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Big Red Verizon Really Wants to Own a Cable Company – Charter or Comcast Will Do Nicely

Shhh… Don’t tell anyone except the newspapers, trade journals, everyone else….

Well-placed sources inside Verizon are leaking like a sieve to the media about the phone giant’s ambition to own and operate a large cable company.

In what may be a trial balloon to test the waters with the incoming Trump Administration, at least two “well-placed sources” have told the New York Post Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam is seriously contemplating countering AT&T’s buy of DirecTV and its attempted acquisition of content company Time Warner, Inc., with the buyout of a major national cable operator.

Verizon’s primary interest, according to multiple sources, is expanding available content to fill its current and future wireless platforms, especially 5G. Acquiring a cable operator would make content deals easier and more affordable because of volume discounting. It would also allow Verizon to directly sell cable products and services without investing in further FiOS expansion.

The CEO told friends at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas that he “wants to buy into cable.”

The most likely targets would have to be large cable operators with a national footprint, and a source told the tabloid two companies qualified: Charter or Comcast.

“Altice is too small,” the source speculated. That would also count out other medium-sized companies like Cox and Mediacom, because they have too limited a service area to be of much use to Verizon.

No final decision has been made, the newspaper notes, adding no talks are underway between Verizon and any cable company at present. Should Mr. Trump repeat the earlier objections to the AT&T-Time Warner, Inc., merger he made last October, any marriage of Verizon with a cable operator would be unlikely. Trump cited unchecked media consolidation as his primary reason for opposing AT&T’s latest acquisition deal, but he has not repeated those objections recently. Last week Trump met with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson in New York.

McAdam originally planned to use Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo! as a way to broaden the phone company’s content library, but that yet-to-be-finished deal has been in turbulence since media reports exposed major security breaches of Yahoo’s e-mail and portal sites.

A deal with Charter is more likely than a buyout of Comcast because Charter’s most significant shareholder – John Malone, has no allegiance to keeping Charter Communications independent. Charter also lacks the kind of complications that an acquisition of Comcast could bring – notably Comcast’s ownership of NBC and its dozen owned-and-operated TV stations.

Malone has a long history of dispassionately buying and selling large telecom assets, including the cable company Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) he helped build from a handful of cable systems into what used to be the nation’s largest cable operator. In 1999, TCI was sold and rebranded as AT&T Broadband and Internet Services. Three years later, most of those cable systems were again sold to their present owner Comcast.

Verizon may argue it has already divested significant amounts of its FiOS service to Frontier Communications in the Pacific Northwest, Indiana, Texas, California, and Florida, limiting antitrust concerns. But state regulators, particularly in New York, are likely to raise serious objections if Verizon, already the dominant telephone company in New York (except Rochester) attempts to acquire Charter, the only significant cable operator in upstate New York and Manhattan. That would leave the vast majority of New York with a classic telecom monopoly, with only one provider for landline and broadband service.

Arris’ First DOCSIS 3.1 Modem is Coming Soon… for $199.99

Phillip Dampier January 17, 2017 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Cox No Comments

The Arris Surfboard SB8200, in white. Arris usually releases identical versions in black and white colors. (Photo courtesy of: Arris)

Arris, the nation’s number one manufacturer of cable modems, will introduce its first DOCSIS 3.1-compatible cable modem as early as this week.

The Arris SB8200 will reportedly cost consumers a steep $199.99 when it goes on sale at the end of this month.

Multichannel News reports the modem box will include the logos of Comcast and Cox, advertising compatibility with Comcast’s ongoing DOCSIS 3.1 trials and the forthcoming introduction of DOCSIS 3.1 to a significant number of Cox Cable customers.

It is capable of download speeds up to 5Gbps, uses up to 32 downstream and 8 upstream channels, and includes two gigabit Ethernet ports.

Customers can begin using the new DOCSIS 3.1 modem as soon as it is available for sale, because it will be backwards-compatible with existing DOCSIS 3 broadband networks. Prospective buyers should check with their cable operator before purchase, to make sure it is officially supported.

