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Charter Spectrum Raising Broadband Prices $5; $64.99/Mo for Entry-Level 60Mbps Plan

Customers in Florida and Texas received this notice with his latest cable bill. (Image courtesy: Nucleartx)

The “consumer benefits” of Charter Communications’ acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks just keep on coming as the company has begun hiking the cost of its broadband plans by $5 a month:

Important Billing Update: At Spectrum, we continue to enhance our services, offer more of the best entertainment choices and deliver the best value. We are committed to offering you products and services we are sure you will enjoy.

Effective with your next billing statement, pricing will be adjusted for:

  • Internet Service from $59.99 to $64.99.

If you are currently on a discounted rate, you will not realize an increase until the end of your promotional period.

The rate increase means Charter/Spectrum’s nationally available, entry-level broadband plan will now cost customers $64.99 a month. The company is also hiking rates on its Ultra tier (300Mbps in former Time Warner Cable Maxx markets, 100Mbps in most other markets) by $5 to $104.99.

Customers signed up to Spectrum’s base 60Mbps internet plan may be able to threaten their way to a lower price by contacting customer service and informing them you plan to switch to Earthlink, which is offering lower-speed plans as low as $29.99 a month for six months. Charter Spectrum has given many complaining customers a 12-month retention plan priced at $39.99 or $44.95 a month for 60Mbps.

Suddenlink Hiking Rates: Internet Up $3.50, Surcharges Now Exceed $13/Month

Suddenlink customers around the country are finding accessing the internet has suddenly gotten more expensive. For many service areas, the cable operator raised its rates in December for television and broadband service, with some of the biggest hikes coming from sneaky surcharges.

In many states, the most popular basic bundle already costs $90 a month. The biggest increases have come from “surcharges” which are never a part of Suddenlink’s advertised promotions, surprising many customers on their first bill.

In Arizona, the Broadcast TV surcharge has gone up another $1.61 a month, making customers pay $8.39 a month for a handful of local channels. A separate sports programming surcharge of $5.15 also applies. Suddenlink is also part of the club of cable operators charging customers $10 a month to rent a cable modem. For good measure, the cable operator also wants another dollar a month for its DVR and $3.50 more for broadband. Assorted other fees and surcharges tack on another $4.50 a month.

Suddenlink has already notified some regulators more price hikes are coming in the next several months.

But a Suddenlink spokesperson said there is more good news than bad.

“We provide Suddenlink customers with superior products and services at a great value, continually introducing faster internet speeds and with plans to roll out an enhanced video experience in the coming months,” Janet Meahan, spokeswoman for Suddenlink, told the Daily Miner in Kingman, Ariz. “Our pricing remains extremely competitive in the face of rapidly rising programming costs.”

Mehan also told the newspaper that Suddenlink introduced 1 gigabit internet service in Kingman in October, and provided “complimentary” speed upgrades for residential customers at no extra charge.

“They also had their artificial internet rate hike when they implemented data ‘allowances’ (caps),” retorted Ryan, a Suddenlink customer. “Their upgrades are anything but complimentary.”

Readers report they’ve had success calling Suddenlink and threatening to cancel service over the rate increases. Some report they’ve successfully negotiated their rates down to a level just a dollar or two higher than what they paid two years ago. Customers can also buy their way out of Suddenlink’s data caps by upgrading their service.

New subscribers and existing customers who elect to get an upgrade will automatically be enrolled in an unlimited plan at no extra charge the first year, pay an added $5 a month after 12 months, and an added $10 a month after 24 months. Customers currently subscribing to Suddenlink’s fastest local services may choose to retain their existing usage-based plans or upgrade to an unlimited plan.

Merry Christmas from Comcast: We’re Raising Your Rates (Again)

Phillip Dampier December 14, 2016 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News 2 Comments

Tis the season for rate increases. Fa-la-la-la-la, La-La-La-La.

Comcast is bringing itself some Christmas cheer this holiday season with more of your money going into its pocket as the cable giant announces nationwide rate hikes that will cost customers an average of 3.8 percent more in 2017. Comcast blames much of the increase on others.

“We continue to make investments in our network and technology to give customers more for their money—like faster internet service and more Wi-Fi hotspots, more video across viewing screens, better technology like X1 and a better customer experience,” Comcast said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the costs we are charged to carry popular networks continue to increase significantly, especially broadcast television and sports programming, which are the largest drivers of increases in price adjustments.”

