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Verizon Buys AOL for $4.4 Billion; Bolsters Verizon’s Mobile Video/Advertising Business

aolVerizon Communications this morning announced it will buy AOL, Inc., in a $4.4 billion cash deal that will provide Verizon with powerful mobile video and advertising platforms.

Originally known for its ubiquitous dial-up Internet access, AOL today is better described as a content and advertising aggregator — putting online video in front of viewers bolstered by AOL’s powerful advertising technology that can match a targeted advertising message to a specific viewer in milliseconds.

AOL’s portfolio also includes the well-known EngadgetTechCrunch and Huffington Post websites, which many analysts expect will not be part of the deal, quickly spun off to a new owner(s) to avoid any political headaches over Verizon’s control of the well-known content sites, some including coverage critical of Verizon.

Verizon-logoAll signs point to the AOL acquisition as more evidence Verizon management is shifting priorities to its mobile business, Verizon Wireless. In 2014, Verizon acquired the assets of Intel Media, which was planning an Internet TV service called OnCue. Verizon’s acquisition will help it develop an alternative television platform and many analysts expect it will primarily reach Verizon Wireless customers.

Complimenting online video with AOL’s ad placement and insertion platform will likely be the best chance Verizon has to monetize that video content.

“Certainly the subscription business and the content businesses are very noteworthy,” confirmed Verizon’s president of operations, John Stratton. “For us, the principal interest was around the ad tech platform.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Why Verizon Coveted AOLs Ad Technology and Mobile Video 5-12-15.flv

Bloomberg says Verizon’s real interest in AOL is their online advertising platform, which can bolster Verizon Wireless’ mobile video service. (2:39)

Verizon’s $4 billion investment in AOL did not go into expanding its fiber optic platform FiOS.

Verizon Wireless Multicast

Verizon Wireless Multicast

“For the price it’s paying for AOL, Verizon could deploy its FiOS broadband service across the rest of its service area, bringing much-needed services and competition to communities like Baltimore, Boston and Buffalo,” said Free Press research director S. Derek Turner. “Instead, the company is spending a fortune to wade into the advertising and content-production markets. In terms of the latter, Verizon has already shown a willingness to block content and skew news coverage.”

As Stop the Cap! reported last week, that isn’t a surprise to some utility companies that believe all signs point to Verizon’s growing disinterest in its wireline division. Florida Power & Light expects Verizon will become a wireless only company within the next 10 years.

While AT&T explores expanding its wireless service internationally and seeks approval for its acquisition of satellite service DirecTV, Verizon Wireless is moving to monetize increased customer usage of its network with the forthcoming introduction of a video service this summer. The product would offer a mix of ad-supported and paid short video content and may offer live multicast programming that can reach a larger audience without disrupting network capacity.

Increased viewing of high bandwidth video will force Verizon customers to continually upgrade data plans, further monetizing Verizon’s wireless business. AOL’s ad insertion technology will allow Verizon to earn advertising income from viewers, creating a dual revenue stream.

Verizon can also sell advertisers information about its massive customer base of wired and wireless customers, including their browsing habits and demographic profile to deliver “data-driven marketing and addressable advertising.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Verizon-AOL Deal 1999 All Over Again 5-12-15.flv

Bloomberg News puts together several of Verizon’s puzzling recent acquisitions, which point to a shift of Verizon’s business towards its mobile and content platforms. (5:42)

Comcast/NBCUniversal Says Verizon is Violating Its Contract By Offering Slimmed-Down, Less Expensive TV Packages

Phillip Dampier April 21, 2015 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon, Video 2 Comments

Comcast/NBCUniversal today joined FOX and ESPN warning Verizon it is violating the terms of their agreements by offering FiOS TV customers slimmed-down, less expensive cable TV packages.

Verizon began offering the new packages Sunday, selling customers a basic core package containing two “channel packs” of the customer’s choice for $55 a month. Each additional pack of 10-17 theme-based channels costs $10 a month. It is Verizon’s effort to offer customers something closer to an a-la-carte option where customers pay only for the channels they want, without raising the ire of their programming partners who supply both major and minor cable networks.

verizon custom tv 1

verizon custom tv 2

Within hours of learning of Verizon’s Custom TV offer, ESPN — the most expensive basic cable network in the country — objected, saying its network must be included in the core package that every pay television customer receives.

By this afternoon, Comcast/NBCUniversal and FOX added their own objections and are warning there could be legal ramifications if Verizon continues to offer the packages. Both Comcast and FOX agree with ESPN’s contention their contracts with Verizon do not allow it to split their channels into add-on tiers.

