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GCI’s Stingy Caps About to Get a Boost

gciBroadband life in Alaska is usually a choice (if you live in Fairbanks, Anchorage, Juneau, or another significantly sized city) between usage-capped cable operator GCI or slow-speed DSL (if you can get it) from Alaska’s two telephone companies – ACS, where unlimited service is still available, or MTA, where a 10Mbps Internet plan starts at $50 and offers up to 50GB of usage a month.

GCI has traditionally been the fastest option, but the company’s usage caps and high prices have brought scores of complaints from customers over the years. A basic 10/1Mbps internet plan costs $59.99 a month and only includes 40GB of usage. Many Alaskans who want faster access with a more reasonable allowance have to spend $84.99 a month for 50/3Mbps access to get a 150GB usage allowance or $134.99 for 100/5Mbps service with 300GB of included usage.

Late last week, GCI announced it was boosting the usage allowance for just one of its plans, the premium-priced, limited availability 1,000/50Mbps plan ($174.99), which until recently included a 750GB usage allowance. The new usage allowance is 1TB (1,000GB).

“In today’s connected society, people are demanding more and more access to data at incredibly fast speeds,” said Paul Landes, GCI’s senior vice president/general manager of consumer services. “GCI is proud to have a product that keeps our customers connected in ways people in Boston and LA can’t even receive. Even better, we are able to provide these upgrades at no additional cost to our loyal customers.”

Alaskans face high prices for internet access from GCI, the state's largest cable company.

Alaskans face high prices for internet access from GCI, the state’s largest cable company.

Gigabit customers like Stop the Cap! reader Dave Langhorn certainly hoped so.

“This is long overdue,” said Langhorn. “For $175 a month, there shouldn’t be any data caps, considering unlimited gigabit plans in the lower-48 often sell for $70-80 a month, which is less than half what we pay and still get capped.”

Our reader Michael Horton is incensed that GCI managed a usage allowance boost for its most premium internet plan, while leaving everyone else with the same old service.

“We shouldn’t be allowing any ISPs to restrict usage on their networks,” said Horton. “You should be paying for the speed that you use and nothing more.”

Horton considers data caps anachronistic at a time when the digital economy is moving towards online distribution of products and services like movies, games, software, and other digital products. Even Windows 10 has been more often installed from a download than from physical media.

GCI has promised to address at least one of Horton’s concerns, stating they are planning speed boosts and allowance upgrades for all of their internet plans at an unspecified time later this year.

GCI says the allowance boost comes in response to customer requests from surveys and “listening sessions.”

Horton and Langhorn both believe that those voices would be heard much louder if GCI had more significant competition.

“ACS is the only alternative if you want unreliable speed,” Horton writes.”They don’t have bandwidth caps, but you will be unable to use their service efficiently if you are a gamer or watch Netflix a lot.”

 

Pre-Empting Moronic Broadband Law Means Everything to Rural North Carolina

greenlightThe community of Pinetops, N.C. has finally got 21st century gigabit broadband, but no thanks to a state legislature so beholden to Time Warner Cable, it let the cable giant write its own law to keep potential competitors away.

The passage of H129 was almost a given after Republicans regained control of both chambers of the state legislature in 2011 for the first time since 1870. The bill made it almost impossible for any of the state’s existing community-owned broadband networks to expand out of their immediate service areas. It also discouraged any other rural towns from even considering starting a public broadband network to solve pervasive broadband problems in their communities.

It was not the finest moment for many of H.129’s supporters, who had to explain to the media and constituents why the state’s largest cable operator needed protection from potential competition and more importantly, why public officials were catering to the corporate giant’s interests over that of the public.

"I wish you'd turn the camera off now because I am going to get up and leave if you don't," said Rep. Julia Howard

“I wish you’d turn the camera off now because I am going to get up and leave if you don’t,” said Rep. Julia Howard

Rep. Julia Howard (R-Davie, Iredell) found herself losing her cool when WNCN reporters in Raleigh caught up with her and confronted her with the fact her campaign coffers had been filled by the state’s largest telecom companies. She didn’t have an answer for that. Moments later, she appeared ready to flee the interview.

“I wish you’d turn the camera off now because I am going to get up and leave if you don’t,” Howard told the reporter.

Rep. Marilyn Avila was so close to Marc Trathen, then Time Warner Cable’s top-lobbyist in the state, we decided five years ago it would be more accurate to list Time Warner Cable as her sole constituent. Avila’s name appeared on the bill, but it was readily apparent Time Warner Cable drafted most of its provisions. The nearest city in Avila’s own district wanted no part of H129, and neither did many of her constituents.

The bill managed to pass the legislature and after becoming law effectively jammed up community broadband expansion in many parts of the state.

It would take the Federal Communications Commission to pre-empt the legislation on the grounds it was nakedly anti-competitive and prevented broadband improvements in communities major telecom companies have ignored for years.

As a result of the FCC’s actions, the community of Pinetops now has access to gigabit broadband, five years late, thanks in part to Rep. Avila who got a $290 dinner for her efforts and was honored as a guest speaker at a cable industry function in recognition of her service… to Time Warner Cable.

Rep. Avila with Marc Trathen, Time Warner Cable's top lobbyist (right) Photo by: Bob Sepe of Action Audits

Rep. Avila with Marc Trathen, Time Warner Cable’s top lobbyist (right) Photo by: Bob Sepe of Action Audits

Greenlight, Wilson’s community-owned fiber to the home provider, switched on service in the community this spring to any of the 600 Pinetops homes that wanted it, and many did.

“We just love it!” said Brenda Harrell, the former acting town manager.

In fact, Greenlight is now delivering the best broadband in Edgecombe County, and deploying fiber to the home service was hardly a stretch for Greenlight, which was already installing fiber optics to manage an automated meter infrastructure project. The only thing keeping better broadband out of the hands of Pinetops residents was a law written by an industry that loathes competition and will stop it at all costs. Time Warner Cable didn’t bother to offer service in the community even after its bill became law and residents endured years of unreliable DSL or dialup access instead. Talk about a win-lose scenario. Time Warner Cable got to keep its comfortable cable monopoly while many families had to drive their children to businesses miles away just to borrow their Wi-Fi signal to finish homework assignments.

