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Approving Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger Opens the Door for Massive Cable Consolidation

Liberty Global logo 2012Although Charter Communications did not succeed in its bid to assume control of Time Warner Cable, it isn’t crying about its loss to Comcast either.

Greg Maffei, president and CEO of Liberty Media Corp., which has very close ties to John Malone, former cable magnate, says if the merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable is approved, it will start a race to merge the rest of the cable industry into just a handful of cable operators serving almost the entire country.

Comcast’s argument is that since it does not compete with Time Warner Cable, there are no antitrust or anti-competitive reasons why it should not be allowed to buy Time Warner Cable. If state and federal regulators believe that, nothing precludes a company like Charter (Liberty has an ownership interest in the cable company) snapping up every other cable operator in the country. In fact, Charter has signaled consolidation is precisely its intention, alerting investors it intends to play a very aggressive role in mergers and acquisitions once it sees what regulators feel about the Comcast-Time Warner deal.

Likely targets for Charter include:

  • Atlantic Broadband
  • CableONE
  • Cablevision
  • Mediacom
  • Midcontinent Communications

Cox remains privately held and Bright House Networks is tied up in contractual obligations with Time Warner Cable.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Maffei Charter Is Logical Acquirer of Cable Assets 8-6-14.flv

Greg Maffei, president and chief executive officer of Liberty Media Corp., talks about the outlook for Charter Communications Inc. and the cable industry. Speaking with Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop,” Maffei also discusses the decision by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. to withdraw its $75 billion takeover bid for Time Warner Inc. (5:40)

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Damage Control Amateur Hour at the N.Y. Assembly Majority Leader’s Office

grammarly

Assemblyman Joe Morelle’s letter to N.Y. regulators failed this online plagiarism checker when it found the majority of the text was lifted from Comcast’s own press statements and congressional testimony, without attribution.

News that Assemblyman Joe Morelle cut and pasted the majority of his letter to New York regulators directly from a Comcast press release and executive testimony before Congress has begun to create some problems for the assemblyman and his office.

The story has been picked up by a Rochester television station, two New York newspapers and the National Journal (so far). We have now learned that Assemblyman Morelle also cashed a $1,000 campaign contribution check from Comcast earlier this year.

In response to our story, the assemblyman’s office today issued a litany of excuses about why it now fronts for Comcast, none of them particularly convincing. In fact, the damage control effort may actually be making the problems for Mr. Morelle and Comcast worse:

WROC-TV:

Sean Hart, said Comcast approached the assemblyman for his support. “They provided a draft letter of support for our consideration. We made several edits of the letter. This is common practice for any organization asking for an elected official’s support to provide a sample letter.”

Comcast is not an “organization.” It is a multi-billion dollar telecommunications and entertainment conglomerate. We are grateful to have confirmation that Comcast is sending out “templates” to elected officials with talking points already prepared and ready to go. The only issue is whether an elected official will steer clear of promoting giant corporate merger deals they don’t understand (and Mr. Morelle clearly does not have a clue.)

Did Mr. Morelle consult with his own constituents before deciding to tote water for Comcast? Not that we are aware of. Even the Public Service Commission’s own staff recognizes the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers communicating with them on this issue (nearly 3,000 and counting), are vehemently opposed to the deal. Many have past personal experiences dealing with Comcast, and they don’t have the benefit of a $1,000 check from the cable company to give them warm feelings of goodwill.

Although it may be common practice for a company to do this kind of advocacy work, it is not common for most elected officials to barely rewrite the company’s own press releases and executive testimony. Out of thousands of elected officials in New York, only a dozen or so have weighed in with the PSC on this issue.

Our favorite attempt at damage control came from Mr. Hart’s comments to The Journal News:

“It is common practice for an organization seeking support to provide a sample letter with suggested language,” Hart wrote. “I am certain if you were to review letters of support for any number of projects/causes submitted by elected officials, at every level of government, you would find that many opt to extract language from a sample letter provided to them.”

Hart rejected the suggestion that Morelle plagiarized the Comcast and Time Warner executives’ testimony, as suggested by Stop the Cap. The letter to the Public Service Commission was signed by Morelle and printed on official Assembly letterhead.

“I realize I probably do not need to point this out to a journalist, but the definition of plagiarism is ‘an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own,’” Hart wrote. “Morelle has authorization from Comcast to use the language included in his letter to the NYSPSC.”

He continued: “It is one thing to disagree with the Majority Leader’s opinion. It is another to make outlandish claims that lack merit.”

