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Charter Spectrum Hurrying Out 100 Mbps Speed Upgrades Before Year’s End

Updated 12/15: The speed upgrades for several regions including upstate New York have now launched. You may need to reset your modem to get the new speeds. You should see at least 100/10 Mbps. If that does not work, call or chat with Spectrum and have them reauthorize your modem. If you are on a legacy Bright House or Time Warner Cable plan, you will not get these upgrades until you change to a Spectrum plan. We will have a report up on the home page shortly about additional gigabit speed upgrades likely to launch next week later tonight. — PMD

“By the end of the year, Charter’s flagship speed will be an industry leading 100 megabits per second (Mbps) in virtually every market we serve. In the last year, we increased that speed 66% – from 60 Mbps to an even faster 100 Mbps – at no extra cost to our customers. Additionally, in a growing number of markets, we have begun upgrading that flagship speed to 200 Mbps.” — Charter Communications blog post for Nov. 30, 2017

Charter Communications is hurrying out 100 Mbps speed upgrades to “virtually all” its markets, whether customers were originally serviced by Charter or were acquired from Bright House Networks or Time Warner Cable.

The company has been on a publicity drive to suggest its merger/buyout of BH and TWC was consumer-friendly. Charter also wants to reassure shareholders concerned about the ongoing trend of cord-cutting and customer backlash over rising internet prices that the value of Spectrum’s faster internet service has improved.

Unfortunately, its publicity campaign also flies in the face of an industry push to convince Americans the Obama Administration’s Net Neutrality policies have neutered investments in broadband upgrades, which is exactly what did not happen with the second largest cable company in the country.

“Since 2014, Charter has invested more than $21 billion in [upgrades] including video delivery, more efficient bandwidth management and advanced compression technologies,” Charter wrote. “This investment has enabled us to improve the quality of our video while reducing the bandwidth needed for its delivery. The bandwidth that is made available can then be dedicated to significantly increasing our broadband speeds.”

Several legacy Time Warner Cable markets, particularly in upstate New York, New England, and some markets in the deep south and Rockies are still waiting for the digital television conversion that will free up bandwidth for internet speed upgrades. Albany, N.Y. is nearly complete and Rochester, N.Y. is next on the list.

Sources suggest Charter may find a way to boost speeds in almost all of its markets, regardless of whether digital TV conversions are complete. That would mean communities in these areas would see standard internet speeds rise from 60 Mbps to 100 Mbps at no extra charge. Those who agreed to pay Charter’s $199 upgrade fee for “Ultra” 100 Mbps service would see their speeds rise to as high as 300 Mbps.

A quick check showed no speed changes in the Rochester market as of this afternoon, but that could change before Christmas. Customers can check if they received an upgrade by briefly unplugging their cable modem and resetting it. A speed test will verify whether your areas has received an upgrade. Customers still holding onto a legacy Bright House or Time Warner Cable plan will see no speed changes. This is part of Charter’s effort to convince customers to abandon older plans and switch to Spectrum plans and pricing.

If speed upgrades are not in place by the end of 2017, they will be coming for the remaining Time Warner Cable markets in early 2018.

Meanwhile on Oahu, in Hawaii, Spectrum internet customers are welcoming gigabit internet (introductory price $104.99/mo). Those who don’t want to pay that much also received a free speed upgrade. What was 60 Mbps in the summer increased to 100 Mbps in the fall and as of Dec. 1 is now 200 Mbps. Similar speed increases will be coming to the cities that get gigabit upgrades from Charter. We anticipate all of those cities designated for gigabit service from Spectrum already have substantial competition from gigabit speed fiber to the home service from AT&T or Verizon.

BREAKING: Justice Dept. Will File a Lawsuit to Block AT&T/Time Warner Merger

Phillip Dampier November 20, 2017 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice will file a lawsuit aimed at blocking AT&T Inc’s $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.

AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier, struck a deal in October 2016 to buy Time Warner, which owns the premium channel HBO, movie studio Warner Bros and news channel CNN, in order to compete by bundling mobile service with video entertainment.

Shares of Time Warner fell to trade about 1 percent lower on Monday on the back of reports that the U.S. government is set to make an antitrust announcement.

The media company’s stock was trading near the flatline before the news hit. AT&T shares, meanwhile, jumped about 1 percent. Bloomberg first reported the news.

FCC Approves GCI Acquisition By John Malone’s Liberty Interactive With No Conditions

The Federal Communications Commission has quietly approved the acquisition of Alaska’s largest cable operator by John Malone’s Liberty Interactive with no deal conditions or consumer protections, despite fears the merger will lead to monopoly abuse.