Verizon responded it doesn’t intend to change a thing.

“We have launched the product, we are not retracting it, and we believe we are in our legal rights to launch it,” said Verizon chief financial officer Fran Shammo.

The lawyers are expected to take it from here.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ Verizon Breaks Pay-TV Bundle as Competition Mounts 4-19-15.flv

The Wall Street Journal reports on Verizon’s new slimmed-down TV package and why Verizon FiOS TV is offering it to subscribers. (2:24)

Verizon FiOS Dumps The Weather Channel; Viewers Barely Notice As Accu-Weather Takes Its Place

Phillip Dampier March 16, 2015 Competition, Consumer News, Verizon, Video 1 Comment

twc protestThe latest contract dispute over cable programming between The Weather Channel and Verizon FiOS has deprived Verizon customers of The Weather Channel, but more than a few viewers who don’t live for storm porn don’t seem to notice or care.

Verizon’s FiOS TV service has “opted out” of further carriage of the 24-hour weather network, according to Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski.

Verizon’s contract with The Weather Channel recently expired and Verizon chose not to renew it. Early last year, DirecTV temporarily dropped the weather network over its proposed wholesale renewal rate, so the asking price is likely a factor in the decision to drop the network.

Conveniently for Verizon, last Friday competitor AccuWeather launched its own 24/7 weather channel and gained five million U.S. viewers on its launch day courtesy of FiOS TV.

A spokesperson for Verizon hinted that the usefulness of The Weather Channel has been diminished with the onslaught of digital devices that can call up a local forecast in seconds instead of waiting for one on a weather cable network.

Verizon might have a point, considering The Weather Channel itself has gradually lost interest in showing local weather in favor of reality programming to slow declining ratings. Weather junkies disapprove.

“The Weather Channel needs to do some internal soul-searching before taking a leap of faith that every FiOS subscriber wants to view their mindless reality shows and watch annoying dum-dums like Al Roker,” commented one affected subscriber in Philadelphia. “Good for you Verizon for dumping once-great but now junk-show/dumbed-down channels. There are more of these channels you can also start getting rid of, don’t stop.”

550x1418_03131223_accuweather_announces_groundbreaking_247_networkAccuWeather also called out The Weather Channel for preempting the weather for “Fat Guys in the Woods” and “Prospectors” — two Weather Channel reality shows that may encounter bad weather, but don’t report on it.

The AccuWeather Network promises viewers “all-weather, all the time without reality-TV fluff,” according to a statement from the State College, Pa.-based media company.

Bloomberg News notes fewer viewers are bothering to watch cable weather channels when they can get a commercial-free forecast instantly from a smartphone without waiting for “Weather on the 8’s.”

AccuWeather Network is aware of this and has not been designed for extended viewing, expecting viewers won’t watch for very long.

“We want our channel to be something you look at, get your weather, and then go back to other programming,” says AccuWeather CEO Barry Lee Myers. “It’s a way to use your TV, just as you might use your tablet or phone.”

That seems to serve Verizon just fine because Shirley Powell, a spokeswoman for The Weather Channel said discussions to renew their contract with Verizon FiOS TV have ended. The Weather Channel is now depending on viewer loyalty to force Verizon to put the network back on the lineup, because lowering the price has not worked.

“In the end, we offered Verizon FiOS our bundle of services at a lower price than the previous contract,” the channel said on its Keep The Weather Channel website. “They were unresponsive to our offer and surprised us and their customers by unexpectedly dropping The Weather Channel, WeatherScan, Weather Channel On Demand and The Weather Channel weather widget from their offering.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg AccuWeather TV Channel Just Has the Weather 3-11-15.flv

Bloomberg News talks to the CEO of AccuWeather about his new 24/7 channel that promises the weather and nothing but the weather. (4:55)

Verizon: Our Legacy Landline Service Areas are Not a Part of Our Future Growth Strategy; Verizon Wireless Is

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon Communications does not see its remaining landline customers as part of the company’s future growth and customers should not be surprised if Verizon sells more of its legacy network to other telephone companies including Frontier, Windstream, and CenturyLink.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference 2015 on March 2, Verizon chief financial officer Fran Shammo made it clear to investors Verizon will dump “non-core” assets that do not align with the company’s future long-term growth strategy, even in areas where FiOS predominates.

Shammo told investors Verizon’s growth strategy is predicated on Verizon Wireless, which will continue to get most of the company’s attention and future investment.

“It’s all around the wireless network and I’ve consistently said before, you should anticipate that wireless CapEx continues to trend up while wireline continues to trend down,” Shammo said.