Faster broadband is likely to be transformative for the quiet rural community. Current town manager Lorenzo Carmon sees more than nearby fields of sweet potatoes and soybeans. With gigabit fiber and cheap local housing, Pinetops could become a bedroom community for upper income professionals now living in Greenville, a university town heavily populated by doctors, students, and high-tech knowledge economy workers. If and when they arrive, they’ll find a tech-ready community, right down to the local Piggly-Wiggly supermarket, which now has fiber fast internet service too.

pinetopsPinetops offers proof of the obscenity of bought-and-paid-for-politicians supporting corporate protectionism that harms people, harms education, harms jobs, and leaves rural communities with no clear path to the digital economy of the 21st century. Legislation like H129, which continues to be enforced in more than a few U.S. states, needs to be pre-empted nationwide or even better repealed by state legislators.

But North Carolina’s legislature still isn’t getting the message. They are outraged the FCC outsmarted Time Warner Cable and them, and are now wasting time and resources to have the FCC’s pre-emption overturned in court, evidently so that rural North Carolina can continue to tough it out with DSL indefinitely. That’s political malpractice and North Carolina voters need to show the door to any elected representative that cares more about the interests of a giant cable company than what is good for you and your community. Reps. Avila and Howard don’t have to live with 3Mbps DSL, so why should you?

“If the private sector is not providing the services, the government has to step in,” said Carmon. “The internet is just like electricity. You can’t live without it.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Comcast’s 1TB Usage Cap Goes Live, Replaces Old 300GB Usage Allowance

1024gbAfter four years of a gradually expanding “beta test” no customer wanted to be part of, Comcast’s never-ending data cap trial has increased data allowances for the first time since 2012.

xfinitylogoComcast customers in data cap trial areas tell Stop the Cap! their Comcast usage meter now reflects the new 1,024GB allowance Comcast promised back in April (some customers in Atlanta seem to have gotten a 2,048GB allowance for an unknown reason). It’s a major improvement over the old 300GB cap many customers endured with expensive overlimit fees that applied when they exceeded their allowance. Comcast will continue to bill those overlimit fees of $10 for each 50GB increment of excess usage over the allowance, but now plans to cap those overlimit fees at $200 a month.

“The new meter showed up June 1st in southern Florida, and it’s about time,” said our reader Javier from Miami. “But wouldn’t you know, Comcast screwed us out of one more month of paying their $30 extortion fee to keep unlimited.”

300GB was not enough for many Comcast customers.

300GB was not enough for many Comcast customers.

Javier is referring to Comcast’s unlimited usage insurance plan. For $30-35 extra, the cable company removes your data cap and you face no overlimit fees. But since Comcast bills one month ahead, a customer enrolled in the insurance plan paid for an unlimited June on their May bill. Now that usage allowances have more than tripled, Javier wanted to cancel his insurance for this month because he doesn’t come close to Comcast’s new cap.

No dice, replied Comcast, who canceled his unlimited insurance plan effective July 1.

“Once you begin a new month, you cannot stop the charges until the following month,” Javier explained, even though he canceled the plan on the 1st of the month. “They told me it was too late.”

Javier is still glad he canceled the insurance.

“If I didn’t, they planned to auto-enroll me in their new unlimited option, which costs a ridiculous $50 a month,” said Javier.

Not all Comcast service areas are subject to data caps. Comcast issued broad clarifications about the usage cap trial changes on its website:

A terabyte still isn't enough for some customers. (Image: NAM)

A terabyte still isn’t enough for some customers. (Image: NAM)

New Data Usage Trials

On June 1, 2016, we will be migrating all customers currently in usage trials to a new 1 Terabyte plan, and the following is an overview. For more details on this trial plan, see Questions & Answers About Our Data Usage Plan Trials. For a detailed list of trial locations, see Is my area part of the data usage plan trials? For trial start dates, see Where will these plans be launched?

In the markets of Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Tucson, Arizona; Little Rock, Arkansas;Fort Lauderdale, the Keys, and Miami, Florida; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Georgia; Central Kentucky; Houma, LaPlace, and Shreveport, Louisiana; Maine; Jackson and Tupelo, Mississippi;Chattanooga, Greeneville, Johnson City/Gray, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee;Charleston, South Carolina; and Galax, Virginia, we will increase our monthly data usage plan for all XFINITY Internet tiers to 1 terabyte (1,024 GB) per month and will offer additional gigabytes in increments/blocks ($10 per 50 GB, up to $200 each month). You will also be able to choose to enroll in an Unlimited Data Option for an additional recurring flat fee of $50 per month. Under this option, the 1 Terabyte data usage plan will not be enforced on your account. For more information on the Unlimited Data Option, see What is the Unlimited Data Option?

If you are an XFINITY Internet Economy Plus or Performance Starter customer, you can instead choose to enroll in the Flexible Data Option to receive a $5 credit on your monthly bill if you reduce your data usage plan to 5 GB. If you choose this option and use 6 GB of data or more in any given month, you will not receive the $5 credit and will be charged an additional $1 for each gigabyte of data used over the 5 GB included in the Flexible Data Option. For more information on the Flexible Data Option, see What is the Flexible Data Option?

