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Time Warner Cable Wants to Keep Its Taxpayer Subsidized Rural Broadband Expansion a Secret

rural cableTime Warner Cable has appealed to the Secretary of the New York Department of Public Service to keep information about taxpayer-subsidized broadband expansion projects in New York a secret.

The case is part of a series of ongoing requests for disclosure of information about the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable under New York’s Freedom of Information Law.

Several public interest groups are requesting copies of documents submitted to the state Public Service Commission that the two cable operators have repeatedly asserted should remain confidential. Gerald Norlander from the Public Utility Law Project has been seeking details about how the two companies plan to address New York’s rural broadband dilemma before any decision about the merger is made by state regulators. Norlander requested copies of documents that include details about Time Warner’s taxpayer-subsidized rural broadband expansion under the auspices of Gov. Cuomo’s Connect NY program. Time Warner wants to keep the information confidential, citing competitive concerns.

New York Administrative Law Judge David L. Prestemon ruled earlier this month that while Time Warner could maintain secrecy in the early stages of its proposed expansion efforts, once the company disclosed details about a project in a public filing with state or local officials, confidentiality should be lifted.

shhPrestemon rejected efforts by Time Warner Cable to maintain confidentiality even after news of one broadband expansion project was reported by Albany-area media outlets. Prestemon added that public regulatory filings submitted by the company as a project commences effectively places information about it in the public domain.

Counsel for Time Warner Cable rejected that assertion, claiming information found in certain regulatory filings or in a newspaper article lacks the granularity sought by Time Warner’s competitors.

“Simply because physical construction begins on a project does not mean that the public or competitors would be aware of who is completing the project, the geographic extent of the project, the number of passings, or the estimated completion date,” argued Maureen O. Helmer and Laura L. Mona in an appeal filed by Time Warner’s legal team at Hiscock & Barclay, LLP. “This information would be difficult and costly for a competitor to compile, such that disclosure would significantly harm Time Warner Cable’s competitive advantage.”

The attorneys revealed Time Warner Cable’s use of subcontractors is already helping shield the company from having expansion projects become public knowledge:

Time Warner Cable typically uses subcontractors to complete the physical construction. Therefore, the vehicles used to construct the build-out are often not Time Warner Cable owned vehicles. While Time Warner Cable generally requires contractors to display signs stating “Contractor for Time Warner Cable,” the existence of construction vehicles on the side of a road would not convey to an average member of the public or a competitor that Time Warner Cable was engaged in construction of new facilities, as opposed to repair, maintenance, or some other activity. In similar fashion, if a Time Warner Cable vehicle was present on the side of a road, it would not mean that a new build-out was being constructed as the vehicle could be performing any number of tasks that would not be known to the public.

Norlander’s group is concerned Comcast intends to combine Time Warner Cable’s systems in New York and could focus entirely on large urban markets while potentially abandoning rural customers to maximize revenue.

This is the third time Time Warner Cable has appealed one of Judge Prestemon’s rulings on this subject.

Merry Christmas from Comcast: Colo., Wash., Ore., Utah Getting Speed Upgrades on Dec. 16

Speed upgrades won't help customers if they exceed Comcast's market-tested 300GB usage cap that could extend nationwide in 2015.

Speed upgrades won’t help Comcast customers if they exceed a market-tested 300GB usage cap that could extend nationwide in 2015. (Image courtesy: “Funch”)

Comcast will double the broadband speeds of many of its broadband customers at no extra charge in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain region just in time for Christmas.

  • Performance will increase from 25Mbps to 50Mbps;
  • Blast! will increase from 50Mbps to 105Mbps;
  • Extreme 105 (105Mbps) will be replaced with Extreme 150 (150Mbps).
  • Certain areas will qualify for new speed plans of 305 and 505Mbps.

The new speeds are planned to begin on Dec. 16 and a modem reset may be required. Comcast indicates the speed increase excludes parts of New Mexico, Tucson, Ariz., and Fort Collins, Col.