Morelle

Morelle

We have reviewed over 8,000 comments filed with regulators on the state and national level since 2008. We have rarely encountered a cut and paste job as obvious as Mr. Morelle’s letter. When you review as many filings as we do, when talking points are quoted word for word, it stands out because we have heard them from Comcast again and again.

Mr. Hart does not help Mr. Morelle’s cause defending the fact he had Comcast’s permission to cut and paste their press releases in comments sent on the Majority Leader’s letterhead and signed by him personally. Comcast could and should have co-signed it. The fact that it happened at all should ring alarm bells for any voter, particularly those who don’t appreciate an elected official inviting America’s most-hated cable company into New York State.

As for the matter of plagiarism, perhaps we missed the part where Mr. Morelle made sure to credit the source for his testimonial. Oh wait, we didn’t. It wasn’t in there. Would Mr. Hart’s excuses fly by your college professor after being caught cutting and pasting someone else’s words in a paper you ostensibly wrote without any attribution?

Maybe we were wrong, so we decided to run Mr. Morelle’s letter through an online plagiarism checker to see what it thought.

Uh oh: Grammarly not only fired off a warning, but a full-scale “!” plagiarism alert, even after we discounted our own (and others) coverage of the story, which also quotes from his letter.

If Mr. Hart wants to attack us for exposing the sordid affair, we’re fine with that. We’re tough and can take it. He’ll find few (unpaid) defenders of Comcast to stand with the assemblyman.

Frankly, the only “outlandish claims that lack merit” are Comcast’s promises for New York. If Mr. Morelle is that comfortable extending his own credibility to vouch for Comcast, we’ll still be around to remind his constituents the promised dreams of better days inevitably devolved into a consumer nightmare, just as it has in Comcast’s primary service areas. Voters should know Comcast has Joe Morelle’s full and unwavering support.

The best damage control? Rescind the letter. All will be forgiven. Mr. Morelle won’t be the first (or last) elected official suffering collateral damage from Comcast.

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NYS Assembly Leader Joe Morelle Plagiarizes Comcast Testimony in Letter to Regulators

New York State Assembly Leader Joe Morelle (D-Rochester) plagiarized large sections of a Comcast press release and the Congressional testimony of Comcast’s executive vice president David Cohen in a letter sent to the New York Public Service Commission endorsing the cable company’s bid to merge with Time Warner Cable.

Morelle evidently ignored or was unaware of his constituents’ overwhelming opposition to the merger deal and seemed unfazed about Comcast’s long record of dreadful customer service, constant rate increases, and the company’s plan to reimplement usage limits on consumer broadband accounts. Morelle simply cut and pasted Comcast’s own words in his letter about the merger, as we illustrate below:

 

morelleN.Y. State Assembly Leader Joe Morelle: “The combination of Comcast and Time Warner Cable will create a world-class communications, media and technology company to help meet the increasing consumer demand for advanced digital services on multiple devices in homes, workplaces and on-the-go.”

cohenDavid Cohen, executive vice-president, Comcast: “The combination of Comcast and TWC will create a world-class communications, media, and technology company to help meet the insatiable consumer demand for advanced digital services on multiple devices in homes, workplaces, and on-the-go.”

 

morelleJoe Morelle: “Comcast has a proven record of investing in new technologies, facilities and customer support to provide the best in broadband Internet access, video and digital voice services.”

cohenDavid Cohen: “Comcast has a proven record of investing in new technologies, facilities, and customer support to provide the best in broadband Internet access, video, and digital voice services.”

 

morelleJoe Morelle: “Similarly, TWC has made significant strides in offering a diverse array of video, broadband, and voice services to its customers.”

cohenDavid Cohen: “Similarly, TWC has made significant strides in offering a diverse array of video, broadband, and voice services to its customers.”

 

morelleJoe Morelle: “Combining the two companies’ complementary strengths will accelerate the deployment of next-generation broadband Internet, video and voice services across the new company’s footprint.”

cohenDavid Cohen: “Combining the two companies’ complementary strengths will accelerate the deployment of next-generation broadband Internet, video, and voice services across the new company’s footprint.”

 

morelleJoe Morelle: “Residential customers will benefit from technological innovations including a superior video experience, higher broadband speeds and the fastest in-home Wi-Fi, while also generating significant cost savings and other efficiencies.”

comcastComcast Press Release: “Through this merger, more American consumers will benefit from technological innovations, including a superior video experience, higher broadband speeds, and the fastest in-home Wi-Fi. The transaction also will generate significant cost savings and other efficiencies.”

