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Time Warner Cable Doubles Premium Broadband Speeds in Los Angeles, New York, Hawaii

timewarner twcTime Warner Cable customers in Los Angeles, New York, and Hawaii subscribed to the company’s top 50/5Mbps Ultimate speed tier will get a free upgrade to 100/5Mbps between now and the end of this year.

“Residential customers in Los Angeles who subscribe to our Ultimate 50 tier are being automatically upgraded to Ultimate 100 at no extra cost,” said Time Warner’s Andrew Russell. “Ultimate 50 residential customers in New York City and Hawaii will be upgraded by year’s end. By early 2014, all customers in these markets will have access to Ultimate 100, with more TWC markets to follow next year.”

“Consumers are adding more and more connected devices into their digital lifestyle,” said Steve Cook, general manager of Time Warner Cable residential Internet. “These new ultra-fast Internet speeds are designed to satisfy their growing demand to stream, download and connect simultaneously across multiple devices.”

Time Warner Cable announced several speed upgrades over the last year, but it still remains the least aggressive major cable operator in the speed category. Among the largest five cable operators, Time Warner Cable’s premium speed tiers are the slowest, with top upstream speeds of just 5Mbps and a maximum downstream speed of 50Mbps for most. But Time Warner Cable has no compulsory usage caps or consumption billing.

Over the last year, Time Warner Cable increased speeds for all but their Extreme customers (30/5Mbps), the only plan to have not seen any major speed boost in most markets since being standardized as an entry level DOCSIS 3 tier.

Time Warner also announced a speed improvement for their budget-conscious Lite tier, now 1/1Mbps in most markets.

Priced at $14.99 per month, the new offering will deliver 2/1Mbps — adequate for basic web browsing, e-mail and limited multimedia use — and becomes available nationwide beginning Nov. 4.

“We’re making our entry-level product even better and more affordable for the casual Internet user and cost-conscious consumer,” said Cook. “At both ends of our speed options and everything in between, we’re focused on giving our customers the best experience at the best value.”

Time Warner Cable will now offer most customers seven different speed tiers, all unlimited use (except when opting in to usage limited plans in return for a discount):

  • Lite: 2/1Mbps
  • Basic: 3/1Mbps
  • Standard: 15/1Mbps
  • Turbo: 20/2Mbps
  • Extreme: 30/5Mbps
  • Ultimate: 100/5Mbps

Former FCC Chairman Turned Lobbyist Warns Providers to Hurry Usage Caps & Billing Before It’s Too Late



A former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission turned top cable lobbyist rang the warning bell at an industry convention this week, recommending America’s cable operators hurry out usage caps and usage-based billing before a perception takes hold the industry is trying to protect cable television revenue.

Michael Powell, the former head of the FCC during the Bush Administration is now America’s top cable industry lobbyist, serving as president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA). From 2001-2005 Powell claimed to represent the interests of the American people. From 2011 on, he represents the interests of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, and other large cable operators.

Attending the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2013 in Atlanta, Powell identified the cable industry’s top priority for next year: “broadband, broadband, and broadband.”

The NCTA fears the current unregulated “Wild West” nature of broadband service is ripe for regulatory checks and balances. The NCTA plans to prioritize lobbying to prevent the implementation of consumer protection regulations governing the Internet. Powell warned it would be “World War III” if the FCC moved to oversee broadband by changing its definition as an unregulated “information service” to a regulated common carrier utility.

Powell is very familiar with the FCC’s current definition because he presided over the agency when it contemplated the current framework as it applies to DSL and cable broadband providers.

While Powell has a long record opposing blatant Net Neutrality violations that block competing websites and services, he does not want the FCC meddling in how providers charge or provision access.

Powell believes some of cable's biggest problems come from bad marketing.

Powell believes some of cable’s biggest problems come from bad marketing.

Powell disagreed with statements from some Wall Street analysts like Craig Moffett who earlier predicted the window for broadband usage-based limits and fees was closing or closed already.

Powell does not care that consumers are accustomed to and overwhelmingly support unlimited access. Instead, he urged cable executives to “move with some urgency and purpose” to implement usage-based billing for economic reasons, despite the growing perception such limits are designed to protect cable television service from online competition.

“I don’t think it’s too late,” Powell said. “But it’s not something you can wait for forever.”

Powell pointed to the success wireless carriers have had forcing the majority of customers to usage capped, consumption billing plans and believes the cable industry can do the same.

The NCTA president also described many of the industry’s hurdles as marketing and perception problems.

The cable industry, long bottom-rated by consumers in satisfaction surveys, can do better according to Powell, by making sure they are nimble enough to meet competition head-on.

Powell described Google Fiber as a limited experiment unlikely to directly compete with cable over the long-term, and with a new version of the DOCSIS cable broadband platform on the way, operators will be able to compete with speeds of 500-1,000Mbps and beyond. He just hates that it’s called DOCSIS 3.1, noting it wasn’t “consumer-friendly” in “a 4G and 5G world.”

