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Broadband Spending Drops: Equipment Costs Falling, Your Prices Rising

Phillip Dampier March 21, 2016 Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps Comments Off on Broadband Spending Drops: Equipment Costs Falling, Your Prices Rising
Fixed (wired) broadband is now the most important revenue component of the TV-Internet-Phone package.

Fixed (wired) broadband is now the most important revenue component of the TV-Internet-Phone package.

Despite ordering 41 percent more downstream network equipment in 2015 than the year before, cable operators enjoyed a 3% drop in broadband equipment expenses, according to researcher SNL Kagan.

While your cable operator blames the cost of upgrades and usage growth for your latest broadband rate hike, cable company spending on broadband actually declined thanks to lower prices and more efficient broadband networks.

ARRIS, a major supplier of cable broadband equipment, also saw its revenue from equipment sales decline as cable operators used software virtualization to cut the price of DOCSIS channels over new, more efficient converged cable access platforms.

Cable operators are feeling heat in some markets from emerging fiber-based competitors, but the imminent arrival of DOCSIS 3.1 has made meeting those competitive challenges easy and less costly than ever before.

ARRIS closed out the year as the global revenue leader in broadband equipment, grabbing 53% of total revenue among providers of cable broadband infrastructure. ARRIS benefitted immensely from the focus of its primary North American customers, including Comcast and Time Warner Cable, on dramatically increasing throughput to stay competitive with Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse, and Google Fiber.

“The imminent availability of DOCSIS 3.1 linecards and full-spectrum channels won’t slow the continued purchase and deployment of current DOCSIS 3.0 channels as cable operators must continue to increase throughput to reduce the likelihood of churn among their broadband subscribers,” said Jeff Heynen, senior research analyst for SNL Kagan.

But the costs to deliver those service improvements are now so low, providers are enjoying actual declines in their annual expenses for equipment upgrades, while at the same time many are raising prices and introducing or increasing modem rental fees and usage caps.

Mediacom Promises $1 Billion Investment in Broadband Upgrades

Phillip Dampier March 17, 2016 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps, Mediacom Comments Off on Mediacom Promises $1 Billion Investment in Broadband Upgrades

logo_mediacom_mainMediacom, perennially rated America’s dead-last cable company by Consumer Reports’ annual subscriber surveys, will invest $1 billion over the next three years to combat increasing competition from AT&T and other telephone companies by improving its broadband service.

The chief goal of the upgrades is to introduce gigabit broadband speeds for nearly all of Mediacom’s three million customers across 22 states. The initiative, dubbed Project Gigabit, will require Mediacom to push fiber closer to customers and businesses and will depend largely on DOCSIS 3.1 technology.

Mediacom is already providing gigabit service in several communities in Missouri, including Jefferson City, where it sells 1,000/50Mbps service for $149.99 per month, with discounts available to customers bundling it with other services. Mediacom has placed a data cap on its gigabit tier of 6TB a month, with an overlimit fee of $10 per 50GB. The Missouri systems bond 32 downstream channels using DOCSIS 3.0 technology, and customers report speed test results averaging 980/60Mbps. In other areas, many Mediacom systems will be upgraded to DOCSIS 3.1 service as part of the gigabit rollout.

Mediacom gigabit

“From the time we acquired our first cable system in March 1996, Mediacom’s focus has always been to offer the smaller communities we serve the same communications and video services that are available in America’s largest cities,” said Mediacom’s founder and CEO, Rocco B. Commisso. “Project Gigabit will allow us to go even further by giving our customers access to one of the fastest broadband networks in the world.”

In addition to speed upgrades, Mediacom also plans:

  • Expansion of Mediacom Business’s high-capacity network inside downtown areas and commercial districts to create more “lit buildings” within the company’s footprint and bring tens of thousands of new business customers on-net with immediate access to fiber-based communications services;
  • Extension of Mediacom’s deep-fiber residential video, Internet and phone network to pass at least an additional 50,000 homes;
  • Deployment of community Wi-Fi access points throughout high-traffic commercial and public areas across Mediacom’s national footprint.
mediacom rating

Consumer Reports subscriber survey results for Mediacom

Customers hope the service improvements might finally lift Mediacom out of last place in consumer satisfaction scores, a rating it has maintained for several years.

