: We’ve had instances where companies like Comcast have tried to block whole protocols and shut off consumers access to new innovative parts of the Internet.

Traffic congestion problems on many major ISPs were limited to Netflix traffic, until Netflix began paying for peering connections with problem ISPs.

Traffic congestion problems on many major ISPs were limited to Netflix traffic, until Netflix began paying for peering connections with problem ISPs.

Fact: In 2007, Comcast installed new software or equipment on its networks that began selectively interfering with some of Comcast’s customers’ TCP/IP connections. The most widely discussed interference was with certain BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing communications, but other protocols were also affected. The case led to an effort by the FCC to introduce open Internet traffic rules in 2010 which Comcast later defeated in court. At no time did Comcast completely block access – it simply impeded it, reducing customer speeds only while using those services.

A CNBC host then challenged Karp to prove a negative on AT&T’s plans to pull back investment in its network expansion.

“How has it been disproven that he’s not actually going to pull in on his buildout of more infrastructure?”

Fact: On Nov 7, 2014 – a week before President Obama unveiled his support for strong Net Neutrality policies – AT&T announced at least $3 billion in capex reduction (or “pull in” to quote CNBC) for 2015 in a press release on its acquisition of Mexico Wireless Provider Iusacell:

AT&T’s VIP-related capital investment levels will peak in 2014, as the company has said previously. As a result, AT&T expects its 2015 capital expenditure budget for its existing businesses to be in the $18 billion range. This will bring the company’s capital spending as a percent of total revenues to the mid-teens level — consistent with its historical capital spending levels.

Even after AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was announcing cutbacks in capex, his office was releasing press releases claiming a major expansion of AT&T’s gigabit fiber upgrades for U-verse, claims Stop the Cap! have found to be grossly exaggerated.

Stephenson made the mistake of putting the cart in front of the broadband horse, making it impossible to credibly claim he was reducing his capex budget because of a Net Neutrality policy that had not even been announced yet.

CNBC Claim: “It doesn’t mean someone will pay for it if they are losing money as a result.”

Fact: None of the providers mentioned by CNBC have lost any money provisioning broadband service. In fact, broadband is becoming the new profit center of the industry, netting higher revenue after adjustments for cost than any other part of the cable package.

Another exchange:

CNBC: “If you look at Netflix traffic, sometimes it is 80 percent of the network’s nighttime load.”

Karp: “The consumers are paying for it and Netflix is already paying for it.”

CNBC: “I am not a Netflix user and it ticks me off I have to subsidize everybody that is doing that. Why do I have to pay for that?”

Fact: The CNBC host is being disingenuous and inaccurate. Although Netflix traffic can constitute 80% of the evening traffic load, the customers accessing Netflix paid both Netflix and their ISP for that traffic. Whether or not the CNBC host uses Netflix or not is irrelevant. Assuming she is a Comcast or Time Warner Cable customer, last mile congestion that could impact her enjoyment of the Internet was never an issue under DOCSIS 2, has been rendered a non-issue under the current DOCSIS 3 standard, and will remain a non issue going forward.

The traffic dispute between Comcast and Netflix only affected Netflix viewing. The CNBC host need not subsidize Netflix or anyone else. Netflix offers free peering services and equipment to any ISP that wants it. Comcast refused to take part, demanding financial compensation instead. It then raised rates on customers anyway. Her beef is with Comcast, not Netflix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smith

Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cowles

Cowles

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

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

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

On cue, Cowles rushed to Frontier’s defense.

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

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

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

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

CenturyLink Threatens to Pull Plug on Idaho Schools Broadband Network, Cutting Off High Schools Statewide

Broadband... by Boss Hogg.

Broadband… by Boss Hogg.

CenturyLink has given the state of Idaho until Sunday to come up with as much as $4.2 million or it will cut off Internet access to more than 200 Idaho public high schools, potentially leaving some without Internet access for the rest of the school year.

State officials in Boise warned school officials they are on their own if the statewide Idaho Education Network (IEN) goes dark on Sunday, leaving administrators scrambling for alternative Internet Service Providers in a state dominated by CenturyLink.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill told nearly 200 Idaho public school trustees Monday that the state’s broadband project will go dark Feb. 22. Districts will need to carry out their own emergency plan immediately if they want broadband access for the rest of the school year.

“This is terrible. We apologize,” said Senate president pro tem Brent Hill, speaking to nearly 200 public school trustees on Monday.

“You need to have a plan in case Internet is shut off on Sunday,” added Will Goodman, technology chief for the state Department of Education. “You need to be prepared if that plan goes into place for the rest of the school year.”

Syringa Networks sued Idaho in late 2009, arguing the state illegally blocked it from the $60 million broadband contract to favor the politically connected Education Networks of America and CenturyLink. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s administration made certain the request for bids was tailored towards the ultimate winners — close friends of Otter and Idaho’s political class. The cronyism did not extend into the courtroom, however, and after several years of legal back and forth, a judge affirmed what many suspected: the contract was illegal and declared void.

followthemoneyState law prohibits using taxpayer dollars to pay for illegal contracts, and CenturyLink has kept the network running without payment in hopes their friends in the state legislature will bail IEN out. But after months of inaction, CenturyLink announced that without immediate payment, it will cut off the network this weekend.

The prospect of hundreds of high schools losing all Internet connectivity led to seething editorials in some state newspapers.

“Students were faux poster-children on what turned out to be just another example of putting the well-connected on the public dole, while simultaneously lauding the result,” wrote the editors of the Twin Falls Times-Union. “Contracting is broken in Idaho. Corruption is too easily accepted as day-to-day business.”

The newspaper advocates writing off IEN and starting over by giving control of broadband connectivity back to local communities across Idaho, where corruption does not predominate:

The IEN is a pile of rubble. It can’t be salvaged. Only a total rebuild will suffice.

Tell the districts that rely on IEN to go find a provider. Take that $4 million sitting in the bank, targeted for the providers, and start a reimbursement fund for schools. Let local officials run it. The courts will figure out what the providers are owed for the past service. Idaho has failed and, with its culture of corruption, can’t be trusted.

As of this afternoon, it seems the state legislature is preparing to force taxpayers to cover the costs of schools switching to alternative providers. Idaho officials have approved a nearly $3.6 million stopgap measure to maintain broadband connectivity for the rest of the school year by using other providers, assuming they can be found.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KTVB Boise Idaho lawmakers approve 3-6M for broadband access 2-17-15.flv

KTVB in Boise reports Idaho taxpayers will be on the hook to cover public school Internet costs after CenturyLink pulls the plug on a statewide educational broadband network this weekend. (2:28)

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