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Time Warner Cable Spams Customers With Empty Promises E-Mail

twc spam

Robert D. Marcus has plenty to be excited about. After less than two full months on the job as CEO, he agreed to sell Time Warner Cable and exit his management role if and when the merger is approved. But he won’t be hurting, because he negotiated a bountiful golden parachute that will award him more than $56 million in exit compensation the day he leaves.

Courtesy: Jacobson

Courtesy: Jacobson

That is but one example of the kind of “innovation” Comzilla will offer Time Warner Cable customers. Others include charging top dollar cable modem rental fees, a broadcast TV surcharge, a completely arbitrary usage cap on broadband service, and an offshore customer service experience even more despised than what Time Warner Cable customers get. 

Without actual head-to-head competition, there is no doubt we will hear executives crow to Wall Street that a supersized Comcast has plenty of room to raise broadband prices even higher and to cut company investments in innovation it won’t need to succeed in a controlled duopoly market.

AT&T and Verizon executives — Comcast’s largest competitors — have shrugged their shoulders about the merger deal, believing it will have almost no effect on their bottom lines. Why should it? Comcast has found a growth formula that works — a tap dance away from competition — buy out other cable companies to grow the customer base instead of winning ex-customers back with better service and a lower price.

It appears Marcus’ grand vision for turning Time Warner Cable around with a massive investment in faster speeds and better service is now dead. All that is left on the table is the vague notion of a “significant investment to improve reliability and to enhance our customer service.” In other words – we’ll do a better job to make sure the service you already pay big money to receive actually works and we’ll do a better job answering our phones.

Survey results show the proposed merger is not at all popular with Time Warner customers.

Nothing about Marcus’ spammed e-mail to customers is likely to change that perception.

Time Warner Cable Phone Customers May See Their Phone Numbers Go Unlisted

Phillip Dampier March 10, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Frontier, Time Warner Cable No Comments

digital phoneTime Warner Cable telephone customers may find their phone numbers missing from directory assistance records and residential phone books.

This year, the cable company began charging directory publishers for its residential customer listings and some, including Frontier Communications, have refused to pay.

As a result, customers are likely to find their next copy of the White Pages thinner than it used to be.

The usefulness of telephone directories and directory assistance services have both been in decline for years as customers migrate to unlisted cell phones. But the loss of cable phone customers from phone books is a new trend. In the past, cable companies provided the listings for free to most directory publishers as a service to customers who wanted to keep their phone numbers in the directory. But now those listings are a money-maker, only available for sale.

Phil Yawman, Frontier Communications vice president and general manager for the Rochester, N.Y. area — Frontier’s largest urban market — told WXXI News the phone company opted not to buy the listings. 

Time Warner Cable spokesperson Joli Plucknette-Farmen said charging a fee for residential directory listings is accepted by the Federal Communications Commission.

Frontier, like many other phone companies, also no longer provides automatic delivery of residential White Pages listings, although the lucrative Yellow Pages will still appear on customer doorsteps. 

Comcast Considers What to Do With 3 Million Time Warner Customers It Plans to Toss Away

comcast twcShould regulators bless the coupling of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, some TWC customers will not be invited to the wedding.

In an effort to appease Washington, Comcast is voluntarily abiding by a 30% market share cap the company itself successfully sued to overturn in federal court. That means Comcast plans to voluntarily shed the three million Time Warner Cable customers that would put the company over its self-imposed limit.

Comcast is so confident its merger will win approval, the company is already contemplating what to do with the orphaned customers. Bloomberg News reports Comcast is considering launching a new publicly traded independent cable company to manage the ex-Time Warner customers. It would automatically be the fourth largest cable company in the country, behind the super-sized Comcast, Cox Communications, and Charter Cable. Comcast would use the new entity to claim it was creating a new “cable competitor” in the industry, despite the fact it would almost certainly never compete in markets where other cable companies already offer service.

Other cable companies are already expressing interest in picking up the stranded TWC customers. Among the suitors:

  • Charter Communications, which lost its original bid to take over Time Warner Cable;
  • Bright House Networks, which now serves markets in the southern U.S.;
  • Suddenlink Communications, which primarily serves rural communities and small cities ignored by larger providers.

