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Comcast Gobbledygook: “We Don’t Have Data Caps, We Have Data Thresholds”

The Plain English Campaign's Golden Bull Award is given to companies that prefer gobbledygook over plain English.

The Plain English Campaign’s Golden Bull Award is given to companies that prefer gobbledygook over plain English.

Comcast is outraged by slanderous suggestions it has data caps on its broadband service.

In response to the scathing report from the Writers Guild of America that pleads for the FCC to block the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Comcast has accused to WGA of getting its facts wrong and being nothing more than a meddling union.

The WGA writes in their filing with the FCC:

The WGAW has also joined Public Knowledge in asking the FCC to enforce the condition that Comcast not use “caps, tiers, metering, or other usage-based pricing” to treat affiliated network traffic differently from unaffiliated traffic. Comcast has violated this condition by exempting its online video service, Xfinity Streampix, from its own data caps, while the viewing of content by other, unaffiliated video services such as Netflix or YouTube would count against a user’s data cap. The violation of this merger condition is a clear threat to competition from online video distributors, and the FCC should respond by requiring Comcast to stop exempting its Streampix service from data caps.

Comcast pounced on the WGA filing, calling it inaccurate.

Comcast-Logo“We don’t have data caps — and haven’t for about two years,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s vice president of government communications. “We have tested data thresholds where very heavy customers can buy more if they want more — but that only affects a very small percentage of our customers in a few markets.”

Until 2012, Comcast had a uniform usage cap of 250GB a month, above which a customer risked having their broadband service suspended. In 2013, the usage allowances were back, reset at 300GB a month and rolled out to a series of expanding “test markets” that today include Huntsville and Mobile, Ala., Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Ga., Central Kentucky, Maine, Jackson, Miss., Knoxville and Memphis, Tenn., and Charleston, S.C.

nonsenseCustomers who exceed this allowance won’t have their broadband service suspended, they will just get a higher bill, as Comcast charges $10 for each additional 50GB of usage.

In contrast, Time Warner Cable neither has a data cap or a data threshold. Stop the Cap! made sure that didn’t happen when Time Warner attempted to impose its own usage limits back in 2009. We successfully organized protests sufficient to get Time Warner executives to back off and shelve the idea. If Comcast takes over, Time Warner Cable customers will likely eventually face Comcast’s “data thresholds,” which are a distinction without much difference. Whatever you call it, it’s a limit on how much a customer can use Comcast’s already-expensive broadband service before bad things happen.

The WGA and Comcast get along about as well as oil and water, so the back and forth is to be expected. The Writer’s Guild also fiercely opposed Comcast’s merger with NBCUniversal. But when it comes to who is playing fast and loose with the truth, it isn’t the group that writes for a living. Comcast’s doublespeak about data caps is no better than calling The Great Recession a periodic equity retreat. It isn’t fooling anyone.

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Time Warner Cable Admits Usage-Based Pricing is a Big Failure; Only Thousands Enrolled

Phillip Dampier March 13, 2014 Audio, Internet Overcharging, Time Warner Cable No Comments
internet limit

Time Warner Cable customer hate usage caps and usage-based pricing.

Time Warner Cable admits customers don’t want usage-based pricing of their broadband service, with only a fraction of one percent of their nationwide customer base choosing to enroll in usage-limited plans in return for a discount.

Time Warner began offering customers a usage-based plan more than two years ago, with discounts starting at $5 a month for light users. Sources at the cable company have repeatedly told Stop the Cap! usage-based pricing has never been popular with customers with only a handful enrolling every month. That was confirmed this week by Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus, noting despite offers of discounts for 5GB and 30GB usage-allowance plans, neither are popular. In fact, Marcus admitted customers strongly want to keep their unlimited use plans.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet, and Telecom Conference, Marcus added that regardless of the plans’ unpopularity, he intends to keep them around to sell the idea that customers should get acquainted with paying based on usage.

twc logo“If you take the 30GB a month and compare it to what median usage is, let’s say high 20s — 27GB a month, that would suggest a whole lot of customers would do well by taking the 30GB service,” Marcus said. “Notwithstanding that, very few customers — in the thousands — have taken the usage based tiers and I think that speaks to the value they place on unlimited — not bad because we plan to continue to offer unlimited for as far out as we can possibly see.”

