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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gov. Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time Warner Cable Finishes Maxx Upgrades in NY, LA; Will Upgrade Only 7 Additional Areas in 2015

Phillip Dampier November 13, 2014 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 8 Comments

twcGreenTime Warner Cable has finished the rollout of TWC Maxx upgrades in New York and Los Angeles and will likely finish in Austin by the end of this year, delivering free broadband speed upgrades up to 300Mbps and a better television experience.

“Today marks an important milestone in Time Warner Cable’s commitment to provide our customers with best-in-class products and service,” said Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO Robert Marcus, in a release. “Every customer in our two largest markets now has access to the superfast Internet and new TV experience promised by TWC Maxx.  Faster speeds are also available to every customer in the Austin, Texas, market, and we’ve committed to reinvent the service experience in seven additional markets in 2015.”

Unless you live in Kansas City, Dallas, San Antonio, San Diego, Hawaii, Charlotte or Raleigh, there will likely be no reinvention of broadband service for you, with top speeds still “maxing” out at just 50/5Mbps at the beginning of 2016.

maxed outWhile Time Warner Cable customers have seen the company’s top premium speed stagnate at 50/5Mbps in many parts of upstate New York, South Carolina, western Ohio, and Maine for several years, TWC Maxx communities will see Standard Service speeds start at 50Mbps and rapidly increase from there. The differences in speed and price paid for broadband in Maxx markets vs. non-Maxx markets is staggering.

The average Time Warner Cable customer in Los Angeles will pay a promotional price of $35 a month for 50/5Mbps service. In upstate New York and other un-Maxxed areas, the price for that speed is $70 a month — twice as much.

Some customers in Los Angeles are being provided rent-free cable modems while subscribers in other cities continue to pay $6 a month.

There is speculation Time Warner Cable has set a conservative upgrade schedule for Maxx upgrades with the understanding the company will probably no longer exist long before the end of 2015, becoming a part of Comcast sometime early next year. Whether Comcast will continue the Maxx upgrade program is unknown, but it is doubtful — Time Warner’s maximum cable broadband speeds in Maxx markets are considerably faster than what Comcast offers most of its own customers.

 

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

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

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

2014-contributions-from-net-1

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

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

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

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

2014-contributions-from-net

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

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

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

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

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

You Suck: America’s Worst Broadband Cities Include Most of Upstate New York, Much of Ohio

Phillip Dampier November 4, 2014 Consumer News 1 Comment

failAmerica’s least-connected live in much of upstate New York, including the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse and a large percentage of the state of Ohio, including the cities of Cleveland, Dayton, Akron, Cincinnati, and Toledo.

The data comes from the 2013 U.S. Census American Community Survey, which now gathers information on household Internet connections. Out of 176 major American cities with 50,000 or more residential households, the Redistributing the Future blog team was able to crunch the numbers and score which American cities are most likely to lack home Internet access of any kind, including dial-up and mobile Internet (smartphone) and those that lack wired broadband of any kind, including cable, DSL, fiber, or satellite Internet.

The most common reasons homes lack Internet access are: cost (ie. consumers cannot afford the price of the service), availability (one cannot subscribe because the service is not offered), or disinterest (typically older Americans are the most likely to claim they don’t need Internet access).

The worst-scoring include economically challenged communities like Detroit, Mich., and those with extremely large ethnic populations, including Laredo, Tex., and Hialeah, Fla.

Laredo has a 30 percent rate of poverty. Laredo households with children under the age of eighteen headed by women have a 51 percent poverty rate. More than 95% of the population self-identify as Latinos. Hialeah has the highest percentage of Cuban and Cuban-American residents of any city in the United States, at 74% of the population.