 

morelleJoe Morelle: “In just two-and-a-half years, over 350,000 families, representing approximately 1.4 million low-income consumers, have been connected to the Internet thanks to this program. This proposed merger would extend this vital program to many more low-income households in New York by providing access to it in certain areas of the state currently only served by Time Warner.

cohenDavid Cohen: “In just two and a half years, over 300,000 families, representing some 1.2 million low-income consumers, have been connected to the transformative power of the Internet thanks to this program. The transaction will extend this vital program to millions more Americans in the areas currently served by TWC.”

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Comcast’s ‘We Don’t Compete With TWC’ Argument Opens the Door to Merging With Every Cable Company

psctest

competitionComcast has argued there should be no antitrust concerns over their merger with Time Warner Cable because the two companies do not directly compete with each other.

That is precisely the problem. Nothing has ever precluded Comcast from applying to provide service throughout New York in direct competition with Time Warner Cable, but that has never happened. If one accepts Comcast’s logic, nothing should preclude it from acquiring every cable company in the United States because in almost no cases do cable operators compete head-to-head for customers.

Comcast must not be convinced of its own argument, because it has voluntarily agreed to limit its television market share to less than 30 percent by selling groups of Time Warner Cable customers to Charter Communications.[1]

The lack of competition is profound in New York, particularly upstate, and will only grow worse if this merger is permitted.

comcast whoppersWhile sections of the state enjoy competition from Verizon FiOS fiber to the home service, enormous regions, including metropolitan Rochester and Binghamton have no prospect of widely available fiber broadband speeds consistently above 10Mbps because Frontier Communications almost entirely relies on DSL and its variants in Rochester and Verizon suspended its fiber expansion before even contemplating upgrading Binghamton.

The cities of Buffalo and Syracuse can only find FiOS in wealthy suburban areas, while inner-city residents are left either choosing Time Warner Cable or Verizon DSL, if offered.

It is also critical to note both cable operators fiercely compete with each other for sports programming rights and advertising dollars, both of which have major implications in a large metropolitan market like New York. Both Comcast and Time Warner Cable have records of withholding sports programming from competitors or charging excessively for access.[2]

[1]http://time.com/79053/comcast-time-warner-cable-charter/
[2]http://judiciary.house.gov/_cache/files/665684a1-49d4-4aca-9bc1-79ae9ad387b9/grunes-testimony.pdf
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Donate Elsewhere: The Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod Spends Its Resources Promoting Comcast

donor alertIf your non-profit or civil rights group feels that part of its core mission is writing letters in favor of a giant cable company’s plans to upsize, we’d like to welcome you to Stop the Cap’s new Alert Your Donor Base program, a free public service from a group that does not accept contributions from corporate donors, big or small. All too often, your love letters have gone unnoticed by your contributors who believed their money was being used to help the needy and downtrodden, not rich corporate executives, shareholders and Wall Street investment banks.

No worries, those days are over. We’re thrilled to share your all-too-often unpublicized excitement for all-things-Comcast with your donors and supporters on your group’s social media pages, discussion forums, and even with the local media in your area.

As we see it, non-profits and civil rights groups serve important functions in society and we encourage all to redouble those efforts and get out of the corporate shill business. Comcast really doesn’t need your help to consummate their $45 billion dollar deal. But if you insist, we think it’s only fair the public understands where their contributions are going.

Dear Boys and Girls Club of Cape Cod,

We’re excited to learn that the challenges faced by the youth of Cape Cod have evidently been entirely resolved, freeing up your organization’s valuable time and resources to promote a $45 billion dollar merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable on your group’s letterhead.

Your Massachusetts donors must share my excitement, knowing your organization now has an enormous surplus of resources in the bank. Why else would the Boys and Girls Club spend valuable time and money churning out letters for a multi-billion dollar corporation that customers across Massachusetts know and loathe.

We were especially impressed with how far your group was willing to reach beyond its core service area — sending letters gushing about Comcast to state regulators (excerpt below) like the New York State Public Service Commission:

boys girls club cape cod

Again and again over the past 17 years, Comcast has proven itself to be a good ¿corporate citizen¿ by providing numerous services to the Boys & Girls Club free of charge and always with a friendly helping hand. 

