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

Phillip "Ouch!" Dampier

Phillip “Ouch!” Dampier

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

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

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

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

They're here!

They’re here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another satisfied customer

Another satisfied customer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cable TV Cord Cutting: Myth or Reality?

Phillip Dampier February 4, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News 2 Comments

For years, cable operators have denied they have a problem.

But new evidence suggests Americans are cutting back on their cable television habit as prices continue to rise and alternatives become available.

One of the worst affected by cable cord cutters is Time Warner Cable, which has been consistently losing video customers month after month since 2009:

time-warner-cable-residential-customer-additions-000s-video-broadband_chartbuilder

Disputes with programmers and competition from satellite and telephone companies may not be enough to explain away the trend of subscriber losses. It also does not explain why Americans under 35 are increasingly unlikely to sign up for cable television at all.

Cable cord cutting -- fact or fiction?

Cable cord cutting — fact or fiction?

Nonsense, replies Bloomberg opinion columnist Matthew C. Klein:

It is tempting to think that the declining number of subscribers at the U.S.’s biggest cable-television companies is a symptom of the industry’s malaise as it slowly slides into obsolescence. Don’t buy it. The losses are accounted for in the gains by smaller and nimbler rivals.

[...] The customers who have been abandoning Comcast and Time Warner Cable in droves haven’t given up on paid TV content, however. Focusing on the travails of the biggest cable companies obscures the reality that, according to Bloomberg Industries, the total number of pay-TV subscribers is slightly higher now than it was at the end of 2008 and that there were probably more people paying for television subscriptions at the end of 2013 than at the end of 2012.

To the extent that individual company results tell us anything, it could be about where Americans are moving, or the relative quality of service offered by the various companies. In the 12 months ended Dec. 31, AT&T Inc. added 924,000 subscribers to its U-verse TV service, while Verizon Communications Inc. added 536,000 subscribers to its FiOS TV service. Since the end of 2008, the two companies best known for their wireless services have added about 8 million pay-TV subscribers — far more than Time Warner Cable and Comcast have lost.

Klein’s views mirror those of many cable industry executives who blame the economy for deteriorating cable television subscriber numbers. Many suggest multi-generational households are responsible — stay at home kids and older parents are sharing a single cable television subscription. Others claim discretionary income is squeezing some to downgrade, but not cancel, cable television service.

Klein’s accounting does not tell the entire story. Competition from telephone companies, especially AT&T’s U-verse, is not as pervasive against Time Warner Cable and Comcast as Klein suggests. In fact, Charter Communications is among the cable companies facing the biggest onslaught of competition from AT&T. U-verse has picked up many of its newest subscribers not because of a sudden urge to switch, but rather because the service has only just become available in several new markets as a result of AT&T’s expansion effort. Verizon FiOS is still slowly expanding within its current franchise areas as well. Neither Comcast or Time Warner Cable consider either service much of a serious competitive threat.

AT&T U-verse, the larger of the two telephone company services, has a TV penetration rate of just 21 percent of customer locations. FiOS, which serves a smaller customer base, has a 35 percent penetration rate for television. Cable remains dominant for now, even as it loses subscribers and market share.

Another way to measure cord cutting is to look at the subscriber numbers of major basic cable networks that are most likely to be a part of any channel lineup. ESPN, for example, lost around 1.5 million subscribers between September 2011 and September 2013. Most of that loss came from cord cutting or downgrades to tiers like “Broadcast Basic,” consisting mostly of local television stations. ESPN’s numbers include all pay television platforms — satellite, telco TV, and cable.

In spite of the subscriber losses, cable industry profits remain healthy. Revenue growth these days comes from broadband service and rate increases.

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Time Warner Cable Cuts Off Super Bowl in SoCal; Get Your Credit

Phillip Dampier February 4, 2014 Consumer News, HissyFitWatch, Time Warner Cable, Video 2 Comments

twc laTime Warner Cable will provide a free pay-per-view movie or a $5 gift card to Los Angeles-area customers after the cable company lost the Standard Definition signal of Fox affiliate KTTV for about an hour during the Super Bowl on Sunday.