Expired Data Usage Plans

Important Note: These data usage plans, which Comcast previously had in place, expired on June 1, 2016, and have been replaced with the new plans described above

In the markets of Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Little Rock, Arkansas; Fort Lauderdale,the Keys, and Miami, Florida; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Georgia; Houma, LaPlace, andShreveport, Louisiana; Jackson and Tupelo, Mississippi; Chattanooga, Greeneville, Johnson City/Gray,Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee; Charleston, South Carolina; and Galax, Virginia, we have increased our monthly data usage plan for all XFINITY Internet tiers to 300 GB per month and will offer additional gigabytes in increments/blocks ($10 per 50 GB). In this trial, you can also choose to enroll in an Unlimited Data Option for an additional recurring flat fee (e.g., $30-$35 per month). Under this option, the 300 GB data usage plan will not be enforced on your account. If you subscribe to Economy Plus or Performance Starter XFINITY Internet, you can instead choose to enroll in the Flexible Data Option to receive a $5 credit on your monthly bill if you reduce your data usage plan to 5 GB. If you choose this option and use 6 GB of data or more in any given month, you will not receive the $5 credit and will be charged an additional $1 for each gigabyte of data used over the 5 GB included in the Flexible Data Option.

In the markets of Central Kentucky and Maine, we have increased our data usage plan for XFINITY Internet tiers to 300 GB per month, offering additional gigabytes in increments/blocks ($10 per 50 GB). In this trial, XFINITY Internet Economy Plus customers can instead choose to enroll in the Flexible Data Option to receive a $5 credit on their monthly bill if they reduce their data usage plan to 5 GB. If you choose this option and use 6 GB of data or more in any given month, you will not receive the $5 credit and will be charged an additional $1 for each gigabyte of data used over the 5 GB included in the Flexible Data Option. Currently, the Unlimited Data Option is not available in these markets.

In the Tucson, Arizona, market, we have increased our monthly data usage plan for Economy Plus through Performance XFINITY Internet tiers to 300 GB. Those customers subscribed to the Performance Pro and Blast! Internet tiers receive 350 GB in their data usage plan; Blast! Pro customers receive 450 GB in their data usage plan; and Extreme customers receive 600 GB in their data usage plan. As in our other trial market areas, we offer additional gigabytes in increments/blocks of 50 GB for $10 each in the event the customer exceeds their included data amount. Currently, the Unlimited Data Option and the Flexible Data Option are not available in this market.

In Fresno, California, Economy Plus customers have the option of enrolling in the Flexible Data Option.

Cablevision May Owe You Up to $140 for Its Cable Box, But Only If You Ask

cablevision boxIf you are or were a Cablevision cable-TV customer, the cable company may owe you up to $140 for overcharging you for their set-top box, but only if you ask.

Current and former subscribers in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut will share the proceeds of a settlement fund proposed in federal court in response to a class action lawsuit (Marchese v. Cablevision Systems Corp.) that alleged Cablevision has been misrepresenting the need for its cable equipment dating back to 2004.

You probably qualify as a class member if you had cable television service and a Cablevision set-top box anytime between April 30, 2004 and March 9, 2016. Former subscribers will likely receive a check valued at $20-40. Current customers will be offered the option of a one-time bill credit of $20-40 or the opportunity to get free services from Cablevision valued at $50-140. The longer you’ve been a customer, the higher the value of the free services you may qualify for, including free premium movie channels or multi-room DVR service. If you already have both, you will only qualify for the bill credit.

optimumCustomers should register as a class member to guarantee a share of the settlement proceeds. Visit cableboxsettlement.com to register online, e-mail [email protected] call 1-888-760-4871. The deadline to file a claim is Sept. 23, 2016.

The proceeds of the settlement will likely be distributed by the end of this year, after a fairness hearing scheduled for September to discuss the requested attorneys fee, estimated to be as high as $9.5 million.

As is often the case in class action lawsuits, the company being sued need not admit any wrongdoing, and Cablevision is proclaiming its innocence.

“Cablevision denies all of the claims and allegations in the lawsuit and notes that the settlement is subject to final approval of the court,” a company statement said. “We cannot comment further beyond the publicly available filings in the litigation.”

Only 34% of Broadband Customers Would Recommend Their ISP to Others

Usage caps and usage billing are especially unpopular.

Usage caps and usage billing are especially unpopular.

Americans do not have a love affair with their phone or cable company, according to a new study that found most customers either wouldn’t recommend or are neutral about their Internet Service Provider (ISP).

A survey conducted by Incognito Software Systems unintentionally stumbled on the fact consumers deal with either a monopoly or duopoly for broadband service, giving them few alternative options if they do not like the service they are getting. Despite the mediocre ratings many customers give their ISP, only 10% have switched providers in the last year.

“This could reflect a lack of choices in certain regions, or it may be indicative of subscriber apathy toward Internet Service Providers,” the survey found.

Urban and suburban residents hold slightly more favorable views about their broadband service than their rural counterparts. The report found rural residents were less satisfied with service speeds and pricing options, which in most cases involve traditional DSL service from the local phone company.

broadband reportIncognito’s findings show broadband providers are reducing initiatives to acquire new customers as broadband penetration in the United States approaches 90%. Instead, they want current subscribers to pay more to satisfy demands for higher average revenue per customer. Customers already believe their current ISP is charging too much for too slow service.

“In this era of subscriber monetization, it’s essential that broadband providers clearly grasp what’s important to their existing subscribers,” Stephane Bourque, president and CEO of Incognito, said in a statement. “As our survey shows, providers are expected to do more than ever before: provide faster speeds, lower prices and superior WiFi capabilities to live up to their subscribers’ demands.”

“Most subscribers want to pay less (39%) for faster Internet services (24%),” the survey found. At least 33% want faster speeds and 28% are looking for better Wi-Fi reliability. An additional 32% want more choice in Internet plans at different prices.

The survey also found one thing customers absolutely do not want from their ISP: usage-based pricing. The fact that 58% of respondents didn’t want a usage-based billing plan might seem low until the report explains another 27% did not know what usage-based plans were. Only 15% of consumers would prefer a usage-based plan, assuming it would save them money. Most usage billing plans available to customers today do not, unless a customer is willing to cut their usage to 5GB or less per month.

In an effort to appease disappointed cable and phone company executives, the report’s authors optimistically suggest “further education could go a long way into changing the subscribers’ perception” about usage pricing.

Besides raising speeds and reducing prices, the value-added feature customers want their ISP to offer the most in the future is a robust network of accessible Wi-Fi hotspots.