I do know that Comcast has also partnered with our national organization, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, since 2000, providing more than $68 million in cash and in-kind contributions and that they sponsor of Club Tech, a digital literacy initiative dedicated to providing youth with computer skills needed to success in the 21st century. 

The Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod serves 823 children on an annual basis providing individualized supplementary education at the elementary, middle and high school levels.  It is no exaggeration to say we would not be where we are today without the assistance of good neighbors like Comcast and I have every reason to believe that a stronger Comcast will only strengthen their ability to serve the community.

The Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod is grateful to Comcast for their support of our kids and families and fully expect that the same kind of “good neighbor attitude” will continue in support nonprofit organizations in NY and elsewhere.

68 million dollars. We let that dollar amount sit with us for a moment. $68,000,000. That sure is a lot of incentive to spread good cheer on behalf of a company that ordinary consumers voted (again), The Worst Company in America. And look at you — you want them to grow even larger!

We have no doubt that the Boys and Girls Club is indeed grateful to Comcast for numerous checks handed out to your organization. Unfortunately, this only convinces us of two things:

  1. The Boys and Girls Club has too much free time on its hands, becoming intimately involved in giant corporate business deals that help executives and shareholders, and not too many boys and girls who face Comcast’s notoriously high rates and bad service when they get a little older;
  2. Your organization really doesn’t need contributions because Comcast is available to cut you checks at every opportunity.

Yours very truly,

Stop the Cap!

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New York City Comptroller Unimpressed With Comcast/Time Warner Cable Merger

one mbps

“Hey look, is that the Verizon FiOS truck?”

New York City comptroller Scott Stringer is lukewarm at best about the idea of Comcast taking over for Time Warner Cable. In a letter to the New York Public Service Commission released today, Stringer says the deal needs major changes before it comes close to serving the public interest.

“As New York City residents know all too well, our city is stuck in an Internet stone age, at least when compared to other municipalities across the country and around the world,” Stringer wrote. “According to a study by the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, New Yorkers not only endure slower Internet service than similar cities in other parts of the world, but they also pay higher prices for that substandard service. Tokyo residents enjoy speeds that are eight times faster than New York City’s, for a lower price. And Hong Kong residents enjoy speeds that are 20 times faster, for the equivalent price.”

Stringer should visit upstate New York some time. While the Big Apple is moving to a Verizon FiOS and Time Warner Cable Maxx or Cablevision/Optimum future, upstate New York is, in comparison, Raquel Welch-prehistoric, especially if your only choice is Verizon “No, We Won’t Expand DSL to Your House,” or Frontier “3.1Mbps is Plenty” Communications. If New York City’s speeds are slow, upstate New York speeds are glacial.

“The latest data from the FCC shows that, as of June 30, 2013, over 40 percent of connections in New York State are below 3Mbps,” Springer added.

Come for the Finger Lakes, but don’t stay for the broadband.

Should the merger be approved, Comcast would be obligated to comply with the existing franchise agreement between Time Warner Cable and the City of New York. However, in order for the proposed merger to truly be in the public interest, Comcast must have a more detailed plan to address these ongoing challenges and to further close the digital divide that leaves so many low-income New Yorkers cut off from the information superhighway. To date, Comcast’s efforts to close the digital divide have focused on its “Internet Essentials” program, which was launched in 2012.iii The program offers a 5 megabit/second connection for $9.95/month (plus tax) to families matching all of the following criteria:

• Located within an area where Comcast offers Internet service
• Have at least one child eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program
• Have not subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days
• Does not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment

While the aim of the program is laudatory, its slow speed, limited eligibility, and inadequate outreach have kept high-quality connectivity beyond the reach of millions of low-income Americans. Not only are the eligibility rules for Internet Essentials far too narrow, but the company has done a poor job of signing up those who do meet the criteria. In fact, only 300,000 (12 percent) of eligible households nationwide have actually signed up since the program was launched in 2011.

It is critical that the PSC not only press Comcast to significantly expand the reach of Internet Essentials, but also that it engage in appropriate oversight to ensure that the company is meeting its commitments to low-income residents of the Empire State.

Phillip "Comcast isn't the answer to the problem, it's the problem itself" Dampier

Phillip “Comcast isn’t the answer, it’s the problem” Dampier

In fact, the best way New York can protect its low-income residents is to keep Comcast out of the state. Time Warner Cable offers everyday $14.99 Internet access to anyone who wants it as long as they want it. No complicated pre-qualification conditions, annoying forms, or gotcha terms and conditions.