Comcast hasn’t announced what cities will not be included in the Comcast-TWC merger, and does not plan to decide until at least late spring. Financial strategists are recommending Comcast “spinout” the subscribers to a new entity that would be loaded up with debt to win significant tax savings from the transaction. The new cable company would likely be worth at least $17 billion.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Comcast Might Spin Off TWC Subs 2-28-14.flv

Bloomberg News reports Comcast would be in the enviable position of creating its own “competitor” by spinning off certain Time Warner Cable customers into a new company Comcast would launch. (2:45)

Comcast/Time Warner Cable Now Hated More Than Bird Flu

Now that Comcast plans to consume Time Warner Cable in a $45 billion dollar deal, customers hate both companies more than ever.

Time Warner Cable’s consumer perception ratings only slightly recovered since their damaging fist fight with CBS last summer that darkened CBS-owned stations in several large cities and took Showtime and The Movie Channel off subscriber screens nationwide.

But the devil you know is apparently better than the one you don’t, because once consumers learned two of the most loathed cable companies in the country were hooking up, it was all downhill from there.

No cable company rated by YouGov’s BrandIndex has ever scored high enough to get out of the ratings gutter, but once consumers found out about the merger, both Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s ratings plummeted, even though nothing has changed yet at either company as the deal awaits regulator approval:

The American cable industry is notoriously unpopular. But it’s worth noting that other providers have not suffered similar since hits to their brands since the blockbuster deal was announced (including Charter Communications, which was originally expected to buy Time Warner Cable, but missed out).

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http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Funny or Die Comcast Doesnt Give A FCK censored 3-2-14.mp4

The folks at Funny or Die created this (censored) short explaining what Comcast thinks about its own customers and those joining the company from Time Warner Cable. (1:45)

Sen. Al Franken vs. Time Warner Cable/Comcast Merger

Franken

Franken

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has turned over much of his campaign website to expressing concern about the merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast.

Franken has maintained a comparatively low profile since arriving in the U.S. Senate and rarely grants interviews to reporters outside of Minnesota, but after the announced $45 billion merger deal between the two largest cable companies in the country, he started making exceptions.

Franken has repeatedly tangled with Comcast, the dominant cable operator in his home state, since being elected. He favors Net Neutrality/Open Internet policies, strongly opposed Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal, and believes cable rates are too high and service quality is too low.

Although the senator claims he remains undecided about the merger, his public comments suggest he is likely going to oppose the deal.

“We need more competition, not less,” said Franken, who mocked Comcast’s claim that the two cable companies never compete with each other. “This is going exactly in the wrong direction. Consumers, I am very concerned, are going to pay higher bills and get even worse service and less choice.”

Although the merger will leave the combined company serving nearly one in three households, Comcast says it plans to keep its total nationwide broadband market share under 30%. But Franken points out Comcast isn’t just a cable company. It also owns a major television network and has ownership interests in nearly three dozen cable networks and television stations around the country — many in America’s largest cities.

Franken mass e-mailed his campaign supporters to express concern about the current state of the cable and broadband business and asked consumers what they thought about their cable company. More than 60,000 have shared their mostly negative views so far.

Minnesota Public Radio takes a closer look at why Sen. Al Franken is interested in the merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast. Feb. 24, 2014 (4:32)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

competitionThat may prove to be smart politics for Franken, seen as a polarizing figure in the left-right divide. The near-universal loathing among consumers for both Comcast and Time Warner Cable threaten to rise above traditional partisan politics. Republican lawmakers have kept largely quiet about the merger deal, and some are even openly questioning it. Franken may tapped into a re-election issue that voters across Minnesota are likely to support — especially older Republican-leaning independents.

Franken claims his survey is trying to level the playing field by getting consumers involved in the issue. For Washington regulators accustomed to only hearing from company lobbyists and various third party groups often financially tied to merger advocates, it could be a game-changer.

Comcast’s connections in Washington are legendary. Former Republican FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker wasted no time taking a job as a senior Comcast lobbyist shortly after voting in favor of Comcast’s buyout of NBCUniversal. Former Republican FCC chairman Michael Powell today heads the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the cable industry’s largest lobbying group and supporter of the merger.