Kevin Hart, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Cox Communications joked the marketing department would get right on it.

Your New Meter Reader May Be Verizon Wireless; Company Moving Into Cell-Based Meters

Phillip Dampier September 30, 2013 Consumer News, Verizon, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment

meterThat bi-monthly visit from your local utility’s meter reader may eventually be a thing of the past.

Verizon Communications is moving rapidly to establish itself as an “end to end smart grid solutions provider,” providing utility smart meters for gas, electric, and water service that communicate over Verizon Wireless’ cellular network.

“We’re in the midst of a pilot right now, and what we’re piloting is more than the meter data management — we have a meter-to-cash system that includes an advanced metering infrastructure partner as well,” said Ernie Lewis, industry partner with Verizon’s global energy and utility practice.

Verizon hopes to capitalize on forthcoming smart meter adoption, replacing current mechanical meters for natural gas, electricity and water with new electronic meters that have two-way wireless communications capability with the parent utility. Smart meters can offer customers time of day savings for running high consumption appliances during off-peak hours, automatically deliver meter readings to the utility without having to dispatch an army of meter readers to customers’ homes, and support pay-per-use billing that turns the power off when your prepaid account is depleted.

Verizon will manage the potential data demands of such services through cloud networks, potentially through its acquired subsidiary Terremark. Verizon already operates its own energy and utilities enterprise solutions business.


Comcast Hires ‘Internet Guy’ to Embrace Broadband Innovation; Start By Killing the Usage Cap

Phillip Dampier September 23, 2013 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, Internet Overcharging, Net Neutrality Comments Off on Comcast Hires ‘Internet Guy’ to Embrace Broadband Innovation; Start By Killing the Usage Cap
Phillip "Unlimited Innovation depends on Unlimited Access" Dampier

Phillip “Unlimited Innovation depends on Unlimited Access” Dampier

Comcast wants to embrace innovation and change. Before it can succeed, the cable company needs to permanently retire usage caps and consumption billing schemes, now being market-tested for possible reintroduction nationwide.

Comcast today announced it created a new executive position — vice president of consumer services for video, phone, Internet, and home products and appointed Marcien Jenckes to the position. His role is to oversee development of ideas for new products and services that can be sold to Comcast customers.

Jenckes says Comcast’s product lines are blurring as convergence between television and broadband continues. His role is to keep customers of both services happy by embracing innovation and change.

He will find his hands tied should Comcast bring back its usage cap, now under serious consideration. Limiting residential broadband limits customers’ interest in innovative new online applications that carry the threat of a wallop to one’s wallet from overlimit fees. Comcast ditched its arbitrary 250GB usage cap in the spring of 2012, but continues to think about bringing it back. This year, Comcast has tested a new 300GB cap in certain states tied to an overlimit fee for customers exceeding their usage allowance.

Customers don’t like usage caps one bit. Neither should Comcast “innovators” like Mr. Jenckes.

The future of Internet innovation is likely to be developed on a platform that delivers faster Internet speeds, opening up new high bandwidth applications not easily possible today. Usage caps are anathema to that kind of innovation because customers will be unlikely to embrace new services that blow their usage allowance away.

If Mr. Jenckes is seriously interested in promoting a new spirit of innovation at Comcast, he should start by pressing his fellow executives to ditch usage caps and consumption billing once and for all. The future of unlimited innovation in broadband has its best chance of success with unlimited access.

Verizon Considers Offering FiOS TV On a Low-Fiber Diet; Use Your Existing Broadband Provider to Watch

Phillip Dampier September 12, 2013 Competition, Consumer News, Internet Overcharging, Net Neutrality, Online Video, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon Comments Off on Verizon Considers Offering FiOS TV On a Low-Fiber Diet; Use Your Existing Broadband Provider to Watch
Coming soon nationwide? Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T and CenturyLink sure hope not.

Coming soon nationwide? Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T and CenturyLink sure hope not.

Verizon is talking to major cable programmers about launching a nationwide version of FiOS TV as an over-the-top video service that works with your existing broadband provider.

The NY Post reports Verizon is looking at launching an online pay television service for customers without installing additional fiber optic lines to deliver it.

The service would likely be an extension of the “TV Everywhere” online video platforms that many national cable and telco-TV providers already offer existing cable TV subscribers. What would make Verizon’s offer radically different is selling the virtual cable TV service in areas where it does not offer FiOS service.

Verizon must carefully negotiate with programmers to distribute networks over an online video service that would likely compete directly with those programmers’ best customers: cable operators and telco IPTV services like U-verse and Prism TV.

The concept was rejected out of hand Wednesday by Time Warner Cable chief operating officer Rob Marcus, who agreed with Comcast executive vice president Steve Burke’s contention that “over the top” video services that offer virtual cable television outside of their respective service areas lacked a compelling business model and would be difficult to monetize.