Customers may not feel like they are getting more for their money with Comcast’s data caps and overlimit fees, which increasingly affect customers except in the northeast (for now). Cable TV customers will generally see a published rate increase of around $1 a month, which sounds like a pittance until you scrutinize the rate hike more closely.

Bill padding is where the real money will be made in 2017:

  • Broadcast TV Fee: Was around $5 in most markets, but Comcast intends to charge $2 more, bringing the fee to $7 a month;
  • Regional Sports Surcharge: Whether you watch sports channels or not, you will be expected to pay $2 more next year for those channels, with fees rising to $5 a month.

The absence of viable broadband competition in states like Maryland, bypassed by Verizon FiOS, means Comcast can raise broadband prices almost at will.

TV Predictions notes officials in Montgomery County, which includes the suburban Washington, D.C. cities of Bethesda and Rockville, have been notified of $5 a month rate hikes on broadband, taking some internet access pricing above $80 a month:

  • Internet Plus will increase from $77.95 a month to $82.95 a month;
  • Internet Pro Plus with Showtime will rise from $81.95 a month to $86.95 a month;
  • Internet Pro Plus With HBO will increase from $84.95 a month to $89.95 a month;
  • Premier XF Double Play package will increase from $182.95 a month to $187.99 a month, taking Comcast closer to the $200 cable bill.

Standalone internet pricing is now just as expensive as a deluxe cable television package, despite the fact it costs Comcast only a fraction of the amount it charges to provide the service:

  • Performance plan will rise from $69.95 to $74.95 a month;
  • Performance Pro plan will go from $79.95 a month to $84.95 a month;
  • Blast plan will rise from $82.95 a month to $87.95 a month.

Altice Fined (Again) for Regulatory Abuse in Europe; Rakes U.S. Customers for More Money

Phillip Dampier November 17, 2016 Altice NV, Cablevision, Competition, Consumer News, Suddenlink No Comments

altice debtFrench competition regulators have fined Altice for a second time this year for abusing European regulatory policies designed to protect competition in the marketplace.

The French Competition Authority imposed an $88.5 million fine for pursuing mergers and acquisitions without first getting permission from the regulator.

In 2014, Altice rushed into an effort to buy SFR, one of France’s major cellular and broadband providers. Although ultimately successful, the French regulator produced a lengthy dossier with evidence Altice executives allegedly engaged in illegal back door negotiations to complete a takeover of both SFR and Virgin Mobile with or without clearance from the agency that ensures French consumers benefit from competitive markets.

“The Group chose not to refute these practices and to accept the French Competition Authority’s settlement offer,” Altice said in a statement. “The Group chose to settle the matter in order to limit its financial exposure, given the level of penalties imposed for the type of procedural violation under the French Commercial Code.”

SFR customers apparently wished Altice never acquired the telecom provider, because the mass exodus from customer cancellations continued for yet another quarter, despite extremely low-priced customer retention promotions.

optimumSFR’s cable and fiber broadband division lost 75,000 customers in the last three months, 193,000 over the year. Among DSL customers, 120,000 said goodbye to SFR during the last quarter, 432,000 for the year. SFR’s mobile service did even worse, down 88,000 customers in the last three months, 593,000 for the year.

To offset losses on that scale, Altice is relying on American cable customers to make up the difference. At least 41% of Altice’s global operating free cash flow now emanates from Cablevision and Suddenlink customers in the United States. Thanks to rate increases and other revenue enhancers, Cablevision customers kicked in 2.2% more revenue while Suddenlink customers provided 6.2% more to Altice’s revenue numbers. Suddenlink customers are already paying unprecedented cable bills, with a reported 46.4% profit margin, which ranks among the highest in the U.S. cable industry.

SuddenlinkLogo1-630x140Seeing the enormous sums of money to be made running cable companies in the much-less competitive United States, Altice has been drawing up plans for a potential initial public offering to build a war chest to expand the Altice USA empire starting in 2017.

Among the most likely targets to be consolidated under the Altice umbrella: Cox Communications, Cable One, Mediacom and Midco. Some of those companies are privately held, so Altice founder Patrick Drahi would likely have to pay a substantial premium to snap up some of these mid-sized companies.

