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Cogeco Won’t Lower Your Bill; Warns Customers Not to Be “Victims” of Landline Cutting

Phillip Dampier April 14, 2014 Canada, Cogeco, Competition, Consumer News No Comments

cogecoDespite growing competition from Bell’s fiber-to-the-neighborhood service Fibe, now expanding into many of Cogeco’s outer suburban service areas, Cogeco will not negotiate a better deal for customers, preferring to emphasize its customer service and “right-sizing” bundles of services to best meet customer needs.

As a result of higher prices, Cogeco’s earnings and profits are up for the second quarter of 2014. In the quarter profits rose to $58.5 million — up from $48.9 million during the same quarter a year ago. Revenue rose to $518.4 million from $458.5 million.

“We don’t like competing on price,” said Cogeco CEO Louis Audet said. “I’m not saying it’s zero, but we really don’t like competing on price.”

Audet

Audet

Customers have been offered sign up discounts from Cogeco’s most aggressive competitor on pricing – Bell. But when customers in parts of Ontario and Quebec call Cogeco to negotiate for a lower price, they are largely being turned down.

Audet said Cogeco instead emphasizes that customers will receive better customer service from the cable company, and customer retention specialists are trained to adjust packages to emphasize the services customers want without cutting their cost.

“It’s a right-sizing exercise,” Audet said. “Maybe the person wants a little less video, but they want higher Internet speeds.”

Cogeco isn’t winning the battle to keep its price-sensitive customers, however. The company lost 10,305 subscribers in the second quarter, nearly double the amount lost in the same quarter a year ago. Cogeco now serves 1.96 million Canadian cable television customers.

Customers are also dropping their Cogeco phone service, a decision Audet said makes them “victims” of cell phones. Cogeco permanently disconnected 6,000 landlines in the quarter, up from 5,550 a year ago. It still serves 473,000 phone customers.

The company lost almost 6,000 telephone customers in the quarter compared with additions of 5,550 in the same quarter last year. It had more than 473,000 residential phone customers left.

Despite the customer losses, rate increases more than made up for lost revenue, giving the company a nearly $10 million boost in profits during the second quarter alone.

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Comcast Awarded Golden Poo as Consumerist’s Worst Company in America for 2014

Comcast is 2014's Golden Poo award winner. (Image: Knight725)

Comcast is 2014′s Golden Poo award winner. (Image: Knight725)

Comcast eked out a narrow victory against Monsanto — the litigious-happy, genetically modified-seed company — to win top honors in the 2014 Consumerist “Worst Company in America” contest.

Comcast is a past recipient of the pro-consumer website’s Golden Poo award given to the company that most alienates its customers, winning first place in 2010 after implementing usage caps on its broadband customers, as well as runner-up status in 2008 and 2009 and third place in 2011 and 2013.

“Comcast’s win makes it only the second company to claim multiple Poos. Last year, video game biggie EA was both the first two-time winner and its first repeat champ,” reports Consumerist.

The nation’s largest cable company, Comcast managed to irritate more than any other with an arbitrary usage cap it now wants to call a “data threshold,” shoddy service, service calls that never happen, incompetent technicians that set customer homes on fire, billing errors, and inventing new profit-padding fees for almost everything.

Getting larger with the acquisition of NBC Universal did little to improve matters for customers, and one high executive cynically delayed a planned low-income discount Internet access offer to use as a carrot with the FCC to win approval of its NBC merger deal. To this day, Comcast goes out of its way to impose a number of qualifications for its Internet Essentials program to protect profits potentially harmed by customers switching to cheaper service to save money.

finaldeathmatch2014

Now Comcast wants to buy Time Warner Cable, the country’s second largest operator. Despite the fact there is little love from subscribers for Time Warner, many suspect Comcast will prove much worse. A merger brings the threat of a 300GB usage limit on broadband, an even higher modem rental fee, and cable television packages that are often more expensive than those from Time Warner.

Comcast’s greatest defense for its merger is that it doesn’t compete with Time Warner Cable so there are no antitrust concerns. But since the cable industry has borrowed from New York’s Five Families‘ playbook, they almost never compete anywhere in the country, preferring to divide up territories and avoid head-to-head competition.

“By Comcast’s logic, it would then be perfectly okay for Comcast to be the only cable and Internet provider in the country, since there isn’t really any competition among the players in this marketplace to begin with,” writes the Consumerist.

We say don’t give them any ideas.

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JPMorgan Chase Advises Cable Companies to Raise Cable TV Rates; Where Can Customers Go?

