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Some Former Bright House Customers Hit by $20/Mo ‘Rate Normalization’ Hike

Phillip Dampier October 26, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 1 Comment

In an effort to keep things ‘organized,’ Charter Communications is ‘normalizing’ rates in its acquired service areas to match amounts paid by legacy Charter Communications customers for years. Charter will not lose any money from this process, effectively “rounding up” the rates it charges, causing bill shock for some former customers of Bright House Networks enrolled in grandfathered and/or promotional pricing plans.

Harry Johnson, who has been a Bright House customer in Florida for over 20 years, was unpleasantly surprised when he was notified in a letter his rates were going up approximately $20 a month.

“Charter wrote me telling me my promotion was expiring and they were raising my rates, except I am not on a promotion and have been paying the same price for internet service for a few years now,” Johnson tells Stop the Cap! “It was either the longest promotion ever or Charter was lying.”

Johnson was paying around $45 for his Bright House internet plan. Effective this month, he is being asked to pay $65 — a $20 increase.

“After they refused to negotiate or give me even a semblance of an explanation that made sense, I told them they just lost a multi-decade customer,” Johnson said, signing up for Frontier FiOS instead. “It is amazing to me just how nonsensical these giant cable companies are sending letters like that and then be non-responsive to complaining customers, hoping we will just swallow it.”

In a letter sent by Charter to a subscriber in Texas, signed by Sam Araji, Charter’s vice president of billing, the cable company explains the customer was enrolled in promotion that was now ending and billing would continue at standard rates.

(Courtesy: ‘etaadmin’)

A DSL Reports reader encountered almost the same situation when he discovered his internet bill was $20 higher than the month before.

“I found this curious because I wasn’t on any promotional offering and just have internet only service,” wrote ‘Chuch.’ “When I called customer service, I was told that I was under an old Bright House plan and that Spectrum was adjusting pricing to be more ‘in-line’ with their national plans and that she wasn’t going to budge on the price, even though I was never under a promotion. All I got from her was lip service about how I should be paying more for the same service I’ve had for some time, even though there have been no service improvements over that time.”

Like Johnson, ‘Chuch’ is dropping his Charter Spectrum service and switching to Frontier FiOS.

Former Bright House customers in Florida have been hit twice with rate hikes, first in March when some customers saw their bills literally double. Charter admitted it would raise rates for the majority of customers $20-30 a month this year alone.

WFTS in Tampa reported some customers in the Tampa area saw their bills double after Charter/Spectrum took over from Bright House. (3:21)

Cable Operators Talk Broadband Capacity and Upgrades

With many cable operators reporting a need to double network capacity every 18-24 months to keep up with customer traffic demands, the industry is spending time and money contemplating how to meet future needs while also finding ways to cut costs and make networks more efficient.

Top technology executives from five major cable operators answered questions (sub. req’d.) from Multichannel News about their current broadband networks and their plans for the future. Some, like Mediacom, are aggressively adopting DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband upgrades for their customers while companies like Cox and Comcast are deploying multiple solutions that use both traditional hybrid fiber-coax network technology and, on occasion, fiber-to-the-home to boost speed and performance. But at least one cable company — Charter Communications — thinks it can continue operating its existing DOCSIS 3 network without major upgrades for several years to come.

Cable Broadband Traffic Can Be Handled

“We’ve been on a pretty steady path of doubling our network capacity every 18-24 months for several years, and I don’t see anything that makes me think that will change,” said Tony Werner, president of technology and product at Comcast. “We’ve been strategically extending fiber further into our network to meet customer demand, and that effort, combined with our commitment to deploying DOCSIS 3.1 has given us a network that’s powerful, flexible, and ready for what’s next.”

J.R. Walden, senior vice president of technology at Mediacom was more aggressive.

“We have completed the removal of all the analog channels. That was the big step one,” Walden said. “Step two was to start transitioning high-speed data over to DOCSIS 3.1, so we’re not adding any more 3.0 channels, and reuse spectrum for 3.1, which is a bit more efficient. The whole company is 3.1, all the modems we’re buying since June have been 3.1, so we’ve begun that next transition.”