The bulk of Verizon’s investments in its wired network are being made in areas that are already designated as FiOS fiber to the home service areas. Shammo explained that the company is required to invest in FiOS expansion to comply with agreements signed in cities like New York and Philadelphia to make the service widely available in those communities. Beyond those commitments, Shammo signaled the company isn’t planning any significant new spending to upgrade the rest of its legacy copper network.

“We continue to invest in those things that we believe are the future growth of the company,” Shammo said, and anything involving its wired networks outside of Verizon’s core FiOS service area in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic states probably doesn’t qualify.

Verizon-logoWhat will happen in Verizon service areas that are not considered priorities?

“For the right price and right terms, if there’s an asset we don’t believe is strategic to Verizon and can return shareholder value, we’ll dispose of that asset,” Shammo said.

An example of that strategy was Verizon’s sudden announcement in February it would sell its wireline assets in Florida, California, and Texas to Frontier Communications for $10.54 billion. Although a significant part of those service areas are served by FiOS after Verizon invested more than $7 billion on upgrades, Verizon still plans to abandon customers and walk away from that investment because it is not part of Verizon’s future growth strategy.

“If you look at Florida, Texas, and California, these are three island properties,” Shammo told investors. “FiOS is a very small footprint of those properties compared to the copper [except in] Florida because it was just Tampa. But you look at that and you say strategically there’s really not much we can do with those properties because they are islands.”

Verizon will spend the proceeds from its latest landline sale on the wireless spectrum it just acquired and will pay down some of the debt incurred after buying out Vodafone’s former ownership stake in Verizon Wireless. The company has also undertaken a massive share repurchase program, planning to buy back 100 million shares by 2017 to help its shareholders. To ease investor concerns about some of Verizon’s latest strategic moves, it also announced plans to buy back an extra $5 billion worth of shares in the second quarter of this year.

A close review of the latest Verizon sale to Frontier shows the extent Verizon believes in its wireless business at the cost of its legacy copper and FiOS networks. That comes as no surprise to Verizon observers who note its current CEO used to run Verizon Wireless.

Shammo, as featured on a recent cover of CFO Studio magazine.

Shammo, as featured on a recent cover of CFO Studio magazine.

“It’s been clear for years that Verizon has wanted out of the copper business,” said Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting. “They first sold off large portions of New England to Fairpoint. Then in 2010 they sold a huge swath of lines in fourteen states to Frontier including the whole state of West Virginia. And now comes this sale. It’s starting to look like Verizon doesn’t want to be in the landline business at all, perhaps not even in the fiber business.”

Verizon’s latest sale involves “higher margin properties than the rest of our wireline business,” Shammo said, in part because large parts of the urban service areas involved were previously upgraded to FiOS.

“So if you look at Dallas, we were over 50% penetrated both in TV and broadband,” said Shammo. “So, it was a very highly penetrated market that was delivering a lot of cash flow and delivering a lot of earnings. So by just divesting of the three properties, if you just did it on an apples-to-apples basis, there would be dilution.

Giving up that amount of cash flow — needed to win back the $7 billion in FiOS upgrade investments Verizon made in the three states — would normally concern investors worried about the “stranded costs” left over from investments that were never fully repaid. But Verizon has a plan for that: an “Involuntary Separation Plan” (ISP) for more than 2,000 Verizon employees, a polite way to describe job-cutting layoffs.

“We have a year to plan for this and the plan is similar to what we did with the last time we rolled properties out from Frontier,” Shammo said. “We will plan to offset the stranded cost and those plans are already being worked. You saw a little bit of that in the fourth quarter where we gave some ISPs to the represented employee base and we had 2,100 people come off payroll.”

Verizon’s growing preoccupation with Verizon Wireless leaves some analysts questioning the company’s wisdom giving up high-profit FiOS broadband in favor of wireless at a time when competition among wireless companies is finally emerging.

“Verizon reports an overall 41% market penetration for its data product on FiOS networks,” said Dawson. “Data has such a high profit margin that it’s hard to think that FiOS is not extremely profitable for them. The trend has been for the amount of data used by households to double every three years, and one doesn’t have to project that trend forward very far to see that future bandwidth needs are only going to be met by fiber or by significantly upgraded cable networks.”

Considering the wireless market is maturing and most everyone who wants a cell phone already has one, there are questions about where Verizon sees future growth in a business where it is getting harder to attract new customers.

“Verizon was a market leader getting into the fiber business. FiOS was a bold move at the time,” Dawson reflects. “It’s another bold move to essentially walk away from the fiber business and concentrate on wireless. They obviously think that wireless has a better future than wireline. But since they are already at the top of pile in cellular one has to wonder where they see future growth?”