Phillip Dampier April 7, 2014 Competition, Consumer News 10 Comments
Comcast Rates (Image: The Oregonian)

JPMorgan Chase reports average cable rates reached $88.67 in 2013. (Image: The Oregonian)

Cable TV rates are too low and need to be hiked to boost revenue and offset rising programming costs, even if rate increases further alienate cable subscribers, according to a new report from JPMorgan Chase.

The Wall Street bank concluded customers have few options, noting that after providers raised prices around 5% last year, they lost only 0.1% of subscribers.

“Cable operators are better off raising video prices than eating higher content costs,” said Philip Cusick, a JPMorgan analyst, in the report. “Our analysis indicates that cable companies are better off raising prices and catching customers with broadband if cord cutting becomes widespread, (rather) than eating the programming increase.”

The bank recommends imposing (or raising) broadcast TV and sports programming surcharges as well as general rate hikes on basic cable service.

JPMorgan notes that increased broadband pricing and cable modem rental fees paid off for the industry during the fourth quarter of 2013, when earnings topped estimates. By doing the same for cable television packages, providers can continue to boost revenue with little risk customers will find a suitable competitor that isn’t also increasing prices.

Even if customers get rid of cable television, a practice known as cord-cutting, cable operators can still keep customers by providing broadband service. Some of the lost revenue can be recovered from the services customers have not canceled.

Cusick says the industry is being challenged by a handful of content companies that increasingly dominate the cable package, among them Walt Disney, Time Warner (Entertainment), CBS, and FOX.

“With the majority of content controlled by only six or seven programmers, aggregate prices for content are rising around 10% annually and forecasts in many media models continue that rise for years,” Cusick said.

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Sports Channel Sticker Shock: Your Basic Cable TV Bill Headed to $125/Month

Phillip Dampier March 31, 2014 Consumer News 9 Comments
Your cable bill is going up... a lot.

Your cable bill is going up… a lot.

Within five years, the average cable television subscription will reach $125 a month, primarily because of rapidly rising sports programming costs that are enriching already wealthy sports teams and players.

Professional and college sports are benefiting from the largesse of sports channels and networks all competing for the rights to televise games. Until a decade ago, those rights typically went to the highest paying broadcast television network. But as traditional cable sports networks like ESPN find themselves competing with more than three dozen other cable networks and regional sports channels, bidders need ever-deeper pockets to stay in the running. With cable customers footing the bill, the sky has been the limit.

Cable companies that routinely complain about runaway inflation in sports programming costs suddenly go silent when they get a piece of the action. Take Time Warner Cable, for example. A substantial amount of the company’s recently announced rate hike they blame on “increased programming costs” comes from networks they own and operate. A network dedicated to just one team – the Los Angeles Dodgers, will cost subscribers slightly less than $5 a month. SportsNet LA was created around Time Warner’s 25-year rights deal to show Dodgers games. The cable company is paying $8.3 billion for the privilege. Another network, dedicated to the Los Angeles Lakers, also costs Time Warner Cable customers $4 a month whether they watch or want the channel or not.

sportsnetOut east, the Yankees Channel YES costs subscribers around $3.50 a month — a bargain compared to the Dodgers — with prices expected to increase further in the years ahead. ESPN, by far the largest sports network, insists on more than $5 a month from every customer even if they have never watched the network.

Every year, prices are rising for sports programming, and fast. The lucrative billions in revenue are now turning up in players’ salaries, provide piles of money to “non-profit” educational institutions with college sports teams, and are inflating the overall value of the teams for their owners.

The inflation spiral is accompanied by a framework of entitlement, where owners, players, and schools now expect regular increases in payments to secure television rights. Those costs are passed on directly to every subscriber, because few sports networks will allow themselves to be sold “a-la-carte” only to those who actually want to watch.

With even more sports networks launching on the horizon, the average cable bill that now costs about $90 a month will increase by $35 a month to reach $125 a month within a few years, according to the Los Angeles Times:

The dispute over telecasts of Dodgers baseball games exemplifies the problem with the current setup. Time Warner Cable wants to charge Southern California subscribers slightly less than $5 a month to watch the games on a Dodger channel. Area TV distributors (such as DirecTV, Cox Cable and AT&T U-verse), fearing a consumer backlash, are resisting. If Time Warner and the Dodgers win, it’s a lucrative deal — for them. Not so for those who don’t care to watch. Even Dodger fans, blacked out now, aren’t really winners. The system denies all of us meaningful choices. All subscribers end up subsidizing programming we never watch.