Mediacom caps its Internet service and penalizes customers with a $10 per 50GB overlimit fee.

Mediacom caps its Internet service and penalizes customers with a $10 per 50GB overlimit fee.

Comcast Announces Atlanta and Nashville as Launch Cities for DOCSIS 3.1 Service

Comcast-LogoComcast customers in Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, Detroit, and Miami will be the first to get Comcast’s new DOCSIS 3.1 modems and faster Internet plans likely to accompany the introduction of the latest cable broadband standard.

Multichannel News reports after field trials in Pennsylvania, Northern California and Atlanta, Comcast is ready to deploy the newest cable modem standard for residential and business class customers to deliver gigabit broadband services delivered over the company’s traditional hybrid fiber-coaxial cable network.

The company expects to begin distributing new modems to customers early this year, starting in Atlanta and Nashville. Comcast is still finalizing pricing on its fastest gigabit-range plans, but the cost is expected to be less than Comcast’s Gigabit Pro offering, which is delivered over fiber-to-the-home service. The cable company now charges Gigabit Pro customers $299.95 a month for the gigabit fiber service with a two-year contract. It is likely Comcast will have to price its cable gigabit offering under $100 a month to compete effectively with Google Fiber and AT&T’s U-verse with GigaPower. Google and AT&T are readying gigabit networks in both of Comcast’s first launch markets.

Comcast exempts Gigabit Pro customers from its growing field trial of data caps, but the company had nothing to say about whether its DOCSIS 3.1-powered plans will receive similar treatment. If not, customers can expect a 300GB monthly allowance.

During the second half of this year, Comcast will expand DOCSIS 3.1 to Chicago, Detroit and Miami. Beyond that, Comcast would not say when the rest of its customers across the country would be upgraded to DOCSIS 3.1 service.

Customers who own their own modems and do not plan to upgrade to a faster plan can continue to use that equipment. Customers looking to upgrade will have to lease a modem from Comcast or buy an authorized DOCSIS 3.1 capable modem, which is expected to cost 30-50% more than traditional DOCSIS 3.0 equipment.

Germany Getting 400/20Mbps Unlimited Cable Broadband Starting at $40/Month

Phillip Dampier January 27, 2016 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Liberty/UPC Comments Off on Germany Getting 400/20Mbps Unlimited Cable Broadband Starting at $40/Month

unitymediaWhile Comcast, Cox, Suddenlink, and a handful of other cable companies play games with usage caps and expensive broadband, Germany is getting some massive broadband speed improvements with no data caps, speed throttling, or rate increases.

Unitymedia, owned by Liberty Global (related to Liberty Broadband, Charter’s largest single investor), is giving Germans a broadband upgrade you wish you had. Starting Feb. 1, 3.2 million cable homes in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia  will see their broadband speeds double to 400/20Mbps at prices starting at just $40 a month, which includes a flat-rate landline with unlimited free calls across the German landline network, and a free combination wireless/Wi-Fi router and cable modem.

200 germany

Unitymedia’s current offer is for 200/10Mbps. Starting Feb. 1, those speeds will double.

Unitymedia, which also serves customers in the German states of Hesse and Baden-Württemberg, will still be using DOCSIS 3.0 technology for the speed upgrade. DOCSIS 3.1 is expected to bring even faster speeds and better service beginning later in 2016. The company also offers subscribers access to more than 1,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots across all three states, helping give DSL service serious competition.

While U.S. cable operators have dragged their feet on upgrades while raising broadband prices, Unitymedia CEO Lutz Schüler said his company would make the necessary investments to drive network upgrades forward without delay. Schüler may not have much choice. Telephone company Internet providers have benefited from increased speeds of up to 100Mbps that come from deployment of vectoring technology, which can dramatically boost DSL speeds.

The investment also intends to send a message to the telecommunications marketplace that hybrid fiber-coaxial cable systems can deliver dramatically faster and affordable broadband speeds than they often do today, all without usage caps or usage billing.

Comcast Calls Cable Modem Owners to Scare Them Into a $10/mo Alternative

The Don't Care Bears

The “New and Improved” Don’t Care Bears

Rob Frieden has two words for Comcast customers getting scary letters and phone calls threatening to turn their legacy cable modems into paperweights: caveat emptor.