Verizon Preparing to Sell $15 Billion in Cell Tower/Wired Assets – Tex., Calif., and Fla., Landlines Likely for Sale

Phillip Dampier February 3, 2015 Consumer News, Verizon 1 Comment
Verizon's landline coverage map.

Verizon’s landline coverage map.

Verizon is working on a sale of its cellphone towers and a portion of its landline assets in a series of deals that could fetch the company more than $15 billion, according to a breaking report in the Wall Street Journal.

The company is looking to raise cash to pay down debt incurred when it bought out Vodafone’s 45% share of its wireless unit and to cover $10.4 billion in wireless licenses the company just won in a government auction last week.

The most likely targets in a landline sale are Verizon territories outside of the northeast.

Verizon has already dumped its landline assets in Hawaii (sold to Hawaiian Telcom), northern New England (sold to FairPoint Communications), West Virginia and many smaller city and suburban territories acquired from GTE (all sold to Frontier).

In its 2010 sale to Frontier, Verizon retained assets in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, central Texas and Southern California regions. But now all three states are prime targets for a sale. Likely buyers include Frontier Communications, which already has a major presence in Florida including a national call center, and CenturyLink, which acquired Qwest and has a large service area in the southwest and western United States. Frontier remains the most likely buyer, having aggressively expanded its landline network in legacy AT&T (Connecticut) and Verizon service areas.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam has shown little interest in maintaining Verizon’s wired assets or growing FiOS and has been willing to sell off major parts of Verizon’s landline network to continue prioritizing Verizon Wireless. McAdam led Verizon Wireless from 2006-2010, before being named CEO of Verizon Communications.

Verizon-logoHe foreshadowed the forthcoming landline sale in January when he told an investor conference he was willing to make significant cuts to Verizon’s wired networks.

“There are certain assets on the wireline side that we think would be better off in somebody else’s hands so we can focus our energy in a little bit more narrow geography,” he said at the time.

Verizon is also expected to follow AT&T’s lead in selling off much of its cell tower portfolio. It will lease access to the towers it sells.

Verizon maintains FiOS networks in Texas, California, and Florida, but that is not expected to deter the company from selling its landline assets. Frontier acquired Verizon FiOS properties in the 2010 sale in both the Pacific Northwest and Indiana. Those services operate under the Frontier FiOS banner today.

Stop Paying Regular Price for HBO and Cinemax; Cancel and Rebuy for $10/Month

2000px-HBO_logo.svgAre you still paying $15+ for HBO and $13+ for Cinemax? Stop.

Most major cable television providers are slashing the price for both premium movie channels to protect subscriber numbers from the April introduction of HBO’s standalone video streaming service, likely to be called HBO Go.

Most analysts expect the on-demand service will cost $15 a month for one or both co-owned networks. With Time Warner Cable recently raising the price of HBO to $16.99 a month, the company may have priced itself out of the market.

“Why would I waste my time with HBO from Time Warner Cable when I will be able to get HBO Go for $2 less a month and won’t have to buy their larded-up cable television package,” asks Watertown, N.Y. resident Jeff Kates. “Their greed will cost them when they lose more subscribers than they gain in revenue from the rate hike.”

Comcast has already seen the writing on the wall and this year cut its regular pricing for HBO from $18.95 to $15 — matching the likely price of standalone HBO Go.

In an effort to lock in customer loyalty and avoid accelerating cord-cutting, many major pay television providers are putting one or both Time Warner (Entertainment)-owned networks on sale for much of 2015. These prices are available to any new premium cable subscriber. If your provider will not switch your current subscription to the new promotional rate, cancel one or both channels for a few days (or threaten to cancel service altogether) and then resubscribe at the discounted price.

Here are the current offers:

  • AT&T U-verse: Bundles HBO and a year of Amazon Prime service with a package of mostly local over the air channels for around $40-50 a month depending on the promotion;
  • Charter Cable: Charter’s Triple Play Silver package bundles HBO, Cinemax, Showtime/Movie Channel premium channels into the television package at no extra charge;
  • Comcast: Offers HBO for online sign ups at $10 a month for a year. Comcast attempts to limit the offer to customers who have not subscribed to HBO for the last 120 days, but this condition is usually waived if you threaten to cancel service and switch to a phone or satellite company;
  • Cox: Stingier than others, Cox is offering discounts for just six months, but gives you quantity discounts. Buy 1 premium channel at $10/mo, two channels for $15, three for $20 or four networks for $25 a month. Your choices include HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz;
  • Time Warner Cable: Now has a sale running for $9.99/mo HBO and the same rate for Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz when ordered online. Current non-premium customers can upgrade from the My Account portal. Current premium channel customers will have to call Time Warner and argue for the discount or cancel HBO and quickly resubscribe;
  • Verizon: Also offers HBO and others at $9.99/mo for the first year.