KTTV’s signal was lost just before halftime in and around Los Angeles County from Hacienda Heights and Hancock Park all the way to Santa Monica, as well in parts of Ventura County. Blank screens prompted a deluge of complaint calls to Time Warner Cable’s customer service line, many met with repeated busy signals.

“I’d rather have cable in North Korea than Time Warner Cable,” tweeted Paige Graham. “Time Warner Cable: Your customer service is worse than Denver’s defense,” added Alex Stein.

twcGreenAlthough analog cable customers were forced to watch a Spanish language channel’s coverage of the game, those viewing KTTV’s HD signal on Time Warner Cable were unaffected by the disruption.

For the frustration, Time Warner Cable is offering what they call “a gift of appreciation.”

“Although most of our customers didn’t experience an interruption, we want to express our sincere apologies to all Time Warner Cable TV customers in the Los Angeles area,” said Deborah Picciolo, senior vice president of operations at Time Warner Cable. “Digital TV customers will receive a credit for the cost of an On Demand movie once purchased, and analog customers will receive a $5 gift card. These will be provided automatically; no customer action is necessary.”

Customers should contact customer service if their free pay-per-view movie credit doesn’t appear on a future bill or if the gift card never arrives.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KTLA Los Angeles Time Warner Cable Resolves Service Outage 2-2-14.flv

KTLA in Los Angeles covered Super Bowl parties in Southern California and frustrated Time Warner Cable subscribers that lost the game for about an hour. (2:22)

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Time Warner Cable Plans to Triple Broadband Speeds (If They Survive a Hostile Takeover)

Time Warner Cable today announced major improvements in its service, including a tripling of broadband speeds and equipment upgrades that will first arrive in New York City and Los Angeles.

With the cable company facing a hostile takeover effort by Charter Communications with Comcast’s help, CEO Rob Marcus sought to appease shareholders that worry the cable company’s recent lackluster results originate from outdated technology, poor customer service, and broadband speeds that are well below the cable industry average.

Time Warner Cable will have to increase capital spending to pay for the upgrades, expected to cost $3.8 billion annually for the next three years.

nycla enhancements

CEO Rob Marcus calls the effort a “transformation of the Time Warner Cable customer experience.” The upgrade program is called TWC Maxx for now inside Time Warner Cable, but will have its own brand when it publicly launches later this year.

Here are some highlights:

Marcus

Marcus

TV Service

  • Network infrastructure upgrades to enhance reliability
  • New advanced set-top boxes
  • A six-tuner DVR
  • A cloud-based interface and navigation
  • An expanded on-demand library

Internet

  • Dramatic free speed boosts for all customers
  • A new Ultimate speed tier of 300/20Mbps

Unfortunately, customers outside of Los Angeles and New York will have to wait up to two years for the upgrades to reach their community.

twcmax

“With ‘TWC Maxx,’ we’re going to essentially reinvent the TWC experience market–by-market,” said Marcus. “We’ll triple Internet speeds for customers with our most popular tiers of service, add more community WiFi, dramatically improve the TV product and, perhaps most importantly, we’ll set a high bar in our industry for differentiated exceptional customer service. We’re focused on providing the features and benefits that matter most to our customers.”

The most noticeable improvement will be free broadband speed upgrades. Customers with Standard or above Internet service will also receive the latest generation cable modems including Advanced Wireless Gateways for customers with Turbo to Ultimate tier service. Marcus did not say whether the company is ending is monthly equipment fees for cable modems.

Here are the new speed tiers:

  • Everyday Low Price - Currently 2/1Mbps – New 3/1Mbps
  • Basic - Currently 3/1Mbps – New 10/1Mbps
  • Standard - Currently 15/1Mbps – New 50/5Mbps
  • Turbo - Currently 20/2Mbps – New 100/10Mbps
  • Extreme – Currently 30/5Mbps – New 200/20Mbps
  • Ultimate - Currently 50/5Mbps – New 300/20Mbps

nyla

New York and Los Angeles Upgrade Schedule

The first four network hubs scheduled for upgrade are those in West Hollywood and Costa Mesa, Calif. and portions of Woodside (Queens) and Staten Island, N.Y. The rest of both cities will be upgraded by the end of this year.

