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Spectrum Raises Price of “Everyday Low Priced Internet” to $24.99

Charter Communications, which does business as Spectrum, has raised the price of its legacy “Everyday Low Priced Internet (ELP),” a 2/1 Mbps service that Time Warner Cable introduced in 2013 for $14.99 a month. Our reader Todd writes the service is going up another $5 a month (after an earlier $5 rate increase) effective in November 2018, as his latest bill shows:

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. Important Billing Update: Effective with your next billing statement, pricing will be adjusted for:

• Internet Services from $19.99 to $24.99.

New York residents were allowed to keep ELP at the price of $14.99 a month for several years after Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable. But that deal requirement has since expired.

Spectrum continues to offer its income-qualified Spectrum Internet Assist ($14.99) for those receiving:

  • The National School Lunch Program (NSLP); free or reduced cost lunch
  • The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the NSLP
  • Supplemental Security Income ( ≥ age 65 only)

That service is also promoted in mailers in low-income neighborhoods without an income or benefit pre-qualification requirement, so anyone in those neighborhoods can sign up.

Spectrum Internet Assist offers:

  • High-speed 30/4 Mbps Internet with no data caps
  • Internet modem included
  • No contracts required
  • Add in-home WiFi for $5 more per month

Offer not valid for current Spectrum Internet subscribers.

At a new price of $24.99, Spectrum is clearly trying to convince customers still hanging on to the very low-speed internet product Time Warner Cable originally introduced five years ago to move on. Time Warner marketed ELP to budget conscious DSL customers willing to accept lower speed for a lower bill.

Spectrum’s latest promotions for 100-200 Mbps Standard internet start at $29.99 a month for up to two years, depending on your service area and local competition.

Updated 11/6 4:56pm ET: Thanks to our readers for some clarifications:

  • New York customers may not be subject to the rate increase. Existing ELP customers in N.Y. can keep ELP until at least May 17, 2019, as long as they do not make changes to their account that would result in their enrollment being canceled.
  • In former Maxx areas and under some other circumstances, ELP is 3/1 Mbps.

Charter Spectrum Refuses to Air Political Ad Slamming Spectrum for High Rates

Brindisi’s ad has been “censored” by Charter Spectrum.

A Democratic candidate running for Congress in central New York cannot get his 30-second ad slamming New York’s biggest cable company on Spectrum’s cable channels.

Anthony Brindisi slammed Charter Communications for “censoring” his campaign by refusing to air his latest ad which claims Spectrum has almost doubled its rates since taking over for Time Warner Cable and has broken its promises to the state. Brindisi also accused his Republican opponent — incumbent Rep. Claudia Tenney — of siding with the cable company, and “voted to give the company a $9 billion tax cut while they were raising our rates.”

The fact that Brindisi opens his ad claiming, “if you’re watching this ad on Spectrum cable, you’re getting ripped off,” may have been partly responsible for Charter’s refusal to air his ad.

“The ad did not meet our criteria,” said Maureen Huff, a spokesperson for Charter Spectrum.

Rep. Tenney

But the ad is not factually inaccurate, just hyperbolic. Many Spectrum customers complained about steep rate increases switching between their original Time Warner Cable plans and new plans offered by Spectrum. Some customers needed to upgrade to higher tier cable TV packages to keep channels they would otherwise lose and the company’s ongoing digital conversion convinced many customers they needed to rent set-top boxes for every television in their home, at a substantial cost.

Brindisi’s claim that “Claudia Tenney’s campaign is bankrolled by Spectrum,” is slightly misplaced, although Charter Communications has spent $5,000 on contributions to her campaign in 2017. In fact, Comcast is her third largest contributor, spending $12,900 on her campaign so far during the 2017-2018 election cycle. The Koch Brothers, a cable industry ally, comes in fourth.