“At this point we don’t really aspire to delivering an over-the-top service,” Marcus said. “Our value proposition is delivering video via our facilities as opposed to being a retailer of somebody else’s video, which is a somewhat commoditized product.”

Neither cable executive mentioned the fact cable operators have also maintained an informal “wink and nod” agreement to steer clear of head-on competition with each other for decades.

Verizon: The next big supporter of Net Neutrality?

Verizon: The next big supporter of Net Neutrality?

Verizon apparently wants to shake things up and sell online video without incurring the cost of expanding its fiber optic network FiOS to deliver it.

“They’ve had exploratory talks about how to become a virtual [multiple-system operator],” one person close to the conversations told the Post. “It’s a question of how to get there.”

Interestingly, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam is worried about developing the service without Net Neutrality protection or some other form of government oversight of broadband. Verizon could spend millions to negotiate programming contracts only to find competitors with their own TV packages to protect outmaneuvering the venture. Without Net Neutrality, Verizon could find its service blocked by competitors or made untenable with the implementation of broadband usage caps or consumption billing that would make a subscription too costly to consider.

The company is now trying to figure out exactly which branch of government (or agency) controls broadband policy in the nation.

The FCC’s current Net Neutrality policy depends on a shaky regulatory framework now being challenged in federal court.

Verizon declined to comment.

Mediacom Usage Caps Annoy Customers; Usage-Based Billing Excuses Don’t Fit the Facts

Mediacom, logo_mediacom_mainthe worst-rated cable operator in the United States, claims it needs usage caps and consumption billing to force heavy users to pay for needed upgrades. But that isn’t what Mediacom’s executives are telling investors and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Thomas Larsen, group vice president of legal and public affairs for Mediacom told The Gazette the consumption-based billing program was intended to pay for the cost of network upgrades incurred by “individuals who are the highest users.”

But Mediacom’s August 10-Q filings (Mediacom LLC and Mediacom Broadband LLC) with the SEC indicate Mediacom’s revenues are increasing faster than the cable operator’s costs to provide service, as customers upgrade to more costly, faster speed Internet tiers.

internet limitRevenues from residential services are expected to grow as a result of [broadband] and phone customer growth, with additional contributions from customers taking higher speed tiers and more customers taking our advanced video services,” Mediacom reports. “Based upon the speeds we offer, we believe our High Speed Data (HSD) product is generally superior to DSL offerings in our service areas. As consumers’ bandwidth requirements have dramatically increased in the past few years, a trend we expect to continue, we believe our ability to offer a HSD product today with speeds of up to 105Mbps gives us a competitive advantage compared to the DSL service offered by the local telephone companies. We expect to continue to grow HSD revenues through residential customer growth and more customers taking higher HSD speed tiers. “

Mediacom’s consumption billing program, already in effect for new customers, will be imposed on all Mediacom broadband customers starting in September. Larsen claims only about three percent of customers will be impacted by the usage allowance, which will include 250GB of usage for customers selecting the company’s most popular speed tier. Larsen also claimed the average Mediacom customer uses only 14GB per month.

That usage profile is below the national average, and leads to questions about why Mediacom needs a usage allowance system when 97 percent of its customers do not present a burden to the cable company.

“Once a customer reaches their monthly allowance,  for $10 they can purchase an additional 50GB a month of capacity,” Larsen explained. “Each time that they reach that next level, they’ll be able to purchase another allotment. We’re never going to stop you from using data, we’re just going to charge you more if you exceed your monthly allowance. Before, we could cap you, there was no mechanism for them to purchase more.”

Mediacom did not frequently enforce its usage caps in the past except in instances where usage levels created problems for other customers. Despite Larsen’s assertion Mediacom would spent the overages collected from heavy users on broadband upgrades, Mediacom’s report to the SEC indicates broadband usage has never been a significant burden for the cable operator:

Our HSD and phone service costs fluctuate depending on the level of investments we make in our cable systems and the resulting operational efficiencies. Our other service costs generally rise as a result of customer growth and inflationary cost increases for personnel, outside vendors and other expenses. Personnel and related support costs may increase as the percentage of expenses that we capitalize declines due to lower levels of new service installations. We anticipate that service costs, with the exception of programming expenses, will remain fairly consistent as a percentage of our revenues.

Although Mediacom reported field operating costs rose 7.6%, much of that increase was a result of greater fiber lease and cable location expenses on its wireless backhaul business for cell towers and greater use of outside contractors. In the company’s latest 10-Q filing, Mediacom reports its revenues increased 2.9 percent in the past year while its costs rose only 1.5 percent. Mediacom’s revenues from its broadband division are even more rosy, rising 9% in the past year alone. In fact, broadband is the company’s highest growth residential business.