The merger deal’s regulatory review will be conducted by current FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler, a past president of the NCTA and former cable and wireless industry lobbyist. Bill Baer is in charge of the Antitrust Division that will examine the merger at the U.S. Department of Justice. His last job was leading the law firm that represented NBC in support of the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Al Franken Talks With CNN About TWC-Comcast Merger 2-13-14.flv

Sen. Al Franken spoke to CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier this month about the Time Warner Cable-Comcast merger. Tapper admitted he dropped Comcast because he was dissatisfied with their service. (7:45)

Aereo Banned in Six States; Utah Judge Rules Service Violates Copyright Laws

aereo_logoA Utah federal district court judge has found Aereo in violation of federal copyright law and must end online streaming of over the air television stations to customers within his jurisdiction, which includes Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Wyoming and Oklahoma.

U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Kimball broke ranks with district court judges in the eastern U.S. that have ruled Aereo’s streamed feeds of local television stations received over the air by tiny antennas is within the law, but the Supreme Court is expected to have the last word when it hears arguments about the service’s legality later this spring.

The ruling means Aereo will have to suspend service in two of its 10 operating markets — Salt Lake City and Denver. Service to other markets will continue unaffected for now.

Kimball’s decision was based on The Copyright Act of 1976 which requires broadcasters and retransmission services to pay royalties to content originators, in this case the networks and the affiliated local stations involved. Broadcasters consider Aereo a major threat to their retransmission consent revenue stream. Cable, satellite, and telephone company providers are collectively paying millions for permission to carry local stations on their lineups. Should Aereo offer a free alternative, these pay television providers could adopt similar technology to avoid paying the fees.

Kimball determined Aereo was operating more like a cable company than a remote antenna service.

Unlike Here, British Broadband Customers Satisfied With Their Broadband Providers

Plusnet offers DSL and fiber broadband plans (in some areas) that offer budget-priced capped or unlimited use plans.

Plusnet offers DSL and fiber broadband plans (in some areas) that offer budget-priced capped or unlimited use plans.

While North American cable and phone broadband providers are among the most-hated companies on the continent, in the United Kingdom, customers gave generally high scores to their Internet providers.

PC Advisor partnered with Broadband Genie, an impartial, independent, and consumer-focused commercial broadband comparison service. Together they engaged an independent survey company (OnPoll) to survey 3,000 broadband users, chosen at random, in late 2013 and early 2014. They asked those users how happy they were with their ISP, tested the speed and reliability of their connections, and found out other valuable tidbits, such as how much they were paying, and for what exactly. Altogether, more than 10,000 U.K. broadband users contributed to the data that made an in-depth assessment of British broadband possible.

The results might stun those on the other side of the Atlantic. Unlike in Canada and the U.S., British broadband users are satisfied overall with their providers, and are enthusiastic about recommending many of them to others. Even the worst-performing provider – BE – still had a 46% recommendation rating, and the company was sold to BSkyB well over a year ago and is in the process of being merged with Sky’s broadband service.

Around 68 percent of British broadband users responding still rely primarily on various flavors of DSL for Internet service. But BT, the national telephone company, is in the process of upgrading facilities and dramatically increasing the amount of fiber optics in its network. The result is what the Brits call “Super Fast Broadband.” Back here, we call it fiber to the neighborhood service similar to AT&T’s U-verse or Bell’s Fibe. In many cases, improved service is providing speeds much closer to 25Mbps vs. the 1-6Mbps many customers used to receive. The upgrade is an important development, especially in rural Britain, often left without Internet access.

Cable broadband is much more common in North American than in the United Kingdom. While cable television became dominant here, the British favored small satellite dishes like those used by DirecTV or Dish customers. With BT dominating wired infrastructure, the government required the company to open its landline network to third-party providers. Some cable companies do exist in England, but they hold only a 12% broadband market share, even lower than fiber to the home service now at nearly 20%.

Great Britain treats broadband as a national priority, and although the current government has controversially settled for a hybrid fiber-copper network instead of delivering fiber straight to every British home, it’s a considerable improvement over what came before, especially in rural areas. Usage caps that used to dominate British broadband plans are now an option for the budget-minded. Unlimited use plans are becoming more mainstream.