As cable operators upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1, the SB8200 should allow customers to immediately take advantage of speed upgrades, which are expected to be dramatic. Many cable operators are targeting gigabit download speeds for their top-tier, although upload speeds are expected to be considerably lower than 1000Mbps.

At least one cable operator has been wavering about whether to move towards DOCSIS 3.1 or switch to fiber broadband technology.

Altice USA, which currently owns Suddenlink and Cablevision/Optimum, has announced plans to scrap its existing hybrid fiber/coax infrastructure and upgrade Cablevision customers to fiber-to-the-home service, which will not use DOCSIS cable modems. Altice has not ruled out fiber upgrades for its Suddenlink systems, but has upgraded speeds in many markets using the older DOCSIS 3 standard. Altice USA is expected to continue acquiring smaller cable operators this year – most likely bidding for Cable ONE and a handful of other smaller, regional cable operators.

Among cable operators that have made substantial investments in DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades and are least likely to abandon the technology include: RCN, Mediacom, and WideOpenWest (branded: WOW!). Charter Communications is also expected to be a DOCSIS 3.1 provider… eventually. The company is likely to be preoccupied over the next few years upgrading Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks systems it acquired to all-digital platforms before it considers moving to DOCSIS 3.1.

Arris will face competing models including Netgear’s CM1000 ($179.99) and the Linksys CM3132 ($199.99) which should be available by late spring.

Suddenlink Hiking Rates: Internet Up $3.50, Surcharges Now Exceed $13/Month

Suddenlink customers around the country are finding accessing the internet has suddenly gotten more expensive. For many service areas, the cable operator raised its rates in December for television and broadband service, with some of the biggest hikes coming from sneaky surcharges.

In many states, the most popular basic bundle already costs $90 a month. The biggest increases have come from “surcharges” which are never a part of Suddenlink’s advertised promotions, surprising many customers on their first bill.

In Arizona, the Broadcast TV surcharge has gone up another $1.61 a month, making customers pay $8.39 a month for a handful of local channels. A separate sports programming surcharge of $5.15 also applies. Suddenlink is also part of the club of cable operators charging customers $10 a month to rent a cable modem. For good measure, the cable operator also wants another dollar a month for its DVR and $3.50 more for broadband. Assorted other fees and surcharges tack on another $4.50 a month.

Suddenlink has already notified some regulators more price hikes are coming in the next several months.

But a Suddenlink spokesperson said there is more good news than bad.

“We provide Suddenlink customers with superior products and services at a great value, continually introducing faster internet speeds and with plans to roll out an enhanced video experience in the coming months,” Janet Meahan, spokeswoman for Suddenlink, told the Daily Miner in Kingman, Ariz. “Our pricing remains extremely competitive in the face of rapidly rising programming costs.”

Mehan also told the newspaper that Suddenlink introduced 1 gigabit internet service in Kingman in October, and provided “complimentary” speed upgrades for residential customers at no extra charge.

“They also had their artificial internet rate hike when they implemented data ‘allowances’ (caps),” retorted Ryan, a Suddenlink customer. “Their upgrades are anything but complimentary.”

Readers report they’ve had success calling Suddenlink and threatening to cancel service over the rate increases. Some report they’ve successfully negotiated their rates down to a level just a dollar or two higher than what they paid two years ago. Customers can also buy their way out of Suddenlink’s data caps by upgrading their service.

New subscribers and existing customers who elect to get an upgrade will automatically be enrolled in an unlimited plan at no extra charge the first year, pay an added $5 a month after 12 months, and an added $10 a month after 24 months. Customers currently subscribing to Suddenlink’s fastest local services may choose to retain their existing usage-based plans or upgrade to an unlimited plan.

Time Warner Cable Customers Bait and Switched to Charter/Spectrum Products

Milan Gohil’s customer retention promotion with Time Warner Cable was coming to an end. Following in the footsteps of what tens of thousands of other Time Warner Cable customers have done for the last several years – it was time to call and request another deal.