Satellite services are expected to change their pricing on premium channels sometime this month.

Verizon Cutting Wireline Broadband Investments: Still No FiOS Expansion, Less Money for Wired Networks

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon Communications signaled today it plans further cuts in investments for its wireline network, which includes traditional copper-based telephone service and DSL as well as its fiber-optic network FiOS.

“We will spend more CapEx in the wireless side and we will continue to curtail CapEx on the wireline side,” Verizon’s chief financial officer Fran Shammo told investors this morning. “Some of that is because we are getting to the end of our committed build around FiOS.”

Instead of expanding its FiOS fiber to the home network to new areas, Verizon is trying to increase its customer base in areas previously wired. It is less costly to reconnect homes previously wired for FiOS compared with installing fiber where copper wiring still exists.

Verizon continues to lose traditional landline customers, so the company is increasingly dependent on FiOS to boost wired revenue. The fiber network now accounts for 77% of Verizon’s residential wireline revenue.

Wherever FiOS exists, it has taken a significant number of customers away from cable competitors. FiOS Internet has now achieved 41.1% market penetration, with 6.6 million customers, up 544,000 from last year. Of those, the majority want broadband speeds they were not getting from the cable company. At the end of 2014, 59% of FiOS Internet customers subscribe to broadband speeds above 50Mbps, up from 46% at the end of 2013.

Verizon-logoDespite the success of FiOS, Verizon’s senior management continues to devote more attention to its highly profitable Verizon Wireless division, spending an even larger proportion of its total capital investments on wireless services.

In 2014, Verizon spent $17.2 billion on capital expenditures, an increase of 3.5% over 2013. But only $5.8 billion was spent on maintaining and upgrading Verizon’s landline and FiOS networks, down 7.7% over 2013. Verizon Wireless in contrast was given $10.5 billion to spend in 2014. The company is using that money to add network density to its increasingly congested 4G LTE network. In many cities, Verizon Wireless is activating its idle AWS spectrum to share the traffic load and is accelerating deployment of small cell technology and in-building microcells to deal with dense traffic found in a relatively small geographic area — such as in sports stadiums, office buildings, shopping centers, etc.

Verizon Wireless is branding its network expansion “XLTE,” which sounds to the uninitiated like the next generation LTE network. It isn’t. “XLTE” simply refers to areas where expanded LTE bandwidth has been activated. Unfortunately, many Verizon Wireless devices made before 2014 will not benefit, unable to access the extra frequencies XLTE uses.

With Verizon increasing the dividend it pays shareholders, the company is also cutting costs in both its wired and wireless divisions:

  • Verizon Wireless’ 3G data network will see a growing amount of its available spectrum reassigned to 4G data, which is less costly to offer on a per megabyte basis. As Verizon pushes more 4G-capable devices into the market, 3G usage has declined. But the reduced spectrum could lead to speed slowdowns in areas where 3G usage remains constant or does not decline as quickly as Verizon expects;
  • Verizon will push more customers to use “self-service” customer care options instead of walking into a Verizon store or calling customer service;
  • The company will continue to move towards decommissioning its copper wire network, especially in FiOS areas. Existing landline customers are being encouraged to switch to FiOS fiber, even if they have only landline service. Copper maintenance costs are higher than taking care of fiber optic wiring;
  • Verizon has accelerated the closing down of many central switching offices left over from the landline era. As the company sells the buildings and property that used to serve its network, Verizon’s property tax bill decreases;
  • Verizon will continue cutting its employee headcount. Shammo told investors in December, Verizon Communications cut an extra 2,300 employees that took care of its wired networks.

Still Waiting for FiOS in New York City? Your Landlord Might Be to Blame… Or Verizon

Phillip Dampier January 13, 2015 Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon 2 Comments

keep outVerizon Communications has stepped up efforts in New York City to get intransigent landlords to let the company into their buildings to bring FiOS fiber optics to tenants, even as some property managers accuse Verizon of ignoring earlier requests to get the service.

On at least 13 occasions in December, Verizon has filed petitions with the New York Public Service Commission requesting help to gain entry to a total of 476 buildings in the city after claiming to receive either no response from building management or active resistance to Verizon bringing FiOS to their tenants.