Analysis: FCC, Justice Dept. Ready to Approve Charter-Time Warner Cable-Bright House Merger

charter twc bhThe Justice Department and FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler are prepared to accept a massive $55 billion merger between Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks, but at a cost of stringent conditions governing the creation of America’s second largest cable conglomerate.

In a joint agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the FCC, Charter executives have agreed to do nothing to harm online video competition or implement usage caps or usage-based billing for at least seven years. Charter will also be forced to broaden its cable service to reach at least two million additional homes, some already served by other providers, setting the stage for potential head-to-head competition between two closely-matched competitors.

The deal will directly affect 19.4 million customers of the three companies, which will eventually combine under the Charter Communications brand name and marketing philosophy — selling customers simplified television, phone, and broadband packages that reduce customer options. Little is expected to change for the rest of 2016, however, with Time Warner Cable and Bright House likely to continue operations under existing packaging and pricing until sometime in 2017. Technicians told Stop the Cap! earlier in April they were told not to acquire new outfits with the Time Warner Cable logo and branding, and the cable company is also making preparations to gradually repaint its massive fleet of vans and service vehicles with the Charter logo.

President Obama Expected To Nominate Rep. Mel Watt For Director Of The Federal Housing Finance Agency

Wheeler

Most of the concessions seemed to have originated from FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler, who has been one of the strongest proponents of online video competition, improved broadband, and direct head-to-head competition between cable operators. The Justice Department focused its attention on challenging the cable industry’s almost-united front against online video competition. Under former CEO Glenn Britt’s leadership, Time Warner Cable was considered “the industry leader” in contract language that guaranteed it would share the lowest price negotiated by any other cable, satellite, telephone company or online video provider. Those agreements also often included clauses that restricted programmers from putting streamed programming online for non-subscribers. That explains why cord-cutters frequently run into barriers watching networks online unless they can prove they are already a pay-TV customer.

Under conditions from the Justice Department, those sections of agreements with Charter, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks will become invalid and unenforceable. But that doesn’t mean restrictions will disappear overnight. Comcast, Cox, Cablevision, and other cable companies also enforce similar conditions which will be unaffected by the Justice Department decision, at least for now. But the precedent has sent shudders across an industry concerned about protecting its still-profitable cable TV business, under assault from increased programming costs and a greater reluctance by consumers to tolerate annual rate increases.

analysisGene Kimmelman, chief executive of consumer interest group Public Knowledge, told the Wall Street Journal the conditions were “a clear signal to the content industry and entertainment companies that the enforcement agencies are giving them a green light to grow online video and experiment as a direct competitor to cable, and they will prevent cable from interfering.”

Of greater interest to consumers are the deal conditions proposed by Chairman Wheeler. As Stop the Cap! reported almost a year ago, sources told us the FCC would “get serious” about data caps if companies like Comcast imposed them on customers nationwide. At the moment, Comcast is testing caps affecting just under 15% of their total customer base, already generating thousands of customer complaints with the FCC in response. Although Charter promised three years of cap-free service, Wheeler and his staff obviously felt it was important to send a message that they agree with cap opponents that data caps are more about preventing competition than technical need. By making long term data cap prohibition a core part of a settlement agreement with Charter, Wheeler sends a strong message to Comcast that the FCC isn’t drinking cable industry Kool Aid about the rationale for usage caps and usage billing.

Some consumer groups worry Charter has overextended itself in debt over-acquiring other cable companies.

Some consumer groups worry Charter has overextended itself in debt over-acquiring other cable companies.

“New Charter will not be permitted to charge usage-based prices or impose data caps,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Second, New Charter will be prohibited from charging interconnection fees, including to online video providers, which deliver large volumes of internet traffic to broadband customers. Additionally, the Department of Justice’s settlement with Charter both outlaws video programming terms that could harm online video distributors (OVDs) and protects OVDs from retaliation– an outcome fully supported by the order I have circulated today. All three seven-year conditions will help consumers by benefitting OVD competition. The cumulative impact of these conditions will be to provide additional protection for new forms of video programming services offered over the Internet. Thus, we continue our close working relationship with the Department of Justice on this review.”

Wheeler is also intent on proving there is a viable market for cable operators overbuilding into new territories. To prove that point, Wheeler has gotten an agreement that Charter will introduce service to one million new customers where it will intrude on another operator’s service area and directly compete with it. The other provider has to already offer service at 25Mbps or greater. That could mean Charter competing directly with a cable company like Comcast or building service into an area already served by Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse, or another provider offering something beyond traditional DSL.

Copps

Copps

Another million customers just outside of areas served by the three cable companies may also finally get service, as Charter will be compelled to wire at least another million homes for cable service for the first time.

Despite the conditions, many consumer groups and former public officials remain unhappy the merger won approval.

“Creating broadband monopoly markets raises consumer costs, kills competition, and points a gun at the heart of the news and information that democracy depends upon,” said Michael Copps, a former Democratic commissioner at the FCC and a special adviser to the Common Cause public interest group. “FCC approval of this unnecessary merger would be an abandonment of its public interest responsibilities.”

“There’s nothing about this massive merger that serves the public interest. There’s nothing about it that helps make the market for cable TV and Internet services more affordable and competitive for Americans,” said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press. “Customers of the newly merged entity will be socked with higher prices as Charter attempts to pay off the nearly $27 billion debt load it took on to finance this deal. The wasted expense of this merger is staggering. For the money Charter spent to make this happen it could have built new competitive broadband options for tens of millions of people. Now these billions of dollars will do little more than line the pockets of Time Warner Cable’s shareholders and executives. CEO Rob Marcus will walk away with a $100 million golden parachute.”

Wheeler’s draft order is likely to receive a final vote in the coming days before the Commission. The only remaining holdout is California’s telecom regulator, which is expected to reach a decision by May 10.

Time Warner Cable Tests “Skinny Bundles” of Major Networks, HBO, Showtime for $10/Mo

20 CHANNELWhile cable operators continue to deny cord cutting is real, their marketing departments think otherwise and are responding with slimmed down cable TV packages showcasing premium movie channels at a non-premium price.

