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Wall Street Hissyfit: Raise Broadband Prices to $90/Month Immediately! (Or Else)

If the average customer isn’t paying $90 a month for broadband service, they are paying too little and that needs to stop.

That is the view of persistent rate hike advocate Jonathan Chaplin, a Wall Street analyst with New Street Research, who has advocated for sweeping broadband rate increases for years.

“We have argued that broadband is underpriced, given that pricing has barely increased over the past decade while broadband utility has exploded,” Chaplin wrote in a note to investors. “Our analysis suggested a ‘utility-adjusted’ ARPU target of ~$90. Comcast recently increased standalone broadband to $90 with a modem, paving the way for faster ARPU growth as the mix shifts in favor of broadband-only households. Charter will likely follow, once they are through the integration of Time Warner Cable.”

Companies that fail to raise prices risk being downgraded by analysts with views like these, which can have a direct impact on a stock’s share price and the executive compensation and bonus packages that are often tied to the company’s performance.

But there is a dilemma and disagreement between some cable industry analysts about how much companies can charge their customers. Companies like Cable ONE have been aggressively raising broadband prices to unprecedented levels in some of the poorest communities in the country, which worries fellow Wall Street analyst Craig Moffett from MoffettNathanson LLC.

“Never mind that the per capita income in Cable ONE’s footprint is the lowest (by far) of the companies we [Moffett’s firm] cover, or that the percentage of customers living below the poverty line is the highest (also by far),” Moffett told his investor subscribers. “What matters is that there is very little competition in Cable ONE’s footprint. If you want high-speed broadband, where else are you going to go? The unspoken fear among their larger peers is that over-reliance on broadband pricing invites regulatory intervention, not just for Cable ONE, but for everyone.”

Chaplin thinks the risk from gouging broadband customers is next to zero. With cable TV becoming less profitable every day, all the big profits that can be made will be made from broadband, where cable operators often enjoy a monopoly on high-speed service.

According to Chaplin, if customers value internet access, they will pay the higher prices cable companies charge. So what are companies waiting for? Raise those prices!

Charter’s “Spectrum Internet Assist” is Cable-Style “Charity” With Tricks and Traps

Warren (center) pictured with representatives of Charter Communications and PowerMyLearning (Photo courtesy of: PowerMyLearning)

The incumbent mayor of Rochester, N.Y., currently up for re-election, has decided to take indirect credit for a low-cost internet program loaded with tricks and traps from a cable company that is worsening the affordable internet problem in the United States.

Mayor Lovely Warren made the head-slapping mistake of teaming up with Charter Communications, already on track to being even more universally despised by its customers than its immediate predecessor Time Warner Cable. Casting political instincts to the wind, Warren decided to team up with an unpopular cable company that is gouging its regular customers while offering a token “low-cost” internet program designed to protect Charter’s internet profits more than offering low-income customers a break.

WHAM-TV:

New low-cost, high-speed broadband Internet service is being launched in Rochester, Mayor Lovely Warren announced Thursday.

PowerMyLearning and Charter Communications announced Spectrum Internet Assist (SIA) would offer the service to eligible low-income household customers in Rochester.

Broadband speeds of 30/4 Mbps are being offered for $14.99 per month by SIA, according to Mayor Warren.

“Lowering the cost barrier to Internet access for families is essential if we are to close the digital divide and help them rise out of poverty,” said Mayor Warren. “Internet access is increasingly essential for students to do homework, for jobs seekers to research and apply for jobs, pay bills and remain connected with society.”

We agree with the mayor that lowering the cost barrier is critical to making essential internet service available to every resident. Unfortunately, Charter Communications is making the problem worse, not better. Charter’s idea of charity doesn’t seem so magnanimous when you read the fine print.

Charter’s solution for affordable internet: Charge most customers more while a select few jump through hoops for a discount.

First, Spectrum Internet Assist is highly discriminatory and only available to families with school age children that qualify for the National School Lunch Program. Don’t have kids? Tough luck. When they leave school, no more affordable internet for you!

Second, if you are a senior citizen on a fixed income, you probably already have 20+ years under your belt dealing with relentless rate increases from the local cable company. Unless you are 65 or over and receive SSI benefits, you’ll keep on paying those rate increases because the only thing Charter has on offer for you is a bigger bill.

Third, and the most egregious insult of all to the most vulnerable members of our society is Charter’s cynical fear its fat internet profits will be cannibalized if they simply lowered the bills of customers that would otherwise qualify for this program. Spectrum Internet Assist is for new customers only (and if you are still on a Time Warner Cable plan, you aren’t a new customer).

Charter refuses to relent on its policy requiring current customers to disconnect internet service for a month before they can qualify for Charter’s “charity.” The company is worried it will lose money from customers downgrading to Spectrum Internet Assist who will pay a lot less for internet access. To prevent that, Charter makes the process of enrolling as difficult and inconvenient as possible. Imagine if RG&E or National Grid demanded poor residents go without heat for 30 days before qualifying for heating assistance or if your elderly grandparents had to disconnect telephone service for a month before qualifying for Lifeline.

While obsessing about whether its poorest customers are taking ‘unfair’ advantage of a money-saving deal, Charter has no problem splurging on fat bonuses and compensation packages for its top executives. In fact, the highest paid CEO in the United States in 2016 was Thomas Rutledge, top dog at Charter Communications, rewarded with a splendid $98.5 million compensation package for finding new ways to charge consumers even more for cable service. Charter can certainly afford to lighten up on its customers. Instead, it seeks to live up to the cable industry’s usual reputation of a modern-day reboot of Oliver Twist, this time starring Rutledge as Fagin. Since Warren wholeheartedly endorses Charter’s paltry efforts for the poor, perhaps residents can call her up and ask why they should be forced off the internet for a month just to qualify for Charter’s “charity.” Or maybe not, considering the fact she had nothing to do with Spectrum Internet Assist beyond having her picture taken at a press event.

As is too often the case, uninformed politicians are quick to take credit for programs they don’t understand and are nowhere to be found when the real problem-solving and hard work needs to be done. How can we say that? Because we were a registered and very involved party in the New York Public Service Commission’s review of the Charter-Time Warner Cable merger deal. Mayor Warren wasn’t. We fought for pro-consumer benefits if such a deal was to be approved. Mayor Warren didn’t. We understood from long experience the cynicism that separates the cable industry’s lofty words from its fine print. She doesn’t.

Spectrum Internet Assist does very little to resolve the problem of internet affordability. The program is a close cousin of Comcast’s much-criticized Internet Essentials program, which has similar eligibility requirements and has proven cumbersome to sign up for and leaves too many eligible families behind because of its onerous signup requirements. In 2016, Comcast itself admitted that since 2011 it has only enrolled 750,000 low-income households in its discounted internet program, although more than 2.6 million families were eligible to sign-up but never did.

Charter makes internet affordability worse.

Our research shows that Charter’s token efforts for the few are more than canceled out by the rate increases and reduced options made available to the rest of its customers.

Time Warner Cable used to offer lower-cost internet plans.