In effect, because of the way channels are bundled, all pay-TV subscribers (roughly 100 million households) are subsidizing sports. The subsidy is substantial. The Pac-12 conference estimates it will receive $3 billion in TV revenue over a 12-year period. For ESPN, it’s much more. If roughly 90% of pay-TV households purchase the bundle that includes ESPN, that network alone will receive just short of $6 billion in revenue in a single year.

That’s a major subsidy, and, given a Cox Cable representative’s estimate that only 15% to 20% of viewers regularly watch sports programming, it’s paid mostly by viewers who neither watch nor wish to subsidize ESPN programming. These viewers swallow the bitter inflationary pill in order to watch other channels in the bundle.

Both college and professional sports teams benefit from the subsidy. The winners include UCLA and UC Berkeley, taxpayer-supported institutions, and USC and Stanford, preeminent private, nonprofit institutions that also benefit from federal money. UCLA alone reportedly received $14.5 million in TV revenue over the last year. Americans are accustomed to college athletic programs that make money, but do we really want these revenues to be generated on the backs of angry consumers who must pay a sports subsidy every time they purchase subscription TV?

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Frustration Central: Charter Communications’ Digital Conversion Irritates Cities, Customers

Phillip Dampier March 11, 2014 Broadband Speed, Charter, Consumer News, HissyFitWatch No Comments

all digitalCharter Communications’ march to all-digital service is one big Excedrin headache for many of the communities enduring the cable company’s conversion.

Charter is embarked on a campaign to end analog cable television service, freeing up bandwidth to offer more HD channels and increase broadband speeds. But the switch to digital has been accompanied by frequent service disruptions and outages.

In Texas, customers complain their digital channels are often frozen or pixelated. In Casper, Wyo., where Charter acquired an older cable system from Cablevision that was originally built by Bresnan Communications, customers’ complaints range from inconsistent service and slow response times to loss of sound and frozen video during airing of City Council meetings.

But some of the loudest concerns about Charter originate from the Outer Banks of North Carolina where customers are finding the switch to digital can be very costly.

Tourism is a major part of the local economy and the Outer Banks are filled with seasonal homes, rental condos and hotels. Many property owners maintain seasonal accounts with Charter Cable, only active during the tourist season. Some hotel owners notified about Charter’s plans to transition towards digital service worked with the cable company to buy televisions that would not need additional equipment to work after the switch. With the cable company’s recommendations, some hotel chains purchased dozens or even hundreds of digital-ready television sets installed in rooms that were ready for the switch.

Charter_logoOnly recently, Charter notified customers they also planned to encrypt the basic lineup, rendering the digital televisions useless without the additional cost and inconvenience of installing Charter’s digital set-top boxes. Although Charter will temporarily offer customers free rental of the boxes, after the offer expires, customers will pay Charter $6.99 a month for each box. For some upper end condos, the cost of renting multiple boxes will exceed the cost of the cable TV package.

The Outer Banks Voice details several other customer complaints:

With the older analog systems, many owners flat mounted their televisions to walls and had the cable wired directly into the television, out of sight. With boxes now required, rental homeowners will need to figure out where to place the box and how to run the cables to the set.

In addition, rental companies and homeowners will need to keep track of numerous remotes and keeping those remotes supplied with working batteries.

[...] Thus far, Charter is not offering boxes for sale, so owners cannot absorb the cost over the long-run use of the box, and there appears to be some confusion on whether homes with five or more televisions will require a “Pro Installation” at extra cost to ensure signal strength is sufficient.

If such an installation is required, owners and rental management companies will also be required to arrange access for Charter installers.

Rental condos are also faced with yet another logistic hurdle.

Many condos include cable television fees in their monthly association dues, and the cable contracts for all units are in the name of the condo association.

To obtain boxes, condo owners are now going to be required to set up their own individual accounts, often from an out-of-state location, and then determine how to get the boxes installed.

Signal strength is also a concern in condo projects. Even with analog signals, the multiple connections in one area make reception fuzzy and of low quality.

A small sample of complaints found all over Charter's social media pages.

A small sample of complaints found all over Charter’s social media pages.

Charter Communications shared their side of the story about the digital conversion:

Outer Banks, N.C.

Outer Banks, N.C.

Charter customers are notified by newspaper, direct mail, bill messages, phone calls from Charter representatives, and Charter commercial spots beginning at least 30 days prior to their cutover. Charter is making it easy for customers to receive one or more digital boxes at no cost for one, two or five years, depending on the customer’s programming package and other qualifying factors.