Many of Mediacom’s long-standing customers were initially promised they would be exempt from usage caps, with only new customers subject to usage limits. But Mediacom has unilaterally changed their minds, much to the consternation of some customers.

As of this afternoon, Mediacom is still promising customers usage caps only apply to new customers and those making plan changes.

As of this afternoon, Mediacom is still promising customers usage caps only apply to new customers and those making plan changes.

“It is my belief a man’s word is gold and when Mediacom customers have been told for ages they were grandfathered in with no usage data charges unless they changed plans, that is how it is supposed to be,” said D. Gronceski. “I have explicitly turned down service increases in the past to stay on the unlimited usage plan originally offered by Mediacom […] so I get screwed twice, once for bandwidth caps and again because I’m not getting the services I would be getting if I had not refused the automatic increases.”

annoyedOther customers incensed about the new usage limits have called to cancel service only to be threatened with steep early termination fees.

“Why do I have to pay an early termination fee?” asked AustinPowersISU. “The way of billing for the service is changing and I do not agree to this method of billing. I should be allowed to terminate my service without paying a fee.”

A Mediacom social media team representative offered one suggestion for customers finding themselves quickly over their usage limits: upgrade to faster speed tiers at a higher price. As for complaints about the unilateral introduction of usage caps with overlimit fees, it’s tough luck for customers, on contract or off:

All Internet users will be held to the new terms of service and usage based billing as of Sept. 7, 2013.  There is no agreement to sign, no acknowledgement needed.  Continuing to utilize Internet services is acceptance of these changes. If for any reason you do not feel that your current service level meets your needs, let us know and we can have a representative contact you with further options.

[…] Per the posted terms of service and acceptable use policy, there has always been an established data consumption threshold (data allowance) to be enforced at Mediacom’s discretion.  With this change, we have clarified these methods of enforcement and have expanded the allowance to offer different levels of users different options.  We have notified the proper departments of possible additions, but these statements are and have been posted.


KCRG in Cedar Rapids reports Mediacom is switching to consumption billing for broadband service in September.  (2 minutes)

Comcast Introduces 5GB “Flexible Data Option” Usage Cap in Fresno, Calif.

Phillip Dampier August 1, 2013 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Internet Overcharging Comments Off on Comcast Introduces 5GB “Flexible Data Option” Usage Cap in Fresno, Calif.
Won't take no for an answer.


Comcast is introducing a new 5GB optional usage cap for customers subscribing to their Economy Plus ($29.95 – 3Mbps/768kbps) tier willing to limit their Internet usage in return for a $5 discount.

“The Flexible-Data Option is specifically designed for casual or light Internet users who typically use 5GB of data or less a month,” says a new Comcast FAQ on the subject. “It provides a $5 credit if your total monthly data usage is less than or equal to 5GB per month.”

Comcast admits only a tiny percentage of customers subscribe to the Economy Plus tier, and those are the only customers receiving letters offering a discount for keeping Internet usage low.

The company says it will inject a message into subscribers’ web browsers notifying them when they reach 90% of their usage allowance. If customers do happen to exceed 5GB of usage per month, there are repercussions. First, they automatically lose the $5 credit. Instead, they will be charged $1 per gigabyte in overlimit fees.

“We believe this monthly option is fair because it allows our eligible customers who use less data to now pay less,” writes the company.

But unlike Time Warner Cable’s trials of 5 and 30GB usage-capped plans that limit the overlimit fee to $25 a month, Comcast has no disclosed maximum, which means a customer consuming 200GB a month could face a $195 overage usage penalty.

Comcast notes the option is being offered later this month on a trial basis and only in the Fresno area. Customers can drop the usage capped option at any time.

Comcast discontinued its formal 250GB usage cap in May 2012, but it has not abandoned interest in usage limits or consumption-based pricing.

In Tucson, Comcast is testing variable usage caps with an overlimit fee of $10, which includes an extra 50GB of usage. In Nashville, all customers face a hard 300GB usage cap.

Time Warner Cable has repeatedly admitted very few customers have shown any interest in usage capped broadband plans.

Why Time Warner Cable Can Jack Up Rates Willy-Nilly: Lack of Competition

cable ratesAlthough cable and phone companies love to declare themselves part of a fiercely competitive telecommunications marketplace, it is increasingly clear that is more fairy tale than reality, with each staking out their respective market niches to live financially comfortable ever-after.

In the last week, Time Warner Cable managed to alienate its broadband customers announcing another rate increase and a near-doubling of the modem rental fee the company only introduced as its newest money-maker last fall. What used to cost $3.95 a month will be $5.99 by August.

The news of the “price adjustment” went over like a lead balloon for customers in Albany, N.Y., many who just endured an 18-hour service outage the day before, wiping out phone and Internet service.

“They already get almost $60 a month from me for Internet service that cuts out for almost an entire day and now they want more?” asked Albany-area customer Randy Dexter. “If Verizon FiOS was available here, I’d toss Time Warner out of my house for good.”