Time Warner Cable used to sell six different internet plans ranging from $14.99 to $64.99 for new customers (and practically anyone who ever complained about their cable bill) or $14.99 to $109.99 if you were in the tiny minority of customers who didn’t either bundle service or ask for a promotion. Charter Communications argues it is “better” for consumers to simplify Time Warner’s “complicated” plans and pricing with a one-size-fits-all alternative — 60Mbps for what sells today for $64.99 a month (they raised the price $5 a month back in February). But at least you won’t pay that modem rental fee (if you didn’t bother to avoid it by buying your own cable modem that would have paid for itself long ago.)

So which company makes internet affordability a bigger problem — Time Warner Cable, which sold less expensive internet service at prices of $14.99, $29.99, and $34.99, or Charter Communications which advertises only one internet plan on its website for much of western New York – 60Mbps for $64.99 ($44.99 if you are new to Charter and not a previous Time Warner Cable customer that still has cable service). Spectrum’s plan is more than four times more expensive than Time Warner Cable’s previously well-advertised $14.99 plan.

Regular TWC broadband-only pricing in 2016.

No organization worked harder than Stop the Cap! to keep Time Warner Cable’s $14.99 Everyday Low Price Internet tier as a condition of the merger. While not fast, it is affordable and available to every customer, not just the small percentage that will eventually manage to qualify for Spectrum Internet Assist. Fortunately, New York’s Public Service Commission agreed with us and insisted that option remain available in New York State for the next several years. But Charter has subsequently made that plan almost invisible, removing all mention of it from its website, telling some customers it was not available, and leaving a distinct impression they don’t want customers to sign up.

Charter’s one-size-fits all plan got more expensive in February.

The reason is simple. Revenue cannibalization. Thomas Rutledge has repeatedly stressed to Wall Street investors he intended to end the “Turkish bazaar” of Time Warner Cable’s former cavalcade of plans and promotions. When a customer called Time Warner to complain about their bill, there was always room for negotiation and a better deal. Customers calling Charter looking for a break are hitting a brick wall with “take it or leave it” pricing, and tens of thousands of customers are “leaving it” and Charter behind. In this area, we don’t have that luxury because the alternative is usually Frontier Communications’ dreadful DSL service, which almost never meets the FCC’s definition of broadband — at least 25Mbps.

To give you an idea of just how rapacious Charter’s broadband pricing is, consider local upstart competitor Greenlight, which offers fiber to the home service to a very small number of neighborhoods predominately on the east side of the Genesee River. It charges a no-nonsense $50 a month for 100Mbps internet — $15 less than what Charter charges for 60Mbps. If you want gigabit speed, Greenlight will sell you 1,000Mbps for $100 a month, which is $5 less than Charter’s unadvertised 100Mbps offer ($104.95/mo with a mandatory $199 setup fee). Ten times the speed for less. No wonder their Facebook page is filled with people begging them to expand.

Rochester, like other cities in the upstate region, continues to fall behind with inadequate and costly internet service, insufficient competition, and no sign of gigabit speeds arriving anytime soon, unless you are lucky enough to live in a Greenlight service area. Those kinds of 21st century internet speeds are years away if we continue to depend on the local cable and phone company.

Phillip Dampier: We can afford to do without Charter’s “charity.”

In the local mayor’s race, one candidate seems to understand this problem and has a credible solution that fixes it. Rachel Barnhart has a long history of advocating for a citywide public fiber broadband network that would wire every home in the city for an estimated $70 million. The costs would be shared by city residents, the Rochester City School District, and at least one private vendor that would likely be responsible for administering day-to-day operations.

“About forty percent of homes in the city – 35,000 households —  don’t have high-speed internet via cable or DSL,” Barnhart said. “Some of those households can only access the internet via smartphones. The Rochester City School District has estimated half of its students don’t have broadband at home.”

City taxpayers have already paid for a underutilized institutional dark fiber network. Barnhart proposes putting that network to work for the community, selling competitively priced gigabit service for residential and business customers that would effectively subsidize free, slower-speed service for the less-fortunate. Is it expensive? Perhaps. But is it out of line when one considers in one local suburb this year, taxpayers will spend $1 million dollars on a single traffic light and minor road widening project to better manage traffic. Considering how many communities need digital highway traffic improvements, this kind of investment is hardly audacious and isn’t just about giving people fast internet. Managing the local digital economy with the right infrastructure is essential in a community that has seen the loss of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs and has been economically challenged for years. The alternative is what we have now — watching a mayor impotently smile at a manufactured press event declaring victory while the near-cable monopoly local residents have for broadband service throws *-laden scraps at the public and calls it a day.

Rochester, and other communities that are enduring a cable company that is rapidly turning out to be worse than Time Warner Cable, cannot afford Charter’s “generosity.”

Politicians would do well to remember the sage advice we’ve given consumers since 2008. When a cable company claims they have a better deal for you, watch your wallet. For Mayor Warren, she will have to learn the same lesson we taught city councilman Adam McFadden and Assemblyman Joe Morelle. With friends like Charter/Spectrum or Comcast, you don’t need any enemies.

How to Get a Better Deal from Charter/Spectrum in 2017

If you are one of the millions of former Bright House Networks or Time Warner Cable customers now facing a significantly higher cable bill courtesy of Charter Communications, you are not alone. While incessantly promoting itself as “redefining what a cable company can be,” customers from around the country are complaining Spectrum is charging considerably higher prices for fewer channels and discourages customers from upgrading to higher speed internet services with unjustified setup fees amounting to $200.

It’s all a part of a strategy laid out by Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge, who sees a mission in correcting years of Time Warner Cable and Bright House’s “mispricing” of packages just to keep customers from leaving.

Long term Time Warner Cable customers know the drill. Every year, many call and complain about the high price of cable service and ask customer retention specialists for a better deal to stay. As the economy struggled to recover from The Great Recession, former Time Warner Cable CEOs Glenn Britt and Robert Marcus consciously adopted aggressive “customer retention” deals from 2010-2013 to keep customers threatening to cancel service. Some of these packages were cheaper than new customer promotions. The concept of retention pricing is simple: keeping current customers is less costly than attracting new ones. As a result, customers quickly learned all they had to do to pay a lower cable bill is to ask for a lower cable bill.

Time Warner Cable developed pricing promotions for virtually everyone. Older, fixed income customers were offered cut-rate cable television service when they called to cancel over the size of the bill. Families under economic distress were offered lower priced bundles that included savings as much as $600 annually. Millennials and cord-cutters were offered a half-dozen internet speed tiers at all price ranges, and were usually later targeted with relentless offers to add cable TV to broadband-only packages at cut-rate prices. Time Warner even targeted those stubbornly holding on to low-priced, low-speed DSL by introducing its $14.99 Everyday Low Price Internet offer, at speeds of just 2/1Mbps. That tier, available to anyone, would later become a de facto low-income internet package for those unable to afford the company’s regular broadband prices.

Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge arrived at Charter after spending years at Cablevision, a company that had already started cracking down on promotions and the customers that depended on them year after year as it fought an ongoing price war with Verizon FiOS. Cablevision eventually adopted a “one promotion per customer” policy, refusing to extend new promotional offers to customers rolling off old ones as they expired. Company officials admitted the policy would cost it customers it deemed undesirable, but would assure investors that prices, and earnings would continue to rise well in excess of inflation. The policy of “rate discipline” was applauded on Wall Street where it was seen as serving the interests of shareholders. The increased churn (customers leaving) rate was forgiven as long as revenue continued to grow.