It is too early to tell why regions in upstate New York and much of Ohio score particularly badly. Time Warner Cable is by far the most dominant player in upstate New York, winning much higher market share than competitors Verizon and Frontier. In Ohio, rankings for the city of Cleveland are particularly dismal: 51% of Cleveland’s households still didn’t have “fixed” broadband accounts (i.e. cable modem, DSL, satellite, etc.) in 2013. Even counting mobile devices, 45% of the city’s households didn’t have broadband Internet accounts. The economy is likely to have something to do with that. At least 61% of Cleveland households had incomes below $35,000 in 2013.

top 25 no internet
top 25 no fixed bb

Data and charts courtesy: Bill Callahan

Time Warner Cable Unveils $26/Mo 6-Tuner, 1TB DVR in Los Angeles, New York Maxx Markets

Phillip Dampier October 21, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 4 Comments
TWC enhanced DVR 400x300

Arris DCX 3600 enhanced DVR for Time Warner Cable Maxx customers

Time Warner Cable’s enhanced DVR is here, at an enhanced price starting at $26/month.

Time Warner customers have long waited for an upgraded DVR capable of storing and recording more shows, and the Arris DCX 3600 is the result.

Available soon in Los Angeles and New York (and later in other TWC Maxx-upgraded markets), the enhanced DVR includes six tuners and 1TB of storage, enough to keep around 150 hours of HD programming.

The DVR includes QAM/RF-capability and a DOCSIS 3 modem built into the box. Time Warner Cable has set the monthly price for the box at $15.99 for single room DVR service, $19.99 a month for whole-house DVR service. An additional equipment rental fee also applies: $10.25/mo for the box and remote control, $11.75/mo if you are subject to Time Warner’s “additional outlet service fee.” That means customers will pay up to $31.74 a month for the DVR alone. Customers who subscribe to a bundled service package will likely pay significantly lower rates for the enhanced DVR.

Time Warner arrives very late to the DVR competition wars. Its current boxes can usually record only up to two shows at once and storage space, usually enough for 80 hours, may require customers to clear out older shows to make room for new ones.

Time Warner’s competitors are still able to beat Time Warner’s new DVR:

  • AT&T U-verse comes closest to Time Warner, offering a four tuner DVR that can store up to 422 hours of SD programming, 155 hours in HD;
  • Comcast is testing its new X1 video platform that can record 15 programs at the same time by linking together multiple HD-DVRs;
  • Dish Network’s Hopper HD-DVR can record eight shows at once, and DirecTV’s Genie can manage five recordings at the same time;
  • Verizon FiOS Quantum TV customers can record a maximum of 12 shows at once and its DVR package offers 2TB of storage.

The new equipment should be available in New York and Los Angeles by the end of this month and will gradually be introduced in other TWC Maxx cities planned for upgrades: Charlotte, N.C., Dallas, Tex., Hawaii, Raleigh, N.C., San Antonio, Tex., and San Diego. No word on when the new boxes will be available in Austin, Tex., where upgrades are already underway.

Customers in other Time Warner Cable cities will have to make do with older DVRs until either Time Warner schedules Maxx upgrades or Comcast succeeds in buying Time Warner.

New York Public Service Commission Refuses to Release Notes from Private Meetings With Comcast

ny pscSeven staff members from the New York’s Public Service Commission privately met with representatives of Comcast and Time Warner Cable on April 10, April 24, and May 8, 2014 and the regulator is refusing to disclose exactly what was discussed.

Despite repeated requests from Common Cause NY, the PSC has been less than completely forthcoming releasing:

  • Documents provided at the meetings by representatives of Comcast and Time Warner;
  • Documents provided to Comcast or Time Warner representatives by the Department of Public Service;
  • Minutes of the meetings;
  • Notes taken by public officials or their staff in attendance.

NY PSC Secretary Kathleen Burgess did indicate “no documents were provided to or received from DPS staff, Comcast or Time Warner at the aforementioned meetings,” adding “no other records responsive to your request could be found in the possession of the department.”

That might have been the end of it had we not discovered that staff members created 31 pages of handwritten and typed impressions of the presentations offered by the two cable companies — vital clues about precisely what was discussed behind closed doors.

Despite a confirmation from Secretary Burgess that these notes do, in fact, exist, she has refused all requests to release them to the public.