Unfortunately for Gohil, this year the phone was answered by Charter/Spectrum and not a customer retention specialist at Time Warner Cable. That will be increasingly true for all Time Warner Cable customers as Charter continues its gradual transition towards a Spectrum rebrand across the country. That transition for Bright House customers appears to have been already completed. As a consequence, Time Warner Cable and Bright House offers will be replaced with a “simplified” menu of options from Charter.

For Gohil, a Time Warner Cable Maxx customer, those choices didn’t amount to anything except a speed downgrade and a broken promise.

“I had 200Mbps for $60 a month through Time Warner Cable, but the plan was set to expire in a few days,” Gohil explained. “I spoke to a customer service representative and was told I could upgrade to 300Mbps service for $68 a month, including taxes.”

Believing a good deal was in hand, Gohil readily agreed and while waiting on the phone, the representative activated the new promotion. There was only one problem: Milan ended up with Charter’s default internet plan in Time Warner Cable Maxx service areas converted to Spectrum service – 100Mbps.

“I spoke to a Spectrum tech support agent and was told my account was downgraded and that my TWC legacy pricing was no longer available,” Gohil told Stop the Cap! Trying to get his old 200Mbps Maxx speed plan back at any price proved fruitless.

“I was then put in touch with a Spectrum ‘Customer Solutions’ representative and pleaded with them to reinstate my original TWC legacy plan,” Gohil said. “I was told this was not an option and that if I wanted their Ultra 300 (closest option), there would be a $200 activation fee!”

After an hour of negotiation, Spectrum had won the first battle, leaving a dissatisfied customer behind.

“I had 200Mbps just two hours ago and now have only have half of that. I am EXTREMELY disappointed,” Gohil shared. “I would never have agreed to a drastic reduction in speed to save a few bucks.”

Gohil regrets ever calling Spectrum, and is livid customer service could not restore a plan other Time Warner Cable Maxx customers still have and can keep for the next several years, all because a Spectrum call center agent misrepresented a promotion.

Despite’s Charter’s promises to consumers and regulators that their way of doing business would result in better service at a better price for Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers, many of those converted to Spectrum have told us they’d rather have Time Warner Cable and Bright House back, because more options were available and they were at least open to negotiation.

Finding a supervisor at a problem resolution center proved difficult at first. Time Warner Cable’s executive customer service department, formerly reachable at (212) 364-8300 has been taken over by Spectrum and disconnected. Calls are now being taken by 1-800-892-4357, and that is where we referred Gohil, which turned out to be at least some help.

“After an hour on the line with Spectrum/TWC billing and retention, I was able to get 300Mbps for $80 per month for one year,” said Gohil, but there was a catch. “I was informed that it will go up to $100 in 2018.”

But Spectrum has another nasty surprise in store for customers like Gohil looking for speed upgrades: a $200 activation fee.

Spectrum minimizes the chance customers will encounter this fee by marketing only one internet speed tier to most customers: 60Mbps for most Bright House and non-Maxx Time Warner Cable customers and 100Mbps for those Time Warner customers lucky enough to see Maxx upgrades completed before the cable company was acquired by Charter. Most customer service agents are trained to sell this single internet plan, and we’ve found several not trained to offer customers anything else.

When existing Time Warner Cable or Bright House customers are first converted to a Spectrum plan, the $200 activation fee does not apply. But once a Spectrum customer, any attempt to further upgrade broadband service usually results in a $200 fee. Some customers have managed to negotiate their way out of the fee, but it takes some effort and faith the representative isn’t telling you a tall tale to get you upgraded and off the phone.

“After negotiating with the retention specialist, she implemented the 300Mbps service for me,” Gohil reports. “It was implied that the ridiculous $200 ‘activation fee’ would be waived. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if [it] appears on next month’s bill. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

For Gohil, cable mergers have never lived up to their promised “consumer benefits” and he’s worried about what is coming next.

“With Trump taking office, it’s certain that broadband consumers are going to continue to be exploited by the telecom duopoly,” writes Gohil. “As a cord cutter and Net Neutrality proponent, I am deeply concerned about the future of America’s broadband landscape.”

Here are some tips from Stop the Cap! for Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers to consider before changing your account.

Time Warner Cable legacy offers in an area not yet switched to Charter Spectrum plans look like this.