When a representative from the PSC asked a Comcast representative if the company would keep Time Warner’s discount Internet offer, a non-answer answer was the response. That usually means the answer is no.

“We have seen how telecommunications companies will promise to expand access as a condition of a merger, only to shirk their commitments once the merger has been approved,” Springer complained. “For instance, as part of its 2006 purchase of BellSouth, AT&T told Congress that it would work to provide customers ‘greater access and more choices for broadband, no matter where they live or work.’ However, later reports found that the FCC relied on the companies themselves to report their own merger compliance and did not conduct independent audits to verify their claims.”

Big Telecom promises are like getting commitments from a cheating spouse. Never trust… do verify or throw them out. Comcast still has not met all the conditions it promised to meet after its recent merger with NBCUniversal, according to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).

Stringer also blasted Comcast for its Net Neutrality roughhousing:

While the FCC has not declared internet providers to be “common carriers”, state law has effectively done so within the Empire State. Under 16 NYCRR Part 605, a common carrier is defined as “a corporation that holds itself out to provide service to the public for hire to provide conduit services including voice, data, or video by electrical, electronic, electromagnetic or photonic means.”

Importantly, the law requires these carriers to “provide publicly offered conduit services on demand to any similarly situated user on substantially similar terms, subject to the availability of facilities and capacity.”

In recent months, Comcast has shown that it is willing to sacrifice net neutrality in order to squeeze additional payment out of content providers, such as Netflix. As shown in the chart below, Netflix download speeds on the Comcast network deteriorated rapidly prior to an agreement whereby Netflix now pays Comcast for preferential access.

speed changes

concast careConsumers have a legitimate fear that if access to fiber-optic networks is eventually for sale to the highest bidder, then not only will it stifle the entrepreneurial energy unleashed by the democratizing forces of the Internet, but will also potentially lead to higher prices for consumers in accessing content. Under that scenario, consumers are hit twice—first by paying for Internet access to their home and second by paying for certain content providers’ preferred access.

Internet neutrality has been a core principle of the web since its founding and the PSC must examine whether Comcast’s recent deal with Netflix is a sign that the company is eroding this principle in a manner that conflicts with the public interest.

Stringer may not realize Comcast also has an end run around Net Neutrality in the form of usage caps that will deter customers from accessing competitors’ content if it could put them over their monthly usage allowance and subject to penalty rates. Comcast could voluntarily agree to Net Neutrality and still win by slapping usage limits on all of their broadband customers. Either causes great harm for competitors like Netflix.

“I urge the Commission to hold Comcast to that burden and to ensure that the merger is in the best interest of the approximately 2.6 million Time Warner Cable subscribers in New York State and many more for whom quality, affordable Internet access remains unavailable,” Stringer writes. “And I urge Comcast to view this as an opportunity to do the right thing by introducing itself to the New York market as a company that values equitable access and understands that its product—the fourth utility of the modern age—must be available to all New Yorkers.”

If Comcast’s existing enormous customer base has already voted them the Worst Company in America, it is unlikely Comcast will turn on a dime for the benefit of New York.

The best way to ensure quality, affordable Internet access in New York is to keep Comcast out of New York.

No cable company has ever resolved the rural broadband problem. Their for-profit business model depends on a Return on Investment formula that prohibits expanding service into unprofitable service areas.

These rural service problems remain pervasive in Comcast areas as well, and always have since the company took over for AT&T Cable in the early 2000s. Little has changed over the last dozen years and little will change in the next dozen if we depend entirely on companies like Comcast to handle the rural broadband problem.

A more thoughtful solution is encouraging the development of community co-ops and similar broadband enterprises that need not answer to shareholders and strict ROI formulas.

In the meantime, for the good of all New York, let’s keep Comcast south (and north) of the border, thank you very much.

 

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New York Public Service Commission Announces Delay in Comcast/TWC Merger Consideration

comcast twcAs more than 2,300 New Yorkers express fierce opposition to the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the New York Public Service Commission has announced a delay in the review of the proposal until October.

The PSC now expects to consider the matter at a meeting to be held October 2. The PSC is also extending the period for the public to comment on the proposed merger.

Your comments are now due no later than Aug. 8, with reply comments from various parties due no later than Aug. 25.

Your input is vital, so please take a few moments to send an e-mail to the PSC with your views.