Despite the low enrollment, Marcus has no plans to jettison usage pricing anytime soon.

“I think that the concept of ‘use more-pay more – use less-pay less’ is an important principle to have established, so notwithstanding the low uptake of the usage-based tiers I think it is a very important component of our overall pricing philosophy.”

Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus admits usage based pricing plans for broadband are exceptionally unpopular with customers, with only a few thousand enrolled. Mar. 12, 2014 (2:03)
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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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AT&T Mailing More Warning Letters to Customers Exceeding Their Usage Allowance

Phillip Dampier February 17, 2014 AT&T, Editorial & Site News, Internet Overcharging 3 Comments

att-logo-221x300AT&T wants customers to pay attention to their broadband account’s monthly usage limits: 150GB for DSL or 250GB for U-verse. Customers who exceed their allowance are more likely than ever to get a warning letter from AT&T threatening overlimit fees if they continue to ‘use too much’ Internet.

AT&T customers in Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Florida have shared identical warnings with Stop the Cap! received during the last 10 days — in each case it was the first warning notice received about exceeding AT&T’s arbitrary allowance:

Dear AT&T High Speed Internet Service Customer,

We want to remind you that your AT&T High Speed Internet service includes 150 gigabytes (GB) of data for each billing period.

You have exceeded 150 GB this billing period.

We’ll waive the charges for additional data this month and notify you as your usage approaches 150 GB in future months.

The next time you exceed 150 GB you’ll be notified, but not billed. However if you go over your data plan in any subsequent billing period, we’ll provide you with an additional 50 GB of data for $10. You’ll be charged $10 for every incremental 50 GB of usage beyond your plan.

AT&T imposed usage caps a few years ago but has generally not enforced them, even when usage meters show an excess of 500GB in Internet traffic. Some AT&T customers still have no access to a working usage meter, making compliance even more difficult. Stop the Cap! has yet to receive a verified copy of a billing statement actually showing overages billed to customers, but the increasing number of warning letters may indicate overlimit fees are forthcoming for persistent ‘violators.’

We recommend that customers receiving these warning letters send a warning of their own by calling AT&T and threatening to cancel service over the issue of unacceptable usage caps. Let AT&T know that you consider usage-based billing a deal-breaker and you will begin exploring your options with other providers. Remind AT&T that they already earn a lot of money from you and that any overlimit fees that appear on your bill will mean the immediate termination of your account.

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HissyFitWatch: Canadian Telecom Companies Annoyed Consumers Getting The Upper Hand

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

As the United States battles back against the introduction of usage caps and rising prices for broadband service, increased competition and regulated open wholesale access to some of Canada’s largest broadband providers have given Canadians an advantage in forcing providers to cut prices and improve service.

Canadians can now easily get unlimited broadband access from one of several independent ISPs that piggyback service on cable and phone networks. Some large ISPs have even introduced all-you-can eat broadband options for customers long-capped by the handful of big players. As customers consider switching providers, cable and phone companies have been forced to cut prices, especially for their best customers. Even cell service is now up for negotiation.

The more services a customer bundles with their provider, the bigger the discount they can negotiate, say analysts who track customer retention. Bell, Rogers, Telus, and others have a major interest keeping your business, even if it means reducing your price.

“It’s far more lucrative for the telecom company to keep you there for the third or fourth service,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told AP. It cuts down on marketing, service and installation calls, he added.

Getting the best deal often depends on your services, payment history, and how long you have been a customer. Cellphone discounts are the hardest to win, but customers are getting them if they have been loyal, carry a large balance and almost never pay late.

telus shawBigger discounts can be had for television and Internet service — cable television remains immensely profitable in Canada and broadband is cheap to offer, especially in cities. Americans often pay $80 or more for digital cable television packages, Canadians pay an average of $60.