Customers that need less than four boxes can have them shipped directly to their home by calling 1-888-GET-CHARTER or pick them up at a Charter Store.

Customers that live out of town, that own vacation homes, can authorize personnel with their property management company or other specified individuals to pick up their boxes. Customers must first authorize those individuals and add them to their account by calling 1-888-GET-CHARTER. The customer account owner can rescind authorization of individuals at any time.

Property Management companies or authorized individuals can then obtain up to five set-top boxes at a Charter Store.

Customers needing more than five boxes should contact Charter 1-888-GET-CHARTER. A professional technician will be scheduled to assist customers with the installation.

Charter Stores are currently operating with expanded hours to accommodate customers during this all-digital project. Charter Store hours will also be expanded in April where peak volume is expected.

Commercial properties have several options available and can work with their Charter Business account representative on the best solution for their business.

Due to advances in technology, solutions available may involve the need for additional equipment in order to provide the best possible cable, Internet and voice products for our customers.

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

Franken

Franken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Netflix Agrees to Pay Comcast for Improved Video Streaming; Could ‘Limit Competition’

comcast toll plazaNetflix has agreed to compensate Comcast in return for assurances that the cable company’s subscribers would no longer be caught in the middle of a dispute between Comcast and one of Netflix’s content distributors.

The multi-year agreement between the two companies will bring Netflix direct access to Comcast’s broadband network with a Service Level Agreement that will guarantee streaming stability for customers who have loudly complained about Netflix’s deteriorating performance.

The controversial arrangement has probably established a precedent for other large Internet Service Providers likely to seek compensation to handle Netflix traffic. As of this evening, both AT&T and Verizon have already acknowledged they are negotiating with Netflix for similar arrangements.

Caught in the middle of the dispute are Comcast customers paying for a reliable Internet connection and getting slowing connections and re-buffering problems while attempting to watch Netflix content during peak usage times.

One side accuses Comcast of violating Net Neutrality while the other blames Netflix for dumping enormous Internet traffic on Internet Service Providers without compensation for network upgrades. Also in the crossfire is Cogent, a third-party company delivering Netflix content to Comcast’s front door.

How Netflix Distributes Its Streaming Movies and TV Shows

netflix cdnNetflix has traditionally avoided owning the “pipes” that distribute movies and TV shows to paying customers. Instead, it usually contracts with “transit providers” to send content from Netflix headquarters on to “content distribution networks (CDN)” that manage video streaming. A Netflix video may pass through a number of connections on a variety of independently owned networks before it arrives at the front door of your Internet Service Provider. Companies like Comcast handle “the last mile” of the journey that began at Netflix and ends at your computer or television set.

Netflix does not rely on just one transit provider to handle its traffic. Level 3, Cogent, and XO Communications all reportedly serve in that capacity, depending on where traffic is headed. The same is true for the CDN’s Netflix contracts with to regionally stream content to each subscriber.

Netflix determines how to handle your streaming movie request behind the scenes, selecting a CDN that is close to you and capable of delivering the most stable streaming experience at that moment. If you are a Comcast or Verizon customer, Netflix often selects Cogent to handle its content. Cogent is also well known for its relatively low cost.

If you are served by Cablevision, Frontier, or certain other providers like Google Fiber, Netflix will instead direct your streaming request to a CDN located within your provider’s own network. These “Open Connect” boxes store Netflix content in a type of cache and can stream it to customers directly without sending video packets across multiple third-party networks. Theoretically, Open Connect offers an efficient and stable way of distributing Netflix content to customers. It also saves Netflix money and in return, it costs the ISP nothing — Netflix pays for the equipment and service.

Cogent vs. Big Telecom

220px-CogentlogoNetflix and YouTube together are now estimated to cover 50 percent of all video traffic on the Internet, and that traffic is growing. Cogent dutifully passes that video content along to Internet Service Providers like Verizon and Comcast that have customers waiting to watch. But it is a two-way street. Any outbound traffic from customers could also be forwarded to Cogent to send on. Traditionally, both sides have managed the traffic by gradually increasing the bandwidth and speed of their connections to one-another. But as Netflix traffic grows and grows, companies like Comcast and Verizon believe they are being saddled with the costs to upgrade their networks in ways that are out of proportion to the traffic they send in the other direction. ISPs often grumble about the cost but keep on upgrading to keep paying customers happy. Verizon and Comcast are suspected of dragging their feet on those upgrades in an effort to win compensation.