Alas, the broadband magic sparkle ponies have not brought Dexter or millions of other New Yorkers the top-rated fiber optic network Verizon stopped expanding several years ago. The Wall Street dragons complained about the cost of stringing fiber. Competition, it seems, is bad for business.

In fact, Verizon Wireless and Time Warner Cable are now best friends. Verizon Wireless customers can get a fine deal — not on Verizon’s own FiOS service — but on Time Warner’s cable TV. Time Warner Cable originally thought about getting into the wireless phone business, but it was too expensive. It invites customers to sign up for Verizon Wireless service instead.

timewarner twcThis is hardly a “War of the Roses” relationship either. Wall Street teaches that price wars are expensive and competitive shouting matches do not represent a win-win scenario for companies and their shareholders. The two companies get along fine where Verizon has virtually given up on DSL. Time Warner Cable actually faces more competition from AT&T’s U-verse, which is not saying much. The obvious conclusion: unless you happen to live in a FiOS service area, the best deals and fastest broadband speeds are not for you.

Further upstate in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, Time Warner Cable faces an even smaller threat from Frontier Communications. It’s a market share battle akin to United States Cable fighting a war against Uzbekistan Telephone. Frontier’s network in upstate New York is rich in copper and very low in fiber. Frontier has lost landline customers for years and until very recently its broadband DSL offerings have been so unattractive, they are a marketplace afterthought.

Rochester television reporter Rachel Barnhart surveyed the situation on her blog:

Think about this fact: Time Warner, which raked in more than $21 billion last year, has 700,000 subscribers in the Buffalo and Rochester markets. I’m not sure how many of those are businesses. But the Western New York market has 875,000 households. That’s an astounding market penetration. Does this mean Time Warner is the best choice or the least worse option?

Verizon-logoThat means Time Warner Cable has an 80 percent market share. Actually, it is probably higher because that total number of households includes those who either don’t want, need, or can’t afford broadband service. Some may also rely on limited wireless broadband services from Clearwire or one of the large cell phone companies.

In light of cable’s broadband successes, it is no surprise Time Warner is able to set prices and raise them at will. Barnhart, who has broadband-only service, is currently paying Time Warner $37.99 a month for “Lite” service, since reclassified as 1/1Mbps. That does not include the modem rental fee or the forthcoming $3 rate hike. Taken together, “Lite” Internet is getting pricey in western New York at $47 a month.

Retiring CEO Glenn Britt believes there is still money yet to be milked out of subscribers. In addition to believing cable modem rental fees are a growth industry, Britt also wants customers to begin thinking about “the usage component” of broadband service. That is code language for consumption-based billing — a system that imposes an arbitrary usage limit on customers, usually at current pricing levels, with steep fees for exceeding that allowance.

frontierRochester remains a happy hunting ground for Internet Overcharging schemes because the only practical, alternative broadband supplier is Frontier Communications, which Time Warner Cable these days dismisses as an afterthought (remember that 80 percent market share). Without a strong competitor, Time Warner has no problem experimenting with new “usage”-priced tiers.

Time Warner persists with its usage priced plans, despite the fact customers overwhelmingly have told the company they don’t want them. Time Warner’s current discount offer — $5 off any broadband tier if you keep usage under 5GB a month, has been a complete marketing failure. Despite that, Time Warner is back with a slightly better offer — $8 off that 5GB usage tier and adding a new 30GB usage limited option in the Rochester market. We have since learned customers signing up for that 30GB limit will get $5 off their broadband service.

internet limitIn nearby Ohio, the average broadband user already exceeds Time Warner’s 30GB pittance allowance, using 52GB a month. Under both plans, customers who exceed their allowance are charged $1 per GB, with overlimit fees currently not to exceed $25 per month. That 30GB plan would end up costing customers an extra $22 a month above the regular, unlimited plan. So much for the $5 savings.

Unfortunately, as long as Time Warner has an 80 percent market share, the same mentality that makes ever-rising modem rental fees worthwhile might also one day give the cable company courage to remove the word “optional” from those usage limited plans. With usage nearly doubling every year, Time Warner might see consumption billing as its maximum moneymaker.

In 2009, Time Warner valued unlimited-use Internet at $150 as month, which is what they planned to charge before pitchfork and torch-wielding customers turned up outside their offices.

Considering the company already earns 95 percent gross margin on broadband service before the latest round of price increases, one has to ask exactly when the company will be satisfied it is earning enough from broadband service. I fear the answer will be “never,” which is why it is imperative that robust competition exist in the broadband market to keep prices in check.

Unfortunately, as long as Wall Street and providers decide competition is too hard and too unprofitable, the price increases will continue.

Time Warner Cable Introduces New 30GB Usage-Capped Billing Plan in Rochester, N.Y.

twc logoIn addition to an August broadband rate increase for western New York’s Time Warner Cable customers, those in Rochester will also be among the first to experience a new 30GB usage-capped billing option for broadband service.