Internet service in Canada now averages $45 a month, but many plans include usage caps. It costs more to take to the cap off.

Because of Canada’s past usage cap pervasiveness, online video is not as plentiful in Canada as it is in the United States. There has been considerably less cord-cutting in the north. Despite that, Canadians are ravenous online viewers of what they can find to watch (either legally or otherwise). As usage allowances disappear or become more generous, online video and the Internet will continue to grow in importance for service providers.

Customers should negotiate with their provider for a better deal, particularly if Bell’s Fibe TV is in town. Bell has been among the most aggressive in price cutting its fiber to the neighborhood television service for new customers ready to say goodbye to Rogers or Vidéotron.

Shaw and Telus battle for market share in the west and also have room to cut customer bills and still make a handsome profit.

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Marked Down: Intel’s $1 Billion Online Cable System Technology Sold to Verizon for $200 Million

Behind the 8 ball.

Behind the 8 ball.

Intel has sold its never-launched Intel Media OnCue system, which planned to compete for cable TV viewers using online video, for a deeply discounted $200 million to Verizon Communications, according to media reports.

The would-be virtual cable competitor had initially put its technology up for sale for $1 billion but dramatically reduced its asking price to make a quick sale.

Intel proposed to launch its online competing cable system sometime this year, but pulled back after determining its business plan was untenable. The problem was programming costs — entrenched satellite, cable and phone company competitors receive substantial volume discounts off cable programming but an upstart like Intel would face much higher pricing.

The ongoing effort to establish usage caps or metering Internet usage has also been cited by other would-be competitors as a major deterrent to launch competing video ventures online which can chew up usage allowances.

Variety reports Verizon will use the Intel platform to launch a new TV Everywhere concept for its customers that will deliver the FiOS TV lineup online.

Intel also gets to solidify its working relationship with Verizon’s wireless unit.

 

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US & Canada Agree: Our Internet Providers Are Bad for Us and We’re Falling Behind

Phillip "Free Trade in Bad Broadband" Dampier

Phillip “Free Trade in Bad Broadband” Dampier

Sure we’ve had our cultural skirmishes in the past,  but on one thing we can all mostly agree: our largest cable, phone, and broadband providers generally suck.

Outside of hockey season, Canada’s national pastime is hating Bell, Rogers, Vidéotron, Telus, and Shaw. The chorus of complaints is unending on overbilling, bundling of dozens of channels almost nobody watches but everybody pays for, outrageous long-term contracts, and bloodsucking Internet overlimit fees. In fact, dissatisfaction is so pervasive, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper spent this past summer waving shiny keys of distraction promising Canadians telecom relief while hoping voters didn’t notice their tax dollars were being spent by the country’s national security apparatus to spy on Brazil for big energy companies.

The Montreal Gazette is now collecting horror stories about dreadful service, mysterious price hikes, and promised credits gone missing on behalf of readers fed up with Bell and Vidéotron.

Rogers Cable, always thoughtful and pleasant, punished a Ottawa man coping with multiple sclerosis and cancer with a $1,288 bill, quickly turned over to a collection agency after his home burned to the ground. It took headlines spread across Ontario newspapers to get the cable company to relent.

Things are no better in the United States where the American Customer Satisfaction Index rates telecom companies worse than the post office, health insurers airlines, and the bird flu. National Public Radio opened the floodgates when it asked listeners to rate their personal satisfaction with their Internet Service Provider — almost always the local cable or telephone company.

The phone company Canadians love to hate.

The phone company Canadians love to hate.

Many responded their Internet access is horribly slow, often goes out, and is hugely overpriced. In response, the cable industry’s hack-in-chief did little more than shrug his shoulders — knowing full well American broadband exists in a cozy monopoly or duopoly in most American cities.