With all the upgrade activity and improved service, the Brits have gotten optimistic about their broadband future. Only 12% of those surveyed loathe their broadband supplier. Another 20% were neutral about recommending their ISP, but 51% considered themselves satisfied and another 17% considered their provider top rate. Many in Britain even expect their Internet bill will decrease in 2014, and compared with North American prices, it’s often very low already.

The average price paid by customers of various British ISPs (excluding line rental)

The average price paid by customers of various British ISPs (excluding line rental)

Average speed received by customers varies depending on the technology. Virgin operates cable broadband, Plusnet uses a mix of DSL and fiber, while the slower performers are primarily ADSL.

Average speed test results per ISP (kbps)

  • Virgin: 27,266

    virgin-media-union-logo

    Was top-rated for broadband reliability.

  • Plusnet: 24,529
  • BT: 13,164
  • TalkTalk: 6,910
  • EE: 6,818
  • Demon: 6,586
  • Sky: 5,942
  • Eclipse: 5,786
  • O2: 5,642
  • Be: 5,458
  • AOL: 3,809
  • Post Office: 3,255

Overall ratings and reviews from PC Advisor found Virgin Media (cable) and Plusnet (DSL/Fiber) near tied for top ratings.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/PC Advisor Best cheapest fastest broadband UK ISPs rated 2-19-14.mp4

PC Advisor talks about this year’s British ISP review, which reveals Brits are generally satisfied with their broadband speeds and pricing. (3:51)

Peer Wars: Netflix SuperHD Streaming May Explain Video Traffic Slowdowns for Some Customers

The largest drops in streaming speeds are coming from ISPs that may be stalling necessary upgrades at the expense of their customers' online experience.

The largest drops in Netflix streaming speeds are coming from ISPs that may be stalling necessary upgrades at the cost of their paying customers’ online experience.

Netflix performance for Verizon customers is deteriorating because Verizon may be delaying bandwidth upgrades until it receives compensation for handling the growing amount of traffic coming from the online video provider.

Verizon customers have increasingly complained about Netflix slowdowns during prime-time, especially in the northeast, and Netflix’s latest statistics confirm FiOS customers have seen average performance drop by as much as 14% in the last month alone.

Verizon told Stop the Cap! a few weeks ago the company was not interfering with Netflix traffic or degrading its performance, but there is growing evidence that may not be the whole story. The Wall Street Journal reports Netflix and at least one bandwidth provider suspect phone and cable companies are purposely stalling on upgrading connections to handle traffic growth from Netflix until they are compensated for carrying its video traffic.

The dispute involves the plumbing behind parts of the Internet that are invisible to consumers. As more people stream movies and television, that infrastructure is getting strained, intensifying the debate over who should pay for upgrades needed to satisfy America’s online-video habit.

Netflix wants broadband companies to hook up to its new video-distribution network without paying them fees for carrying its traffic. But the biggest U.S. providers—Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T Inc. —have resisted, insisting on compensation.

The bottleneck has made Netflix unwatchable for Jen Zellinger, an information-technology manager from Carney, Md., who signed up for the service last month. She couldn’t play an episode of “Breaking Bad” without it stopping, she said, even after her family upgraded their FiOS Internet service to a faster, more expensive package. “We tried a couple other shows, and it didn’t seem to make any difference,” she said. Mrs. Zellinger said she plans to drop her Netflix service soon if the picture doesn’t improve, though she will likely hold on to her upgraded FiOS subscription.

She and her husband thought about watching “House of Cards,” but she said they probably will skip it. “We’d be interested in getting to that if we could actually pull up the show,” she said.

Netflix relies on third-party traffic distributors to deliver much of its streamed programming to customers around the country. Cogent Communications Group is a Netflix favorite. Cogent maintains two-way connections with many Internet Service Providers. When incoming and outgoing traffic are generally balanced, providers don’t complain. But when Cogent started delivering far more traffic to Verizon customers than what it receives from them, Verizon sought compensation for the disparity.

“When one party’s getting all the benefit and the other’s carrying all the cost, issues will arise,” Craig Silliman, Verizon’s head of public policy and government affairs told the newspaper. The imbalance is primarily coming from the growth of online video, and as higher definition video grows more popular, traffic imbalances can grow dramatically worse.