By 2013, Time Warner Cable was under growing pressure to raise prices. Incoming CEO Rob Marcus told investors that year the company would back off on extending promotions and special offers and would stop trying to save every customer that threatened to cancel. He also announced the company would begin restricting who was authorized to offer customer retention deals. Employees were instructed to forward calls from rate-sensitive customers to new national customer retention call centers, where representatives were trained to get customers to voluntarily cut back their cable package before offering a lower rate.

That summer, Time Warner took a beating as more customers chose competitors or followed through on their threats to cancel.

“As we discussed before, this [new pricing] approach represents a conscious decision to pursue subscribers with higher ARPU, higher profit and lower churn even if that means fewer connects,” Marcus told investors in July 2013, defending the results. “So it’s not a surprise that as in the first quarter of 2013, subscriber net adds were down in the second quarter on a year-over-year basis.”

The more Time Warner Cable tried to hold the line on pricing, the more customers left, especially if the competition had a better deal. In early 2014, Comcast announced its intention to acquire Time Warner Cable, starting a lengthy merger review process and distracting the company as it contemplated getting the deal approved in Washington. To protect the value of the company, Time Warner Cable quietly began offering aggressive promotions once again to hold onto customers. Those promotions largely remained as the deal with Comcast collapsed all the way through its acquisition by Charter Communications, which was completed last summer.

Customers were allowed to keep their existing Bright House and Time Warner Cable packages and promotions, and could even sign up for new ones until the company managed to complete rolling out its Spectrum packages and pricing across its acquired service areas over late 2016 and early 2017. Once Spectrum arrived in an area, new customers had to select a Spectrum plan and if a current Bright House or Time Warner Cable customer switched to a Spectrum plan, they could not return to their old plan.

What drives most customers to contemplate switching plans is the bill shock that occurs when an existing promotion or bundled discount expires. Time Warner Cable gradually increased prices on customers coming off of a promotion. Charter hits them all at once with an immediate rate reset to regular prices. The result is a bill increasing $20-50 without warning.

When customers call to complain and attempt to negotiate a better deal, Charter representatives are trained to sell customers regular priced Spectrum plans and bundles. Rutledge calls it sensible and simple pricing. But some customers call it highway robbery, especially when they find out Charter does not consider them to be “new customers” qualified to get the heavily promoted new customer pricing advertised in newspapers and on the website.

Negotiations over pricing with Spectrum’s representatives largely go nowhere. Customers are typically offered “a deal” in the sense Charter’s regular pricing is usually less egregious than Time Warner Cable or Bright House’s “rack rates.” Getting a lower price from Charter as an existing TWC or BH customer typically means cutting back on services.

Charter is likely to continue to lose around 50,000 customers every quarter, if not more, as promotions continue to expire and rates increase dramatically as a result. Rutledge believes once the last Time Warner Cable and Bright House promotions end, the churn rate will settle down. We’re not so sure that is true. Charter’s heavy focus on differentiating its TV package while offering one advertised broadband speed for all is likely to trigger family discussions about cord-cutting over one issue: price. Time Warner Cable customers moving to Charter’s popular Select TV package guarantees losses of several popular cable networks. Getting those channels back will cost at least $12 a month, if not more. That could prompt customers to consider whether cable TV is still worth the price. Time Warner Cable avoided spiking cable TV rates over the last three years precisely to avoid the kind of customer departure stampede Charter is experiencing today.  (To be fair, Time Warner Cable did increase its Broadcast TV and Sports Programming surcharges, but Charter also adopted the Broadcast TV surcharge for its own customers.)

Charter does not prominently publish its retail rates on its website, only promotional rates for new customers. To help readers intelligently decide what package is right for you, we’ve obtained Spectrum’s rate card and enlisted 15 regular readers to interact with Charter to get the best deal possible. This special report is the result as customers navigate to maximize savings without spiking your bill.

Option A – The Big Money Saver: Cancel Service and Come Back as a New Customer

If you want the lowest possible price on Charter service, you will have to cancel your current Time Warner Cable or Bright House package, return your equipment, and potentially survive a 30-day waiting period without Charter service before again qualifying as a new customer. This isn’t a problem if your area is well-served by a competing phone company and many customers in those areas bounce between new customer promotions offered by the cable and telephone company year after year. But if your phone company hasn’t seen fit to upgrade and is still trying to sell low-speed DSL, our savvy readers discovered you can bypass the waiting period and get service back within 24-48 hours, as a new customer at the new customer price.

To manage this, you will need another member of your household willing to put service in their name. Here is how our readers managed it, and following these instructions is important if you want to minimize downtime.

Step 1: Handling your Time Warner Cable/Bright House phone line and email address.

If you have phone service with Time Warner Cable or Bright House and want to keep your phone number, you will need to move it to a new provider. You can pick up a cheap cell phone for under $20 at Walmart or other discount stores and usually port your Time Warner Cable or Bright House phone number to a cheap prepaid cell phone plan you will set up for about a month. Follow all instructions on the cellular provider’s website on how to transfer your number. There is usually no cost for this service. Do NOT cancel your existing cable service until you are notified your phone number was successfully transferred, which can take 24 hours to a week. When you dial your number, it should ring the cell phone. The cable company will automatically cancel your phone service when the number is successfully ported out. If you use TWC’s Phone2Go app, you need to deauthorize all devices on your account from inside the app before canceling service. This will allow you to re-register those devices under your new account.

Also be aware you will lose your rr.com or twc.com email address after canceling service. If you are using either, why? Avoid the hassle by getting an online email address from Gmail (or another provider). This will protect you from future frustrating delays informing your contacts of your latest email address.

Step 2: Return your equipment and cancel service.

Gather your cable box(es), remote(s), cable and/or phone modem and return the equipment to the Charter Cable Store and tell them you are canceling service. When you are asked why you are leaving, explain the rates are too high and you are finished with them. Keep the receipt you are given for returning the equipment until after your final bill arrives to make sure there are no discrepancies.

Step 3: Go home and have a fellow household member sign up as a new customer.

Return home and visit the Spectrum website. You will be entering your home address and will likely be told there is already service at that address. You must return all equipment and cancel service before ordering new service or your order will be canceled.

Proceed by selecting “No, I would like to setup new service for this address.” You will then be shown options to configure your new service. Remember, Charter requires a 30-day waiting period without service before it will consider you a “new customer.” But your spouse, in-home relative, or legal age children can be considered new customers immediately if service is put under their name (if you get pushback for having the same last name, tell them the original account holder has moved out and canceled service and you want to establish service under your own name, or use your maiden name). You can sign up online or use the online chat feature to help expedite your order. If you end up talking to a representative, it will probably be from an offshore call center less likely to hassle you about your qualifications as a new customer. A credit check will be requested. Ask if you can waive that requirement by using a credit card to cover the first month’s payment and skip the inquiry that may land on your credit report.