Breann Neal of Hudson, Ill., told NPR she has one choice — DSL, which is much slower than advertised. Hudson is Frontier Communications country, and it is a comfortable area to serve because local cable competition from Mediacom, America’s worst cable company, is miles away from Neal’s home.

“There’s no incentive for them to make it better for us because we’re still paying them every month … and there’s no competition,” Neal says.

Samantha Laws, who gets her Internet through her cable provider, says she also only has one option.

“It goes out at least once a day, and it’s been getting worse the last few months,” Laws says. She works with a pet-sitting company that handles all of its scheduling through email and the company website. At times she can’t do her job because of the unreliable connection.

Chicago is in Comcast’s territory and the company is quite comfortable cashing your check while AT&T takes its sweet time launching U-verse in the Windy City. AT&T isn’t about to throw money at improving DSL while local residents wait for U-verse and Comcast doesn’t need to spend a lot in Chicago when the alternative is AT&T.

comcast sucksWhere there is no disruptive new player in town to shake things up, there is little incentive to speed broadband service up. But there is plenty of room to keep increasing prices for a service that is becoming as important as a working telephone. Companies are using broadband profits to cover increasing losses from pay television service, investing in stock buybacks, paying dividends to shareholders, or just putting the money in a bank, often offshore.

NPR’s All Things Considered:

“[For] at least 77 percent of the country, your only choice for a high-capacity, high-speed Internet connection is your local cable monopoly,” says Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. She is also the author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.

Crawford says that today’s high-speed Internet infrastructure is equivalent to when the railroad lines were controlled by a very few moguls who divided up the country between themselves and gouged everybody on prices.

She says the U.S. has fallen behind other countries in providing broadband. At best, Crawford says, the U.S. is at the middle of the pack and is far below many countries when it comes to fiber optic penetration. Given that the Internet was developed in the U.S., she says the gap is a result of failures in policy.

“These major infrastructure businesses aren’t like other market businesses,” Crawford says. “It is very expensive to install them in the first place, and then they build up enormous barriers of entry around them. It really doesn’t make sense to try to compete with a player like Comcast or Time Warner Cable.”

So Crawford is calling for is a major public works projects to install fiber optic infrastructure — a public grid that private companies could then use to deliver Internet service.

Powell

Powell

That’s an idea met with hand-wringing and concern-trolling Revolving Door Olympian Michael Powell, who made his way from former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission during the first term of George W. Bush’s administration straight into the arms of Big Cable as president of their national trade association, the NCTA.

Powell, well compensated in his new role representing the cable industry, wants Americans to consider wireless 3G and 4G broadband (with usage caps as low as a few hundred megabytes per month) equivalent competitors to the local cable and phone company.

“I think to exclude [wireless] as a substitutable, competitive alternative is an error that leads you to believe the market is substantially more concentrated that it actually is,” Powell says.

Of course, Powell’s new career includes a paycheck large enough to afford the wireless data bills that would shock the rest of us. All that money also apparently blinds him to the reality the two largest wireless providers in America are AT&T and Verizon — the same two companies that are part of the duopoly in wired broadband. It’s even worse in Canada, where Rogers, Bell, and Telus dominate wired and wireless broadband.

Although America isn’t even close to having the fastest broadband speeds, Powell wants you to know the speeds you do get are good enough.

“I think taking a snapshot and declaring us as somehow dangerously falling behind is just not substantiated by the data,” he says. He says it is like taking a snapshot of speed skaters, where there might be a few seconds separating the leaders, but no one is “meaningfully out of the race.”

last placeThat is why we still celebrate and honor Svetlana Radkevich from Belarus who competed in the speed skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. She made it to the finish line and ranked 33rd. Ironically, South Korea ranked fastest overall that year, taking home three gold and two silver medals. In Powell’s world, that’s a distinction without much difference. You don’t need South Korean speed and gold medals when Belarus is enough. That argument always plays well in the United States, where Americans can choose between Amtrak or an airline for a long distance trip. Who needs a non-stop flight when a leisurely train ride will get you there… eventually.