A spat last summer between Cogent and some ISPs is nearly identical to the current slowdown. Ars Technica reported the traditional warning signs providers used to start upgrades are increasingly being ignored:

“Typically what happened is when the connections reached about 50 percent utilization, the two parties agreed to upgrade them and they would be upgraded in a timely manner,” Cogent CEO Dave Schaeffer told Ars. “Over the past year or so, as we have continued to pick up Netflix traffic, Verizon has continuously slowed down the rate of upgrading those connections, allowing the interconnections to become totally saturated and therefore degrading the quality of throughput.”

Schaeffer said this is true of all the big players to varying degrees, naming Comcast, Time Warner, CenturyLink, and AT&T. Out of those, he said that “AT&T is the best behaved of the bunch.”

Letting ports fill up can be a negotiating tactic. Verizon and Cogent each have to spend about $10,000 for equipment when a port is added, Schaeffer said—pocket change for companies of this size. But instead of the companies sharing equal costs, Verizon wants Cogent to pay because more traffic is flowing from Cogent to Verizon than vice versa.

Cablevision, which participates in Netflix's Open Connect program experiences no significant speed degradation during prime time. The same cannot be said with Time Warner Cable, which refuses to participate.

Cablevision, which participates in Netflix’s Open Connect program, experiences no significant speed degradation during prime time. The same cannot be said of Time Warner Cable, which refuses to take part.

Netflix offered a solution to help Internet Service Providers manage its video traffic. Netflix’s Open Connect offers free peering at common Internet exchanges as well as free storage appliances that ISPs can connect directly to their network to distribute video to customers. Free is always good, and Netflix claims many ISPs around the world have already taken them up on the offer, slashing their transit costs along the way.

A few major North American ISPs have also agreed to take part in Open Connect, including Frontier Communications, Clearwire, Telus, Bell, Cablevision and Google Fiber. Open Connect participating ISPs also got an initial bonus for participating they could offer customers – exclusive access to SuperHD streaming.

But most Americans would not get super high-resolution streaming because the largest ISP’s refused to participate, seeking direct compensation from content providers to carry traffic across their digital pipes instead.

On Sep. 26, 2013 Netflix decided to offer SuperHD streaming to all customers, regardless of their ISP. As a result, one major ISP told the newspaper Netflix traffic from Cogent at least quadrupled. ISPs taking Netflix up on Open Connect saw almost no degradation from the increased traffic, but not so for Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast customers.

Net Neutrality advocates fear the country’s largest phone and cable companies are making an end-run around the concept of an Open Internet. Providers can honestly guarantee not to interfere with certain web traffic, but also refuse to keep up with needed upgrades to accommodate it unless they receive payment. The slowdowns and unsatisfactory performance are the same in the end for those caught in the middle – paying customers.

“Customers are already paying for it,” said industry observer Benoît Felten. “You sell a service to the end-user which is you can access the Internet. You make a huge margin on that. Why should they get extra revenue for something that’s already being paid for?”

Some of the web’s biggest players including Microsoft, Google and Facebook may have already capitulated — agreeing to pay major providers for direct connections that guarantee a smoother browsing experience. Netflix has, thus far, held out against paying ISPs to properly manage the video content their subscribers want to watch but in some cases no longer can.

Comcast $avings: Your Bill Isn’t Going Down, Nor Will It Increase Less Rapidly

lousy tshirt

(Image: Crooks and Liars)

(Image: Crooks and Liars)

The mother of all cable mergers between Comcast and Time Warner Cable will bring tens of millions in executive bonuses and golden parachutes, massive job losses at Time Warner, a lucrative stock buyback that will help Comcast shareholders, and a higher cable bill and usage cap for you.

Back in 2008 when Stop the Cap! started we offered this tip for rational living: When a cable company promises you it has a great deal that will save you money, grab your wallet and run. Just as the sun rises in the east, cable bills never really go down, they just keep going up.

Comcast at least admits that fact of life when discussing the “benefits” of a merger with Time Warner Cable.

“We’re certainly not promising that customer bills are going to go down or even that they’re going to increase less rapidly,” David L. Cohen, a Comcast executive vice president, said in a conference call with reporters.