Verizon and Comcast argue they should be paid by content producers responsible for generating tons of Internet traffic to help cover the cost of upgrades. Instead, Netflix offered its Open Connect boxes, which keep Netflix traffic within an ISPs own network, reducing the necessity of constantly upgrading connections with other transit providers. Verizon and Comcast don’t want Netflix’s solution — they want cold hard cash.

Conflict of Interest

Some network engineers cannot understand all the controversy about Comcast’s arrangement with Netflix. Some believe Netflix is simply shifting traffic away from third-party Cogent to Comcast directly, presumably at a cost savings. They suggest customers will be happy that streaming quality is restored and Netflix also wins a guaranteed level of performance they never had with Cogent.

2hatBut that argument does not explain why Netflix was compelled to make a financial arrangement with Comcast. The two companies have been in negotiations on the subject of traffic compensation for months. Many industry observers believe those talks went nowhere until Netflix customers began complaining about the increasing network slowdowns. Some even dropped their Netflix subscriptions over the issue.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings admitted he made a deal with Comcast to restore customer confidence in Netflix and end subscriber frustration. It was also increasingly clear Comcast was in no hurry to improve things on its own, despite the fact its own customers were the ones most directly affected.

So why wouldn’t Comcast (or Verizon or Time Warner Cable) take Netflix up on its offer of free Open Connect boxes that would reasonably solve streaming problems without forcing anyone to spend a fortune on upgrades? Simply put, all three companies are direct competitors of Netflix. Helping Netflix offer a top quality streaming experience is not in the best interests of Comcast (or others) that are facing potential cord-cutting customer losses in their subscription video businesses. Verizon has partnered with Redbox to deliver streamed video, Comcast operates Streampix, its own online streaming service, and Time Warner Cable offers a variety of on-demand and streamed video content for its cable TV subscribers. None of these services have suffered from traffic congestion issues.

ISP Payday

ISP Payday

What About Net Neutrality? What About Paying Customers?

With Net Neutrality tossed out by the courts, there is little any regulator can do to resolve disputes until Net Neutrality can be properly enforced under a stronger regulatory framework. Some argue the congestion issues creating the problems with Netflix are not a true violation of Net Neutrality in any event because providers are not artificially prioritizing traffic.

They are simply not keeping up with upgrades that just so happen to directly impact a competitor while leaving their own services unscathed.

Providers also seem characteristically unconcerned about complaining customers, passing blame for the problem on to Netflix. Besides, they remind you, paying for an Internet connection alone does not entitle you to any guarantee of performance.

The Dam Breaks

With this week’s agreement between Comcast and Netflix, both AT&T and Verizon wasted no time admitting they are both seeking compensation from Netflix as well. Other providers are likely to follow.

Netflix warned investors that paid agreements with ISPs could adversely affect its earnings due to increased costs. Although stopping short of suggesting price increases for Netflix customers could come as a result, Wall Street wasted no time worrying about the financial impact of deals like the one between Netflix and Comcast.

The Wall Street Journal reported the momentum appears to be shifting in favor of large Internet providers like Comcast and AT&T and away from content producers.

Janney Capital analyst Tony Wible suggested Comcast’s toll booth could create a barrier for other content producers if the cable company asks for significant compensation.

“Although there is no prioritization benefit [from the deal], we suspect that the exchange of money for resolution/performance could (if large) effectively limit competition,” said Wible. “In essence, Netflix could be trading [profit] margins for subscribers. Few others can match Netflix’s [spending budget to acquire content] without incurring massive losses. The competition may now have to cope with additional fees that sway their willingness to compete if they do not already have a large subscriber base.”

In other words, a new Internet startup could face hard questions from investors about how it intends to cover ISP demands for compensation in return for a suitable connection to reach customers. A large venture like Netflix has enough resources to handle those costs and negotiate for a better deal while a smaller startup may not.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ Netflix Comcast Agreement 2-24-14.flv

Netflix has signed a deal with Comcast to ensure smooth streaming, in what is being called a landmark agreement. Wall Street Journal reporter Shalini Ramachandran explains the agreement. (3:39)

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Unlike Here, British Broadband Customers Satisfied With Their Broadband Providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Average speed test results per ISP (kbps)

  • Virgin: 27,266

    virgin-media-union-logo

    Was top-rated for broadband reliability.