There are a handful of providers uncomfortable with the mediocre broadband slow lane. Google is among them. So are community broadband providers installing fiber broadband and delivering gigabit Internet speeds. EPB in Chattanooga is among them, and it has already made a difference for that city’s digital economy neither AT&T or Comcast could deliver.

Unsurprisingly, Powell thinks community broadband is a really bad idea because private companies are already delivering broadband service — while laughing all the way to the bank.

If a community really wants gold medal broadband, Powell says, they should be able to have it. But Powell conveniently forgets to mention NCTA’s largest members, including Comcast and Time Warner Cable, spend millions lobbying federal and state governments to make publicly owned broadband illegal. After all, cable companies know what is best.

All Things Considered recently asked its fans on Facebook, “How satisfied are you with your Internet service provider?” Many responded that they didn’t like their Internet service, that it often goes out and that their connection was often “painfully slow.” Listen to the full report first aired Jan. 11, 2014. (11:30)
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Wall Street Erupts in Frenzy Over Proposed Sale and Breakup of Time Warner Cable

News that two major cable operators are contemplating breaking up Time Warner Cable and dividing customers between them has caused stock prices to jump for all three of the companies involved.

CNBC reported Friday that Time Warner Cable approached Comcast earlier this year about a possible friendly takeover under Comcast’s banner to avoid an anticipated leveraged takeover bid by Charter Communications. Top Time Warner Cable executives have repeatedly stressed any offer that left a combined company mired in debt would be disadvantageous to Time Warner Cable shareholders, a clear reference to the type of offer Charter is reportedly preparing. But the executives also stressed they were not ruling out any merger or sale opportunities.

feeding frenzyNews that there were two potential rivals for Time Warner Cable excited investors, particularly when it was revealed possible suitor Comcast is also separately talking to Charter about a possible joint bid that would split up Time Warner Cable customers while minimizing potential regulatory scrutiny.

The Wall Street Journal reported Charter is nearing completion of a complicated financing arrangement that some analysts expect could include up to $15 billion in debt to finance a buyout of Time Warner Cable. Such deals are not unprecedented. Dr. John Malone’s specialty is leveraged buyouts, a technique he used extensively in the 1980s and 1990s to buy countless smaller cable operators in a quest to build Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) into the nation’s then-biggest cable operator.

In addition to Barclays Bank, Bank of America, and Deutsche Bank — all expected to finance Malone’s bid — Comcast may also inject cash should it team up with Charter’s buyout. Comcast is interested in acquiring new markets without drawing fire from antitrust regulators.

If the two companies do join forces and pull off a deal, Time Warner Cable’s current subscribers will be transitioned to Charter or Comcast within a year. That is what happened in 2006 to former customers of bankrupt Adelphia Cable who eventually became Comcast or Time Warner Cable customers. Analysts predict the two companies would divide up Time Warner Cable territory according to their respective footprints. New York and Texas would likely face a switch to Comcast service, for example, while North Carolina, Ohio, Maine, and Southern California would likely be turned over to Charter.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Comcast Charter consider joint bid for Time Warner Cable 11-22-13.mp4

CNBC reports Charter Cable and Comcast might both be interested in a buyout of Time Warner Cable that would dismantle the company and divide subscribers between them. (4:18)

Reportedly financing the next era of cable consolidation.

Reportedly financing the next era of cable consolidation.

Both bids are very real possibilities according to Wall Street analysts. Comcast has sought formal guidance on how to deal with the antitrust implications of a controversial merger between the largest and second-largest cable operators in the country. The industry has laid the groundwork for another wave of consolidation by winning its 2009 court challenge of FCC rules limiting the total market share of any single cable operator to 30 percent. Despite that, a Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal would still face intense scrutiny from the Justice Department. Getting the deal past the FCC may be a deal-breaker, admits Craig Moffett from MoffettNathanson.