Heaven forbid.

Bigger has never been better for the cable industry. As waves of consolidation reduce the number of significant cable operators from dozens to fewer than 10, cable subscribers have contributed mightily to finance the merger deals. What used to be a big basic cable bill of $20 a month will soon exceed $75, and rising. The industry has always tied itself to the value proposition that a month of cable television costs no more than a cup of coffee. In 1990, it was Maxwell House. Today it’s closer to a Starbucks Grande Latte once taxes, fees, and surcharges are included.

Image: Mike Keefe

(Image: Mike Keefe)

The New York Times reports cable prices have grown at more than twice the rate of inflation over the last 17 years. But Comcast likes to say you are getting a lot more bang for your cable buck.

“Where we might have had 100 standard-definition channels in a package more than a decade ago, today you have 250 standard-definition channels plus 100 channels in high-definition,” Cohen told the Times. “The level of service being provided is night and day.”

According to Cohen’s way of thinking, that matters a lot more to you and I than the “Please pay this amount” at the bottom of your monthly bill.

The bountiful cornucopia that is Cohen’s idea of cable television bliss includes networks like Bonsai Xtreme, Office Supplies Network, Glidden’s Paint Dry 24/7, and… no, we’re kidding. But are TV One, Ovation, Youtoo TV, and Retirement Living TV any more compelling? You are probably paying for one or more of them now. Extra credit to customers that can even find them on their cable dial.

Time Warner Cable and Comcast carry most of the same networks, but they arrange them differently. Time Warner likes the shovel-them-all-at-you approach with one simple digital expanded cable tier. Only a handful of networks that should be on the basic lineup cost a little more and most of them are HD movie channels (and inexplicably RFD-TV, which features cattle auctions every Friday afternoon). Comcast nails their customers with a range of tiers and compels many to keep upgrading to get the networks they really want. Just ask subscribers like Thomas Howell of Seattle who was livid when Comcast moved Turner Classic Movies out of the equivalent of basic cable and put it on an enhanced basic tier that cost him an extra $18 a month.

What channels will they add next?

What channels will they add next?

“The s*** they shovel on cable these days and they can’t give us one channel with good movies that aren’t loaded with sex and violence without raping us for more money?” Howell told Stop the Cap! “My wife and I took back their box and we got satellite TV instead. We don’t want to pay for the crap they keep putting on our TV, but they don’t give you much choice.”

Comcast executives are living in a parallel universe and are not listening:

“I think consumers are going to benefit from this transaction,” Cohen added. “They’re going to benefit by quality of service, by quality of offerings, by technological innovation, and I don’t believe there’s any way to argue that they’re going to be hurt from a price perspective as a result of this transaction.”

“Mr. Cohen can pay my cable bill, then,” responded Howell. “He’s obviously got the money to pay whatever Comcast is asking, if he doesn’t get it for free.”

Remarkably even some House Republicans that are normally reticent about interfering with corporate affairs are expressing concern about the deal — especially those who represent districts served by either cable company.

You're gonna love this merger. It's best best best!

You’re gonna love this merger. It’s best best best!

“The proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable could have a significant impact on competition in the video and broadband marketplace,” said Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman. Comcast dominates Virginia.

Comcast and Time Warner argue they are not competitors so it will have no impact on the competitive landscape.

The argument from merger proponents is that a larger Comcast will have a stronger position to fight programmer rate increases. But Comcast has a poor record of success at its current monolithic size, with no evidence making it larger will make much difference. Even if it did, will those savings be passed on to subscribers? Cohen signals they won’t when he warns cable bills will not go down as a result of the merger. In fact, Comcast recently added a $1.50 monthly Broadcast TV surcharge to alienate local television stations in the eyes of subscribers and boost Comcast’s profits. But most will blame the cable company for the rate increase, not the local CBS station.

Consumers generally hate their local cable company, with some minor exceptions (WOW! does very well by customers, as does Verizon’s FiOS in customer rankings). Why? Because in 1995 you paid an average of $22.35 for 44 channels of basic cable. In 2012, you paid $61.63 for 150 channels, 100 or more you never watch and don’t want.