The purchase of Alaska’s General Communications Inc. (GCI) in an all-stock deal valued at $1.12 billion was announced in April 2017. GCI currently offers cable TV and broadband service to 108,000 customers across Alaska, and runs a wireless company.

“We conclude that granting the applications serves the public interest,” the FCC wrote. “After thoroughly reviewing the proposed transaction and the record in this proceeding, we conclude that applicants are fully qualified to transfer control of the licenses and authorizations […] and that the transaction is unlikely to result in public interest harms.”

Various groups and Alaska’s largest phone company petitioned the FCC to deny the merger, claiming GCI’s existing predatory and discriminatory business practices would “continue and worsen upon consummation of the deal.”

Malone

Those objecting to the merger claimed GCI already has monopoly control over broadband-capable middle-mile facilities in “many locations in rural Alaska” and that GCI has refused to allow other service providers wholesale access to that network on “reasonable” terms. They also claimed GCI received substantial taxpayer funds to offer service in Alaska, but in turn charges monopoly rates to schools, libraries, and rural health care providers, as well as residential customers.

Essentially quoting from Liberty’s arguments countering the accusations, the FCC completely dismissed opponents’ claims, noting that Liberty does not provide service in Alaska, meaning there are no horizontal competitive effects that would allow GCI Liberty to control access to more facilities than it does now. On the contrary, the FCC ruled, the merger with a larger company meant the acquisition was good for Alaska.

“Rather than eliminating a potential competitor from the marketplace or combining adjacent entities in a manner that increases their ability to resist third-party competition, […] [this] transaction results in GCI becoming part of a diversified parent entity that will provide more resources for its existing Alaska operations.”

The FCC also rejected claims GCI engages in monopolistic, anti-competitive behavior, ruling that past claims of charging above-market prices are “not a basis for denying the proposed transaction because the allegations are non transaction-specific.”

“Although ACS [Alaska’s largest telephone company] claims that the transaction will exacerbate the behavior it finds objectionable, we see no reason to assume that GCI will have greater ability or incentive to discriminate against rivals in Alaska simply because it has access to more financial resources,” the FCC ruled. “To the contrary, the Commission has generally found that a transaction that could result in a licensee having access to greater resources from a larger company promotes competition, potentially resulting in greater innovation and reduced prices for consumers.”

GCI’s current internet plans are considered more expensive and usage capped than other providers.

In almost every instance, the FCC order approving the merger was in full and complete agreement with the arguments raised by Liberty Interactive in favor of the deal. This also allowed the FCC to reject in full any deal conditions that would have resulted in open access to GCI’s network on fair terms and a requirement to charge public institutions the same rates GCI charges its own employees and internal businesses.

The FCC also accepted at face value Liberty’s arguments that as a larger, more diversified company, it can invest in and operate GCI more reliably than its existing owners can.

“We find that this is likely to provide some benefit to consumers,” the FCC ruled. But the agency also noted that because Liberty executives did not specify that the deal will result in specific, additional deal commitments, “the amount of anticipated service improvements that are likely to result from the […] transaction are difficult to quantify.”

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission earlier approved the merger deal. Most analysts expect the new company, GCI Liberty, exists only to allow Malone to structure the merger with little or no owed tax. Most anticipate that after the merger is complete, the company will be eventually turned over to Charter Communications, where it will operate under the Spectrum brand.

AT&T CEO Denies Anyone in Government Asked Him to Sell CNN

Stephenson

AT&T’s top executive has found himself uncomfortably caught in a political fracas pitting Trump loyalists who want to punish CNN, career staffers that claim they are genuinely concerned about the media concentration that would result from AT&T’s multi-billion dollar acquisition of Time Warner, Inc., and Trump critics rushing to defend whatever they perceive the administration is against.

A frustrated Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO, appeared at The New York Times Dealbook Conference in New York Thursday to talk about his astonishment that the company’s merger has become a public political hot potato that theorizes on President Donald Trump’s active dislike of CNN and opponents of the president who suspect the Trump Administration is attempting to punish the news media for its negative coverage of the president.

“I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN, period. And likewise I have never offered to sell CNN,” Stephenson said, refuting rumors that emerged in a Financial Times piece on Wednesday that claimed AT&T would have to dump CNN to get its merger deal approved. “There is absolutely no intention that we would ever sell CNN.”

While repeatedly stressing his conversations with the Department of Justice were strictly confidential, Stephenson was willing to publicly deny that CNN was ever discussed as part of the merger review. Stephenson was not so willing to comment on rumors the DoJ was seeking a divestiture of DirecTV, which AT&T acquired for $48.5 billion in 2014.