“The FCC applies a public interest test that would be much more subjective,” Moffett said. “It wouldn’t be a slam dunk by any means. The FCC would be concerned that Comcast would have de facto control over what would be available on television. If a programmer couldn’t cut a deal with Comcast, they wouldn’t exist.”

Roberts

Roberts

Supporters and opponents of the deal are already lining up. Charter shareholders would likely benefit from a Charter-only buyout so they generally support the deal. Time Warner Cable clearly prefers a deal with Comcast because it can afford a buyout without massive debt financing and deliver shareholder value. Comcast shareholders are also encouraging Comcast to consider s deal with Time Warner Cable. Left out of the equation are Time Warner Cable customers, little more than passive bystanders watching the multi-billion dollar drama.

The personalities involved may also be worth considering, because Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and John Malone have history, notes the Los Angeles Times:

Malone and Roberts first brushed up against each other more than two decades ago. At that time, both Liberty and Comcast were shareholders in Turner Broadcasting, the parent of CNN, TNT, TBS and Cartoon Network. When Time Warner, which was also a shareholder, made a move to buy the entire company,  there was tension because Comcast felt Liberty got a better deal to sell its stake. Roberts grumbled at the time that Liberty was getting “preferential treatment.”

A few years later, it was Malone’s turn to be mad at Roberts. When TCI founder Bob Magness died in 1996, Roberts made a covert attempt to buy his shares, which would have given him control of [TCI]. Malone beat back the effort, but it left a bad taste in his mouth.

“Malone was livid,” wrote Mark Robichaux in his book, “Cable Cowboy: John Malone and the Rise of the Modern Cable Business.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Comcast seeks anti-trust advice over TWC deal 11-22-13.mp4

Even cable stock analyst Craig Moffett is somewhat pessimistic a Comcast-TWC merger would have smooth sailing through the FCC’s approval process. Moffett worries Comcast would have too much power over programming content. (3:53)

justiceIronically, when Malone sold TCI to AT&T, the telephone company would later sell its cable assets to Comcast, run by… and Brian Roberts.

Most of the cable industry agrees that the increasing power of broadcasters, studios, and cable programmers is behind the renewed interest in cable consolidation. The industry believes consolidation provides leverage to block massive rate increases in renewal contracts. If a programmer doesn’t budge, the network could instantly lose tens of millions of potential viewers until a new contract is signed.

Many in the cable industry suspect when Glenn Britt retires as CEO by year’s end, Time Warner Cable’s days are numbered. But any new owner should not expect guaranteed smooth sailing.

“We expect a Comcast-TWC deal would draw intense antitrust/regulatory scrutiny and likely resistance, stoked by raw political pushback from cable critics and possibly rivals who would argue it’s simply a ‘bridge too far’ or ‘unthinkable,’” Stifel telecom analysts Christopher C. King and David Kaut wrote in a recent note to clients. “We believe government approval would be possible, but it would be costly, with serious risk. This would be a brawl.”

Usage Cap Man may soon visit ex-Time Warner Cable customers if either Charter or Comcast becomes the new owner.

Usage Cap Man may soon visit Time Warner Cable customers if either Charter or Comcast becomes the new owner.

While the industry frames consolidation around cable TV programming costs, broadband consumers also face an impact from any demise of Time Warner Cable. To date, Time Warner Cable executives have repeatedly defended the presence of an unlimited use tier for its residential broadband customers. Charter has imposed usage caps and Comcast is studying how to best reimpose them. Either buyer would likely move Time Warner Cable customers to a usage-based billing system that could threaten online video competition.

“Our sense is the DOJ and FCC would have concerns about the market fallout of expanded cable concentration and vertical integration, in a broadband world where cable appears to have the upper hand over wireline telcos in most of the country (i.e., outside of the Verizon FiOS and other fiber-fed areas),” Stifel’s King and Kaut wrote. “We suspect the government would raise objections about the potential for Comcast-TWC bullying of competitors and suppliers, given the extent and linkages of their cable/broadband distribution, programming control, and broadcast ownership.”