Brindisi hoped to air his ads in the Utica and Binghamton markets through Spectrum, but will have to spend more buying time on over the air channels. He says he doesn’t like Spectrum’s stranglehold on local views aired on cable channels.

“It’s a scary precedent for them to be setting just because I’ve been a vocal critic of the company,” Brindisi told the New York Times. “I don’t think I should be precluded from informing the public about their practices here in New York State and letting people know that, at the same time they are raising your cable rates, they are a big beneficiary of the tax bill and a major supporter of my opponent.”

Watch the 30-second advertisement Charter Spectrum refused to allow on its cable channels. Anthony Brindisi is a Democratic candidate for Congress in central New York (30 seconds)

Not Without My Refund! N.Y. Assemblyman Demands Spectrum Issue Rebate Checks

Before Charter Communications is shown the door and exits New York (if Charter loses its anticipated legal action against the state), it should be required to issue refund checks to every subscriber in New York to make up for a series of broken promises.

State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) has sent a letter to Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood and New York Public Service Commission Chairman John Rhodes demanding the cable company pay up before transitioning service to another provider.

Brindisi claims Charter’s Spectrum failed to provide promised internet upgrades, has not met its obligation to improve customer service, and is charging even higher rates than its predecessor, Time Warner Cable.

Brindisi is also concerned Charter’s required transition plan may well be redacted by the company. He wants the transition plan made public, with ample opportunity for New York residents to participate in a discussion about which cable company ultimately replaces Spectrum (again assuming the company loses its legal action).

Here is Brindisi’s letter:

Dear Ms. Underwood and Mr. Rhodes:

I am writing to you as a follow up to the order issued by the New York State Public Service Commission on July 27, 2018 to revoke the 2016 merger agreement between Charter Communications, Inc. doing business in New York as Spectrum, and Time Warner Cable, Inc.

This order is truly in the best interests of New York residents.  For two years, I have received  literally hundreds of emails, letters, and petition signatures from constituents who have endured frequent, often unexpected rate hikes, and who have watched flashy ads from Charter promising lightning-fast internet speeds, as they can barely pay bills or send emails through 1980’s-era infrastructure that has not been improved.

Brindisi

I am respectfully asking that you collaborate to work on a three-point plan that addresses concerns I continue to hear from Charter’s cable and internet customers, as well as from the employees who work for the company.  The following is my proposal for consideration by consumer and utility regulators:

Charter should provide reasonable compensation in the form of rebate checks to its customers who have received cable rate hikes significantly above the national average for cable rate increases, which was 5.8 percent from July, 2016 to July, 2017.

Customers with internet service from Charter who never received promised service upgrades should receive compensation in the form of rebate checks from the company.

Any company petitioning the PSC to pick up Charter’s internet, cable, and phone service should pledge to negotiate in good faith with unions representing workers, and should agree not to cut vitally needed pension and health care benefits for workers.

The rate increases Charter customers received shortly after Charter’s acquisition of Time-Warner’s system have been staggering.  One constituent in Utica was billed $91.92 for cable services in January, 2017—and in March, 2018, his bill was $129.26 for exactly the same service.  Another constituent from Rome told me that she paid $108 a month for cable, internet, and telephone service in May, 2016—about the time Charter took over for Time Warner.  By April, 2018, her bill was $200.  These are increases many times the national average, all under the guise of ‘expiring promotional packages’

These cable rate hikes are just as serious a problem for consumers as Charter’s failure to live up to its promises to upgrade its broadband.  Many of the consumers I have heard from are seniors on fixed incomes who depend on cable and internet for information and to communicate with family members.  They should be compensated for what clearly is blatant overcharging.

Thank you very much for all you are doing to protect New York consumers, and for your concern about this issue.  If you have any questions, please feel free to give me a call.

Sincerely,

Anthony Brindisi
Member of Assembly

(Thanks to Todd N., a regular Stop the Cap! reader, for sharing the story.)