These markets are not part of Comcast’s ongoing usage cap market trials testing a 300GB monthly usage cap with a $10 penalty for each 50GB customers exceed their allowance.

Although some customers are pleased about the speed increases, with usage caps potentially looming the benefits may prove fleeting.

One customer who has cut cable television and now streams all of his video entertainment online found Comcast would empty his bank account if the overlimit fee was in place in his area.

“I figured I’d go and see how much data I actually used in those months and found that I used 996GB in September, 706GB in October and 553GB in November,” wrote Funch. For the month of September, he would have owed Comcast an extra $140 in penalties on top of his usual Internet bill thanks to viewing Hulu and Netflix.

Customers in Comcast usage capped markets are turning down the video quality of Netflix to conserve their usage allowance, resulting in degraded video performance.

“They boost their speeds but then charge you more if you actually use them,” said Nashville customer Paul Frankel. “It’s the Comcast way.”

Cuomo: 100% of New York State Should Have Access to 100Mbps Broadband by 2018

ny broadbandNew York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set a goal that every resident of New York State should have access to at least 100Mbps broadband no later than 2018.

The governor will kick off his latest broadband expansion effort with the launch of his $500 million broadband expansion program, dubbed the New New York Broadband Fund, a follow-up to the state’s $70 million public-private effort to expand broadband that began in 2012.

Much of the money awarded in the 2012 broadband expansion effort went to Wireless Internet Service Providers, institutional broadband networks, middle-mile fiber projects not accessible to the public, and emergency service network upgrades. Another $5.2 million was awarded to Time Warner Cable to expand broadband service to 4,114 households in the Capital, Central, Finger Lakes, Mid-Hudson, Mohawk Valley, NYC, North Country, Southern Tier and Western regions of New York State. In June, many of the top funding recipients also received honors from the governor’s office in the first annual New York State Broadband Champion Awards.

Gov. Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo

Despite the money, the 2012 effort did not make a significant dent in the pervasive problem of broadband availability in upstate New York.

While Gov. Cuomo is committed to a target speed of 100Mbps within the next four years, more than one million New York households still cannot access broadband that achieves the state minimum — 6.5Mbps. That includes 113,000 businesses.

The governor’s solution is to subsidize private businesses with more tax dollars to resolve the broadband problem, with a significant part of the next round of funding likely to reach more institutional and public safety networks off-limits to the public, middle mile network expansion that can build state-of-the-art fiber rings that do not connect to end users, and an even bigger amount handed to Time Warner Cable (or Comcast if the state approves a merger with Time Warner Cable) and rural phone companies like Frontier Communications. Much of the money awarded to last mile providers like cable and phone companies will placate those that have stubbornly refused to expand further into rural areas unless taxpayers pick up some of the expense.

“In some of these areas, there’s just not a business case for these [service] providers to build out,” said David Salway, director of the New York State Broadband Program office. “The cost far exceeds what the revenue might be for that area.”

An unintended consequence of the broadband funding effort could be taxpayers subsidizing the establishment of for-profit monopolies in rural corners of the state. Although Salway told Capital NY he wanted to make sure New Yorkers had a choice, he clarified he was referring to a choice in technology, not service providers.

twcGreenThat must come as a relief for Verizon. The state’s largest phone company has petitioned state officials in the past for a gradual mothballing of New York’s rural landline network in favor of switching customers to wireless voice and broadband over Verizon’s cellular network. Theoretically, taxpayers could end up subsidizing the demise of rural New York landlines and DSL if Verizon seeks money from the rural broadband fund to expand its wireless tower network in rural New York. Time Warner Cable almost certainly will also seek more funding, probably in excess of the average $1,264 paid to the cable company for each of the 4,114 additional connections it agreed to complete during an earlier round of funding.