Stephenson declared it “makes no sense” to sell CNN or Turner Broadcasting, the Time Warner-owned division that runs TBS, CNN, Headline News, TNT and other cable channels.

“There is a lot of information and data that we think can be used to stand up a new advertising business,” Stephenson said. “Pairing that with the Turner advertising inventory is a really powerful thing, we believe. That is what we aspire to do. Selling CNN makes no sense in that context.”

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson: ‘I have never been told that the price of getting a deal done was selling CNN’ from CNBC. (2:19)

The political backlash that has since emerged may actually help AT&T’s PR effort to win approval of the deal as Trump critics now rush to defend AT&T as a victim of presidential authoritarianism.

Bloomberg News published an editorial this afternoon calling for the merger to be approved just to stick it to the Trump Administration:

You don’t have to be a fan of the merger to realize that there is something seriously wrong here. As others have noted, the merger appears to be in trouble for a worrisome reason: President Donald Trump hates CNN and wants to inflict some punishment.

That Trump has long opposed the merger is hardly a secret. During his campaign, he said that if AT&T and Time Warner were allowed to combine it would “destroy democracy.” He put out a campaign statement vowing to “break up the new media conglomerate oligopolies” that “are attempting to unduly influence America’s political process.”

As for his antipathy towards CNN, it’s been a running subplot ever since he decided to run for president. He bashed the station all through the campaign and hasn’t let up as president, accusing it of being one of the media outlets that trafficks in “fake news.” A few months ago, he shockingly tweeted an image of a train running over a CNN reporter.

Trump has every right to oppose the deal and to criticize CNN; as they say, it’s a free country. But he doesn’t have the right to bend the Justice Department to his will. Yet that appears to be what is happening. That antitrust expert who said last year that the deal didn’t pose any problems? Makan Delrahim is now the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division. And wouldn’t you know it: He’s suddenly had a change of heart about the antitrust implications of the deal.

[…] It is appalling that the Justice Department’s antitrust department appears poised to do Trump’s bidding. The good news is that AT&T has vowed to go to court if the government tries to block the merger. So far, the judiciary has been the branch of government that has stood up to the president’s authoritarian impulses. I never thought I would be rooting for two very big companies to combine into one giant company, but I am. If the AT&T-Time Warner merger goes through, it will mean that the rule of law has won. At least for now.

AT&T couldn’t be luckier if the deal becomes a referendum on whether the Trump Administration is opposing the deal as part of a personal political dispute. Suggesting it is “good news” for AT&T to go to court to win its merger may make AT&T feel better, but ordinary consumers and ratepayers are once again forgotten in the debate over media consolidation.

AT&T CEO Randal Stephenson: Sale of CNN never came up with Department of Justice from CNBC. (5:45)

AT&T – Time Warner Merger Sails Into Rough Waters Over CNN

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. antitrust regulators believe that AT&T Inc’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Inc would raise costs for rival entertainment distributors and stifle innovation, a Department of Justice official told Reuters on Thursday.

Allaying those concerns is the rationale for the Justice Department’s demand that AT&T sell assets in order for the deal to be approved, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Justice Department wants AT&T to sell its DirecTV unit or sell Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting unit, which includes news company CNN, sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

AT&T has signaled it would not agree to sell DirecTV, which it acquired for $49 billion in 2015, leaving CNN and other cable TV assets as the main sticking point in negotiations between the Justice Department and AT&T.

The antitrust regulator is worried the combined company could make it harder for rivals to deliver content to consumers using new technologies, the official said. AT&T has said it wants to disrupt “entrenched pay TV models.”

The Justice Department’s desire for asset sales has raised concerns about political influence on the $85.4 billion deal, given U.S. President Donald Trump’s frequent criticism of CNN. As a candidate, Trump vowed to block the deal shortly after it was announced in October 2016, but has not addressed the issue publicly as president.

The head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, said in a statement late on Thursday that he has “never been instructed by the White House” on the AT&T deal.

Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said in a separate statement that Trump “did not speak with the Attorney General about this matter, and no White House official was authorized speak with the Department of Justice on this matter.”

AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson defended the merger at a New York City media conference on Thursday, and said he did not want to sell CNN.

The company has opposed divesting assets and has told the government it is willing to fight in court to win approval, sources said on Wednesday.

The deal is opposed by an array of rivals and consumer groups worried that it would give the combined company too much power. Opponents are pushing for conditions that would limit AT&T’s ability to charge media rivals higher prices to carry Time Warner content.

Shares of Time Warner were down slightly in afternoon trading at $88.35. AT&T shares rose 2 percent to $34.09.

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