Los Angeles customers will also see analog cable television service discontinued in favor of digital later this year. New York City has already been converted to all-digital television. Customers in both cities will be able to schedule same-day appointments and one-hour service windows.

Who Gets Upgraded Next?

Analysts expect Time Warner Cable will upgrade cities where they face competition from U-verse and FiOS after completing NYC and LA.

Analysts expect Time Warner Cable will upgrade cities where they face competition from U-verse and FiOS after completing NYC and LA.

Analysts say Time Warner Cable’s upgrade plans are more aggressive than initially anticipated and many expect the company to move quickly, especially in competitive markets, to boost subscriber numbers and cut customer defections to help convince shareholders it is worthwhile to reject Charter’s hostile takeover bid.

The most likely markets to be targeted for upgrades after New York and Los Angeles are those facing stiff competition from Google Fiber and Verizon FiOS. Cities where AT&T U-verse delivers competition are likely to come next, and those cities where Time Warner Cable only faces competition from telephone company DSL service will likely be the last to be upgraded. However, long before that, Time Warner Cable could be sold off to other cable operators that will make these upgrade plans moot.

Marcus today reiterated his rejection of Charter’s latest $132.50 a share offer. Marcus said the cable company is only interested in an offer above $160 a share, and that at least $100 of that must be in cash, with the balance in Charter stock. Charter will have trouble delivering that amount of cash without the assistance of other cable operators.

Craig Moffett with MoffettNathanson Research isn’t sure Marcus’ plans are enough to keep TWC from being sold. He expects Charter to soon increase its offer above $140 with the help of Comcast, which is willing to pay cash for Time Warner Cable systems in New York, New England, and North Carolina after a deal with Charter is complete.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Rob Marcus Interviewed 1-30-14.flv

Robert Marcus, chief executive officer of Time Warner Cable Inc., talks about the cable company’s fourth-quarter earnings and its forthcoming upgrades, and Charter Communications Inc.’s $37.4 billion buyout bid. Time Warner Cable beat fourth-quarter profit estimates and forecast subscriber growth. Marcus speaks with Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television. (8:38)

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Bright House Going All-Digital in Central Florida; Boxes Required for All

Phillip Dampier January 27, 2014 Bright House, Consumer News No Comments

brighthouse_logoBright House Networks is dropping analog service in April in favor of an all-digital lineup that will require customers in Central Florida to have set-top boxes or similar equipment to continue watching.

“Digital is here to stay,” said Bright House spokesman Don Forbes. “Analog is going the way of the dodo bird.”

In a letter being mailed to all affected customers, Bright House notes customers will need a cable box, digital adapter or CableCARD for every television connected to cable.

Bright House will supply each customer with two digital adapters and remote controls at no charge through 2014. But the cable company will bill customers for those devices starting next January.

Sets equipped with QAM tuners alone will not suffice for receiving the entire cable lineup.

Customers are urged to begin requesting any required equipment starting today — either at a Bright House retail store or call toll-free: 1-855-589-8582.

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Charter Communications Publicly Offers to Buy Time Warner Cable in $61 Billion Deal

twc charterAs expected for months, Charter Communications, Inc. today formally offered Time Warner Cable shareholders $132.50 per share to assume ownership of the nation’s second largest cable operator in a deal worth more than $61 billion, including debt.

Bloomberg News this afternoon reported Charter Cable has offered $83 in cash for each outstanding share of TWC stock, as well as about $49.50 in Charter stock. That makes the attempted takeover the third largest merger deal worldwide since 2009.