While rural broadband remains an important issue in New York, the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable is on the front burner and Salway, like the governor, had little to say. But Salway did offer that he did not believe the merger “would reduce [access] as much as further our goal” for expansion.

Guidelines for grant recipients are expected to become available just after the governor’s State of the State presentation in January, with ground-breaking on projects likely to start by mid-summer of 2015.

AT&T, Verizon Break Out The Campaign Contribution Checkbooks Early, Sending $ to the Newly-Elected

Big Telecom is already trying to buy incoming members of Congress with lavish campaign contributions.

Big Telecom is already trying to buy incoming members of Congress with lavish campaign contributions.

Before constituents have a chance to make an impression on Capitol Hill’s incoming freshmen class, AT&T and Verizon have rushed significant campaign contributions to more than two dozen newly elected members of Congress.

Politico reports AT&T has cut checks to 31 new members of the House and Senate, Verizon sent 28 checks, and Comcast donated to 22 winners in the fall elections. Most of the money went to incoming Republicans who will control both the House and Senate starting in January.

All three companies are seeking allies in the fight against Net Neutrality and for a wholesale rewriting of the Communications Act, the nation’s most important telecom-related legislation.

Congressional observers predict revisiting the Communications Act would be a lobbyist bonanza, with potentially billions flowing into congressional coffers to win further industry deregulation. The last major overhaul in 1996 transformed broadcasting, allowing a handful of corporations to own the majority of radio and television stations and allowing large phone and cable companies to govern themselves with respect to broadband and competition. Cable and broadband prices soared as a result, while the number of competitors dropped due to industry consolidation.

The telecom companies are well ahead of technology players like Microsoft and Google, that have collectively sent contributions to fewer than a half-dozen incoming members and are barely active in Washington in comparison to the biggest phone and cable companies.

Comcast on a Store Building Spree; Could Become as Ubiquitous as Verizon Wireless Outlets

Phillip Dampier November 24, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 2 Comments

xfinity-store-cottman-600xx4608-3072-0-192Although it is unlikely to rival Starbucks, Comcast has launched a significant number of store openings in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey to handle customer support, bill payments, and equipment exchanges.

Last week the cable company held a special reception to open its 4,000-square foot Xfinity Store in the Roosevelt Mall in northeastern Philadelphia.

The small format stores will resemble the kinds of small stores wireless companies like AT&T and Verizon run to handle customer issues and put the latest equipment on display.

Comcast now operates more than 500 stores nationwide and in October announced it would accept walk in equipment returns at any of the 4,400 UPS Stores. Customers will be able to return unwrapped/unboxed equipment at no charge just by dropping it off.

Comcast has been notorious for its understaffed customer care centers that often force customers to stand in long lines, sometimes extending out the door.

Merger Live or Die, Time Warner CEO Robert Marcus Cashes In: Nets $2.3 Million in Stock Sale

Phillip Dampier November 24, 2014 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 1 Comment
Marcus

Marcus

Time Warner Cable CEO Robert D. Marcus is a winner if he stays CEO of an independent Time Warner Cable or an even bigger winner if his efforts to sell the company to Comcast are eventually successful with regulators.

Marcus will enjoy a Thanksgiving holiday with his money — including an extra $2,272,320 he just won from a sale of 16,000 awarded shares of Time Warner Cable stock, sold at an average price of $142.02 a share on the open market.

He still has plenty of Time Warner Cable stock left — 61,281 shares worth nearly $9 million. If Time Warner Cable is ultimately sold to Comcast as he hopes, Marcus will walk away from the company after less than one year as its CEO with a golden parachute package worth at least $80 million.

Nashville Comcast Customer Paying for Business Service to Avoid Usage Caps Faces $2,789 Cancelation Fee

Phillip Dampier November 19, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Video No Comments

comcast business cancelA Nashville web developer who signed up for usage-cap exempted Business Class service in one of Comcast’s usage-based billing trial cities received a bill for nearly $3,000 in early termination fees after he was unable to transfer his Comcast Internet service to his new address.