Spectrum Customers Get Bill Shocked Again as Set-Top Box and Rate Promotions End

Phillip Dampier May 17, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Video 1 Comment

Some Spectrum customers are getting nasty surprises in their latest cable bills.

For some customers, it has been one year or more since Spectrum introduced new plans and pricing for former Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable customers and one year since the company implemented all-digital cable television upgrades that require customers to place equipment on every television wired for cable in the home.

Many customers received “free” equipment as part of the digital upgrades, but may have forgotten that promotion only lasted one year. That is also the length of Spectrum’s various ‘new customer’ and ‘retention’ promotions. When the year is up, your bill goes up — sometimes dramatically.

In Cleveland, Ohio some customers are finding bills increasing $18-30 a month or more, sometimes increasing more than once as rate promotions and free set-top equipment deals end at different times in the year.

It is not unusual to find customers paying $180-225 or more a month for Spectrum’s “triple play” package of television, phone, and internet service, after promotions end. A significant percentage of customers still holding legacy Time Warner Cable and Bright House plans are finding those packages increasing in price as well. In comparison, new customers with a triple play package generally pay between $100-120 a month, depending on equipment.

Some of the rate changes Spectrum imposed over the last 12 months include:

  • Equipment rate increases (usually around $1.00 a month per box)
  • New “Secure Connection Fee”: $1.00/mo per box – Spectrum claims this fee covers “those measures Spectrum employs to manage and secure the connection between Spectrum’s system and the Spectrum receiver and other devices Subscriber uses to access Spectrum’s services.”
  • Broadcast TV Surcharge rate increases
  • Internet service rate increases

Although Spectrum has reportedly become more amenable to offering retention deals to customers threatening to leave, the best deals are still for new customers. Some have dropped Spectrum service and signed up again under the name of another household member to secure a better deal. Others will have to wait 30 days after ending service before one is qualified for a new customer deal once again.

WKYC in Cleveland reports some Spectrum customers are upset about sudden bill changes. (2:34)

A Washington Post Columnist Channels Cable Industry Drivel About Cord-Cutting

Phillip Dampier April 18, 2018 Editorial & Site News, Online Video 2 Comments

The editorial and opinion page of The Washington Post has always been an uneven experience, especially when it comes to their views on the telecommunications business.

For years, the Post’s editorial page has been suspiciously cable-friendly. It favored Comcast’s failed 2014 acquisition of Time Warner Cable — a thought so horrible, readers were likely to spit out their morning coffee after seeing it. At first, one might have attributed the editorial board’s friendliness to the fact its corporate parent at the time also owned Cable One, a cable operator serving small and medium cities in places Comcast, Charter, and Cox forgot. But Cable One is now long gone — spun off as an independent entity. So perhaps laziness explains why reporters and columnists are frequently suckered by well-worn talking points from a cable industry on the defensive — celebrating every article proclaiming the impact of cord-cutting is muted, at best.

This morning’s shallow column by “right-leaning blogger” Megan McArdle, “You think you hate your cable bundle. You’re wrong,” is an excellent case in point. It’s a combination of cable industry folderol and misunderstanding of the economics of today’s cable business.

McArdle argues that recent subscriber growth by Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services should mean we can get rid of the hated cable television bundle. Only we don’t she says, because we “actually love bundles.”

Her argument runs into trouble almost immediately when attempting to conflate a-la-carte economics of the television business with the likely impact of that type of pricing on hotels, airlines, and restaurants:

When you book a hotel, you expect “complimentary” mattresses, sheets and towels, rather than renting each individually. When you go to a restaurant, you don’t pay extra to enjoy the use of a plate. And you get very testy indeed upon discovering that your bargain airline charges you to choose a seat or bring luggage.

Bundling, it turns out, is valuable. You aren’t willing to give up complimentary shampoo and towel service when you’re traveling, because that turns every shower into a financial decision. The hotel, meanwhile, would need more staff to field requests for trivia, raising the price of the room. Much better for everyone to sell you a bundle that we call a “hotel room” but that really includes a bunch of ancillary products you might like to use during your stay.