Rutledge

Rutledge

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge, a former executive at TWC and Cablevision would lead the combined enterprise under the Charter Cable name, likely pushing out TWC’s new CEO Robert Marcus. Rutledge argues that combining Charter and TWC would bring about considerable cost savings, particularly for spiraling programming costs. Analysts say the deal would also mean a reduction in Time Warner Cable’s workforce, especially in middle management, as operations are consolidated around Charter’s leadership.

Rutledge today said he privately approached Time Warner Cable executives with an offer in late December.

“We haven’t received a serious response,” Rutledge said today in a Bloomberg News telephone interview. “Our objective was to talk to management and try to get them engaged. They have not, so we’re going to make our case to shareholders about why this deal is good for them and hope they ask management and the board to watch out for the interests of shareholders.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Marangi on TWC Deal 1-13-14.mp4

Chris Marangi from Gamco tells CNBC Charter Communications’ proposal to buy Time Warner Cable for $61.3 billion is probably too low, but the cable industry is “ripe for consolidation” and further mergers are likely. (1:39)

Time Warner Cable’s chief financial officer Artie Minson reportedly requested Charter make a higher bid that included more cash, but Charter refused.

Malone

Malone

The man pulling the levers behind Charter’s curtain is Dr. John Malone, former CEO of Tele-Communications, Inc., which was America’s largest cable operator in the late 1980s and 1990s. Malone’s Liberty Media is Charter Communications’ largest single investor. Malone has long argued for consolidation and cooperation in the cable industry to boost profits and control programming costs that drive up cable television bills.

Malone specializes in structured mergers and acquisitions that result in tax-free buyouts. Charter’s offer relies heavily on debt financing and would allow Charter to shield its ongoing net operating losses from taxes.

Malone indicated he is willing to play hardball to force a merger.

Malone told investors he expected Time Warner Cable to resist a takeover by Charter — America’s fourth largest cable company — so he is prepared to nominate Charter-friendly directors for Time Warner Cable’s board before nominations close Feb. 15. Time Warner Cable shareholders could force the merger by voting for Malone’s handpicked directors, who would promptly approve Charter’s takeover offer. But Time Warner executives will likely argue Charter’s offer is disadvantageous for TWC shareholders.

takeover“Since we made our first proposal, Time Warner Cable has lost another half million video customers,” Rutledge said. “Their customer service continues to decline in every measure. We can improve it. We have a demonstrated track record of improving customer service. It’s a question of credibility.”

Consumer Reports reports otherwise. Charter Communications has perennially been ranked America’s second worst Internet Service Provider cable operator in annual reader surveys. Only Mediacom is ranked lower among cable operators.

Now that Charter’s offer has gone public, investors suspect other cable operators may soon consider bidding for Time Warner Cable as well. Comcast is a likely bidder with an interest is taking control of Time Warner Cable’s systems in New York City and certain midwestern markets. Comcast would also like TWC’s regional sports channels serving southern California.

Customers will have no say in the matter, except through appeals to federal regulators which must approve any sale.

Unlike TWC, Charter Cable has usage limits on their broadband service.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC CNBC David Faber on TWC Deal 1-13-14.mp4

CNBC’s David Faber reports today’s offer from Charter Communications is not technically a “bid” for Time Warner Cable. Instead, it’s a public offer to hopefully force TWC executives to take Charter’s offer more seriously. (3:25)

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Comcast Launches X2 Set Top Platform to Selected Customers As Nationwide Rollout Begins

Phillip Dampier January 7, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Online Video, Video No Comments

x2-mosaic-1Just months after starting to rollout a new generation of Comcast’s X1 “entertainment operating system” set-top boxes, the cable company is preparing to upgrade the cable television experience with X2.

Comcast, like many other cable operators, is gradually moving to IP and cloud capable set-top equipment as television transitions towards an all-digital platform. The traditional set-top box has proved expensive, cumbersome, and often annoying for customers trying to navigate through hundreds of cable television channels with a less-than-ideal on-screen program guide.

X2 hopes to change that perception with a customizable dashboard that learns viewer preferences over time and makes intelligent suggestions for customers looking for something to watch. Using a cloud based platform also means much easier upgrades. X2 also erases the line dividing traditional cable channels and streaming online video, which would allow Comcast to use its broadband network to distribute video programming and integrate social media.