Adrian Fraim followed the lead of other savvy Comcast customers who have managed to avoid the company’s usage caps by signing up for cap-free Business Class service. For years, Comcast has offered small businesses a commercial service for only slightly more than residential service, without any usage limits. But any customer is free to sign up.

Fraim thought he was getting a good deal and was happy with his broadband service, but Comcast took him to school when he tried to move service from Antioch to his new address in Clarksville, which he later discovered was outside of Comcast’s service area. The cable company treated his move as a violation of his three-year service contract and billed him an early termination fee of $2,789.

“I was just blown away,” Fraim told WSMV-TV. “That’s way too much money for somebody like me to be able to pay. They kept telling me the same thing, ‘you’re under contract, that’s what the contract says.'”

Only Fraim has never seen a printed Comcast contract. The company only offers its general service agreement and acceptable use policy online and it implies commercial customers are under a one-year contract.

In fact, Comcast’s terms require early-canceling customers to pay 75% of the amount they would have paid on their monthly bill under contract and 100% of any waived custom installation fees. A customer with a $100/mo broadband bill would owe a termination fee of $75 a month for each of up to 36 months of service.

etf

“I didn’t think that was fair, to pay an early termination fee, because I wanted to keep their service,” Fraim said. “And due to them not offering it in my area, I feel like I was being punished because they don’t offer the service here.”

Comcast didn’t seem to care about Fraim’s predicament until reporters called the cable company.

Faced with the prospect of leading the local evening news, Comcast turned Fraim’s frown upside down and finally relented.

Spokesman Alex Horwitz said Comcast does have early termination fees, but because of the extenuating circumstances, “the new location is not serviceable by Comcast,” they will waive the fee.

Comcast has not modified its contract to offer that “get out of penalty jail free”-card to other customers, so be certain to carefully consider the term length of your contract and be sure you have no plans to move outside of a Comcast service area before signing it, unless you have very deep pockets.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSMV Nashville Man questions 3000 Comcast bill 11-17-14.mp4

WSMV talks with Nashville web developer Adrian Fraim who discovered a nasty surprise when he moved outside of Comcast’s service area – a $2.789 early termination fee. (2:08)

The Trauma Trinity: Comcast, Time Warner, Charter Now America’s Most-Hated Companies

ygbix_logoAmericans would rather deal with unwanted telemarketing calls, fight their insurance company, or pay top dollar for oil and gas because almost anything is better than dealing with the cable company, if it happens to be named Comcast, Time Warner Cable, or Charter.

As state and federal regulators contemplate allowing these three companies to co-mingle, Americans have bottom-rated them like never before in the most recent YouGov BrandIndex survey of consumer satisfaction.

Any number below 60 results in the failing grade of “F” and shame for all concerned. The three cable operators managed a grade of just 13.2, nearly twice worse than the next lowest scoring industry – wireless providers. The cable sector once again achieved the lowest scores among 43 rated industries and has sunk to a level reserved for a war criminal popularity contest.

complete_list

YouGov BrandIndex

Although Time Warner Cable’s scores were called “crap” by one consumer advocate reviewing the data, Comcast performed much worse, plummeting to new lows after customers related to the gone-viral recording of Ryan Block’s customer service call from hell. Block spent more than 20 minutes arguing with a cocky and insufferable customer service representative who repeatedly resisted Block’s efforts to cancel his service. It hit a familiar nerve with Comcast customers and the company took a major hit, according to Lance Fraenkel, head of client services for BrandIndex.

cable guy“That to me stands out as a major event over the last few months that has damaged the brand and category perception,” Fraenkel told The Huffington Post.

The proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, although well received by non-profit groups and politicians receiving Comcast contribution checks, is a dead on arrival proposition for average consumers. This allowed Charter, which typically rates about as popular as burnt popcorn, to achieve a new high in its perennially dismal consumer satisfaction score. It can take its “barely neutral” rating to the bank.