If your local area is still being served by Time Warner Cable and their old service plans are still being advertised:

  1. If you are on a new customer promotion, have a rebate offer, or a discount you negotiated to remain a customer, Charter will honor the deal until it expires. However, once your offer or the submission deadline for a rebate has been reached, you will probably not be able to negotiate an extension or new offer. Your rates will either gradually or immediately reset to regular pricing and your rebate will be lost.
  2. Time Warner Cable seems to have ended most of their customer retention deals under the Time Warner Cable brand, but they are still offering new customer promotional offers. If you are an existing customer facing a rate reset, you can cancel service under your name and sign up with a new customer promotion under the name of another member of your household before the Spectrum plans arrive in your area. This is the only certain method remaining to get a discount off existing Time Warner Cable plans and will generally last one year.
  3. You can continue to select any Time Warner Cable legacy service plan advertised on the website, and as long as the transition to Spectrum has not yet happened in your area, you can safely change between those plans. You can also continue an existing plan indefinitely, but you will pay dearly for doing so — eventually forced to pay regular Time Warner Cable pricing which is generally higher than what Charter’s Spectrum plans will cost.

Bright House customers have already been introduced to Charter Spectrum plans.

If you are a Bright House customer (you have already been introduced to Charter Spectrum plans):

  1. If you are on a new customer promotion from Bright House or a discount you negotiated to remain a customer, Charter will honor the deal until it expires. However, because your area has now switched exclusively to Charter/Spectrum branding, your current plan has been grandfathered and you cannot change it without losing it and switching to a Spectrum plan.
  2. Any “promotion” Charter offers you will be based on a Spectrum plan. You will lose your existing Bright House plan permanently if you accept the offer.
  3. Spectrum’s broadband offer will likely default to 60Mbps, which may be a reasonably good deal if you subscribed to a lower speed tier through Bright House itself. Faster speeds may be available but you will need to call to be certain. There is a significant price jump of about $40 a month to upgrade to 100Mbps at regular Charter Spectrum prices. Ask about discounts and if one is available you may want to upgrade immediately. If you decide to upgrade later, you are likely to encounter a $200 upgrade fee.
  4. In general, Charter’s offer for Bright House customers will prove initially cheaper than what Bright House offered before at its regular prices. But most Spectrum plans will increase in price after your first and second anniversary unless Charter changes its rate structure. Charter has also strongly discouraged representatives from renewing promotions for existing customers as they expire, so negotiating a better deal is going to be more difficult than before.

When your area has been fully converted to Charter Spectrum, the available plans will look something like this.

If you are a Time Warner Cable Maxx customer now served by Charter/Spectrum (the only plans on the website are branded Spectrum):

  1. If you are on a new customer promotion from Time Warner Cable, have a rebate offer from TWC in progress, or a discount you negotiated with TWC to remain a customer, Charter will honor the deal until it expires. However, because your area has now switched exclusively to Charter/Spectrum branding, Charter has a demonstrated history of not honoring requests to renew customer promotions, will not honor rebate requests that have not been already fulfilled by TWC and will not be much help if you have to intervene about a missing rebate.
  2. You cannot change your Time Warner Cable Maxx plan features. Once an area has been converted to Spectrum, TWC Maxx plans are grandfathered as-is. If you want to change your plan, you will be offered a Spectrum plan instead. Any “promotion” Charter offers existing Maxx customers will also be based on a Spectrum plan. You will lose your Time Warner Cable Maxx plan permanently if you accept their offer.
  3. Choose wisely if you are thinking of moving from Maxx to a Spectrum broadband plan. Spectrum will usually enroll you in their traditional 100Mbps plan by default. If you already have 200 or 300Mbps service, you may see a significant price change switching to Spectrum unless you can negotiate a discount. If you decide to upgrade your speed later, you will also face Charter’s $200 upgrade fee. There are some promotions available that can get 300Mbps service down to about $80/mo for a year, but it will increase to $100/mo the following year. Some customers have successfully negotiated the $200 fee off their bill, but make sure you ask for the name of any representative offering to waive the fee and keep that information handy if the fee shows up anyway.
  4. Customer promotions are available for existing customers, but you will have to negotiate and you can expect them to be less generous than what Time Warner Cable offered in the past. Also, Charter has strongly discouraged representatives from renewing promotions as they expire. Charter management is on record stating they feel Time Warner Cable’s tradition of extending ongoing discounts were bad for business.