Walden added Mediacom is also trying to improve broadband performance by reducing the number of customers sharing the same connection.

“We average about 285 homes to 290 homes per node as an average,” he said.

Mediacom is also scrapping older technology on the TV side to open new bandwidth. The cable company is getting rid of MPEG-2-only set-top boxes so the company can transition its video lineup to MPEG-4. But even that won’t last long. Walden admits the company will then quickly start moving less-viewed channels and some premium networks to IP delivery.

Traditional cable broadband service relies on a hybrid fiber-coax network.

In its European markets, Liberty Global has adopted Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) equipment across its footprint. CCAP technology saves cable operators space and operates more efficiently, and supports future convergence of technologies that cable operators want to adopt in the future. CCAP has helped Liberty Global deal with its 45% traffic growth by making upgrades easier. The company is also using advanced features of CCAP to better balance how many customers are sharing a connection. The next step is adopting DOCSIS 3.1.

“Seventy to 80% of our plant will be DOCSIS 3.1 ready by the end of next year, giving us a path to even greater capacity expansion allowing us to continue to increase the available capacity across our access network, upstream and downstream,” said Dan Hennessy, chief architect of network architecture for Liberty.

Charter is prioritizing maximizing performance on the network it already has.

“Our priority is to constantly balance capacity against demand. It’s a never-ending quest,” said Jay Rolls, Charter’s chief technology officer. “We watch it very closely, and we’re very pragmatic about it — the volume of tools, metrics and ways to see what’s really happening, and invest accordingly, is really deepening in ways that matter.”

Is Fiber-to-the-Home in Your Future?

While some cable operators like Altice’s Cablevision are scrapping their existing hybrid fiber-coax networks in favor of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), America’s largest cable operators are not in any hurry to follow Altice.

Comcast has expanded its fiber network closer to customers in the last few years, but sees no need to convert customers to FTTH service.

“I feel pretty strongly that the best path ahead is to leverage the existing coaxial network and DOCSIS resources to the fullest, then inch towards FTTH, over time Why? Because we can. We don’t have to build an entire network just to turn up one customer.”

The next generation of cable broadband service may depend on CCAP – technology that will cut operator costs and lay the foundation for changing the way video and other services are delivered to customers.

Cox has a 10-year Network 2.0 plan that will bring fiber closer to customers, but not directly to every home. More important to Cox is having the option to support symmetrical speeds, which means delivering upload speeds as fast as download speeds.

“We’re also thinking about the fiber investment and fiber deep as it relates to our wireless strategy, enabling some of our customers with a small cell strategy but also positioning ourselves to take advantage of that in the future, as well as thinking about fiber deep to benefit both residential and our commercial customers simultaneously,” said Kevin Hart, Cox’s executive vice president and chief product and technology officer.

Liberty/Virgin Media’s Project Lightning is bringing cable broadband and TV service to places in the UK that never had cable service before.

In Europe, Liberty Global’s “Project Lightning” network expansion initiative is building out traditional cable service in the United Kingdom. Most of the UK never adopted cable service, favoring small satellite dish service instead. Now Liberty Global is putting cable expansion on its priority list. But decades after most North Americans got cable service for the first time, today’s new buildouts are based largely on fiber optics — either fiber to the home or fiber to the neighborhood, where coaxial cable completes the journey to a customer’s home.

Charter admits the technology it will use in the future partly depends on what the competition is offering. Rolls says the company can eventually roll out DOCSIS 3.1, take fiber deeper, or offer symmetrical download/upload speeds presumably targeted towards its commercial customers. But he also suggested Charter’s existing network can continue to deliver acceptable levels of service without spending a lot on major upgrades.

“It’s a rational approach, where we’re trying to balance the needs, the available technologies, and the costs,” Rolls said. But he also suggested DOCSIS 3.1 isn’t always the answer to upgrades. “DOCSIS 3.1 has some pretty remarkable capabilities, but it’s not necessarily a hard-and-fast reason to not take fiber deeper, for instance [allowing for additional DOCSIS 3 node splits]. Different situations drive different capacity decisions.”