The subject of usage-based billing is a major sore spot for customers in the Flower City, who joined forces with customers in Greensboro, N.C., and San Antonio and Austin, Tex. to force the cable company to shelve a mandatory usage billing scheme announced in 2009. Stop the Cap! was in the middle of that fight, although this group was founded after Frontier Communications proposed a 5GB usage cap the summer before.

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt personally promised Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) that the cable company would yank its planned experiment with usage caps and consumption-based billing after it became clear Rochester and other cities were being singled out where Verizon FiOS would never offer competition, making it seem Time Warner was taking advantage of a lack of broadband competition to charge dramatically higher prices.

In 2009, Time Warner Cable planned to implement mandatory usage pricing starting in Rochester, N.Y., Greensboro, N.C., and San Antonio and Austin, Tex.

In 2009, Time Warner Cable planned mandatory broadband usage pricing starting in Rochester, N.Y., Greensboro, N.C., and San Antonio and Austin, Tex.

But Britt has never stopped believing in usage pricing, and Time Warner has since switched to a more gradual introduction of the pricing scheme, this time offering discounts to customers that agree to limit their Internet usage.

Time Warner’s current usage billing plan offers a meager $5 discount to those who limit consumption to less than 5GB per month. That plan was originally introduced in Texas and Time Warner Cable employees confidentially tell Stop the Cap! it has attracted almost no interest from customers.

Now Time Warner Cable plans to introduce a second usage limited plan, with a yet to be disclosed discount for subscribers who keep Internet usage under 30GB a month.

“Those who use the Internet for e-mail or to surf the web need not pay the same rates as those who download games and the like,” said company spokesperson Joli Plucknette-Farmen.

As far as we can tell, the 30GB capped plan is new for Time Warner Cable and Rochester will be among the first communities to experience it. Unless the company chooses to more aggressively discount both the 5GB and 30GB plans, we expect few customers will take Time Warner Cable up on their offer.

For now, Time Warner says the usage capped plans are optional and that flat rate Internet service will continue. But company executives have not said for how long or what the company might choose to eventually charge for unlimited broadband usage.

Britt has stressed repeatedly he wants customers to get re-educated to accept “a usage component as part of broadband pricing.” But customers may not accept that, particularly considering the cable company already enjoys a 95% gross margin on flat rate broadband service.

Wireless Spectrum: Highest Bidder Wins in U.S., Competition Wins in Europe… for Now

analysisIn the race to acquire spectrum and market share, AT&T and Verizon Wireless have already won most of the awards worth taking and have little to fear from smaller competitors. The U.S. government has seen to that.

The two wireless giants have benefited enormously from government spectrum auctions that award the most favorable wireless spectrum to the highest bidder, a policy that retards competition and guarantees deep-pocketed companies will continue to dominate in the coverage wars.

Winner-take-all spectrum auctions have already proven that AT&T and Verizon are best equipped to bid and win coveted 700MHz spectrum which provides the best indoor and fringe-area reception. This is why AT&T and Verizon customers often find “more bars in more places” than customers relying on Sprint or T-Mobile. Smaller carriers typically have to offer service over much-higher frequencies that don’t penetrate buildings very well. With a reduced level of service, these competitors are at an immediate competitive disadvantage. They also must spend more for a larger number of cell towers to provide uniform service.

Verizon's own presentation materials tout the benefits of controlling 700MHz spectrum which is less costly to deploy and offers more robust coverage.

Verizon’s own presentation materials tout the benefits of controlling 700MHz spectrum, which is less costly to deploy and offers more robust coverage.

Sprint and T-Mobile have two strikes against them at the outset — less favorable spectrum and much smaller coverage areas. Customers who want the best reception under all circumstances usually get it from the biggest two players. Those focused primarily on price are willing to sacrifice that reception for a lower bill.

The same story is developing in the wireless data marketplace. AT&T and Verizon Wireless have the strongest networks as Sprint and T-Mobile fight to catch up.

Where America Went Wrong: The Repeal of Spectrum Caps

Tom Wheeler: America's #1 Advocate for Repeal of Spectrum Caps is now the chairman of the FCC.

Tom Wheeler: America’s #1 advocate for repeal of Spectrum Caps is now the chairman of the FCC.

Originally, the United States prevented excessive market domination with a “Spectrum Cap,” — a maximum amount of wireless spectrum providers could hold in any local market. The rule was part of the sweeping changes in telecommunications law introduced in the mid-1990s. Wireless spectrum auctions replaced lotteries or strict frequency assignments based on merit. The U.S. government promoted the auction system as a win for the U.S. Treasury, which has been promised $60 billion in proceeds from the wireless industry (not the amount actually collected) since auctions began in 1994.