“Because they are deliberative rather than ‘statistical or factual tabulations or data,’ they are not subject to disclosure under the intra agency exemption,” Burgess declared. “Accordingly, I deny your appeal.”

The public was not allowed to attend the meetings, one of which was attended by Public Service Commission chairwoman Audrey Zibelman and Commissioner Gregg Sayre. On April 10, they met with executives from the two cable companies, according to public schedules. They were joined by Allison Lee, a lobbyist for the firm representing Time Warner Cable and Tom Congdon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Assistant Secretary for Energy. What was discussed has been kept secret to this day.

Time Warner Cable’s presence is well-felt in Albany. The cable operator is one of the state’s top lobbyists, spending nearly $500,000 on New York politicians in 2013 alone. Both Time Warner and Comcast have donated a combined $200,000 to Gov. Cuomo’s campaign accounts.

New York has put Comcast’s merger application on hold until November. Last week more than 99 percent of shares held by stockholders of both cable companies were voted in favor of the deal.

Earthlink Customers Benefit from Time Warner Cable Maxx Broadband Upgrades

earthlink_logoEarthlink customers in New York, Los Angeles and Austin are receiving letters from Time Warner Cable advising them they qualify for the same speeds Time Warner Cable broadband customers are receiving as part of the TWC Maxx upgrade program.

Standard Earthlink customers in these cities will get speed upgrades from 15/1Mbps to 50/5Mbps at no extra charge. Turbo speed customers will see speeds rise from 20/2Mbps to 100/10Mbps, also at no additional cost.

twcmaxStop the Cap! reader Iris was immediately suspicious about the tone of Time Warner’s letter, which has the potential of confusing customers that own their own cable modems. The letter suggests customer-owned equipment might not be compatible with the speed upgrades. Customers are given a phone number to verify their eligibility, and some who have contacted Time Warner Cable report back they have been given a brief sales pitch to ditch their own modem in favor of one from Time Warner Cable, which costs $5.99 a month forever.

Time Warner could have simply enclosed its list of approved modems, which would answer customer concerns without having to make a phone call. But that wouldn’t give the company a chance to score extra revenue convincing customers to toss their old equipment in the trash while paying an unnecessary monthly modem fee for the rest of their lives.

For the record, your old modem probably will continue to work even if it isn’t capable of delivering the fastest speeds. If 50/5Mbps is fast enough for current Earthlink Turbo customers, they might want to consider downgrading service until they can budget to buy a new modem capable of taking full advantage of the faster 100/10Mbps speeds now on offer.

For your convenience, here is the latest Time Warner Cable Approved Modem List for TWC Maxx upgrade areas:

approved modems

 

Updated: New York PSC Announces Delay in Comcast/Time Warner Cable Merger Consideration

The staff of the New York Public Service Commission has requested extra time for consideration of Comcast’s application to assume control of Time Warner Cable’s operations in New York State.

“Pursuant to a request from Department of Public Service staff in the above-referenced matter, Comcast Corporation and Time Warner Cable Inc. agree to action by the Public Service Commission on the Joint Petition at the November 13, 2014 Commission Session, with a final order being issued no later than November 19, 2014,” says a filing published late this afternoon by the Commission.

The merger was to be on the agenda for approval or rejection at a meeting in early October. New York public interest groups are continuing to mount opposition campaigns against the merger. Many feel the proposal has not been given enough attention and the public remains largely unaware of their ability to take part in discussions about the proposal.

Update: 9/29/14:

Public Service spokesperson James Denn sent this statement to City Newspaper on Monday:

“The Comcast proceeding, affecting 2.2 million cable customers in New York and representing an approximate New York transaction value of $3 billion, has led to an intense stakeholder focus producing nearly 3,000 public comments, making it one of the most active proceedings in commission history. Given the depth and breadth of the public record and the importance of the issues presented, the commission has accepted the extension of the period for review so that it may consider the matter more fully at its November 13 session.”

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