But it isn’t bad for everyone. Verizon FiOS in particular achieved top grades for service, with AT&T U-verse also doing better than the cable competition.

“If you have a couple brands in negative territory and the category average is still firmly positive, then you know that there are brands that perform well in the sector,” Fraenkel added.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable both acknowledged their lousy ratings, both promising to continue spending millions improving the customer service experience. Comcast has promised that annually since 2007 and its ratings continue to decline. Many blame offshore call centers and intransigent operators unwilling to depart from a script that emphasizes giving credits and refunds only as a last resort. Most complaining customers are offered temporary discounts on service upgrades, which eventually expire and result in an even higher bill.

Charter couldn’t be bothered responding to a call for a comment. When the alternative is DSL from Frontier, CenturyLink or Windstream, why should they?

Big Cable, Telcos Spent $42 Million In 2013-2014 Lobbying for Deregulation, Against Net Neutrality

AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and the cable industry’s chief lobbying group spent $42.8 million during the 2013-2014 election cycle to weigh in on issues including burying Net Neutrality, outlawing community broadband competition, winning tax breaks for themselves, and avoiding consumer protection regulations.

A Common Cause analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the Institute for Money in State Politics shows that the usual suspects poured money into political coffers on the state and federal level to influence lawmakers.

2014-contributions-from-net-1

On the federal level, murky party committees received the largest individual checks: a total of $862,223 for House and Senate Republicans and $552,605 for Democrats. Individual members of Congress also received their own contributions, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner ($98,175 from Comcast) and Democratic Senator Mark Pryor ($88,650 from Comcast, TWC, and National Cable and Telecom. Assn.) Pryor will need to spend his contributions quickly. He was de-elected by Arkansas voters last Tuesday.

Net Neutrality is a major topic on the minds of the cable and telco companies, as is ongoing deregulation and decommissioning rural landline service, and pushback on revelations AT&T and Verizon were only too happy to turn over your phone records to the federal government.

In the states, the bigger the issues coming up in the legislature, the bigger the campaign checks. In Florida, AT&T is the state’s single largest source of political donations, giving $1.53 million to state lawmakers in the past year and another $660,000 to Gov. Rick Scott (R) and his appointed heads of state agencies. AT&T is lobbying for eliminating Florida’s telecommunications tax, win the right to place cell towers wherever they wish without much interference from local officials, and further deregulation. Most of AT&T’s money goes into the hands of the state’s Republicans.

In New York and California, Democrats got a major chunk of money from Comcast and Time Warner Cable — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo received $60,800 each from both Comcast and Time Warner Cable (totaling $121,600). California Governor Jerry Brown received $54,400 from Time Warner Cable and $27,200 from Comcast. Both states are reviewing the merger of the two companies this year. AT&T and Verizon are also major donors – AT&T wants to dismantle the rural telephone network in California and Verizon is trying to convince the New York legislature to approve its own rural landline replacement – Voice Link. It also wants reduced scrutiny of its landline performance in New York and more access to New York City buildings where it faces resistance from property owners who want compensation from Verizon to install FiOS.

2014-contributions-from-net

New York Regulators Again Delay Final Decision on Comcast-Time Warner Merger

Stop the Cap! has learned the New York State Public Service Commission has again delayed its final decision on the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

The latest deadline the PSC will pass is Nov. 19, and the new deadline, accepted by both cable operators, is Dec. 31, 2014.

Sources tell us the multiple delays come as a result of regulators underestimating the complexity of the transaction and its potential impact on New York residents.

There is also an ongoing legal dispute over the possible public release of information both cable companies argue is proprietary and confidential. Public interest groups argue otherwise and consider details about current broadband subscriptions, future expansion plans, and the possible fate of Time Warner Cable’s $14.99 low price Internet plan worth sharing with New York residents.

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