Here’s an example of one of the letters we are seeing:

Via e-mail: [email protected]
Honorable Kathleen H. Burgess, Secretary
New York State Public Service Commission
Three Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12223

Re: 14-M-0183 – Joint Petition of Time Warner Cable and Comcast for Approval of a Holding Company Level Transfer of Control

Dear Secretary Burgess:

As a resident of this state, who is a customer of Time Warner Cable, I am writing to express my staunch opposition to the above-referenced joint petition. This application should be denied outright, simply put, because the merger of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, and Time Warner Cable, the nation’s second largest company, would be contrary to the interest of consumers in the State of New York, as well as antitrust laws.

Though executives of both applicants are adamant that this proposed merger would benefit consumers and enhance competition, the ominous, far-reaching implications that will undoubtedly follow render these claims, among others, implausible. That is, if this merger were to take place, a virtual monopoly would be created, giving Comcast unprecedented control over cable and broadband internet networks at the expense of not only consumers, who would receive nothing but fewer choices at higher prices, but also rival businesses, whose viability would certainly be stifled. The proposed merger would likewise pose a threat to net neutrality.

Given the abysmal record of Comcast, which includes being fined for failing to comply with the terms and conditions of its previous and similarly controversial merger with NBC Universal, as well as its political clout, it is clear that the approval of this joint petition would both be inconsistent with the mission of this Commission, as as well as the interest of consumers in this state. It should, accordingly, be denied in its entirety.

Respectfully submitted,
Patrick A. Berry
Volunteer, Common Cause New York

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Friday is the Deadline for Net Neutrality Comments With the FCC; Here’s How to Get Yours Submitted

netneutralityFriday is the last day to submit your views on Net Neutrality with the Federal Communications Commission. Although there may be some future opportunities to comment, it’s important to make your voice heard with the FCC today. Almost 650,000 Americans have done so to date, and we need to see this number rise even higher to combat the influence and power of Big Telecom companies looking to turn the Internet into a corporate toll booth.

If you recall, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is promoting a scheme where big ISPs like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast can divide up the Internet and introduce toll lanes allowing preferred paid traffic to travel on the Internet at faster speeds, usually at the expense of unpaid traffic that will get relegated to an Internet slow lane. It’s pay to play, and customers of these ISPs are already getting a preview of the new corporate road map for the net. Netflix viewers on ISPs that don’t have a paid agreement to handle video traffic suffer from rebuffering and lower quality video. But ISPs collecting tolls from Netflix don’t subject their customers to a degraded online video experience. Of course, before ISPs realized they could make money selling fast lanes, Netflix worked fine on virtually all of these providers.

Wheeler’s proposal would extend the two-tiered Internet to other websites and service providers, allowing big telecom companies to hand-pick winners and losers and discriminate in favor of their own Internet traffic. Comcast does that today with online video on certain game consoles. If that video comes from Comcast, it doesn’t count against any usage caps. If it doesn’t, it could get rough sticking to Comcast’s arbitrary usage allowance.

The FCC is in way over its head, unaware of the creative ways ISPs can find loopholes large enough to drive through any well-intentioned consumer protections. There is only once certain way to keep ISPs honest — reclassify them as what they should have been all along – a telecommunications service subject to common carrier rules. That would guarantee ISPs could not meddle with your Internet service for financial gain, could not artificially slow down “non-preferred” traffic to make room for paid traffic, and would guarantee that Internet applications of the future will succeed or fail on their merits, not on how much money they are willing to spend.

Since the FCC website is jammed today, we recommend e-mailing the Commission by this Friday at: [email protected]

Our friends at Free Press have published some sample comments they are getting, which may help you formulate yours. Here is ours as well:

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

Although we believe your intentions are good, your proposed Net Neutrality rules simply do not afford enough protection to preserve a free and open Internet. Troubling signs are already clear as providers test how much they can get away with meddling with Internet traffic. The wireless experience is replete with examples of selective speed throttling, usage caps, and traffic discrimination that allows some content to escape the usage meter and throttle while competitors cannot.

The Internet is a transformative experience for many Americans because for the first time in a long time, entrepreneurs can build online businesses that are judged on their merit, not on how much money they have to spend to achieve and maintain prominence. Anything that allows an ISP to collect additional funds for a “preferred” traffic lane will come at the detriment of others who have to share the same broadband pipe. This is especially evident in the wireless world, which escaped even the light touch regulatory framework of your predecessor. Providers promptly began creating new schemes to further monetize growing data traffic, bandwidth shortage or not. Almost none of these changes really benefit customers — they are simply new revenue-making schemes.