Building Your New Package

At the time this article was prepared, Charter was heavily promoting an offer of cable TV, broadband, and phone service for $29.99 each for 12 months. Additional cable TV services are available in two packages known as “Silver” and “Gold.” Silver costs an extra $20 a month, Gold effectively costs $40 more when you review the offer carefully. Both bundle premium movie channels with extra basic cable networks you probably used to have with Time Warner Cable or Bright House package. It is important to check what channels are included with each package or you will find some channels missing from your lineup if you switch to Select. If you discover some “must-have” channels are missing, you need not buy premium movie channels as part of the Silver or Gold package if you don’t want them. Charter sells add-ons consisting of bundles of several basic cable channels missing from the Select package for $12 each.

If Charter wanted customers to consider them more honest than their predecessors, they have some work to do.

We found Charter’s promotion to be deceptive because it gives customers the impression they can build lesser packages at the $29.99 price for each component. For example, if you just wanted TV and broadband service, that should cost $59.98 a month for both under the $29.99 each formula, right? Nice try. In fact, that “$29.99 each” price is effectively meaningless because it only applies when choosing a triple-play offer! It would be more honest to advertise a price of $89.97 for Spectrum’s triple-play service. See below to understand what happens when a customer thinks they can save some money by omitting the phone line.

Pick a Package

  • Charter/Spectrum’s Select TV package + Internet 60¹Mbps + Nationwide Unlimited Phone Service: $29.99 + $29.99 + $29.99 = $89.97 
  • Charter/Spectrum’s Select TV package + Internet 60¹Mbps: $59.99 + $29.99 = $89.98 (It costs more without the phone line!)
  • Charter/Spectrum’s Standalone Broadband 60¹Mbps (¹-100Mbps in some areas) = $44.99

It gets even worse for double-play customers if they have a DVR box. Charter waives the $9.99 DVR service fee on the first DVR box in the home, but only for triple play customers. If you skip the phone line and have a DVR, your bill will be $9.99 a month higher without the phone line. You will be better off taking the phone line even if you don’t use it!

Choose Optional Upgrades

  • Add Silver TV to Select TV package (Adds additional basic channels + HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime) = Add $20/month
  • Add Gold TV to Select TV package (Includes all Silver channels/networks, plus even more basic networks and Starz, StarzEncore, Epix, and The Movie Channel) = Add $40/month
  • Add Spectrum Voice International (Unlimited toll-free calls to 70 countries) = Add $5/month
  • Add Wi-Fi capability = Add $5/month ($9.99 setup fee may apply)
  • Add Internet Upgrade = $104.99 for standalone 100Mbps (non-Maxx) or 300Mbps (Maxx) service + $199 setup fee. For a triple-play internet upgrade: Add $40/mo + $199 setup fee

Missing basic cable channels you want back? If you don’t want to pay the extra $20-40 for Silver or Gold, you can upgrade to get back the basic cable channels gone missing without getting any premium movie channels by choosing one or both add-ons:

Silver Digi Tier 1 ($12) for Select adds the following channels²:

Animal Planet, ASPiRE TV, AXS TV HD, Baby First TV, BBC World News, BET Jams, BET Soul, BYUtv, CBS Sports Network, Centric, CMT, Cooking Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, DIY Network, El Rey Network, ESPN Deportes, ESPNews, ESPNU, FM, FOX Deportes, FOX Sports 2, Fuse, FXX, fyi, GAC, Golf Channel, GSN, Lifetime Real Women, LMN, LOGO, MLB Network, MTV Classic, MTV Live HD, MTV2, Nat Geo Wild, NBA TV, NBC Universo, NFL Network, Nick Jr., Nick Music, Nicktoons, Ovation, OWN, Reelz, REVOLT, RFD-TV, Smithsonian Channel, Spectrum News (NYC), Sprout, TCM, TeenNick, Tennis Channel, The Impact Network, Travel Channel, TV One, Univisión Deportes, Uplifting Entertainment, Viceland

Gold Digi Tier 2 ($12) for Select adds the following channels²:

American Heroes, BeIN Sports, BeIN Sports Español, BET, Boomerang, BTN, CNBC World, Comedy Central, Crime & Investigation, Destination America, Discovery Family, ESPN Classic, ESPN College Extra, ESPN Goal Line/Buzzer Beater, FamilyNet, FCS Atlantic, FCS Central, FCS Pacific, FOX Soccer Plus, HDNet Movies, Military History, MLB Strike Zone, MTV, NBC Universal HD, NFL RedZone, NHL Network, Nickelodeon, Outdoor Channel, PAC-12 (Various Regionals), Science Channel, Spike, TV Land, TVG, VH1, Willow Plus Cricket

(²- Channel selection may vary in different geographic areas. This list applies to the Northeast U.S./former TWC territory)

Choose Equipment

Charter DVR box.

Next step is selecting equipment, and this is one area where Charter does better for its customers than its predecessors. At the current time, the cost of the HD-DVR box or an HD box is the same for new customers: $4.99/mo each. The DVR service fee, charged regardless of the number of DVR boxes, is usually $9.99 a month. However, a current triple play promotion waives the fee for the first DVR box. If you want more than one DVR, the $9.99 fee will be levied once on your bill regardless of how many extra DVRs you have. Therefore, if you want more than one DVR, you might as well choose DVR units for every TV set in the home because there is no difference in price between a traditional set-top box and the DVR.

  • HD-DVR $4.99/mo per box
  • HD Box $4.99/mo per box
  • DVR Service: $9.99/mo for two or more DVRs (waived if choosing Triple Play package and have only one DVR box)
  • Cable Modem: No charge
  • Phone Modem: No charge

If you own your own cable modem, you can continue to use it. If you sign up for both phone and internet service, Charter will likely supply you with a device that handles both the phone and broadband service, but can disable the internet side of the modem to favor your own equipment. Charter does not charge rental fees for either a cable or phone modem. If you do not already own a wireless router for Wi-Fi, Charter will lease you a Wi-Fi equipped modem (usually made by Ubee) for $5 a month. A setup fee of $9.99 may also apply.

Completing Your Order

A self-install kit.

To minimize service interruption, choose the option of a “self-install” kit instead of a service call or having equipment mailed to you. Self-install kits are free without a service charge for a technician to visit to hook up the equipment and you can pick up equipment immediately.

At the end of the order, you should be given your account number and an equipment reservation number. Both are extremely important so be certain to write them down. Use online chat if you did not get one or both. Various verification procedures to activate your equipment and apps may require your account number. If you don’t have it, you may have to wait up to two weeks for your first invoice to be generated showing your account number.

Step 4: Time to pick up your equipment.

Take both your account number and reservation number along with legal photo ID to the nearest Charter Cable Store to pick up your new equipment. Some of our readers accomplished this on the same day they canceled service. You might avoid an awkward encounter by returning equipment at one store location and picking up new equipment at another. The store should give you equipment if your ID at least shows the same physical address where service is located. It depends on local store policies whether the account holder must be present or not.

Step 5: Hook everything up and activate service.