This week, Time Warner Cable began offering a $10 add-on video package of over-the-air major network stations for new customers in Manhattan signing up for 50/5Mbps broadband service ($39.95 a month alone on a one year promotion in TWC Maxx markets). Oh did we forget to mention that $10 also includes both HBO and Showtime — the same networks Time Warner sells to everyone else for about $16.95 a month each?

At $10 a month, the package is a steal if you are still interested in local live/linear TV and movie channels. XFINITY Stream for Comcast is comparable, but Comcast extracts $15.99 a month for almost the same thing.

Time Warner Cable is obviously targeting disinterested Millennials that might otherwise skip television or consider the $20 Sling TV package instead.

But the cable company is downplaying the package and its price.

Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus likes to remind investors at least 80 percent of Time Warner customers still subscribe to the big 200+ channel cable TV package, and Time Warner has hardly been a pioneer of “skinny bundles” that cut down the TV package to just the essentials.

Despite those assertions, the number of Americans willing to drop cable television continues to increase… and fast. Convergence Consulting notes the industry lost 283,000 video customers in 2014 and 1.1 million in 2015 — a four-fold increase. Convergence estimated at least another 1.1 million will cut the cable TV cord this year in what could become “the new normal.”

Video consumers are turning instead to on-demand, online viewing, which can provide commercial-free and binge viewing opportunities. Both Millennials and Generation X viewers are trending towards shows, not channels and networks, and many would never know (and fewer still care) what channel they were watching without the identity bug perpetually attached to the lower right of the screen.

Eventually, cable television service will likely occupy a part of a fat IP-pipe free-for-all, where viewers can still watch linear programming if they wish, but are more likely going to customize a much more personal viewing experience online instead.

Popular Motorola/Arris SurfBoard Cable Modems Have Annoying Security Flaw

Phillip Dampier April 11, 2016 Consumer News 1 Comment

arrisIf you own or lease a Motorola/Arris SurfBoard 5100, 6121, or 6141 cable modem, security researchers have uncovered an annoying vulnerability that could expose you to a denial of service attack.

David Longenecker first discovered the flaw with the world’s most popular cable modem — the SB-6141, a highly recommended DOCSIS 3 model. The firmware does not password protect access to the cable modem’s configuration menu, accessible by visiting 192.168.100.1 in a web browser.

In addition to technical information about the modem and the cable system’s current cable broadband configuration, there are two user accessible reset buttons, one to reboot the modem and another to reset it to its original factory settings. Rebooting the modem will disrupt your Internet connection for under a minute, but doing a factory reset could bring the modem offline until someone reaches the cable company to request the modem be reauthorized. An individual with nefarious intent can repeatedly reset the modem, bringing the user offline again and again.

arris config

SB6141 is a DOCSIS 3 modem

SB6141 is a DOCSIS 3 modem

The Houston Chronicle explains how this could become a widespread problem:

Included within this interface is the ability to reset the modem. A user can be tricked into clicking on a simple link that will reboot the SB6141, and you can see a proof of concept here. Note that if you have one of these modems with this flaw, and you click the link, your modem WILL reboot.

Normally, you’d have to be sitting at a computer on the same network as the modem to trigger a reboot. But the link above takes advantage of the fact that you can mask a local Web page address as an image file. As Longenecker describes it:

Did you know that a web browser doesn’t really care whether an “image” file is really an image? Causing a modem to reboot is as simple as including an “image” in any other webpage you might happen to open – which is exactly the approach taken on the RebootMyModem.net proof of concept:

<img src=”http://192.168.100.1/reset.htm”>

Of course it’s not a real image, but the web browser doesn’t know that until it requests the file from the modem IP address – which of course causes the modem to reboot. Imagine creating an advertisement with that line of code, and submitting it to a widely-used ad network…

Advanced users can go into their router’s configuration page and block access to the IP address 192.168.100.1 (the modem’s configuration page) for anyone inside their network. That step prevents you or anyone else on your network from accidentally clicking a link that tricks your modem into rebooting. But most users will probably wait until Arris has distributed firmware updates that cable operators will eventually apply to correct this vulnerability. The upgrade will occur in the background and most users will never notice it.

2016 Edition: Fighting for a Better Deal from Time Warner Cable; Save $600+ Annually

badbillFor the fourth year, Stop the Cap! is pleased to bring you our advice on how to win yourself a better deal from Time Warner Cable. If you are paying regular price for Time Warner Cable service, you are throwing money away. There is no award for being a loyal cable customer these days. Only new customers and those willing to demand a better price get the best deals, while everyone else pays astoundingly high rates.

We are rarely surprised by anything, but even we confess astonishment as customers continue to show us their $180-250 cable bills. Most have been customers for decades and have never bothered to ask Time Warner if they could be getting a better deal. They should have asked us because the answer is absolutely yes. If you can devote about one hour a year and are willing to do some homework, even those coming off a promotion can save hundreds of dollars a year and get better service.

For those accustomed to badgering the cable company for a better deal year after year, we have some troubling news. Time Warner Cable is making things harder for you. In years past, customers only needed to use social media like Twitter or Facebook and ask for a better price and the cable company usually called back with a great promotional offer for the next year. Those days ended last fall, when the company began channeling current customer promotions almost exclusively through its national customer retention call centers. Even the oldest method of all — showing up at a local cable store with boxes in tow ready to turn in as you threaten to cancel service over its cost today often results in a shrug of the shoulders and an admission cable store employees are increasingly unable to offer customers promotions to entice them to stay. We saw this ourselves this week. As a result, Time Warner Cable lost that customer on the spot.