X2 has, so far, been largely a “by-invitation” affair, with customers invited to preview the new interface on their current X1 equipment by pressing this key sequence with their remote control: EXIT-EXIT-EXIT-X-T-W-O

In addition to improving TV viewing, X2 also sets the stage for a cloud-based DVR being tested in Boston and Philadelphia and live-streaming Comcast’s TV lineup direct to wireless devices in the home.

A Comcast spokesperson tells us the X1 (and X2) platforms will be available to a substantial number of customers this year.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Comcast The Making of X2 8-2-13.mp4

Comcast produced this video showcasing the development of the X2 platform. (3:07)

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Staking the Heart of the Power-Sucking Vampire Cable Box

vampire-power-1-10964134Two years after energy conservation groups revealed many television set-top boxes use almost as much electricity as a typical refrigerator, a voluntary agreement has been reached to cut the energy use of the devices 10-45 percent by 2017.

The Department of Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, the Consumer Electronics Association, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association agreed to new energy efficiency standards for cable boxes expected to save more than $1 billion in electricity annually, once the new equipment is widely deployed in American homes. That represents enough energy to power 700,000 homes and cut five million tons of CO2 emissions each year.

“These energy efficiency standards reflect a collaborative approach among the Energy Department, the pay-TV industry and energy efficiency groups – building on more than three decades of common-sense efficiency standards that are saving American families and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “The set-top box efficiency standards will save families money by saving energy, while delivering high quality appliances for consumers that keep pace with technological innovation.”

DVR boxes are the biggest culprits. American DVRs typically use up to 50W regardless of whether someone is watching the TV or not. Most contain hard drives that are either powered on continuously or are shifted into an idle state that does more to protect the life of the drive than cut a consumer’s energy bill. A combination of a DVR and an extra HD set-top box together consume more electricity than an ENERGY STAR-qualified refrigerator-freezer, even when using the remote control to switch the boxes off.

NRDC Set-Top Boxes  Other Appliances-thumb-500x548-3135

Manufacturers were never pressed to produce more energy-efficient equipment by the cable and satellite television industry. Current generation boxes often require lengthy start-up cycles to configure channel lineups, load channel listings, receive authorization data and update software. As a result, any overnight power-down would inconvenience customers the following morning — waiting up to five or more minutes to begin watching television as equipment was switched back on. As a compromise, many cable operators instruct their DVR boxes to power down internal hard drives when not recording or playing back programming, minimizing subscriber inconvenience, but also the possible power savings.

In Europe, many set-top boxes are configured with three levels of power consumption — 22.5W while in use, 13.2W while in standby, and 0.65W when in “Deep Sleep” mode. More data is stored in non-volatile memory within the box, meaning channel data, program listings, and authorization information need not be re-downloaded each time the box is powered on, resulting in much faster recovery from power-saving modes.

The new agreement, which runs through 2017, covers all types of set-top boxes from pay-TV providers, including cable, satellite and telephone companies. The agreement also requires the pay-TV industry to publicly report model-specific set-top box energy use and requires an annual audit of service providers by an independent auditor to make sure boxes are performing at the efficiency levels specified in the agreement. The Energy Department also retains its authority to test set-top boxes under the ENERGY STAR verification program, which provides another verification tool to measure the efficiency of set-top boxes.

Comcast, DirecTV, DISH Network, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision, Bright House Networks and CenturyLink will begin deploying new energy-efficient equipment during service calls. Some customers may be able to eventually swap equipment earlier, depending on the company.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WCCO Minneapolis Check Your Cable Box 6-27-11.mp4

WCCO in Minneapolis reported in 2011 cable operators like Comcast may make subscribers wait 30 minutes or more for set-top box features to become fully available for use after plugging the box in. (1:50)

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MergerMania: Discovery Communications Considers Takeover of HGTV, Food Network

Phillip Dampier December 11, 2013 Competition, Consumer News No Comments

mergerThe trend towards cable consolidation is no longer just limited to cable operators. Now programmers are looking to strengthen their position in cable carriage negotiations by building “must-have” packages of cable programming that could mean smaller independent channels could eventually get locked out.