A foreshadowing of what is likely to happen under your proposal is also apparent with Comcast and Netflix. For several years subscribers had no trouble accessing online video. But when the issue of traffic compensation was reintroduced by Internet Service Providers, the upgrades to manage natural Internet growth largely stopped and the Netflix viewing experience on these ISPs deteriorated. Verizon, AT&T and Comcast all argue that a paid traffic deal would adequately compensate them to enhance the viewing experience customers already pay good money to receive with or without a paid peering arrangement with Netflix.

Money drives these debates. If an ISP properly managed their broadband infrastructure, there would be no incentive for any company to contract for a better online experience on a so-called “fast lane” because existing service would perform more than adequately. When a company cuts back on those upgrades, a market for paid prioritization appears. Customers will ultimately pay the price, primarily to ISPs that already enjoy an enormous margin selling broadband service at inflated prices.

A rising tide floats all boats, so your focus should not be as short-sighted as allowing ISPs to divide up the limited broadband highway. The FCC should instead focus on setting the conditions to hasten new competition and force existing providers to upgrade and maintain their networks for the benefit of all subscribers and content producers. The FCC must also move swiftly to cancel state bans on community broadband networks, eliminate regulations that deter broadband start-ups, and maintain enough oversight to guarantee a level playing field on which all can compete.

There is only one way to effectively accomplish all that. Reclassify broadband service the way it should have been classified all along: as a telecommunications service subject to common carrier regulations. Canada has been very successful requiring ISPs to open their last mile networks to competitors, which have allowed people to avoid compulsory usage caps. Customers have a choice of multiple providers from their local phone or cable company, giving rise to much-needed competition.

With strong Net Neutrality, consumers can reach the websites they want without interference. Ignore nonsense suggesting Net Neutrality is a government takeover or censors the Internet — two provably false assertions. In fact, Net Neutrality is the opposite.

I urge you to move with all speed towards reclassification, if only to prevent the inevitable legal challenges to any future policies built on the shakier ground of the current framework, which has not held up well under court scrutiny. I hope the voices of more than a half-million Americans contacting you on this issue will be more than enough to overcome industry objections. We are not asking for 1950s-style telephone regulations. We just want a legally affirmed platform that allows the Internet of today to continue being successful tomorrow.

Yours very truly,

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Canceling Comcast Is Like a Bad Breakup – Listen and Cringe As Comcast Desperately Begs You to Stay

Comcast-LogoDo you remember that high school love that killed you when they decided it was time to move on? You begged, you pleaded for them to change their mind to no avail. Nothing you said made any difference.

Some people never get over that teenage tragedy… and then they go to work for Comcast’s customer retention department indefatigably browbeating departing customers in a misguided effort to salvage damaged relationships with the cable company.

Stop the Cap! reader Bryan shares with us several minutes of the Block family’s life they’ll never get back. After 10 minutes on the phone repeatedly requesting to cancel Comcast service, Block and his wife decided to record the ongoing absurdity to share with the world. The result is eight more minutes of cringing embarrassment as an increasingly exasperated retention representative repeatedly demands to know why they want to leave.

never leaveIt all sounds like eavesdropping on your roommate’s breakup with their boyfriend. Or leaving a cult. This guy just can’t understand what the heck you were thinking when you decided Comcast was no longer right for you. Block was in no mood to explain himself, but for the benefit of others, we’d love to arm you with a few reasons to explain why you don’t want anything more to do with Comcast:

“Being that we are the number one provider of Internet and TV service in the entire country, why is that you are not wanting to have the number one rated Internet service available,” the retention rep demanded to know.

Our answer: Because you want to cap our broadband experience, you charge outrageous prices for renting a cable modem, and your speed claims mean nothing if we don’t actually get those speeds because of yet another outage or service problem.

“So you’re not interested in the fastest Internet in the country,” Comcast’s rep asks.

Our answers: Sure I am, which is why I am switching to the fiber competitor that delivers those speeds -0r- Not if you are putting a usage cap on me. Who wants a Ferrari they are told can’t be driven beyond the block?

“You don’t want something that works? …So why don’t you want something that’s good service and something that works,” asks Comcast’s rep.

Our answer: Do you actually subscribe to Comcast yourself? You guys didn’t win Worst Company in America honors for nothing.

“I’m really ashamed to see you go to something that can’t give you what we can,” argues the rep.

Our answer: That’s right. My long ongoing nightmare of bad service, high prices, and usage capped Internet is finally over. See ya.