In 2014, the Washington Post editorial page endorsed the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger that eventually fell apart.

Value is in the eye of the beholder, and hundreds of thousands of cable customers are doing what was once unthinkable for the cable industry (and Ms. McArdle) — they are cutting the cord to their cable television package for good. That is a fact many cable executives are now willing to acknowledge. It is why CEO’s complain about the inflation rate of cable programming costs and the fact subscribers are no longer amenable to annual budget-busting rate hikes for cable television. Some cable companies now attempt to hide those growing costs in fine print surcharges for broadcast TV stations and sports programming. Others are offering new slimmed-down cable package options for customers no longer willing to pay for dozens of channels they will never watch. It’s a story we’ve covered for nine years, but one Ms. McArdle obviously missed.

Her analogies about an a-la-carte world for hotels and airlines isn’t a good one because nobody staying in a motel or flying complains about getting too much from either. As with all things, there is a general consensus about what one can expect staying in a Holiday Inn or flying Delta. You can find outliers like the seedy motel with hourly rates that charges for clean sheets or the airline that is now contemplating new seating arrangements that cram people even tighter into an almost-standing position. But when you signed up for cable television, you did not expect or ask for hundreds of channels — many added not because subscribers valued them but because of corporate contract decisions or launch bonuses. But you didn’t have much of a choice with “take it or leave it” lineups. McArdle’s argument falls into the industry’s favorite talking point of all — the value proposition. ‘Yes, your cable bill is now headed for $200 a month, but look at all the value we give you by bundling dozens of networks you’ve never heard of with a phone line you don’t want and an internet connection that we now target for our annual rate hikes.’

Bundled pricing is designed to trap you into their business model, and any attempt to claim we “love” those pricing plans is extremely misguided.

Take Spectrum’s misleading promotion for a year of their triple play bundle, marketed as: TV+Internet+Voice with a price of $29.99/mo each. Not a bad deal. One can take internet service and television, for example, and expect to pay just under $60 a month for both. That’s a fine price. But then you missed the fine print. It actually says “from $29,99/mo each for 12 months when bundled.” To actually get those services for $29.99 a month each you have to take all three. If you just want the aforementioned bundle of television and internet service, the promotional price for that is $59.99 a month for television, plus $29.99 a month for internet — which adds up to one cent more than Spectrum’s triple play promotion, which also includes a phone line.

Do subscribers “love the bundle” or traditionally take it because it is the only package on offer from the cable company that makes economic sense, given the options?

McArdle continues:

Bundling is especially valuable in businesses where fixed costs account for a disproportionate share of the total price. Once you’ve gone to the monstrous expense of building and staffing a hotel, providing extra amenities generates little additional cost while adding a great deal of value for the customer. And the same is true of cable. Much of the expense comes from laying and maintaining a wire to your house; adding another channel is relatively cheap.

Right now, cable companies sell you phone, Internet service and entertainment products, all of which share one wire, one maintenance operation and one customer service staff. Without those other services, the Internet division would have to cover all that overhead. So if you pay less for the entertainment, you’re probably going to have to pay more for connectivity.

The sunk costs of cable company infrastructure have been largely paid off for years. Today’s cable systems were largely designed and last significantly overhauled in the 1990s and early 2000s to make room for more television channels. Every service contemplated for sale by the cable industry, including broadband, was designed to work over a hybrid fiber-coax network design that has been in place for 20 years. Move analog television channels to digital, and one opens up room for more broadband. Need more bandwidth for broadband? Order a node split to further divide pools of users.