Demands for a-la-carte — pay only for the channels you want — have fallen on deaf ears for years, with nothing on the horizon to change the current pricing model. Besides, some critics warn if a-la-carte does become reality, cable companies will dramatically jack up the per channel price to protect their revenue.

From the Frying Pan Into the Fire: Time Warner Customers to Be Burned by Comcast Buyout

Phillip "Ouch!" Dampier

Phillip “Ouch!” Dampier

Spending the day watching cable business news channels gush approval of last night’s surprise announcement that Comcast would acquire Time Warner Cable is just one excellent reason this deal should never be approved.

CNBC, owned by Comcast, particularly fell all over itself praising the transaction. Some of the reporters — many Time Warner Cable customers — actually believed Comcast would be a significant improvement over TWC. It is, if you want higher modem rental fees, higher cable TV bills, and faster broadband speeds you can’t use because of the company’s looming reintroduction of usage caps. CNBC didn’t bother to mention any of that, and why should they? CNBC reporter David Faber was the first to break the story of the merger last evening and among the first this morning to score an extended, friendly interview with the CEOs of both Comcast and Time Warner Cable, pitching softball questions to the two of them for nearly 15 minutes.

That’s a problem. How often do you hear news reports that include the fact the parent company of the channel has an ownership interest in one of the players. Do you think you are getting the full story when a Comcast employee asks Comcast’s CEO about a multi-billion dollar deal on a network owned and operated by Comcast. Incorporating Time Warner Cable and its news operations into Comcast only makes the problem worse.

As far as cable business news networks and the parade of Wall Street analysts are concerned, this is a fine deal for shareholders, consumers, and the cable business. Ironically, several on-air reporters and commentators defended the merger claiming it isn’t an antitrust issue because Comcast and Time Warner Cable never compete with each other. They never asked why that is so.

They're here!

They’re here!

Comcast is hoping the government will give its merger a pass with few conditions for the same reason, without bothering to note the cable industry has existed as a cartel in the United States for decades, each company with a territory they informally agree not to cross. With this deal, Comcast’s fiefdom will now cover about half of all cable subscribers in the U.S., covering 43 of the 50 largest metropolitan markets, and have about a 30% total market share among all competing providers — by far the largest. An 800 pound gorilla is born.

Three million current Time Warner Cable subscribers will not be coming along for the ride and will likely be auctioned off to Charter or another cable operator in a token gesture to keep Comcast’s total market share at the 30% mark the FCC formerly insisted on as an absolute ownership limit — before Comcast successfully sued to have that limit overturned.

The rest of us can say goodbye to our unlimited broadband plans and get ready to pay substantially more for cable and broadband service. Despite claims from remarkably shallow media reports, an analysis of Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s rates clearly show TWC charges lower prices with fewer “gotcha” fees.

Reviewing some recent promotional offers for new customers, Comcast customers pay nearly $35 more for a triple play package than Time Warner customers pay:

Time Warner Cable's Rob Marcus gets a $56.5 million golden parachute after 43 days on the job as CEO.

Time Warner Cable’s Rob Marcus gets a $56.5 million golden parachute after 43 days on the job as CEO.

The Comcast Starter plan costs $99 per month for the first 12 months with a 2-year agreement that includes a nasty divorce penalty. After 12 months, your price increases to $119.99 for the remaining year. The $99 plan accidentally doesn’t bother to mention that customers renting a Comcast cable modem/gateway will pay an extra $8 a month, which raises the price. Since many cable subscribers also want HD DVR service, that only comes free for the first six months, after which Comcast slaps on a charge ranging from $16-27 a month for the next 18 months. Assuming you are happy with the limited channel lineup of the Starter package (and many are not), you will pay up to $154 a month. Oh, we forgot to mention the Broadcast TV surcharge just introduced that increases the bill another $1.50 a month.

Time Warner Cable’s new customer promotions typically cost around $96 a month, including their annoying modem rental fee. DVR service can range from free to $23 a month depending on the promotion, making your monthly rate around $119 a month for 12 months, with no contract and no penalty if you decide to cancel.

“It is pro-consumer, pro-competitive, and strongly in the public interest,” said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, defending the deal.

Actually, it is in Comcast’s interest. If approved, the biggest investment Comcast will make is spending $10 billion — not to upgrade Time Warner Cable systems — but to launch a major stock buyback program that will directly benefit shareholders.