Return home and hook up your equipment. There are a few things you should know, however:

  • If you ordered home phone service, there is a mandatory 24-48 hour waiting period before TV and phone services will become active. Internet service may be intermittent at times during this waiting period or not work at all.
  • You will be required to complete a quick third-party verification call to activate home phone service and understand Charter’s 911 policies.
  • Your cable TV equipment will not authorize until the end of any waiting period, but you can use the Spectrum TV website or app to access TV immediately.
  • You may be given a temporary phone number if you are transferring your original landline number back to the cable company until the port request is complete.
  • There may be a brief delay of several days before you can use TWC’s or BH’s Wi-Fi hotspots.
  • Your first bill will usually be generated within a few days of activating service. Charter bills one month in advance. You can access your bill from the MyTWC, Bright House, or Spectrum account apps. Configure autopay as soon as possible to avoid your account going past-due.

Enjoy 12 months of reasonably priced cable service!

Option B – Understanding Charter’s Pricing for Existing Time Warner Cable/Bright House Customers

The best deals always go to new customers while loyal ones pay more.

Charter Communications considers current TWC/BH customers to be current Charter customers as well and do not qualify for new customer discounts or pricing. However, that does not mean you need to give Charter more money than they deserve.

For most customers, the option of keeping a legacy Time Warner Cable or Bright House Networks package will depend almost entirely on price. Charter is honoring existing BH/TWC bundled service promotions, new customer discounts, and retention plans until they expire (usually after one year, but occasionally two years). To avoid customer bill shock, Time Warner Cable used to gradually reset rates back to regular price over an extended period. Charter does not. Once your promotion is over, your bill will spike by $10-50 a month depending on the promotion you used to have. This rate reset is by design. If you do nothing, Charter will pocket revenue from a rate increase it wouldn’t dare try to impose on every customer. If you call to complain, you just saved Charter marketing expenses trying to convince you to contact them to discuss changing plans.

Because only a minority of customers ever paid regular Time Warner Cable pricing, Charter’s own rates may seem lower in comparison. Retail prices at a cable company are about as useful as the manufacturer’s suggested retail price on a piece of clothing. When the MSRP on a shirt is $55 and you pay $19.95, you may think you are getting a bargain. But if nobody was ever charged $55 for that shirt and it routinely sold for $19.95, that is no deal at all.

Our analysis shows Charter’s rates for existing customers are considerably higher for those who used to bounce from one Time Warner Cable promotion to the next and owned their own cable modem. For customers who just pay the bill and never attempt to negotiate a lower price, Charter’s regular pricing is comparable to slightly less that what customers used to pay Bright House and Time Warner Cable, if you don’t mind losing some TV channels.

The biggest winners of Charter’s Spectrum prices and plans are customers who rent a lot of equipment and subscribe to multiple premium movie channels. Charter charges considerably less for cable equipment and has no modem fee at all. Premium movie channels are bundled into Spectrum’s Silver and Gold TV plans, resulting in significant savings for customers who subscribe to multiple networks. DVR equipment and DVR service fees are also lower.

So get out your current cable bill and review these prices from Charter and compare. Charter does still offer some additional bundled discounts not reflected here. You will not get them unless you ask what offers are available to you. Don’t expect any gift card rebates or other big dollar promotions like Time Warner Cable used to offer. Charter is not a big believer in those kinds of marketing efforts, but the company will pay up to $500 towards any early contract termination fees charged if you switch to them from a satellite or telephone company competitor.

Our recommendations:

  • Do not attempt to negotiate using the new customer promotions Charter is advertising. You will get shot down because you are considered an existing customer. If you are primarily focused on price, strongly consider Option A above, despite the hassle. A representative can only give you the deals they are authorized to offer, and Charter’s management has severely curtailed promotional plans, even if it means losing you as a customer.
  • You will pay about $65 a month for a basic TV package that, in our area at least, includes just shy of 200 channels. We found that was more than adequate, although we will miss Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Turner Classic Movies, and BBC World News which are not a part of Spectrum’s base Select package. Adding another $12-24 a month to get these channels back isn’t worth it.
  • Charter still sells the equivalent of Broadcast Basic — a small package of over the air stations and some ancillary channels for around $24 a month. It isn’t advertised and frankly is overpriced for what you get, but it is an option if you just want local TV stations.
  • If you want HBO, Cinemax, or Showtime, upgrading to Spectrum Silver is worth it. For $20 a month more, you get all three of those premium movie channels plus a number of basic networks that used to be a part of your TWC or BH lineup.
  • Check bundled promotions for existing customers carefully. Ask what is currently on offer. You may still find in certain circumstances the triple-play offer of TV, internet, and phone service is very closely priced to the double-play packages.
  • If you have a DVR, ask if there are any promotions that waive the $9.99 DVR service fee for the first DVR box. If you are going to have to pay the DVR service fee, check the rates for HD-DVR boxes vs. a traditional HD-set top box. You may just want to put a DVR on every set in the home if the prices are nearly the same. Charter does not offer Whole House DVR service.
  • Always choose to pick up any equipment in the local cable store. You will avoid Charter’s truck roll fee to send a technician to your home. Ask about any shipping fees if you want Charter to mail equipment to you. Those fees may be substantial.
  • Customer self-install kits are a good option if your home is pre-wired for cable and you require no rewiring. You can get equipment and connection cables for free almost immediately. Don’t spend money at Best Buy or other retailers on HDMI cables and coaxial patch cables. Charter supplies cables at no extra charge that work just fine.
  • Charter overprovisions broadband speeds to help the company meet FCC expectations that advertised speeds are comparable to actual speeds. Charter’s 60Mbps (100Mbps in some areas) basic internet service actually performs at around 70/6Mbps in most areas. Charter’s Internet Ultra package (100 or 300Mbps) is not worth the extra expense, particularly when factoring in the $199 setup fee. The more customers that reject upgrading because of the setup fee, the more likely Charter will eventually remove it. There is no justification for the fee other than to gouge consumers looking for faster speeds.
  • If you are looking for Charter’s $14.99 Everyday Low Price Internet option and live in New York State, if Charter tells you it isn’t available we would like to know about it. We are monitoring Charter’s compliance with the state’s conditions included in the order granting Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable and we will forward your complaints to both the state Public Service Commission and Attorney General’s office. If you do not live in New York, this plan is no longer an option unless you already have it.
  • Charter’s phone service performs equivalently to Time Warner Cable, but includes a much smaller international toll-free calling area. Spectrum Voice International ($5/mo) gives toll-free calling to 70 countries and is a good value if you regularly call those places.

The following rates are effective April 2017 and packages and pricing will vary slightly in different regions of the country. All prices exclude applicable taxes, franchise fees, and the Broadcast TV Surcharge, which can vary considerably in different service areas (expect to pay an average of $4-7 a month). Charter does not appear to levy a sports programming surcharge.