Walden agreed, and Mediacom customers should not expect more than DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades for the near future.

“[Fiber deep] is a bit further out, at least as a large-scale type of project,” Walden told Multichannel News. “I think fiber deep for multi-dwelling units, high-density areas and some planned higher end communities doing deeper fiber or fiber-to-the-home [is happening]. But as a wholesale [change] and going to node+0 kind of architecture, I don’t see that in the next two years.”

Are Symmetrical Speeds Important for Customers?

Verizon’s fiber to the home service FiOS uses symmetrical broadband speeds to its advantage in the marketplace.

Many fiber to the home networks offer customers identical upload and download speeds, but cable broadband was designed to favor downstream speeds over upstream. That decision was based on the premise the majority of users will receive much more traffic than they send. But as the internet evolves, some are wondering if cable broadband’s asymmetric design is now outdated and some competitors like Verizon’s FiOS fiber to the home service now use its symmetrical speed advantage as a selling point.

Cox Communications does not think most customers care, even though its network upgrades are laying the foundation to deliver symmetrical speeds.

“It’s a little but further out on the horizon,” said Hart. “The upstream growth rate is ticking up a couple of notches, but not to the tune that we would need significant additional capacity and/or a complementary need for symmetrical bandwidth. [A]t this stage, the symmetrical is a nice-to-have for residential and definitely will be a good option for our commercial customers.”

Rolls isn’t sure if symmetrical speeds are important to customers either and Charter has no specific plans to move towards upload speed upgrades.

“The world of applications and services continues to evolve, obviously, but so far we’ve been able to meet those needs with an asymmetrical topology,” Rolls said. “That said, things like real-time gaming, augmented and virtual reality, and the Internet of Things — some of those will likely drive more symmetry in the network. It remains to be seen.”

Say Hello to Sports-Free Philo TV for Less Than $20/Month

Phillip Dampier September 13, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Philo TV 1 Comment

A group of cable networks are teaming up to offer the first over-the-top online streaming cable TV package for sports haters.

Philo TV, expected to soft launch within a few weeks, is a sports-free television package of popular cable networks expected to sell for under $20/month.

Instead of ESPN and Fox Sports, Philo TV will concentrate on dramas, documentaries, kids shows, reality television, and original productions aired on cable networks owned by the venture’s partners — Discovery Communications, Viacom, AMC Networks, A+E Networks and Scripps Networks Interactive.

That guarantees networks like Food TV, HGTV, Discovery, AMC, Comedy Central, A&E, Nickelodeon, and other popular general interest cable networks will be on the lineup.

The partners elected to work with Philo TV, an existing venture supplying skinny bundles of cable programming on college campuses around the country. Based on Philo’s college TV lineups, it is not a stretch to assume the new streaming service will also include networks like The Weather Channel, CNN, FOX News, tru-TV, Animal Planet, National Geographic, MSNBC, History Channel, BBC America, Game Show Network, Hallmark, Spike TV, USA, Cartoon Network, Lifetime, Syfy, and perhaps even the Disney Channel.

The service is not expected to include over-the-air stations, but the exclusion of sports means plenty of savings for sports-loathing viewers. Sports programming fees are by far the highest of any network costs for cable and satellite providers. Eliminating costly networks like ESPN saves the average cable company at least $6 a month for that network alone.

The “Philo” venture is named after Philo Farnsworth, the American inventor of an all-electronic television system still partly in use today, which quickly dispensed with the earlier electro-mechanical television systems that preceded it.

Philo isn’t necessarily going to be limited to online streaming. The company is exploring cutting deals with existing phone and cable companies to distribute the package as a competing alternative to today’s bloated cable television packages.

Those interested in being notified about the venture’s imminent launch can register their email address or mobile number on Philo’s website.

Nearly 190,000 Without Internet, Phone Service in Southeastern Texas, Louisiana

Evacuations continue in Houston.