So why do cable companies play this game with their customers year after year? In a word, it’s all about the money. At least 80% of Time Warner Cable customers are still paying the company $10 a month to rent a cable modem customers can buy for themselves for as little as $50. Why do they keep paying? Because it’s a hassle or the customer believes they are incapable of installing their own. Even those who fought and won up to $1,100 in savings last year procrastinate after that promotion expires and put off trying to renew it. Why? Because few people relish debating for discounts. It’s a chore. But you say the same thing about doing your taxes, so it’s time to get some discipline and get this done. We’re even going to walk you through the process and share the tricks and traps you are likely to encounter along the way and how to get past them. How do we know? We have Time Warner Cable service too.

Heads Up: Time Warner Cable & Charter Communications — You may have read that Charter Communications is in the process of acquiring Time Warner Cable. Most state regulators with the exception of California (where approval isn’t a done deal at the time of writing) have approved the sale and federal regulators seem likely to follow, with a number of conditions Charter will have to meet going forward. For the rest of 2016, even if the deal is approved, we don’t expect many immediate changes. You are likely to see the Time Warner Cable name, packages, and pricing remain the same for most of this year. Next year, we expect Charter will want to retire Time Warner’s name and packages and move customers to their Spectrum product suite, at new customer pricing for all for the first year. We will update readers as needed to explain the transition, but it should not affect any promotions you win for at least the next year.

Getting Ready to Deal

courtesy: abcnews

Time to cut the cable TV bill down to size.

Based on reader input and our own experiences, you are going to find Time Warner Cable less willing to volunteer their lowest price promotions as they have in the past. Customer retention call center workers are trained to try to keep your business without giving away too much to customers threatening to leave. That is why doing your homework is essential before you call.

The most common reasons people call threatening to cancel service are:

  • a poor service experience
  • a rate increase or the end of a promotion that results in a higher rate
  • a better deal from the competition

When you call to cancel service, a representative will seek to understand your reasons and attempt to save you as a customer. If you respond you don’t like the picture quality or your Internet is constantly going out, you are unlikely to get a promotion. You’ll be offered a one-time service credit and a repair visit. If you are calling to cancel over a rate hike notice, they will probably offer a tepid promotion that effectively wipes out the rate increase, but still leaves you paying a lot more than you should. The best offers are designed in response to marketing from competitors trying to steal you away as a customer.

Doing Your Homework

This year your key word is: UPGRADED. Your local phone company just notified your neighborhood better service and a better deal is now available.

This year’s key word is: UPGRADED. Your local phone company just notified your neighborhood better service and a better deal is now available.

We believe the best deals will go to customers prepared to bring a competitor’s offer for them to match. If Time Warner’s local competitors are Google Fiber or Verizon FiOS, you are probably going to get a great deal without a lot of effort. In the northeast, Verizon FiOS and Time Warner Cable have had to face the fact if a customer of either doesn’t get an excellent deal to stay, they are going to switch to the other for one or two years and then switch back after the promotion expires. We’ve seen retention offers in these areas that even include high value gift card rebate offers normally reserved exclusively for customers able to prove (with their final bill) they are leaving one provider for the other. In areas where Time Warner Cable competes with AT&T U-verse, negotiations can get tougher. Time Warner Cable retention operators will listen to your claim you can get a better deal from AT&T or DirecTV and then try to trip you up by asking a lot of questions about 1-2 year contracts, HD fees, set-top equipment fees, broadband speeds, and other sneaky fees AT&T loves to slap on their bills but not always disclose in their advertising.

Things can get even tougher if their only significant competitor is Frontier Communications, HawTel, Windstream, CenturyLink, or other independent telephone companies. Most customers still can’t get TV service except through a companion offer with a satellite company and broadband typically comes in the form of underwhelming DSL. Time Warner Cable has a database of their competitors’ promotions and packages, and they respond to your price match request by trying to find the offer you want them to match in their system. When they find it (or something close to it), the call center operator will respond with a series of challenging statements to cut the apparent value of that promotion. For example, they will claim the competing offer does not include certain features Time Warner includes at no extra charge or doesn’t include various equipment, programming and other hidden fees that raise the price.

If you concede this, the price they will ultimately match is likely to be higher than what you originally thought. It may even sound reasonable to you, because you are used to “gotcha” and hidden fees that are already on your current Time Warner bill (fees the retention operator usually “forgets” to mention Time Warner also charges when they claim to be making an “apple to apple” comparison of the two offers.) That’s their game and it is designed to confuse and overwhelm you. We are going to teach you how to avoid getting on board their carnival carousel.

The key word for 2016 is: UPGRADED, as in their competitor ‘just notified you they have upgraded your neighborhood to a better level of service with a great limited time, local promotion just for customers like you.’

As AT&T and other phone companies continue to upgrade their networks to deliver video, phone and better broadband service, you can shut down the debate about DSL broadband speed and the many deficiencies of telephone company partnerships with satellite TV providers. Instead, you will explain the phone company can now match the speed Time Warner is selling (or at least the speed you need), and with services like Frontier FiOS TV/Vantage TV, CenturyLink’s Prism, Hawtel’s TV, and Windstream’s Kinetic TV, you don’t need a satellite dish to watch anymore.

A Time Warner Cable call center.

A Time Warner Cable call center.

But before we begin negotiations, a review of what you are already paying for is in order. Go and grab your latest Time Warner Cable bill.

If you are a broadband-only customer, you’ve probably received many offers to add television service. Those with cable television and broadband may be getting cards in the mail offering to add phone service for an additional $10 a month. Those customers identified as likely premium movie channel subscribers are getting offers to add multiple premiums at a special price. This practice is known as upselling, and it is how your $150 cable bill quickly rose to well over $200 once those limited-time promotions end and regular prices begin.