In an effort to stay compliant with its franchise agreement with the City of New York, Alyson Siegal, area manager for FiOS Franchise Assurance – New York City, has written a lot of letters lately:

Dear Property Owner/Manager:

I have been advised by Verizon New York Inc.’s (“Verizon”) NYC FiOS Real Estate Department of the difficulty Verizon has encountered in attempting to install and/or attach its FiOS facilities at [your property].

Our records indicate that you have not responded to our previous correspondence, that you have conditioned Verizon’s access on unreasonable terms and conditions or that you have denied Verizon access to the Property. The purpose of this letter is to restate our need to gain access to your Property.

By way of background, Verizon is attempting to gain access to your building because we have received a request for FiOS service(s) from a tenant(s) in your building and/or a resident(s) on your block, and our access to your Property is necessary to provide cable television services to those tenants and/or residents. We are very excited about the opportunity to provide world-class voice, data and video services to you and the area residents using a fiber based network to deliver these services at unprecedented speeds and capacities. Your cooperation in allowing Verizon access to your Property will enable your tenants and/or other residents on your block to receive the services they want in a timely manner.

Building owners don't want a repeat of this kind of FiOS installation.

Building owners don’t want a repeat of this kind of FiOS installation.

In a few earlier cases, some landlords refused entry without special financial compensation or gifts like free service for life. Others have unilaterally decided their tenants are happy enough being served by Time Warner Cable and don’t need a competitor. But a significant number claim the problem is with Verizon itself.

Hamdi Nezaj, who owns several buildings in Bronx, last summer refused entry to workers seeking to install FiOS, complaining Verizon performed shoddy work.

“On three properties that I own, the installation of FiOS was done recklessly,” complained Nezaj. “They never came back to fix the holes that were drilled, fix the boxes they installed and put molding on their respective wires. I am not interested once again in having Verizon drill holes and butcher my buildings.”

Several building owners responded to Verizon’s complaints indicating the phone company itself was responsible for dropping the ball on FiOS installation and were stunned the company was resorting to legal tactics to force entry.

Arthur Leeds from Leeds Associates LLC reports one of his properties has been waiting for Verizon to install FiOS since April 2014.

This customer found Verizon installing its FiOS cables up and down his doorways.

This customer found Verizon installing its FiOS cables up and down his doorways.

“We have responded every time we were asked for access most specifically to Thomas Miller, the FiOS franchise manager in NYC, and to Alyson Seigal (sic) another Verizon manager either by phone or via certified mail but all of our responses to them were ignored,” wrote Leeds. “Further we are well aware of the law and are certainly interested in supplying our tenants with alternatives to RCN and Time Warner Cable. However we do have a right to know how and with what materials Verizon intends to install their equipment in our building, [a request that] seems to stall any response on your part or that of your contractors.”

Amy Ward, an attorney representing the interests of 200 East 87”’ Street Associates, LP, has Leeds beat. She told the PSC Verizon first sought to install FiOS in the building in 2012, but Verizon kept stalling. When Verizon formally sought permission yet again in September 2014, a building representative asked for a delay because of “multiple intrusive projects occurring at and planned for the property.” No response to that request was forthcoming from Verizon until the December demand for entry was received.

Brian Loftman, property manager of the @The Aspen New York, wrote the PSC he was not happy to hear from Verizon’s legal team either.

Many building owners want Verizon to install crown molding that can effectively hide cables.

Many building owners want Verizon to install crown molding like this that can effectively hide cables.

“I am appalled that Mr. Richard C. Fipphen, assistant general counsel for Verizon has contacted you stating that we have not complied with their request to give access to the property,” wrote Loftman.

Loftman included a copy of correspondence he sent to Ms. Siegal, claiming she is impossible to reach.

“I am writing to you because after several attempts to reach you via phone at 888 364 3467 it has been impossible,” wrote Loftman. “I find it hard to believe that you being in the telecommunications business that even your voicemail is full and I cannot leave a message on the number you provided us to contact your office.”

Loftman also questioned Siegal’s claims that Verizon has “world-class voice, data, and video services.”

“Has it improved since the last time our phones were out or the DSL went down for almost a week?” he asked.

Loftman’s previous experience with Verizon’s installation crews was not a positive one. He only learned after signing up for the service at another building he manages that Verizon intended to use visible basic plastic molding throughout the building’s hallways to hide FiOS wiring. Other property managers shared aesthetic objections to Verizon’s plans, requesting wiring be installed behind more visually attractive crown molding or run through ceiling ducts.