Nearly 190,000 cable and telephone customers in southeastern Texas and Louisiana remain without service as a result of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which is still meandering offshore in the Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana/Texas border. Service outages are continuing to increase in number, primarily as a result of severe flooding.

As of this morning, according to the Federal Communications Commission, 364 cell sites are out of service, 4.7% of the total number of cell sites in the affected area, up from 4.1% yesterday. The counties with greater than 50% of cell sites out are Aransas (94.7%), Calhoun (74.1%), and Refugio (84.6%) in Texas. Plaquemines is the only county in Louisiana reporting any cell sites out.

To assist customers, wireless companies are offering freebies for the duration of the storm and flooding (thanks to DSL Reports for gathering the data):

  • AT&T: Offering unspecified bill credits until Sept. 1 for AT&T prepaid and postpaid customers in impacted areas for any voice, texting, or data overages.
  • Sprint: Free texting, phone calls to southeastern Texas, southwestern Louisiana until Sept. 1.
  • T-Mobile: Free texting, phone calls to southeastern Texas, southwestern Louisiana until Sept. 1.
  • Verizon Wireless: An additional free 3GB of data for customers in “qualified Texas counties” until Sept. 8.

At least 189,487 Comcast and AT&T customers are out of service, up from at least 148,565 yesterday. Landline central offices are also increasingly failing. As of today, there are 19 offices out of service (up from 11 yesterday) and 22 (up from 21) switching offices now operating on backup power. Because of the outages, Comcast has opened its XFINITY Wi-Fi network for free access to everyone in affected storm areas.

There are nine area radio stations off the air, the same number as yesterday. KJOJ-FM went back on the air, but KMKS failed in the last 24 hours. The other affected stations — all in Texas — are:

KKTX, KUNO, KPRC, KKWV, KAYK, KZFM, KKBA and KEYS.

911 services are being restored in some areas, but have gone down or are degraded in others. As of today, here is the current list:

  • 911 Service Down: Calhoun County Sheriff, Tex.
  • Rerouted 911 Without Automatic Location of Caller Information: Aransas County SO, Tex.; Bee PD, Tex.; Beeville PD, Tex.; Harris Country Neutral SO, Tex.; Jackson County SO, Tex.; Kemah PD, Tex.; Kingsville PD, Tex.; Kleberg County SO, Tex.; Mathis PD, Tex.; Port Aransas PD, Tex.; and Robstown PD, Tex.
  • Rerouted 911: Aransas Pass PD, Tex.; Gonzales County SO, Tex.; Port Lavaca, Tex.; Robstown PD, Tex.; Victoria PD, Tex.; and Wilson County SO, Tex.

Charter Spectrum Announces Mid-Year Rate Hikes; Privacy Changes

Phillip Dampier July 27, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News 4 Comments

Spectrum customers will be paying more for their cable TV and broadband service starting in August, according to notifications now starting to appear on customers’ bills around the country.

Important Billing Update. At Spectrum, we continue to enhance our services, offer more of the best entertainment choices and deliver the best value. We are committed to offering you products and services we are sure you will enjoy.

Effective with your next billing statement, pricing will be adjusted for:

  • Broadcast TV Surcharge from [generally between $4-6] to $7.50. This reflects costs incurred from local Broadcast TV stations.

  • Spectrum Receivers from $4.99 to $5.99 (per receiver).

  • Internet Services from $53.99 to $54.99 (for standard 60 or 100Mbps service, depending on area, per modem and bundled with cable TV).

The average customer will see a rate hike of about $4-5 a month as a result. Customers on promotional Spectrum plans may not see a rate change immediately, but all cable TV customers will be subject to the Broadcast TV surcharge, because it is not a part of a promotional package.

Charter traditionally reviews its rates twice a year.

Charter Communications has also updated its Privacy Policy, which takes effect on Aug. 1, 2017. Customers can opt out of targeted emails, targeted marketing campaigns, and targeted TV ad inserts sent to your cable boxes.

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  • jason: poor former Brighthouse members in a week it will be a year since SPP prices started for them. That means no one will be on the legacy first year pr...
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