Here are some common cable TV add-ons that may be still lurking on your bill, are optional and may be removed on request:

  • Variety Pass (a/k/a Preferred TV): Just over 60 channels of lesser-known and slightly more expensive cable networks and their cousins. Includes MTV, Aspire, Cooking Channel, FOX Sports, Crime and Investigation Channel, GSN, LOGO, and National Geographic, among dozens of others. This package is very common and can often be downgraded to a 70+ Standard TV package.
  • HD Pass: Usually 4-6 channels of uniquely expensive basic cable networks. Most customers probably added this during the days of HDNet — a network Time Warner Cable dropped several years ago. Today, you are probably paying $3-5 a month extra for networks like beIN SPORTS, MGM HD, RFD HD, and Smithsonian. If these don’t interest you, drop this add-on.
  • TWC Sports Pass: More than two dozen additional sports channels that come at a hefty price. If you need to get your cable TV bill down, this is a good place to start.
  • TWC Movie Pass: Once affordable, this package of Disney Family Movies On Demand, TWC Movie Pass On Demand, and at least eight Encore movie channels has seen steady rate increases, especially over the last three years. It may no longer be worth it.
  • Various Premium Channels: HBO alone now costs $16.99 a month. Other premiums have also seen prices rise these last few years. But for $20-30 more, depending on the promotion, you can have every premium channel for a year, usually including HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Epix, and Starz. Don’t leave your money on their table.
The TWC Digital Adapter was supposed to cost $0.99 a month. It's now $3.25.

The TWC Digital Adapter was supposed to cost $0.99 a month. It’s now $3.25.

With the latest round of rate hikes, renting equipment from Time Warner has gotten more expensive than ever. Do you still need a traditional set-top box in the guest bedroom or kids’ rooms if they are not even interested in cable TV? Each box and remote can add up to $7-9 a month depending on your package. DVR service is also increasingly costly because Time Warner charges customers for both the equipment and the service. An enhanced DVR capable of recording up to six shows at once is a nice addition, but it can easily add over $20 a month to your bill in equipment and service fees. If you find you aren’t using the DVR as often as you used to, it may be time to switch back to a traditional set-top box, which costs much less.

If you have TVs in spare bedrooms or the kitchen hooked up with Time Warner’s Digital Adapters, you will find the price for those has also increased dramatically. Initially promised for $0.99 a month, they now cost $3.25 each. This year, we recommend returning them and buying one or more Roku 2 2015 Edition ($70) units instead, which can deliver cable TV to your spare TV sets over your home Wi-Fi. (Also available on: Roku 3, All Roku 2 Models, Roku LT, Roku HD (2500X), the Roku Streaming Stick, Kindle Fire HD & HDX, Samsung Smart TV, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.) Time Warner provides their lineup on these devices with a free app. A one time equipment purchase will pay for itself in a few years, give instant access to Hulu, Netflix, and other services and offer a less frustrating experience.

Cable modems are another piece of equipment you should not be renting from Time Warner. These devices work with your Internet service and now cost $10 a month. The top recommended Arris (formerly Motorola) SB-6141 can be purchased on eBay for around $50 (for refurbished units) and from retail outlets for $70-80 (new). If you are still renting a modem from Time Warner, go and buy one today.

Am I Getting a Good Deal?

While tempting, these offers usually require upgrades that raise the price. For example, Whole House DVR mandatory service and equipment fees add $11.75 a month per cable box, with at least two boxes required.

While tempting, these typical Time Warner Cable offers usually require upgrades that raise the price. For example, Whole House DVR mandatory service and equipment fees add $11.75 a month per cable box, with a two-box minimum. That gift card offer is only good if you are able to prove you are switching from another provider and can produce a copy of your final bill.

This is the part people dread the most — having to haggle over their cable bill. How do you know if the offer Time Warner gives you is a good one? The answer is: by comparing it against the competition and what Time Warner would charge new customers for the same services. If it is within that range, you’ve done okay. If you keep pushing far beyond that, you are likely to find diminishing returns and increasing aggravation – sometimes an offer promised on the phone never even makes it to your bill, because it was offered in error. Then it becomes a dispute over crediting the difference between an offer promised and one actually received. We also don’t recommend people push for rebate cards, because even if you are offered one to keep your business, you usually will not qualify for it because you typically cannot meet the rebate’s terms and conditions, resulting in a rejection letter several months later from the third-party rebate processor.

To find out pricing of current promotions, start by visiting the phone company’s website to see what it has to offer. After that, it is off to Time Warner Cable’s website, pretending to be a new customer and creating a package similar or identical to what you receive today.

PrismTV + Internet, from CenturyLink

PrismTV + Internet, from CenturyLink. This service is being introduced in a number of CenturyLink-served communities.

Along the way, take note of fine print disclosures about contract terms, equipment fees, surcharges, etc. Some new customer offers increase in price during the second year, but ignore that. You are only negotiating for a better price for one year. In general terms, you are probably going to find new customer prices averaging in this range:

  • Broadband only: $34.95/mo for 12 months (Standard service)
  • Triple Play (broadband, TV + Enhanced DVR, phone): $99.99/mo for 12 months (30Mbps service)
  • Double Play (broadband + TV): Expect to pay around $80-90 for Standard/Turbo/Extreme broadband with traditional 200+ channel Preferred TV (periodic promotions offer enhanced speed broadband at the higher side of this price range)

Be aware most promotions start with lowball offers that do not include equipment like the very popular and expensive DVR (with the equipment and service fee), and the additional cost of a second set-top box many people have in their master bedroom. There are also Broadcast TV and Sports Programming surcharges increasingly charged by providers, and the usual taxes and fees.

No, dealing with Time Warner Cable won't reduce you to tears.

No, dealing with Time Warner Cable won’t reduce you to tears.

If you want to save time and are comfortable with a triple play package including 200+ channel Preferred TV with DVR and one additional standard HD set-top box, Ultimate Internet (50Mbps or 300Mbps in Maxx-upgraded areas), and Unlimited local/nationwide home phone service with voicemail, you should be able to easily negotiate a price hovering around $120-130 a month. We pay closer to the high side of that range after subscribing to “whole house” DVR service, which allows you to watch shows recorded on a DVR in another room. That price represents about a $50/month savings over the $175 price we would pay with the lesser promotion they offered us after the most recent one expired. If you are in a more competitive market with an even better deal than we found from our local providers, Time Warner should be able to match it too.