Part of New York State’s Public Service law covers the installation of cable television facilities, which also covers Verizon FiOS:

§228. Landlord-tenant relationship

1. No landlord shall:

(a) interfere with the installation of cable television facilities upon his property or premises, except that a landlord may require:

(1) that the installation of cable television facilities conform to such reasonable conditions are necessary to protect the safety, functioning and appearance of the premises, and the convenience and well being of other tenants;
(2) that the cable television company or the tenant or a combination thereof bear the entire cost of the installation, operation or removal of such facilities; and
(3) that the cable television company agree to indemnify the landlord for any damage caused by the installation, operation or removal of such facilities.

§898.1 Prohibition

Except as provided in section 898.2 of this Part, no landlord shall demand or accept any payment from any cable television company in exchange for permitting cable television service or facilities on or within said landlord’s property or premises.

§898.2 Just Compensation

Every landlord shall be entitled to the payment of just compensation for property taken by a cable television company for the installation of cable television service or facilities. The amount of just compensation shall be determined by the commission in accordance with section 228 (1)(b) of the Public Service Law upon application by the landlord pursuant to section 898.5 of this Part.

J.D. Power & Associates Tie Vote! Hemorrhagic Fever vs. Comcast vs. Time Warner Cable

jd powerLove can be a fickle thing.

Take Comcast’s affair with J.D. Power & Associates, for example. In Comcast’s filings with regulators, it is very proud that J.D. Power cited Comcast for the most improvement of any cable operator scored by the survey firm. Comcast touted the fact it had managed to increase its TV satisfaction score by a whopping 92 points and Internet satisfaction was up a respectable 77 points. (Comcast didn’t mention the fact J.D. Power rates companies on a 1,000 point scale or that it took the cable company four years to eke out those improvements.)

Last month, J.D. Power issued its latest ranking of telecommunications companies and… well, the love is gone.

If customer alienation was an Olympic event, J.D. Power awarded tie gold medals to both Comcast and Time Warner Cable for their Kafkaesque race to the bottom.

The survey of customer satisfaction largely found only dissatisfaction everywhere in the country J.D. Power looked. While Comcast likes to cite its “customer-oopsies-gone-viral” blunders as “isolated incidents,” J.D. Power finds them epidemic nationwide.

skunkThe highest rating across television and broadband categories achieved by either cable company was ‘Meh.’ J.D. Power diplomatically scored both cable companies on a scale that started with “among the best” as simply “the rest.” Customers in the west were the most charitable, those in the south and eastern U.S. indicated they were worked to their last nerve.

“The ability to provide a high-quality experience with all wireline services is paramount as performance and reliability is the most critical driver of overall satisfaction,” said Kirk Parsons, senior director of telecommunications, in a statement.

Having competition available from a high-scoring provider also demonstrates what is possible when a company actually tries to care about customer service. In the same regions Comcast fared about as popular as hemorrhagic fever, WOW! Cable and Verizon FiOS easily took top honors. Even AT&T U-verse scored far higher than either cable company, primarily because AT&T offers very aggressive promotional packages that include a lot for a comparatively low price.

Other cable and smaller phone companies didn’t do particularly well either. Frontier and CenturyLink both earned dismal scores and Charter Cable only managed modest improvement. The two satellite television companies did fine in customer satisfaction for television service, but it was the two biggest phone companies that managed the best scores for Internet service. Among cable operators, only independents like WOW! (and to a lesser extent Cox) did well in the survey.

If J.D. Power is the arbiter of good service Comcast seems to claim it to be, the ratings company just sent a very clear message that when it comes to merging Comcast and Time Warner Cable, anything multiplied by zero is still zero.

J.D. Power ranking (Image courtesy: Reviewed.com)

J.D. Power ranking (Image courtesy: Reviewed.com)

Comcast’s Streampix and Verizon’s Redbox Instant Gasping for Air; Netflix Killers They Are Not

Rumors abound of the imminent death of Redbox Instant.

Rumors abound of the imminent death of Redbox Instant.

Comcast’s Streampix and Verizon’s Redbox Instant have not lived up to the expectations of their respective owners and the two Netflix-like services have quietly been partly decommissioned or have stopped accepting new customers altogether.

Loathe to admit the services are roadkill on the TV Everywhere highway, Comcast claims it is simply downsizing its Streampix service and Verizon issued a terse “no comment” to GigaOm’s Janko Roettgers in response to rumors Redbox Instant would begin shutting down for existing customers on Oct. 1.

But truth be told, neither service made a competitive dent in Netflix, either because they were poorly marketed or found no audience. Comcast denies it is even trying to compete against Netflix. But it did admit in a regulatory filing Streampix found very few takers at its $4.99/month asking price.

“Though Comcast sought to create excitement around Streampix by offering the online version through a unique online site and app, and offered Streampix to a small number of XFINITY broadband-only customers in one region, these attracted minimal interest,” Comcast wrote.