TELEVISION PACKAGES

$23.89 BASIC SERVICE (Local Channels, C-SPAN, Public, Educational and Government Access, Various Home Shopping Channels)
$64.99 SPECTRUM SELECT (Includes Basic Service, Expanded Service of 120+ basic cable networks)
$84.99 SPECTRUM SILVER (Includes Spectrum Select, Digi Tier 1, HBO, Cinemax and Showtime)
$104.99 SPECTRUM GOLD (Includes Spectrum Silver, Digi Tier 2, TMC, Starz, Encore and EPIX)

Optional Services

$12.00 DIGI TIER 1 (Available with subscription to Spectrum Select, Silver or Gold)
$12.00 DIGI TIER 2 (Available with subscription to Spectrum Select, Silver or Gold)
$38.00 EXPANDED SERVICE (does not include basic service channels)
$7.99 LATINO VIEW (adds additional Spanish language channels not included in Select, Silver, or Gold)

Premium Channels

$15 each: Starz/Encore, EPIX, HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, The Movie Channel, or Starz

Subscription on Demand

$14.99 Too Much For TV On Demand
$6.99 Here TV On Demand
$4.99 Disney Family Movies On Demand
$3.99 Disney On Demand

Other Services (per month)

$9.99 Deutsche Welle Amerika (German)
$24.99 Filipino Pass Plus
$9.99 TV5Monde (French)
$39.99 TVB Jade World (Hong Kong – Cantonese and Mandarin)
$19.99 Mandarin Language Pack (China)
$25.99 Russian Language Package
$19.99 TV Polonia and Polski Radio Warszawa (Polish)
$19.99 SBTN & TVBV (Vietnamese)
$9.99 RAI Italia (Italian)
$19.99-69.99 Hindi Language Networks
$24.99 TV Japan (Japanese)
$12.99 ART TV (Greek)
$12.95 Playboy TV
$12.95 Penthouse
$12.95 Real
$12.95 TEN
$12.95 Hustler
$12.95 VIVID
$24.95 Adult 3-Pack

INTERNET PACKAGES

$14.99 Everyday Low Priced Internet (2/1Mbps) (New York State only)
$14.99 Spectrum Internet Assist (30/4Mbps) (qualified low-income customers only)
$64.99 Spectrum Internet (60/5Mbps or 100/10Mbps depending on area)***
$104.99 Spectrum Internet Ultra (100/10Mbps or 300/20Mbps depending on area)***
$199 One-time Upgrade Fee for Spectrum Internet Ultra
$5 Wi-Fi Service****

SPECTRUM VOICE TELEPHONE SERVICES

$29.99 Spectrum Voice*** (includes unlimited local and long distance calling in U.S., Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico, Canada, and Northern Marianas)
$19.99 Additional Line
$5 Spectrum Voice International (per line optional add-on; adds unlimited toll-free calling to 70 countries)

INSTALLATION/SERVICE CALL (PER ACTIVITY)

$49.99 Primary Installation/Reconnect (when truck roll required)*
$49.99 Trip Charge**
$49.99 Custom Work Hourly Service Charge
$49.99 Service Call Truck Roll
$49.99 Wall Fish
$49.99 Move Transfer

UNRETURNED EQUIPMENT FEES

$123 Spectrum Receiver
$22 CableCARD™
$130 Tuning Adapter
$496.46 Guide Narration Laptop

MISCELLANEOUS CHARGES (PER MONTH)

(Varies) Broadcast TV Service Charge (expect $4-6/mo on average)
$8.95 Late Fee
$4.99 Reconnection Fee if no truck roll is required
$20 Insufficient Funds/Returned Check Fee
$5 Making a payment over the phone with a customer service representative

* An amplifier may be required for a dwelling with multiple outlets (outlet = digital receiver/modem/eMTA). Technician assessment and professional installation required.
** Applicable when adding and/or relocating outlet, upgrading and/or downgrading services and picking up equipment in some cases.
*** Prices are for standalone service. Rates are lower when service is bundled with TV, internet and/or telephone service.
**** Applies when customers use a Charter-supplied internet modem equipped with built-in Wi-Fi. A $9.99 setup fee may also apply. No fee if you use your own internet router.

Charter Begins “Sweeping” Old Time Warner Cable Customers Into Spectrum Packages, Higher Fees

Phillip Dampier May 17, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 2 Comments

The cable operator has begun “sweeping” accounts looking for customers it deems to have paid too little for too long or who are getting grandfathered cable channels the company feels they are no longer entitled to receive.

One of the first cities to be hit with Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge’s ‘account sweeps for more cash’ initiative is Lexington, Ky., where longtime customers are discovering their cable service is missing more than a dozen channels with no warning or explanation.

Daniel Fitzgerald discovered many of his cable channels were gone, replaced with a message that his subscription no longer included the cable channels that had been a part of his Standard cable package for years.

“I thought, ‘What the hell? I just paid the cable bill,’” Fitzgerald told the Herald-Leader last week at his tiny Lexington apartment he shares with his disabled 16-year-old son.

It turns out he wasn’t paying enough to satisfy Charter Communications.

A Spectrum representative told Fitzgerald that he hadn’t been paying Time Warner enough for the standard cable package. If he wanted those channels back, his monthly bill for cable and internet would jump $36 a month, from $103 to $139, effective immediately. No new channels, no new features, just a new much higher bill. To add insult to injury, the representative didn’t much care for the cable box Time Warner Cable provided him several years earlier and demanded its replacement, for a $24 service fee to send a technician out to check his service and replace his equipment.

When Fitzgerald attempted to negotiate with the cable company that claims it’s a “new day” for how cable companies treat their customers, the representative promptly cut him off.

‘This is Spectrum’s deal, take it or leave it,’ he was told.

“It was bull crap,” Fitzgerald said. “They don’t give us any notice, they just spring it on us in the middle of the month. And then they tell us we’re getting an ‘upgrade.’ This isn’t an upgrade, it’s the same channels we already had!”

Fitzgerald was not the only customer affected with Charter’s “surprise ‘upgrade,'” according to Lexington city officials, whose phones have rung off the hook about cable channels being held ransom for steep rate increases.

City officials who called on Spectrum to explain themselves eventually heard back from the cable company in a terse e-mail claiming Charter has begun performing “sweeps of customer accounts” looking for customers who have got too good of a deal from the cable company. Those customers are then summarily “repackaged” with no warning. Charter was busy “repackaging” a lot of Fitzgerald’s neighbors in his Alexandria Drive apartment building as well.

Rutledge told Wall Street investors this quarter it was all a part of Charter’s commitment to “move prices in the right direction.”

At Ximena McCollum’s home in Lexington, Charter cut off the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in-progress. When McCollum called Spectrum, she was informed she was “repackaged” as well, and could get her basketball game back for the right price: $45 more every month.

The customer service representative told her the channels she claimed she was getting were no longer part of her subscription.

“So if I had been getting them, I shouldn’t have been getting them,” McCollum said last week. “I told her that I’ve lived in this house for seven years. I’ve always had the same channels. She kept insisting that I wasn’t supposed to be getting these channels unless I paid them some ridiculous price. You could tell that she was confused and reading from some sort of script they had given her. Finally, I said, ‘Just cancel my subscription. I cut the cord.”

The Herald-Leader reported the “repackaging” comes down to one issue: money. Charter wants more, a lot more in some cases.

Rutledge has repeatedly claimed Time Warner Cable was effectively giving away the store and kowtowing to appease customers with lower rates when they complained about their cable bill. As far as Rutledge is concerned, the iron hand of discipline for former Time Warner customers is long overdue.