If you really want Comcast to convince you to stay, tell them you want a permanent waiver in writing from any usage limits and/or overlimit fees. Demand aggressive discounts that deliver real savings, and never take their first offer. If they can waste 18 minutes of Ryan Block’s time, you can be just as ruthless when demanding a better deal for yourself.

As Ryan indicates, this retention representative is the perfect example of how Comcast won its reputation as one of most hated companies in America.

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Comcast Threatens Limited Income Seniors Over Compensation for Cable Boxes Destroyed in Fire

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WZZM Grand Rapids Over 50 seniors displaced by fire at Battle Creek apartment complex 6-20-14.flv

WZZM in Grand Rapids covers the fire in an independent living complex that left at least 50 seniors homeless and facing big bills from Comcast. (1:53)

fireAt least 50 seniors residing in an independent living complex in Battle Creek, Mich., were burned out of their apartments after a devastating fire in late June. Some of the fixed income seniors lost everything they owned.

Despite the understanding and patience of credit card companies, banks, insurance companies, AT&T, and the local power utility — all willing to wait for payments or waive billing for those affected, one company stood out for its plan to collect damages from the fire victims: Comcast.

The Area Agency on Aging, working to help the victims, reached out to local Battle Creek media to report Comcast’s local agents were aggressively seeking compensation from the displaced seniors after learning about the fire.

“They want $120 for each cable box, despite the fact these seniors just lost their homes and many are low-income,” Carla Fales, CEO of the agency told WWMT-TV.

Comcast’s response: “Everything destroyed must be paid for.”

06-burned-cable-boxAs is often the case, once Comcast’s disagreeable behavior becomes a headline on the 6 o’clock local news, public relations damage control begins.

When WWMT called Comcast’s corporate offices, the cable company assured the newsroom Comcast would probably waive the fees, but provided no guarantees.

“I can assure everyone there is a process in place; we are working individually with customers to help them in this difficult time,” offered a Comcast spokesperson.

Monday night, Battle Creek Mayor Dave Walters told WWMT that fire victims will not be held responsible for the cost of the lost equipment.

But some may be mired in paperwork to avoid the lost/damaged equipment fees.

Affected residents who were insured at the time of the fire still have to reimburse Comcast through a damage claim filed with their insurance company. Those uninsured will be asked to submit a fire report which must be requested from the local fire department. In some cases, customers may also asked to offer a notarized statement indicating they were not insured to avoid the $120 charge.

But before any of that happens, Comcast also traditionally requires customers to pay any past due balances on their account before equipment credits can be provided.

Comcast’s zeal for charging penalties for lost or damaged equipment is not limited to Michigan.

battle creekIn January, a Tennessee woman’s home went up in flames and was quickly declared a total loss. The only company to give the family a hard time was Comcast, who billed them $550 for four used cable boxes and a rented cable modem melted in the fire.

“I thought, ‘What are they trying to do to me?’” Emma Hilton said. “I’ve done went through a fire. I tried to salvage what I can.”

Hilton was unsure what exactly Comcast expected the fire department to do about the cable company’s equipment.

“(Firefighters) couldn’t get the TV’s. They were burning,” she told WJHL-TV.

Despite the fact her landlord leveled the rest of the uninhabitable home, Comcast still wanted to get paid if she could not recover the equipment from the ashes.

“You mean they’re actually going to charge me for those cable boxes and after I told you I had a fire?’” Hilton said of one of her phone conversations with the cable provider.

Comcast told her to read the contract, which leaves responsibility for the cable equipment entirely up to the customer. Comcast includes a strong recommendation to keep up a renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy. Now customers know why.

In the past six years of covering these stories, Stop the Cap! has found many renters who simply don’t bother with renter’s insurance, mistakenly assuming the landlord’s own insurance policy covers their damages. But it does not. A renter’s insurance policy typically costs about $100 a year and covers the renter’s personal belongings (and cable boxes). Some policies also cover displaced living expenses — food, a hotel room, etc. They also cover liability in the event a guest is injured inside your rental property. Some cable companies demand up to $500 for each lost or damaged piece of equipment — an unnecessary point of stress and expense right after a major negative event. Get insurance. It’s a bargain.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WWMT Grand Rapids Seniors Asked to Pay Comcast for Damaged Boxes 6-20-14.flv

WWMT in Grand Rapids covers Comcast’s initial resistance to giving seniors a break on fire-damaged cable equipment after their senior living complex was heavily damaged in a fire. (1:38)

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