The cost to U.S. consumers from increasing cell phone bills in barely competitive markets is still adding up.

After the auction system was introduced, the largest carriers acquired some of the most favorable, lower-frequency spectrum, easily outbidding smaller rivals. Most of the smaller regional carriers that ultimately won coveted 700MHz spectrum emerged victorious only when AT&T and Verizon felt the smaller markets were not worth the investment. In larger markets, spectrum caps were a gatekeeper against acquiring excess spectrum and, more importantly, rampant industry consolidation.

Under the pre-2001 rules, wireless companies couldn’t own more than 45MHz of spectrum in a single urban area or more than 55MHz in a rural area. That was when Verizon and AT&T competed with carriers that no longer exist — old familiar names like Nextel, Cingular, VoiceStream, Alltel, Centennial Communications, Qwest, and many others considered safe from poaching because the most likely buyers would find themselves over their spectrum limits.

As the largest carriers realized the caps were an effective merger/buyout firewall, the wireless industry began a fierce lobbying campaign against them. Leading the charge was Tom Wheeler, then-president of the CTIA Wireless Association, the nation’s top cellular industry lobbying group. Today he is chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

“Today, America faces a severe spectrum shortage for wireless services,” Wheeler said in 2001. “The spectrum cap is a legacy of spectrum abundance, not shortages; the inefficiencies it perpetuates cannot be allowed to continue. While the U.S. government is looking for ways to catch up to the rest of the world on spectrum allocations, removal of the cap can at least increase the efficiency of existing spectrum.”


Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps opposed retiring Spectrum Caps: “Let’s not kid ourselves: This is, for some, more about corporate mergers than it is about anything else.”

Wheeler was backed by an intensive lobbying effort funded by the largest wireless companies itching to merge and acquire.

By the end of 2001, the new Bush Administration’s FCC was ready to deal, gradually repealing the spectrum caps and fueling major wireless industry consolidation in the process. Providers everywhere could now own or control 55MHz of spectrum in any market, with the promise the caps would be repealed altogether by March 2003.

The result was already foreseen by former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps in November 2001, when he strongly dissented to the Republican majority gung ho for dissolving spectrum caps.

“Let’s not kid ourselves: This is, for some, more about corporate mergers than it is about anything else,” Copps wrote in his strong dissent. “Just look at what the analysts are talking about as the specter of spectrum cap renewal approaches – their almost exclusive focus is on evaluating the candidates for corporate takeovers and handicapping the winners and losers in the spectrum bazaar we are about to open.”

Just in case Copps might be making headway in his campaign to protect competition, Wheeler began complaining even louder about spectrum caps during the spring of 2003, just before their dissolution.

“The wireless industry fought long and hard to secure this spectrum for America’s wireless consumers,” said Wheeler. “Now we must tread carefully — in this era of rapid technological change, writing rules that are too restrictive would be irresponsible. In order to use this spectrum both efficiently and effectively, those who purchase this spectrum at auction must be allowed the freedom to grow and evolve with the demands of the market.”

Europe: Protecting Consumers from Giant Multinational Competition Consolidators (Some of the same ones AT&T reportedly wants to buy)

There is a reason Europeans are shocked by the costs of wireless service in the United States and Canada. North Americans pay higher prices for less service than our European counterparts. Most of the New World also has fewer choices in near-equivalent service providers.

Much of this difference can be attributed to European regulators maintaining focus on driving competition forward and disallowing rampant industry consolidation. But as Wall Street turns its attentions increasingly towards Europe to push for the next big wave of wireless mergers, the European system of “competition first” could be undermined if providers follow the North American model of high profits and reduced competition through consolidation.

Across much of Europe, at least four national carriers serve each EU member state, almost all controlling a share of the most valued, low-frequency wireless spectrum. European regulators do not allow a small handful of providers to maintain a stranglehold on the most valuable radio spectrum. Competitors have traditionally been offered a spectrum foundation to build networks that can stand up to their larger counterparts — the large multinationals or ex-state monopoly providers who had a head start providing service.

A report released by Finland market research firm Rewheel in May found clear evidence that the European model was benefiting consumers at the expense of rampant provider profits. Europeans in “progressive” markets that welcomed new competitive entrants pay lower prices for far more service. In some cases, the price differences between the five giant multinational providers that dominate Europe — Vodafone, KPN, France Telecom, Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom — were staggering. Competitors like Tele2, TeliaSonera, and “3” charge up to ten times less than the larger companies for equal levels of service.