Frieden, author of Winning the Silicon Sweepstakes: Can the United States Compete in Global Telecommunications? knows enough to fend off the misinformation used to upsell customers away from the modems they own free and clear into Comcast’s rented $10/month alternative.

“Despite its commitment to improving its customer service, Comcast keeps writing and robocalling me with an offer I can refuse,” Frieden writes on his blog. “In a rather alarmist tone, Comcast wants subscribers to infer that their modem soon will no longer work.”

At issue are customers still using legacy DOCSIS 2.0 cable modems — one generation behind the current DOCSIS 3.0 modems Comcast wants customers to use. Frieden knows one day Comcast may decide to stop supporting DOCSIS 2.0, an older, less-capable cable broadband standard. Although that day is nowhere in view yet, it hasn’t stopped aggressive Comcast telemarketers from warning customers they “need upgraded equipment” that comes with a never-ending $10 a month rental fee.

“My Motorola DOCSIS 2.0 compliant modem works just fine and it cost me a princely $5 at a garage sale,” Frieden writes.

Frieden

Frieden

As soon as Comcast finds out you are using an older modem you own, Frieden writes they may try to dissuade you from using it and push you towards their alternative.

“Comcast does not want you to know that the new rented modem will not provide any faster service unless you subscriber to a triple digit, high-end service tier,” Frieden adds.

Comcast’s official position is that DOCSIS 2.0 modems will work just fine with all Comcast Internet plans at speeds below 50Mbps. But they infer if you are not using a DOCSIS 3.0 modem (preferably theirs), “you won’t experience the blistering fast speeds now available.” That implies all Comcast customers with DOCSIS 2.0 modems will get less robust performance across the board, but in fact Comcast’s statement refers to the limitation DOCSIS 2.0 customers have upgrading to speeds they may never need.

After Comcast’s telemarketing machine has you convinced you need to upgrade to their perpetually profitable rented modem, they will also ask why not upgrade your router as well? Comcast suggests customers upgrade to at least a 802.11n model because older 802.11g routers only support up to 20Mbps.

“If you lease your modem, router, or gateway device from us, we’ll upgrade it at no extra charge,” Comcast claims, inferring the upgrade will come free. Except it isn’t. It just won’t cost you more than the $10 a month you are probably already paying.

Stop the Cap! readers regularly tell us Comcast often cuts corners and simply bills customers modem rental fees even for customer-owned equipment. Our reader Amanda is the latest victim and she is about fed up:

I took a look at my bill and for no reason Comcast suddenly started charging me $10 a month for a voice/data modem rental that I don’t have. Beware and check your bill thoroughly. Comcast sneaks charges on for services you don’t have. Absolutely hate this company. On top of the bogus $10 they raised all the rates so my bill went from $186 a month to $219 a month. I would never recommend Comcast to anyone. Horribly deceptive company. Oh and then there is the junk equipment that Comcast uses. I have had three X1 boxes replaced in a year. I’m thinking about going with U-Verse for TV and staying with Comcast for Internet.

Comcast’s “new and improved” customer service becomes especially hostile when customers like Amanda catch the company cheating, forcing her and others into lengthy investigations and appeals to get the bogus fees removed and earlier charges refunded:

So I talked with Comcast today and got nowhere. They basically don’t want my business after 18 years and are giving me a hard time about refunding me the charge for the modem. They said it will take at least 14 days for them to look into the issue with the modem being mine and not being leased from Comcast. I told them I want to cancel and they transferred me to a recording telling me how to send in my equipment via UPS. 18 years and they will not budge on changing my pricing without signing a two year contract! So after 40 minutes on the phone with them I am extremely mad and frustrated. Now I have to waste my time filing complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general. And even more time switching my services to another provider. It seems that Comcast has changed its tactics and now instead of trying to retain their customers they are saying go ahead and leave. And can only imagine the nightmare of returning all the equipment.

return fee

If you can’t prove your cable modem doesn’t belong to Comcast, they may conveniently bill you an unreturned equipment charge of $70, like one customer experienced in 2014.

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