It’s Time to Make the Cancel Call

We’re getting close to making that phone call. Just one more reminder: the retention operator will probably try to question your competitor’s deal. That is where our magic word UPGRADED comes in. You are going to stay resolute the competitor’s offer you negotiated and are telling Time Warner about specifically targeted those gotcha fees and hidden charges, which have all been waived or do not apply. To win your business after the upgrade, the price quoted is the “out the door” price exactly as it will be billed to you, without hidden fees, no term contracts, and no gotchas. You can acknowledge those fees are common among many providers, but they do not apply to you in this case.

Get a glass of water, a pen and paper, and be prepared to spend about 30 minutes total on the phone (most of that will be on hold as they change your account to add the promotion you just won).

Call 1-800-892-4357 and say “cancel service” when the automated system asks what you are calling about. From there, your call will be forwarded to a customer retention call center. The first thing you should ask when connected is the representative’s name and extension (or other identifying information). If your deal isn’t applied (or applied correctly) to your account, the name of the person you spoke with will go a long way to getting any problems straightened out.

timewarner twcYou will be asked why you are canceling service. You want to emphasize “it costs too much” and you have “found a better deal” elsewhere. You should expect the representative to start negotiations by attempting to downgrade your current service to save money. Do not play this game at this point in the call. Politely tell the representative you are not interested in a reduction in your services because you can get the same or better from the competition… at a lower price. Keep reminding them your concern is over the cost of the service, nothing else. Don’t get sidetracked talking about service problems or poor customer service. Address those issues at the end of the call.

Despite assertions Time Warner Cable customers won't endure extended hold times, at least 2/3rds of our recent calls were spent listening to hold music.

Despite assertions Time Warner Cable customers won’t endure extended hold times, at least 2/3rds of our recent calls were spent listening to hold music.

You will be asked to describe the deal from the competitor. Let them know that with recent upgrades in your area it covers all the TV channels you want to watch, has the same broadband speed you are getting now, and offers unlimited local and long distance calling to all the places you care about. Let them know you have already talked to the other company but after a family discussion, you decided to give Time Warner a chance to match or beat their offer and will stay as a customer if they can.

The retention operator will likely try to challenge the competitor’s offer, but each time politely remind them your offer either includes those fees/charges or waives them with no contract obligation and no cancellation penalties. Tell them that competitor is going all out to sign up new customers in your neighborhood.

At all times, be polite, persistent, and persuasive. If you are pleasant, representatives will often go the extra mile for you. Try saying, “is there anything else you can try to get me a better price,” “I really appreciate all of your help today,” and “thank you for looking into this for me.” If things seem to be going against you, remind them, “I know there must be something we can do together to get to a better deal,” “I know you might not be able to do this for me, but perhaps a supervisor could?” and “maybe I am approaching this wrong and we need to start over and try to find the best promotion we can, even if it means adding or changing something that will get me a better deal.”

At this point, the operator will put you on hold and review the promotional offers they can apply to your account. When they return to the line, hear them out but you need them to come within $5-10 of the deal you took to them. If they can’t, you can usually ask if a supervisor will grant you a one time service credit for the difference between the two prices, or to give you a free upgrade to faster Internet speed, a premium movie channel, or something else to sweeten the offer. Try to stay flexible over a few dollars either way. The representative cannot make up a deal, they have to find one in the system that matches your current services and enter the proper code(s) to apply it to your account. Write everything down and repeat it back as you go to make sure you both understand the terms. Also make certain to ask if ANY other fees or charges apply, and if they do, write them down. In most cases, the price you get will be before taxes and some surcharges.

If you find you are dealing with a difficult or intransigent representative, thank them for their time, hang up and call back in a few hours and try again. You never have to commit to a deal immediately. If you want to think about it, ask for the representative to note your account with the offer he or she made and ask their name so you can refer back to that conversation when you call back.

Save your notes. It is unfortunately all too common that the deal you were promised over the phone can look very different on your first bill. But if you kept your notes and the name(s) of representatives you spoke with, any problems can be fixed later with a corrected deal or service credits.

Amy Schumer calls Time Warner Cable. It wasn’t this bad for us, we swear! (4:45)

Broadband Spending Drops: Equipment Costs Falling, Your Prices Rising

Phillip Dampier March 21, 2016 Competition, Consumer News, Internet Overcharging No Comments
Fixed (wired) broadband is now the most important revenue component of the TV-Internet-Phone package.

Fixed (wired) broadband is now the most important revenue component of the TV-Internet-Phone package.

Despite ordering 41 percent more downstream network equipment in 2015 than the year before, cable operators enjoyed a 3% drop in broadband equipment expenses, according to researcher SNL Kagan.

While your cable operator blames the cost of upgrades and usage growth for your latest broadband rate hike, cable company spending on broadband actually declined thanks to lower prices and more efficient broadband networks.

ARRIS, a major supplier of cable broadband equipment, also saw its revenue from equipment sales decline as cable operators used software virtualization to cut the price of DOCSIS channels over new, more efficient converged cable access platforms.

Cable operators are feeling heat in some markets from emerging fiber-based competitors, but the imminent arrival of DOCSIS 3.1 has made meeting those competitive challenges easy and less costly than ever before.

ARRIS closed out the year as the global revenue leader in broadband equipment, grabbing 53% of total revenue among providers of cable broadband infrastructure. ARRIS benefitted immensely from the focus of its primary North American customers, including Comcast and Time Warner Cable, on dramatically increasing throughput to stay competitive with Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse, and Google Fiber.

“The imminent availability of DOCSIS 3.1 linecards and full-spectrum channels won’t slow the continued purchase and deployment of current DOCSIS 3.0 channels as cable operators must continue to increase throughput to reduce the likelihood of churn among their broadband subscribers,” said Jeff Heynen, senior research analyst for SNL Kagan.

But the costs to deliver those service improvements are now so low, providers are enjoying actual declines in their annual expenses for equipment upgrades, while at the same time many are raising prices and introducing or increasing modem rental fees and usage caps.

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