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

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

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

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

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

lousy tshirt

(Image: Crooks and Liars)

(Image: Crooks and Liars)

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

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

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

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

Heaven forbid.

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

Image: Mike Keefe

(Image: Mike Keefe)

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

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

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

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

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

What channels will they add next?

What channels will they add next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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House of (Credit) Cards: How to Blow Through Your Usage Cap With One Netflix Show

house-of-cards

“…every kitten grows up to be a cat. They seem so harmless, at first, small, quiet, lapping up their saucer of milk. But once their claws get long enough, they draw blood, sometimes from the hand that feeds them. For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: Hunt or be hunted.” — Francis Underwood

Addicts of Netflix’s hit series House of Cards may need to grab a card of a different kind to cover overlimit fees charged by your Internet Service Provider for blowing past your usage allowance.

As online video streaming moves into the realm of 4K — the next generation of high-definition video — watching television shows and movies online could get very expensive because of the massive file sizes involved. It’s all just in time for ISP’s increasing enforcement of usage caps.

courtesy-notice-640x259Gizmodo just did the math for those intending to spend a weekend watching the entire second season of the made-for-Netflix series in high-definition:

Streaming in 1080p on Netflix takes up 4.7GB/hour. So a regular one-hour episode of something debiting less than 5GB from your allotment is no big deal. However, with 4K, you’ve got quadruple the pixel count, so you’re burning through 18.8GB/hour. Even if you’re streaming with the new h.265 codec—which cuts the bit rate by about half, but still hasn’t found its way into many consumer products—you’re still looking at 7GB/hour.

But you’re not watching just one episode, are you? Of course not! You’re binging on House of Cards, watching the whole series if not in one weekend then certainly in one month. That’s 639 minutes of top-quality TV, which in 4K tallies up to 75GB if you’re using the latest and greatest codec, and nearly 200GB if not. That means, best case scenario, a quarter of your cap—a third, if you’re a U-Verse customer with a 250GB cap—spent on one television show. Throw in a normal month’s internet usage, and you’re toast.

Sure you can send 900+ emails, download hundreds of songs, upload hundreds of pictures, but you can't watch one standard and one HD movie a day at the same time without blowing past your AT&T DSL limit.

Sure you can send 900+ emails, download hundreds of songs, upload hundreds of pictures, and play online games 24 hours a day, but you can’t also watch one standard and one HD movie a day at the same time without blowing well past your AT&T DSL limit.

What is worse is that h.265 is still more theoretical than actually available to most consumers, so customers will either have to settle with degraded video or prepare to eat close to 19GB an hour at the highest resolution. No wonder Netflix has introduced video degradation settings to save you from your ISP’s arbitrary cap. Of course, your video quality will suffer, especially on a big screen television.

Comcast customers (and presumably Time Warner Cable customers also eventually subjected to Comcast’s cap) will still have a generous 100GB left over to watch, browse, and send that avalanche of e-mails usage cappers love to boast about. If you live in the reality-based community and have a family active online, that 100GB isn’t going to go too far. Video game addicts regularly face downloading huge updates, many ranging from 8-12GB apiece. Call of Duty: Ghosts? That’s 39.5GB. Madden NFL 25? Another 12.51GB, says Gizmodo. Using a file backup cloud storage service can also eat your allowance for breakfast.

Gizmodo also mentions Sony’s Unlimited Video service has 70 titles (and growing) available in 4K. A Sony representative admits a single two-hour movie will burn up 40GB. Watch a few of those and you are well on your way to blowing your allowance Vegas-style.

AT&T cooked up the arbitrary de facto standard overlimit fee now adopted by many American ISPs, and granular it isn’t. Exceed your allowance by even 1 kilobyte and you will be charged an extra $10 for 50 extra gigabytes. Because AT&T, Comcast, Suddenlink, and others are not already paid enough for broadband service and their modem rental.

Online video is the online application most likely to put you over your limit. Most ISPs don’t like to talk about that, however. They prefer to explain caps in terms of activities no online user is likely to ever exceed, including sending thousands of e-mails, viewing hundreds of thousands of web pages, transferring boatloads of songs and images, and watching YouTube videos at low resolution.

If you don’t watch online video, your cable or phone company thanks you for paying for cable television instead. If you haven’t used a peer-to-peer network in years, chances are you won’t exceed any limits either. But as Internet usage continues to evolve, anything that appears to be a competitive threat delivered over your ISP’s broadband pipe can be effectively controlled with the elimination of flat rate Internet service and imposing overlimit fees that deter usage.

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