Rutledge promised he will force higher cable prices this spring as the company starts driving customers out of the Time Warner Cable packages into more expensive Spectrum packages. The company does that by allowing bundled discounts and promotions to expire on existing Time Warner packages, which results in sometimes-shocking rate increases of $50 or more per month. When customers call to complain, they are pushed towards slimmed-down Spectrum TV packages that cost slightly more than what customers used to pay and include more than a dozen fewer cable channels.

No one is exempt from being herded into Spectrum’s vision for the future. Even some of the city government’s office televisions have gone dark after “repackaging.”

Mossotti

City councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti got the Spectrum treatment as well, told if she wanted to keep her cable service, she needed to pay $21.50 more a month. Mossotti assumed she could whittle that amount down by dropping her Time Warner Cable phone service, but Spectrum told her that would cost her even more because it would break up her triple play bundle, resulting in an even bigger rate hike.

Lexington officials claim they feel held hostage by Charter and the ransom the city and its citizens have to pay doesn’t get them better service, just the same service they used to have for more money.

“It’s frustrating to the Nth degree. People are calling our offices daily about this,” Mossotti told the newspaper. “We felt like we at least had a little leverage with Time Warner. You could talk to them and usually you could work something out. With Spectrum, everything falls on deaf ears.”

In the face of the public relations disaster this is causing Charter in Kentucky, company representatives are trying to shift the blame on to customers, claiming they have been freeloading channels that have been part of legacy cable packages from years earlier that were either grandfathered or long forgotten, and Charter is simply tidying up.

For example, a local man who lives on Social Security benefits and who received the same cable lineup for 20 years “has only been paying for the Starter TV package,” Jason Keller, Charter’s senior director of government affairs, told city officials in an April 10 email. “The most recent sweep of customer accounts is what knocked out the channels, since he wasn’t paying for them. However, we’ve now repackaged him into a new service offering that has restored the channels and provides him with a new HD box.”

Keller did not respond to calls from the Herald-Leader asking how many Lexington customers now face higher cable prices.

In a prepared statement, Charter spokesman Michael Pedelty wrote: “Time Warner Cable was providing some programming inadvertently to a small number of customers whose packages didn’t include them. We want our customers to have the best quality and most reliable video experience. Earlier this year, we started a network project that adds an element of security and ensures individual channels are encrypted and available exclusively to those who subscribe to them.”

A few Lexington area residents told Stop the Cap! they felt abused by the entire process.

Barbara Montgomery, a subscriber of Charter (and two of its predecessors) claims she faced a higher bill after many of her channels disappeared a few weeks ago.

“We were ‘repackaged’ and told it would cost us $34 to get channels back,” Montgomery told us. “The [Charter] guy literally told us ‘tough luck, honey!'”

Edgar, who withheld his last name, reported that a Charter representative came close to accusing him of being a cable thief for getting channels he was not supposed to receive.

“I had this cable package for 27 years, no less and no more, and the last two companies – Insight and Time Warner Cable – let me keep paying for it year after year and I never saw any reason to change it,” he told us. “But Charter did, and on their own. One day the channels were there, the next day they were not. They tell you it’s too bad but that is way things are with Spectrum and they keep telling me their internet service is better, but I am 92 years old and don’t even have a computer.”

The experience of customers in Lexington may explain why tens of thousands of former Time Warner Cable customers are dropping Spectrum like a hot rock when the rate increase hits. For Rutledge, who was rewarded with a $98.5 million pay package in 2016, charging current customers a lot more for cable service more than makes up for the former subscribers they manage to drive off. For him, customers either get with the Spectrum program or they can go somewhere else, if there is somewhere else for customers to go.

From: Charter Communications’ 1Q 2017 investor presentation

Those experiencing the Spectrum Treatment are switching to AT&T U-verse, although AT&T is trying very hard to get them to sign up for DirecTV instead.

Montgomery tells us AT&T really doesn’t want their cable business, but they will sell her an expensive cell phone or satellite TV.

“AT&T is a happy hog making a lot of money in the cell phone business, but they sure don’t want to spend much on giving me TV service, and told me I’d be happier with satellite TV,” she said. “If I wanted satellite TV, I would have called DirecTV or Dish myself.”

The other option for parts of Lexington is Windstream’s Kinetic TV, a fiber to the neighborhood service available in some Windstream service areas. But Kinetic TV is getting mixed reviews from customers who have the service, and for those that want broadband, Kinetic speeds don’t cut it for many.

While Rutledge figures out how to spend his eye-popping compensation package, those on fixed incomes like Fitzgerald who live on less than $1,000 a month are trying to figure out where they will get the extra money to pay Charter.

Fitzgerald was giving the cable company $103 a month for standard cable television with no premiums and internet service. Now Spectrum wants 35% more for the same service he used to get.

A nearby neighbor told Fitzgerald and the newspaper their Spectrum bill went up $18 a month.

“A five dollar increase, OK, fine, I guess I could deal with that,” the neighbor said. “But twenty bucks just because a new company comes in? This is felonious. What am I gonna do, tell Social Security that I need $20 more every month because Spectrum wants it? It doesn’t work that way.”

“There ain’t much you can do about it, though,” Fitzgerald told the neighbor. “They’re the cable company.”

Consolidation: Sinclair Broadcasting Acquires 42 Tribune TV Stations in $3.9 Billion Deal

In one of the largest media consolidation acquisitions in history, Sinclair Broadcast Group has agreed to buy Tribune Media and its 42 TV stations in a $3.9 billion deal.

The transaction, expected to win easy approval by the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission, will virtually guarantee cable and satellite TV subscribers will pay significantly higher prices to watch Sinclair’s local television stations covering more than 70% of the United States.

Sinclair helped lay the foundation for winning approval of the transaction in GOP-dominated D.C. by hiring former Trump spokesman Boris Epshteyn as Sinclair’s chief political analyst, and Sinclair executives mandate that many of its owned stations air pro-Trump conservative political content labeled as “news stories” as part of local newscasts.

Sinclair’s conservative leanings and accusations of hypocrisy are nothing new for the station group, which has been mired in controversy for more than two decades. The “family values” image that Sinclair purports to have in its political commentaries and corporate image ran headlong into the 1996 arrest of its former CEO David Smith, who used the company Mercedes to pick up hookers in Baltimore. He was convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense. Smith cut a deal with a Maryland state’s attorney that would allow him to avoid picking up trash on the highway or cleaning community-owned pools by having his reporters air stories about Baltimore’s drug court instead.

LuAnne Canipe, a reporter who worked on air at Sinclair’s flagship station, WBFF in Baltimore, from 1994 to 1998, told Salon in 2004 she took a phone call one day about the disposition of Smith’s arrest.

“A Baltimore judge called me up,” she recalls. “He wasn’t handling the case, but he called to tell me about the arrangement and asked me if I knew about it. The judge was outraged. He said, ‘How can employees do community service for their boss?’”

To this day, Smith remains the chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, although he relinquished the CEO position last fall.

Canipe said the sexual shenanigans at Sinclair didn’t stop with the CEO either.

“Let’s just say the arrest of the CEO was part of a sexual atmosphere that trickled down to different levels in the company,” Canipe remembered. “There was an improper work environment. I think that because of what he did there was a feeling that everything was fair game.”