If the incoming Trump Administration opens the floodgates for a merger and acquisition free-for-all, Drahi might aim higher, looking at Charter Communications. An acquisition attempt of Comcast would be his most audacious move yet.

Those customers consolidated into the Altice family can look forward to higher bills and significant cutbacks in some customer support functions.

Altice plans to continue centralizing call center operations and demanding better performance from workers employed there. By minimizing customer contacts with call centers, costs are reduced. Making sure customer problems are addressed quickly is supposed to reduce customer losses from churn.

corporatewelfareRate increases and additional fine print also guarantee more revenue for Altice operations. In France, SFR has not shied away from imposing multiple rate increases throughout the year, even when customers are “locked in” with a promotional rate. SFR has been playing with how it charges France’s value-added tax (VAT), reducing it for some while adding new passed-thru charges for others. Many customers saw their bills increase by around 10% over the summer and are waiting to pay even more this fall.

Cablevision and Suddenlink customers are getting similar treatment as they discover new and unusual service charges and fees, including general rate hikes of about 3.4% that take effect in December.

The most significant change is that Cablevision no longer provides credits for disconnecting customers. Regardless of when you drop Cablevision service, Altice will not give you any service credits for disconnecting before the end of your billing cycle.

Manasquan, N.J. resident Bonnie McGee discovered Cablevision’s quietly imposed change that took effect in October.

“No matter what now, I am paying for 25 days when I am not getting any service from them,” McGee told New Jersey’s Press on Your Side. Her final bill was $183.

Under the previous owners, billing stopped the day a customer disconnected service and turned in their equipment. Under Altice, customers will continue to be billed for service, even if they cannot access it because they turned in their set-top boxes and cable modem, under the end of the billing cycle.

Cablevision officials call this change a benefit to their customers.

“Optimum services remain available to you for the full billing period and there are no partial credits or refunds of monthly charges already billed,” according to the fine print on Optimum bills.

“Like many entertainment and telecommunications providers, our services are available on a monthly basis, and customers have access to all of our high-quality products and services until the end of their monthly service period,” a spokesperson told the newspaper.

While that may sound good to the bean counters at Altice, it has infuriated customers, and the change may be permanently harming Cablevision’s name, leaving many departing customers even more unhappy with the service they canceled.

“Why would I even think about going back to Optimum for anything?” one asked. “I will never go back,” said another.

Charter Still Losing Time Warner Cable Customers With Hard Line on Retention Deals

charter-twc-bhAt least 54,000 Time Warner Cable customers downgraded or canceled their cable TV service in the last three months as Charter Communications continues to take a harder line on offering or renewing customer retention discounts for customers unhappy with their bill.

Time Warner Cable customers are “mispriced” with discounts and deals that lower the cost of service but face bill shock when the promotion ends, according to Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge.

“Third quarter customer results were more inconsistent with good performance at Legacy Charter and Bright House, but higher churn and downgrades in the Time Warner Cable markets, as we expected, given the way Time Warner Cable had marketed promotional pricing,” said Rutledge. “Until our Spectrum pricing and packaging is launched across the newly acquired service areas, we continue to expect higher levels of churn and downgrades where Time Warner Cable was the operator.”

“Over the next few quarters, our operating results will reflect reversing certain product and packaging strategies, in particular at TWC, in which in our view are not sustainable, given high promotional roll-offs and annual rate increases, high customer equipment fees, including modem fees, all coupled with complex and stacked offers,” added Charter’s chief financial officer Christopher Winfrey.

Traditionally, Time Warner Cable has dealt with price sensitive customers rolling off special pricing promotions by gradually resetting rates higher or, when necessary, by renewing the promotion for another year in an effort not to lose the customer. That will stop under Charter’s ownership, according to Mr. Rutledge. As a result, Charter Communications is seeing significant customer losses at Time Warner Cable when customer service representatives won’t budge on pricing.

Rutledge is seeking more discipline in product pricing so Charter does not have to extend cut-rate retention promotions to customers. As part of the Charter Spectrum rebrand, the cable company introduces new cable, broadband, and phone plans while allowing Time Warner Cable’s legacy plans to stay in effect until a customer elects to switch. While Texas and California Time Warner Cable customers have already been introduced to Spectrum plans, much of the rest of the country is still being offered plans only from Time Warner Cable or Bright House.