Since none of the three providers compete head-on, the loss of “competition” would be minimal. Any Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal would likely include semi-voluntary restrictions like those attached to Comcast’s successful acquisition of NBC-Universal, including short-term bans on discriminating against content providers on its broadband service.

Customers can expect a welcome letter from Comcast and/or Charter Cable as early as spring of next year if Time Warner Cable accepts one of the deals.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Comcast and Charter Reportedly Weighing Bid for TWC 11-22-13.flv

Bloomberg News reports if Comcast helps finance a deal between Charter and Time Warner Cable, Comcast would likely grab Time Warner Cable systems in New York for itself. (2:26)

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Cable ONE Catchup: Free Upload Speed Upgrades, But Usage Caps Persist

THE Internet Overcharger

Cable ONE’s boost in cable infrastructure investment is paying dividends for its broadband customers with new upstream speed upgrades.

“Our customers have expressed a need for faster upload speeds and we’re committed to listening to our customers and delivering the latest products and technical advancements while maintaining the highest level of reliability and customer care,” said Joe Felbab, Cable ONE vice president of marketing.

The details:

  • 50/2Mbps Streaming Plan gets a slight bump to 3Mbps upload speed;
  • 60/2Mbps Premier Plan gets upload speed doubled to 4Mbps;
  • 70/2Mbps Ultra Plan gets a triple boost to 6Mbps.

To activate the new upload speeds, reset your cable modem by briefly unplugging it.

Cable ONE's promotions often only last three months before increasing to the regular, undisclosed a-la-carte price. Modem lease or purchase is extra.

Cable ONE’s promotions often only last three months before increasing to the regular, undisclosed a-la-carte price. Modem lease or purchase is extra.

In June, Cable ONE scrapped its confusing consumption billing scheme and replaced it with standard usage caps that our readers report are unevenly enforced.

cable_one_crewThe 1.5Mbps, 5Mbps, 8Mbps, 10Mbps, 12Mbps, & 50Mbps services (some plans grandfathered for existing customers) have a cap of 300GB per billing cycle, while the 60Mbps and 70Mbps services respectively have 400 and 500GB data caps per billing cycle. Surfing Internet has a 50GB cap.

While 6Mbps upload speed is slightly better than what Time Warner Cable and AT&T U-verse customers get, Cable ONE remains well behind companies like Comcast and Verizon FiOS.

Cable ONE in April announced a two-year, $60 million network upgrade across 42 cable systems in its mostly rural footprint to enhance reliability and deliver faster Internet service. Upstream speeds are the most difficult to increase for cable broadband providers because the DOCSIS standard was designed to deliver fast download speeds.

Earlier this month, Cable ONE adopted TiVo for its new Whole Home DVR, which offers 650 hours of recording time with four built-in tuners and an Advanced TiVo on-screen guide.

In large parts of its national service area, Cable ONE competes with telephone companies AT&T, CenturyLink, and Windstream.

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Comcast’s 300GB Cap Headed to Atlanta Dec. 1

Comcast is introducing its 300GB usage cap in Atlanta on Dec. 1:

atlanta

The cable company is currently sending e-mail notifications to affected customers. Comcast has tested usage caps in several markets, mostly in the southern United States, to measure customer response.

Notice the e-mail suggests Comcast is “increasing the amount of data” included in the customer’s allowance. In fact, Comcast rescinded usage limits for most customers across the country in May 2012.

Last week, Neil Smit, president and CEO of Comcast Cable Communications told Wall Street analysts customers are not pushing back hard against capped Internet.

“We have a number of trials in place in markets,” Smit said. “We’re testing different types of usage-based pricing offerings. Thus far the consumer response has been neutral to slightly positive. We’ll continue to monitor it.”

If customers do not want their Internet usage capped, they must vocalize complaints with Comcast and consider taking other steps such as organizing protests in front of local Comcast offices, inviting the media to attend.

In 2009, a similar effort to introduce usage caps and consumption billing by Time Warner Cable failed after customer backlash forced the company to shelve the idea.

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