Streampix will be a shadow of its former self, continuing on mostly in name-only.

“Going forward, Streampix will simply be part of the XFINITY TV app and website like other video-on-demand offerings,” said Comcast in the filing. The Google Play and Apple App stores seem to confirm as much when customers looking for the Streampix app instead find: “Streampix has moved to XFINITY TV Go. Comcast customers with Streampix should download XFINITY TV Go to view Streampix content.”

Comcast launched Streampix in February 2012 as a streaming-only offering, but added download capability in late 2013.

When customers balked at paying Comcast another $5 a month for the streaming add-on, Comcast began giving it away to customers who subscribed to multiple premium channels or high value triple play packages as part of ongoing promotions.

Comcast's XFINITY Streampix admittedly didn't draw much interest from customers.

Comcast’s XFINITY Streampix admittedly didn’t draw much interest from customers.

Critics of Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable suspect Comcast’s real intention was to launch the service to markets outside of its service area to compete for premium over-the-top video customers without cannibalizing its cable television revenue. With the merger under scrutiny at the state and federal levels, some suspect Streampix’s public demotion is a maneuver to protect the deal from a potential political liability over Comcast’s growing dominance in the cable and broadband business.

The troubles with Verizon’s Redbox Instant service go well beyond the realm of public policy debates. Since launching in mid-2013, the service has attracted only minor interest from the public. Critics contend a marketing deal with Redbox was wrong from the start. Redbox’s success comes from renting DVDs from kiosks, not competing with Netflix. Verizon hoped a promotional tie-in offering online viewers up to four free DVD rentals a month from Redbox kiosks would bring the two services closer together. Redbox Instant also rented current movie titles on a pay-per-view basis, and hoped it could convince kiosk users disappointed with out of stock DVDs or otherwise poor pickings to go online and stream a pay-per-view video instead.

But customers would have to be psychic looking for something to stream – Redbox does not publish online movie availability on its kiosk-service website. Unsurprisingly, kiosk users have stayed loyal to renting movies through the kiosk and online viewers usually won’t bother renting a DVD from a kiosk, even with a voucher.

Free trials of Redbox Instant service brought an underwhelming number of customers converting to paid subscriptions. That might be attributed to the heavy overlap of titles available from Redbox Instant and competitors Netflix and Amazon.com, making three services redundant for many. Although Redbox’s parent has invested $70 million in the service, it is dwarfed by the massive content acquisition budgets available to its larger competitors.

It would take a larger subscriber base to change that for the better, but Redbox Instant seems intent on sabotaging its success, still refusing to enroll new customers three months after a security breach. It seems Redbox Instant’s website was an excellent resource for credit card thieves to verify if stolen card numbers were still valid. Current customers are still able to use the service, but reportedly cannot update or change their credit card information, meaning they will lose service if their credit card expires or the credit card number changes.

no new users

A notice on Redbox Instant’s website prevents new users from enrolling.

Company executives have told investors they are not happy with Redbox Instant’s subscriber numbers. Not allowing new customers to sign up while gradually losing old ones because of an expired credit card could go a long way to explain this. Redbox’s parent company previously warned it has the right to pull out of the venture if the numbers don’t improve, and they won’t if the website remains locked down.

When Roettgers asked Redbox and Verizon to comment on a reddit rumor that the service was to close down on Oct. 1, the only reply was “no comment.” Roettgers believes that is telling, because no company would want such a false rumor to spread unchallenged. With Oct. 1 less than 24-hours away, we won’t have long to wait to see what happens next.

Roettgers would not be surprised to see Redbox Instant downsize itself with an end to its subscription video plan and move forward exclusively as a paid, video-on-demand service. It already powers Verizon’s On Demand video store. Having a traditional television partner like Verizon FiOS TV could help Redbox survive in an already crowded marketplace of online, on-demand video stores like iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon, and others.

In a larger context, the industry’s belief in “if we build it, they will come,” appears to be untrue, especially cable and telephone company efforts developing their TV Everywhere platforms. Content and viewing limitations that confine online viewing largely to the home, a barrage of online video advertising, subscription fees, and the lack of quality content have all hurt efforts to deliver a good user experience that can promote customer loyalty. Nothing now or on the horizon appears to be anything like a Netflix-killer app.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Bibb Says Comcast Has Little Confidence in Streampix 2-21-12.mp4

Two years ago, Porter Bibb, managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, panned the then-new XFINITY Streampix service for streaming the same television shows and movies customers can already see on Netflix and other services. From Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg West,” originally aired Feb. 21, 2012. (4:30)

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