Bloomberg News reports the board of Discovery Communications, owner of the Discovery Channel, is discussing a possible bid for Scripps Networks Interactive, which runs channels including HGTV and the Food Network.

Scripps is one of the smaller network owners, but one that has proven popular and profitable. But it is not tied to a media conglomerate or the cable industry directly. Discovery has been a part of the cable television lineup for decades. Cable TV billionaire Dr. John Malone controls 29 percent of Discovery’s voting rights, giving him significant influence at the company.

A combined operation would control these networks:

discovery Discovery:

  • TLC
  • Animal Planet
  • Oprah Winfrey Network
  • Destination America
  • Investigation Discovery
  • Discovery Fit & Health
  • Discovery Science
  • Military Channel
  • Science
  • Velocity

240px-Scripps_Networks_Interactive.svgScripps:

  • HGTV
  • Food Network
  • DIY Network
  • Cooking Channel
  • Great American Country
  • Travel Channel

Some analysts suggest such a combination doesn’t make much sense for Discovery, which has been focused on expanding operations internationally.

But other bidders might surface for Scripps, reports Bloomberg, which may be a complementary business for 21st Century Fox, Time Warner or Viacom, said Eric Handler, an analyst at MKM Partners, in a research note.

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Deck the Halls With a Verizon FiOS Rate Hike; Tis the Season for $8+ More a Month

Phillip Dampier December 2, 2013 Consumer News, Verizon No Comments

Verizon is notifying some of its FiOS TV customers they will be paying $8 more a month “within 1-3 billing cycles” and a dollar more a month for the Regional Sports Network Fee, applicable in some areas.

(Courtesy: andrade6503)

(Courtesy: andrade6503)

Cable operators are increasingly breaking out high cost programming, including sports and local broadcast stations, from the basic cable tier and adding surcharges on the customer’s bill, often with no option to cancel the offending programming. Many operators also leave the price of their basic cable packages the same, creating a surcharge-driven, hidden rate increase.

Pay television providers have argued that some of the biggest rate increases occur after programmers raise prices during contract renewal talks. Breaking the fees out on the bill can re-target blame for rate increases on programmers instead of the cable, satellite, or telephone company, assuming customers scrutinize their bill.

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  • txpatriot: At this stage, participation for current customers is voluntary; see page 88 of the FCC Order authorizing the IP Transition trial: http://transitio...
  • txpatriot: What exactly does AT&T (or google, for that matter) hope to accomplish with these pre-launch press releases? I assume they are meant to build a...
  • monogrammed bookbags: Pretty! This was a really wonderful article. Thanks for providing this information....
  • Chuck Willy: What does the service agreement say? I can charge any amount rent I want on something on my property. I'll send them a bill for $1mil if my box isn't...
  • B: RST is deploying fiber across NC, and Wake Forest was promised to become the first town in the county for beta testing gigabit internet service....
  • Kerry: I actually asked that question directly to my Comcast account rep yesterday....
  • A,: Really wish North State would expand their fiber service beyond High Point into Greensboro- no one seems to want to go into Greensboro, which is madde...
  • Phillip Dampier: If you scratch millimeters below the surface, their lies and nonsense are easy to expose. Unfortunately, a lot of these senators don't have a clue abo...
  • Phillip Dampier: This is another case where I'd just ask for the $150 to be applied to your Comcast account as a service credit. They can do that over the phone the sa...
  • Phillip Dampier: Call the rep back and tell him/her there problems should not get in the way of your getting a great customer service experience, and that they should ...
  • Kerry: We have also been waiting almost 5 months for our $150 VISA card. I have been told numerous times that all of our submitted information has been appro...
  • Duffin: Great! Now Comcast customers can reach their data caps that much faster! Thanks, Comcast!...

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