Before leaving Sinclair in 1998, she said she once complained to management about another Sinclair employee, who had engaged in audible phone sex inside a station conference room, but that no action was taken against the employee. Canipe passed away in 2016 after battling cancer.

Sinclair stations were required to air political commentary during local newscasts that favored the Bush Administration.

By 2004, the majority of Sinclair’s then-62 stations were living with corporate interference in the local newsroom. Sinclair mandates that most of their owned stations air corporate-produced political segments that are routinely called “to the [political] right of Fox News” by detractors. That year, many local newsrooms at Sinclair stations bristled over the mandatory airing of a daily televised commentary called The Point, hosted by Mark Hyman, then Sinclair’s vice president for corporate relations. The Point could be compared as Sean Hannity’s talking points delivered with the bombastic panache of Bill O’Reilly. As the 2004 election neared, Hyman’s push for George W. Bush’s re-election went into overdrive. Hyman was a fierce advocate for the Bush Administration’s intervention in Iraq and referred to the French critics of President Bush’s war strategy as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”

While Hyman force-fed conservative political commentaries to Sinclair stations, he did not extend that same right to others, banning Sinclair’s ABC-affiliated stations from airing an edition of Nightline that showed host Ted Koppel reading the names of U.S. troops killed in Iraq, claiming the idea was inappropriate and “motivated by a political agenda.” Concerns about political agendas were short-lived, however, because Hyman later mandated that 40 of Sinclair’s 62 stations air “Stolen Honor,” a much-criticized and highly controversial political documentary attacking Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s war record. The stations aired a revised version of the documentary days before the 2004 presidential election.

When management at some of Sinclair’s local stations balked at the required airing, Hyman accused them of “acting like Holocaust deniers.”

Just prior to the 2012 election, WSYX was forced to air a Sinclair-produced “special” pre-empting ABC’s 6:30pm national news and Nightline that heavily criticized President Obama, then up for re-election, and accused him of lying about the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The special also pre-empted programming on other Sinclair stations, including WPEC in West Palm Beach.

The implied quid pro quo with the Bush Administration was particularly important for Sinclair as it continued acquiring TV stations, a process that required the approval of the then-Republican controlled FCC. A 2004 Salon article quoted journalist Paul Alexander, who produced a widely acclaimed documentary about Kerry as “insulting to the news-gathering process. That’s not how you gather news; that’s how you blackmail people.”

But news gathering was never the point, according to former Sinclair reporter Canipe. “David Smith doesn’t care about journalism,” she said.

Smith doubled-down on his cozy relationship with the Bush Administration by allowing conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to produce unfettered extended media segments for Sinclair stations. What Smith claims he did not know was that Williams accepted a $240,000 payoff from Bush officials to promote the Administration’s education agenda in the media. Williams brazenly interviewed then Education Secretary Rod Paige, the same man who authorized Williams’ payoff.

The result of the interview, according to the 2005 Rolling Stone piece:

Even before the payoffs became public, the news staff at Sinclair was horrified. The producer who edited the interview Williams did with Paige calls it “the worst piece of TV I’ve ever been associated with. You’ve seen softballs from Larry King? Well, this was softer. I told my boss it didn’t even deserve to be broadcast, but they kept pushing me to put more of it on tape. In retrospect, it was so clearly propaganda.”

When things became politically difficult for the president during the second term of the Bush Administration, Sinclair again came to the rescue, forcing its stations to air headquarter-produced news stories highlighting “good news” about the war in Iraq. Sinclair executives also demanded each of its 62 stations air a pledge of support for President Bush.

Rolling Stone:

But within the company, current and former employees have long known that there is a fine line between ideology and coercion. Jon Leiberman, once Sinclair’s Washington bureau chief, says Smith and other executives were intent on airing “propaganda meant to sway the election.” An ex-producer says he was ordered not to report “any bad news out of Iraq — no dead servicemen, no reports on how much we’re spending, nothing.” And a producer Sinclair sent to Iraq to report on the war calls the resulting coverage “pro-Bush.”

“You weren’t reporting news,” says the producer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “You were reporting a political agenda that came down to you from the top of the food chain.”

At the time, Smith told visitors to his Baltimore headquarters: “There are two companies doing truly balanced news today: Sinclair and Fox.”

During the most recent election cycle, Sinclair executives made sure audiences knew where they stood, urging voters to reject Hillary Clinton, as the New York Times reported, “because the Democratic Party was historically pro-slavery.”

More recently, Sinclair has defended the Trump Administration, with orders from Sinclair HQ to stations to dig up information about an online ad that seemed to recruit paid protesters for President Trump’s inauguration in January. Various right-wing groups used the ad as evidence of organized efforts to harass the incoming administration. The ad was later determined to be a hoax, wasting reporters’ time.

The national map of Sinclair and Tribune Media’s reach. (Image: New York Times)

The interference in local newsgathering by Sinclair executives has become so pervasive, its station in Seattle – KOMO, has been rebelling by burying mandated stories surrounding commercial breaks, when viewers are most likely to tune them out. But there is little else the station can do, and like with other acquisitions Sinclair has completed, there are fewer news staffers at KOMO to protest. Standard procedure at Sinclair after an acquisition to is dramatically cut back on employees and offer more stories and content produced at Sinclair’s headquarters or at other Sinclair-owned stations.

Sinclair’s latest target — Tribune Media, owns stations familiar to most cable and satellite subscribers around the country. Among the stations in Tribune’s portfolio — WPIX-New York, WPHL-Philadelphia, WGN-TV/WGN America-Chicago, KDVR/KWGN-Denver, and KTLA-Los Angeles.

“It’s an incredible amount of power in one company’s hands,” said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press.

Tribune Media owns some of the largest local TV stations in the country.

Former FCC commissioner Michael Copps doesn’t much like the deal either, noting it is “another blow to the diversity of journalism that we should have. It’s symptomatic of what is happening in this market, which is fewer and fewer organizations controlling more and more of the information on which our democracy rests.”

Copps

With all the recent turmoil at Fox News Channel, including the cancellation of Bill O’Reilly’s show, Sinclair could use its Tribune Media acquisition to launch a new conservative national news and opinion network that could rival Fox. WGN America, which no longer has anything to do with WGN-TV — a former “superstation”, could dump the current reruns it airs and be repurposed as a new home for exiled conservative commentators like O’Reilly.

Regardless of your political persuasion, you will likely be paying a lot more for Sinclair TV stations on the cable or satellite dial. Sinclair is among the most aggressive station owners boosting prices for carriage agreements. Cable operators will continue to pass most, if not all of these fees on to subscribers in the form of higher rates or through “Broadcast TV” surcharges that are rarely mentioned by cable companies in their advertised rates.

In Utah, cable operators are already very familiar with Sinclair’s retransmission rate increases. The revenue has grown so significant, some station owner groups are buying up small independent TV stations just to cash in on the growing revenue they get from cable systems and subscribers.

CentraCom, a cable operator in Utah, reports it now pays over $10 as month for local stations, per subscriber, double what it paid in 2008, and they are prepared to see rates much higher than that in the future. Sinclair will also be motivated to force bundle its cable network Tennis Channel with its local stations when it negotiates with cable companies, whether they want the tennis network or not.

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