The cable industry itself rejects McArdle’s argument for the one-size-fits-all cable bundle. It is why companies have started to introduce slimmed down cable packages and sell new packages of over the top streaming cable TV channels to their broadband-only customers. The costs to deliver and support the broadband services cable companies now love to offer have been declining for years, even as rates increase. Ms. McArdle is obviously also unaware of the industry’s push to launch more self-service options for customers to cut down support calls and dramatically reduce the number of truck rolls to customer homes. She may also not realize the impetus to raise prices comes not out of necessity, but from Wall Street and investors’ revenue expectations.

As cable television programming prices increase, the profit margin on cable television goes further into decline. But the cable industry makes up the difference by raising broadband prices. That is one segment of its business that remains very strong. Losing video subscribers is not the disaster Ms. McArdle suggests it could be. In fact Moody’s recently noted that with broadband profit margins about three times more than for video, the economic loss from a departing video customer can be neutralized by growing broadband subscribers at a fraction of the video unit’s loss. The ratings agency estimates that a ratio of about two broadband subscribers added for every video customer loss should offset revenue losses, while a ratio of 0.67 times that takes care of profit declines as well. That is based on current prices. Therefore, as cable companies add broadband customers, they easily offset the financial impact of video customers departing with no actual need to raise rates.

McArdle finally falls into the trap of using today’s linear TV paradigm as the basis of her argument that if all cable television channels were sold a-la-carte, they would cost astronomically more than they do as part of a bundle. But if that were true, the slimmed down competitive offerings of DirecTV Now, Sling TV, and others would be substantially more expensive than they actually are. For many customers, the out-the-door price is what matters, even if they are paying more for each of the channels they are interested in watching. A $35 DirecTV Now bill is still a lot less than an $80 cable TV bill, which often does not include surcharges and equipment fees.

Wall Street analyst Richard Greenfield of BTIG Research is so skeptical of the future of today’s bloated bundles, he has a Twitter tag: #goodluckbundle that expresses his view that bundled, linear, live television itself is decreasing in importance as viewers turn to on-demand streaming services. Subscriber satisfaction with Netflix and Hulu is much higher than almost any cable company.

One of Stop the Cap!’s readers understands subscribing to a lot of streaming services can also cost a lot, but customer satisfaction matters even more:

“It still adds up when you subscribe to a lot of services, but my satisfaction has never been higher because I am getting services with a lot of things I want to watch instead of hundreds of channels I don’t,” said Jack Codon. “When you flip through the channels and run into Sanford & SonLaw and Order, home shopping, and terrible reality show trash, you just get angry because I was paying for all of it. Now I pay Netflix and they spend the money on making more shows I will probably want to watch, as opposed to reruns I don’t.”

McArdle is correct about one thing — we should expect streaming and internet prices to increase, but not because of what she wrote. The real reason for broadband rate hikes is the lack of competition, which allows companies to implement “because we can” rate increases. Netflix itself hinted it may also increase prices incrementally down the road, but not with the intention of rewarding executives and shareholders with fat bonuses and dividend payouts. Netflix wants to pour all it can into additional content development to give customers even more reason to watch Netflix and little, if anything else.

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  • EJ: As with almost everything in Telecommunications I have a feeling of over-promising. While this is beneficial to them they don't want to lose customers...
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  • Fred Pilot: "Rural Americans may face the consequences of any transition. They are least likely to have suitable broadband service capable of supporting DirecTV’s...
  • Matt M: Those of us in the rural areas just keep getting screwed....
  • JOHN S PINNOW: This is well and great. We went from U-verse to direct-tv and now in the next 10 years another shake up. Well I am hoping AT&T will improve its ow...
  • lakawak: First off...NOTHING is free. Spectrum's policy is just forced upgrades. Everything is built into the price already. So where Time Warner used to allow...
  • LG: Now, we need numbers aggregated with and without streaming services, since they're internet based as opposed to CATV / SAT. This difference is more i...
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  • Justin Trella: I guess as long as the service is stable you’ll most likely not deflect. I quick call every year or so usually gets your rates back down. If you are l...
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