If you are in a Time Warner Cable area never upgraded to Maxx service -and- you are now served by Charter/Spectrum (the only plans on offer are branded Spectrum):

  1. If you are on a new customer promotion from Time Warner Cable, have a rebate offer from TWC in progress, or a discount you negotiated with TWC to remain a customer, Charter will honor the deal until it expires. However, because your area has now switched exclusively to Charter/Spectrum branding, Charter has a demonstrated history of not honoring requests to renew existing customer promotions, will not honor rebate requests that have not been already fulfilled by TWC and won’t be much help if you have to intervene about a missing rebate.
  2. You cannot change your current Time Warner Cable plan without switching to an available Spectrum plan.
  3. Any “promotion” Charter offers you will be based on a Spectrum plan. You will lose your existing Time Warner Cable plan permanently if you accept the offer.
  4. For most customers currently subscribed to a broadband plan up to 30Mbps, Spectrum’s broadband offer will likely be an upgrade worth considering, especially if you are still paying a modem rental fee. Spectrum will widely market just one speed in your area – 60Mbps, and that is the default plan you will get. Because Time Warner Cable already overprovisions their 50/5Mbps Ultimate tier to speeds that approach 60Mbps, Spectrum’s offer will probably be cheaper, but it won’t be faster. Your area will probably also have 100Mbps service available as an alternative, but it won’t be widely advertised. It’s not cheap, adding another $40 a month to your bill. If you think you may want that speed, ask about any discount promotions and sign up at the same time you abandon your Time Warner Cable plan to avoid paying a $200 upgrade fee later on.
  5. In general, Charter’s offer for Time Warner Cable customers never upgraded to Maxx will prove initially cheaper than Time Warner Cable’s regular prices. But the rates might not be cheaper if you negotiated a lower bill from Time Warner during the last year. Many Spectrum promotions initially offered are comparable to new customer deals and you can expect rates to increase on your first and second anniversary with Charter, with regular prices returning by the third year. Charter has strongly discouraged representatives from renewing promotions for existing customers as they expire. Charter management is on record stating they feel Time Warner Cable’s practice of offering ongoing discounts were bad for business.

Frozen in Time: Verizon’s Ultra Slow DSL Languishes On in Massachusetts

When the Berkshire Eagle asked readers to test their internet speeds and share the results, along with opinions about their broadband options, the newspaper hit a nerve.

Over 400 readers in western Massachusetts promptly responded, many with scathing stories about slow speeds and unresponsive customer service.

The newspaper preferred to call it “tortured testimony.”

“It is slow and getting slower,” wrote Bob Rosen, from Otis. “Many times it just says, ‘not responding.'”

It” is Verizon’s DSL — broadband for the masses of landline customers in Massachusetts unlucky enough not to have FiOS fiber to the home service available before Verizon decided to stop expanding its copper-replacement fiber network. For the last seven years, Verizon’s DSL has remained more or less “as-is,” with no significant service improvements or apparent expansion effort.

Source: The ConsumeristUnfortunately, as customer demand for bandwidth grows, performance drops unless providers continually invest in new equipment to manage demand appropriately. Customers in western Massachusetts report Verizon seems to be making do with what they already have, and speeds have suffered.

Douglas Mcnally of Windsor, a member of the Select Board and consultant whose job depends on a good internet connection told the newspaper he really doesn’t have a consistently reliable connection. One test showed a speed of 2.82Mbps, but a second one returned a speed result of 0.64Mbps. Barbara Craft-Reiss from Becket has a connection also topping out at 0.64Mbps.

In Dalton, a customer that repeatedly complained about his 1.5Mbps speed was told that was as good as Verizon DSL was going to get.

“I have had several communications with Verizon and they always say not to expect any more,” the reader told the newspaper. “At times it is so slow the web page expires before it comes up. There are many times it does not work at all.”