Customers are most likely to cancel service as their promotion expires. The resulting price hike can be a considerable shock as rates quickly reset to Bright House or Time Warner’s “regular price.”

Charter wants an incentive to get customers to forfeit their Time Warner or Bright House plan and switch to a new Spectrum plan as they are introduced. By making the grandfathered plans as unattractive as possible, the alternative Spectrum plans appear to be a better deal. Unfortunately, until Spectrum-branded plans arrive nationwide, many customers are stuck in limbo rolling off a promotion, are unable to renew it, and forced to wait for new Spectrum plans to be introduced.

Rutledge announced last week that the next markets to be introduced to Spectrum this month are in New York City and Florida, the latter former Bright House territory. Rutledge predicted half of Time Warner Cable customers will be offered Spectrum plans by the end of this year. But some Time Warner Cable customers may have to wait until next spring before Spectrum rebranding is complete.

Time Warner Cable Maxx is Still Dead, Earning Charter $36 Million in Reduced CapEx

Charter also reported significant financial benefits from prematurely terminating the Time Warner Cable Maxx upgrade effort. Time Warner’s upgrades would have given customers free speed upgrades up to 300Mbps. But Charter pulled the plug on the upgrade project just after completing its acquisition, and has no plans to restart it.

“Cost to service customers declined by about 2% despite overall customer growth of 5.1%, which reflects lower service transactions at Legacy Charter, the lack of all-digital activity at TWC this quarter versus last year’s third quarter, and some benefit from less physical disconnects in all-digital markets,” reported Winfrey. “Capital expenditures totaled $1.75 billion, including $109 million of transition spend. Excluding transition CapEx, our third quarter CapEx was down by $36 million year-over-year, about 2%, driven by all-digital spending at TWC, primarily on [equipment], which did not recur in the third quarter of this year.”



Charter expects to increase CapEx next spring, as the company continues its less ambitious transition to all-digital cable service, which includes broadband speeds topping out at 100Mbps, three times less than what Time Warner Cable was implementing.

Charter is Less Enthusiastic About Digital Phone Service

Time Warner Cable maintained a healthy market share for its digital phone service by bundling it at a promotional price of $10 a month, a rate that remained relatively stable for customers sticking with a triple play package bundle. Time Warner Cable also enhanced its phone service by adding the European Union nations, Mexico, and several popular Asian calling destinations as part of the local calling area, making those calls free of charge.

Charter’s own plan is less feature-rich and customers have to buy an add-on plan to cover international long distance, making the product considerably less attractive to customers. Some customers also find the cost of the phone service has increased under Spectrum, a problem acknowledged by Winfrey, who noted Time Warner Cable’s low-price voice offer in prior year quarters had been discontinued, resulting in higher voice downgrades and relationship churn.

Charter’s Plans for Legacy Charter Customers and Newly-Adopted Time Warner Cable and Bright House Customers

charter spectrum logoRutledge made clear that despite any product changes or rebranding, the long term goal of Charter Communications is to see revenue grow. Whether that will come from gradual repricing of cable products and services to a higher rate or from improved products and services that attract new upgrade business is not yet certain. But Rutledge outlined key areas Charter expects to focus on in the next few years:

  • Charter will complete the all-digital transition at Time Warner Cable and Bright House over the next two years, but it will resemble the kind of service legacy Charter customers get today, not TWC Maxx;
  • Over the next five years or so, with relatively small infrastructure investments, Charter plans to implement DOCSIS 3.1 which will be able to deliver symmetrical multi-gigabit speeds to all 50 million homes and businesses in their service area;
  • Charter plans to aggressively market and grow its services for commercial customers, targeting businesses large and small, at prices that more closely resemble residential service pricing, instead of the price premium Time Warner Cable has traditionally charged its commercial customers;
  • Charter is activating its MVNO agreement with Verizon, which will allow Charter to create and market its own wireless/cellular service using Verizon’s nationwide network. The company is also exploring using millimeter-wave (5G) service to offer better broadband coverage in large commercial spaces like malls and rural properties currently not wired for cable service. Expect the company to create its own wireless/cellular bundle first, because it will rely entirely on Verizon’s network, keeping Charter’s costs low.

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