“Europe is ripe for competition,” reports Bloomberg News. Providers like AT&T may be preparing to embark on a European wireless acquisition frenzy, but Wall Street warns profits are much lower because of robust price competition in Europe that benefits consumers. (4 minutes)

The study also found a number of the largest European providers were following in the footsteps of Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Rogers, Bell, and Telus here in North America:

  • Prices were enormously higher in markets that lack effective competition from an upstart competitor able to deliver a comparable level of service. Smaller cell companies with very limited infrastructure or with non-favored spectrum could not provoke dominant players to cut prices because reception quality was starkly lower and consumers would have to cope with a reduced level of service. In Europe, when new competitors were able to fully build-out their networks using favorable spectrum, incumbents in these progressive markets slashed prices and boosted services to compete. In North America, upstart competitors cannot access favorable spectrum for financial reasons and the investor community has dismissed many of these players as afterthoughts, starving them of much-needed investment.
  • Large dominant European providers are now heavily lobbying for deregulation of merger and acquisition rules and want the right to acquire the competition entering their markets.
  • In almost half of the EU27 member state markets spectrum is utilized very inefficiently by the largest incumbent telco groups who are keen to protect their legacy fixed assets and cement their European dominance with more consolidation at the price of competition. In the United States and Canada, many of the largest providers crying the loudest for more wireless spectrum have still not used the spectrum already acquired.

competition slide

From the Finnish report:

The obvious question that needs to be asked is how is it technologically possible and economically viable for Tele2, 3 and TeliaSonera to offer four times more gigabytes of data usage at a fraction of the price charged by larger companies.

  • Do independent challengers have privileged access to more efficient technologies (i.e. LTE) than the E4 group members?
  • Do they hold relatively more spectrum capacity than the E4 group members?
  • Do independent challengers have access to more radio sites and their spectrum reuse factor is higher than the E4 group members?
  • Or are independent challengers (i.e. Tele2, DNA) unprofitable?

None of the above are true.

The answer is actually very simple. Independent challengers and incumbents such as TeliaSonera present mainly in progressive markets are utilizing the spectrum resources assigned to them. In contrast, incumbent telco groups […] rather than utilizing their spectrum resources instead appear to be more concerned about keeping the unit price of mobile data very high […] by restricting supply, the same way the lawful “cartel” of OPEC controls the price of oil by turning the tap off.

In progressive markets (where at least one independent challenger is present, triggering spectrum utilization competition) such as Finland, Sweden, Austria and the UK, mobile data consumption per capita is up to ten times higher than in protected markets.

In some European countries dominated by the biggest players, consumers are being gouged for service. Where robust competition exists, prices are dramatically lower.

The European nation where market conditions are most similar to the United States is Germany. Two large carriers dominate the market: Deutsche Telekom, the former state-owned telephone company and Vodafone, part owner of Verizon Wireless.

In Germany, consumers spending €20 ($26) end up with a data plan offering as little as 200MB of usage per month. In progressive markets in adjacent countries, spending the same amount will buy an unlimited use data plan or at least one offering tens of gigabytes of usage. In short, German smartphone service is up to 100 times more restrictive than that found in nearby Scandinavia or in the United Kingdom. These same two companies charge Germans double what English customers pay and a Berliner will end up with 22 times less data service after the bill is settled.

competition slide 2

So what is going on in Germany that allows the marketplace to stay so price-distorted? The fact all four significant competitors have close ties to or are owned by the large multinational telecom operators mentioned above. Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Telefonica and E-Plus, the latter one belonging to the Dutch KPN Group are all members of a lobbying organization attempting to persuade the EU to invest public funds into improving Europe’s wired broadband networks. Playing against that proposition is a growing number of Europeans moving to wireless. By charging dramatically higher wireless prices in Germany, all four companies have successfully argued that wireless adoption is not a significant reason to stall public financing of private broadband projects. In fact, Germany’s wireless growth is well below other EU nations.

The Finnish researchers point out the evidence of informal provider collusion is pretty stark in Germany:

“One would expect these ‘European Champions,’ especially the ones with lower market shares (Telefonica and E-Plus), to look at the smartphone centric market transformation as an opportunity to secure or improve their market share, especially in light of the fact they should have plenty of unused radio spectrum capacities to make their offers more consumer-appealing,” the report finds. But in fact these new entrants have priced their services very closely in alignment with the larger two.

“Undoubtedly, multinational incumbent telco groups and their investors have good reasons to lobby EU decision makers to enact friendly policies that will protect their inherited oligopolistic high profit margins,” the report states. “But will the German model serve the best interest of consumers and business in other EU member states? In Rewheel’s opinion, clearly not. Enforcing an overly ‘convergent player friendly’ German model would severely limit competition in the mobile markets, leading to high prices for consumers and the Internet of mobile things and sever under-utilization of the member states’ scarce national radio spectrum resources.”

Competition is brutal in Europe’s wireless marketplace — a factor Bloomberg News says could temper AT&T’s planned “European Wireless Takeover.” What makes the difference between enormous profits in North America and heavy price discounting in Europe? Spectrum policy, which gives European competitors a more level playing field. Bloomberg analysts speculate AT&T will bankroll its rumored European buyouts and mergers with the enormous profits it earns from U.S. subscribers.  (4 minutes)

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