On August 13th, 2011, The WiredWest Cooperative in western Massachusetts was officially formed by charter member towns. The project has gained some town, lost some others as the region works towards faster broadband instead of waiting around for Verizon, Comcast, and Charter.

Verizon seemed to echo its “done with DSL” attitude to Robert Rosen who has subscribed since the 1990s at his home in the Otis Woodlands area.

“In the beginning, the signal was very strong. Every six months I would call Verizon and see if I could get a stronger signal. Sometimes it was boosted, however in the past several years I have been told by Verizon I am at max strength,” Rosen said.

But at least he could subscribe. Verizon customer service agents have warned some customers if they drop DSL service, they cannot come back. Bob Johnson dropped his 2Mbps Verizon DSL account — the one he inherited under the previous account-holder’s name.

“I was told that if I cancelled the previous owner’s account, I would not be able to get an account at all,” Johnson reported.

A Verizon spokesperson claimed DSL is still available in Verizon’s FiOS-less service areas, as long as the customer’s line passes a loop qualification test. Only ISDN has been decommissioned in certain service areas, the spokesperson claimed.

But Stop the Cap! has heard from countless Verizon customers who share stories of deteriorating performance and disinterest in improving service, and customer service agents won’t even sell DSL to customers without bundling landline phone service.

“They are just letting the old telephone network fall apart piece by piece,” claims John Landis, a Verizon DSL customer outside of Buffalo, N.Y. “The investment is just not clear anymore. When is the last time Verizon introduced a new service on their wired network, such as faster internet speeds? We’re living with a company where time has stopped, unless you are on Verizon Wireless.”

Verizon’s apparent disinterest in selling DSL broadband has proved to be a significant benefit for cable operators that continue to take market share from the phone company. Strategy Analytics reports cable companies added more than three million new subscribers from 2015 on. Cable operators now have a 62% broadband market share, compared to just 15% for DSL, a percentage that has dropped for years. (Fiber broadband now accounts for a 23% share.)

“The telco operators haven’t been able to shake off the losses of DSL subscribers, but we expect to see increased fiber deployments in the coming quarters, which should help AT&T and Verizon return to growth,” Jason Blackwell, director of Strategy Analytics’ Service Provider Strategies Service said last summer. But much of that growth seems to be targeted for urban and suburban areas, not rural areas where DSL is often the only available broadband technology.

Cable broadband is generally not available in rural areas.

Despite telco claims that wireless broadband alternatives will eventually solve the rural broadband problem, Blackwell is skeptical.

“The reality is fixed broadband is continuing to grow in the U.S., and not being replaced by mobile broadband as some have reported,” he claimed. “The cable operators are driving the growth with increased speeds and multiplay bundles.”

The availability of a cable competitor has helped some in western Massachusetts resolve their broadband problems, but only in communities where cable operators exist. Many western Massachusetts residents are still waiting for community-owned gigabit-capable fiber broadband through the WiredWest project.

In late 2015, politics from the governor’s office put a “pause” on all state “last-mile broadband” projects and a sudden policy shift required each town to own its own network infrastructure despite the widely expressed desire on the local level for a regional approach. More than a year later, the project to improve broadband across the western half of the state is still trapped by bureaucratic interference, allowing the state’s big cable and phone companies to continue the status quo with no alternatives on the immediate horizon.

As of late December, the project is gathering support for sending a resolution to state officials reaffirming their request to allow local communities involved in the project to determine their broadband future without onerous requirements from the governor’s office.

Without WiredWest, the future is not good. Unless Verizon changes its mind about broadband deployment in western Massachusetts or cable operators Charter and Comcast spontaneously expand their service areas, readers of the Berkshire Eagle can expect more of what staff writer Larry Parnass summed up in two words: extreme disappointment.

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  • Phillip Dampier: The retention staff in Syracuse actually stopped handling those types of calls in early 2016 and referred everyone to the national customer retention ...
  • T Nelson: I am a Twc customer in the Rochester, NY area. In November my special promotion program ran out. In the past I had dealt with a retention specialist...
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