“On a personal level, it’s never easy to cede control of a company,” said Rob Marcus, Time Warner Cable’s chief executive. “However in this case, it just makes too much sense.”

Before reaching for a Kleenex to wipe any tears away, consider the fact Marcus will do just fine giving up his leadership of TWC just over a month after taking over. His generous goodbye package is worth $56.5 million, not bad for 43 days of work. Time Warner Cable employees won’t share that bounty. In fact, with $1.5 billion in promised savings from the deal’s “synergies” — code language for layoffs, among other things — a substantial number of Time Warner Cable employees can expect to be fired during the first year of the combined company.

The biggest impact of this deal is a further cementing of the duopoly of cable and phone companies into their cozy positions. Instead of encouraging competition, Comcast’s new size-up will guarantee fewer competitors thanks to the concept of volume discounts. The largest providers get the best prices from cable programmers, while smaller ones pay considerably more for access to CNN, ESPN, and other popular channels. Comcast will benefit from reduced pricing for cable programming, which we suspect will never reach customers through price reductions. But any potential startup will have to think twice before selling television programming at all because the prices they will pay make it impossible to compete with Comcast.

Another satisfied customer

Another satisfied customer

Frontier discovered this problem after acquiring FiOS systems from Verizon in Indiana and the Pacific Northwest. When Verizon’s volume discount prices expired, Frontier’s much smaller customer base meant much higher programming costs on renewal. They were so high, in fact, Frontier literally marketed FiOS customers asking them to give up fiber optic television in favor of satellite.

Unless you have pockets as deep as Google, offering cable TV programming may be too expensive for Comcast’s competitors to offer.

Broadband is already immensely profitable for both Time Warner Cable and Comcast, but now it can be even more profitable as Comcast persuades customers to adopt their wireless gateway/modems (for a price) and imposes a usage cap of around 300GB per month. Yes, Comcast will deliver speed increases Time Warner Cable couldn’t be bothered to offer, but with a pervasive usage cap, the value of more Internet speed may prove limited. It’s a case of moving away from Time Warner’s argument that you don’t need faster Internet speed to Comcast’s offer of faster speed that you can’t use.

Customers hoping for a better customer service experience may have been cheered by this misleading passage in today’s New York Times:

Nonetheless, about 8 million current Time Warner Cable customers will become Comcast customers. That may be a good thing for those customers, as Comcast is seen as an industry leader in terms of providing high-quality television and Internet services, while Time Warner Cable has a reputation for poor customer service.

It may be seen as an industry leader by Comcast itself, but consumers despise Comcast just as much as they hate Time Warner Cable. In fact, the American Consumer Satisfaction Index found Comcast was hardly a prize:

  • ACSI’s lowest rated ISP
  • Second-lowest ranked TV service
  • Third-lowest ranked phone service

Comcast consistently scores as one of the lowest rated companies across all the segments it participates in. It has the dubious description of being the lowest rated company in the lowest rated industry.

So why the near universal disdain for ISPs? Even cable companies have to compete with satellite providers. That’s not the case here. Add to that the relatively few companies, regional near-monopolies, high costs, and unreliable service and speed and you have a recipe for bad customer service and little incentive to improve it.

Customers particularly dislike their experiences with call centers, and the range and pricing of available plans.

Higher prices, usage caps, surcharges, and fewer channels for more money. What’s not to love about that?

Just about a week ago, Rob Marcus unveiled his vision of an upgraded Time Warner Cable that looked good to us, and retained unlimited use broadband service. Apparently this is all a case of “never mind.”

The fact is, a merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable will only benefit the companies, executives, and shareholders involved, while doing nothing to improve customer service, expand broadband, increase speeds, cut prices, and give customers the service they want. It is anti-consumer, further entrenches Comcast’s enormous market power (it also owns NBC and Universal Studios), and gives one company far too much control over content and distribution, particularly for customers who don’t have AT&T U-verse or Verizon FiOS or a community-owned provider as an alternative.

This deal needs to be rejected. When T-Mobile found itself out of a deal with AT&T, it survived on its own even better than expected. So can Time Warner Cable, with the right management team.

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