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JPMorgan Chase Advises Cable Companies to Raise Cable TV Rates; Where Can Customers Go?

Phillip Dampier April 7, 2014 Competition, Consumer News 4 Comments
Comcast Rates (Image: The Oregonian)

JPMorgan Chase reports average cable rates reached $88.67 in 2013. (Image: The Oregonian)

Cable TV rates are too low and need to be hiked to boost revenue and offset rising programming costs, even if rate increases further alienate cable subscribers, according to a new report from JPMorgan Chase.

The Wall Street bank concluded customers have few options, noting that after providers raised prices around 5% last year, they lost only 0.1% of subscribers.

“Cable operators are better off raising video prices than eating higher content costs,” said Philip Cusick, a JPMorgan analyst, in the report. “Our analysis indicates that cable companies are better off raising prices and catching customers with broadband if cord cutting becomes widespread, (rather) than eating the programming increase.”

The bank recommends imposing (or raising) broadcast TV and sports programming surcharges as well as general rate hikes on basic cable service.

JPMorgan notes that increased broadband pricing and cable modem rental fees paid off for the industry during the fourth quarter of 2013, when earnings topped estimates. By doing the same for cable television packages, providers can continue to boost revenue with little risk customers will find a suitable competitor that isn’t also increasing prices.

Even if customers get rid of cable television, a practice known as cord-cutting, cable operators can still keep customers by providing broadband service. Some of the lost revenue can be recovered from the services customers have not canceled.

Cusick says the industry is being challenged by a handful of content companies that increasingly dominate the cable package, among them Walt Disney, Time Warner (Entertainment), CBS, and FOX.

“With the majority of content controlled by only six or seven programmers, aggregate prices for content are rising around 10% annually and forecasts in many media models continue that rise for years,” Cusick said.

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Telus Implementing Usage-Based Billing April 21; Already Raised Broadband Rates in Feb.

Phillip Dampier April 3, 2014 Canada, Internet Overcharging, Telus No Comments

Telus is notifying customers in Prince George, B.C. and surrounding areas it will begin imposing usage-based billing for Internet service effective April 21.

Despite claims that implementing usage-based charges will save customers money, nearly every Telus broadband user is already paying a higher bill because of a rate increase announced in late January.

logoTelus

telus data allowance

Telus’ usage allowances range from 15GB a month for High Speed Lite users to 400GB for Telus Internet 50 users. Telus is also imposing a scaled overlimit fee system based on the total amount of excess usage. Customers face a $5 overlimit fee for up to 50GB of overuse to a maximum of $75 for 350GB and above. A typical customer with a 150GB usage allowance using 250GB would pay the usual $55/month broadband charge plus a $25 overlimit penalty, raising the price of service to $80.

Starting in June, Telus will introduce an Unlimited Internet Usage option (price not disclosed) for any of their Internet plans.

overlimit fees

Telus wants to fence in "data hogs" with "fairness."

Telus wants to fence in “data hogs” with “fairness.”

“It’s fair that people pay for how much they use, as you would with any other service,” Telus explained. “Our goal is to offer customers a broad spectrum of plans that meet everyone’s needs, and to get customers on the right plan for them.

“Someone who uses their basic Internet service for a bit of email, Skyping with the grandkids, and sharing photos shouldn’t pay as much as someone who games and downloads hundreds of gigabytes of videos every month,” Telus added.

Of course, every customer is already paying more after Telus raised its broadband rates on Feb. 26.

“The cost of managing, expanding and improving our network continues to rise,” Telus explained. “We’re doing our best to keep rate increases as moderate as possible, while still offering great services, flexibility and good value.”

So effectively no customer is actually saving any money with Telus’ usage-based billing. They are actually paying more today and could potentially pay much more when overlimit fees take effect later this month.

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Viacom Demands 100% Rate Increases for Hundreds of Small Cable Systems, Military Bases

viacom networksSmall cable systems across the country and on overseas military bases are being granted hourly reprieves that are keeping up to 24 Viacom-owned cable channels on the air after negotiations to extend an agreement with their program buyer stalled.

Cable operators belonging to the National Cable TV Cooperative, which represents independent cable systems on cable programming matters, report Viacom is demanding an unprecedented 100 percent rate increase for its networks and a guaranteed rate hike of 10% annually on each of its channels.

Viacom’s demands would cost each subscriber at least $4 a month, noted Jack Capparell, general manager of Service Electric’s cable system in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. Service Electric is a private, family owned cable business with 250,000 subscribers in central and northeastern Pennsylvania and northwestern New Jersey.

The impasse also affects cable systems serving American military bases. Americable has notified subscribers in Yokosuka, Atsugi, Iwakuni, and Sasebo, Japan Viacom was likely to cut off 10 of its cable channels to military families sometime today. Allied Telesis, which offers service to Air Force bases in Japan is also expected to lose programming.

cableoneNCTC members complain Viacom requires cable systems to carry nearly all of its lineup, including lesser-known channels few customers have even heard of, much less want. Even if a cable system chooses not to air a Viacom channel, Viacom’s contracts require cable providers to pay for them if they want to carry Viacom’s most popular networks.

Some cable systems are breaking away from NCTC’s negotiations and opening one on one talks with Viacom. Metrocast secured an agreement for its customers earlier today by negotiating directly with Viacom.

viacomFor most affected cable operators, there is a ‘wait and see what happens’ approach. Others, including Cable ONE, have already moved to replace the Viacom networks with other channels.

“Viacom asked for a rate increase greater than 100%, despite the fact that viewing is down on 12 of their 15 networks – some by more than 30% since 2010,” said Cable ONE. “We asked Viacom to either reduce their rates or allow us to drop some of their less popular networks to reduce the total cost. They refused these reasonable requests.”

Logo_Service-ElectricEarlier today, Cable ONE didn’t wait for Viacom to pull the plug. They pulled it themselves.

“Cable ONE has let these networks go and expects to add many top-rated networks you’ve requested and expand several other highly requested networks to our most popular level of service. Some of the new networks include BBC America, Sprout, Investigation Discovery, the Blaze, Hallmark Channel, National Geographic, TV One, Sundance, and more,” said the company, which expects to publish a full list of the new networks on Wednesday.

Viacom responded with a news release tailored for each affected provider:

GCI_Color_LogoWe are offering Service Electric a double-digit discount off of our standard rate card. It is a better deal than HUNDREDS of other TV providers in the country have agreed to. We have been actively trying to get a deal done with Service Electric for months and they have refused to negotiate in any meaningful way. And now, on top of this, Service Electric is throwing out numbers which simply aren’t true. Our expiring deal with Service Electric is nearly five years old. In that time, we have been great partners and given Service Electric more channels, more on demand content and access to our content beyond the TV – at no additional cost. We don’t understand why Service Electric has chosen to negotiate in this manner. And now, as a result of their lack of interest in coming to a mutually beneficial agreement, you are at risk of losing 19 Viacom networks. We are serious about getting a deal done.

Virtually the entire state of Alaska is also affected.

“We’ve unified to fight for Alaskans and to work toward a fair, long-term agreement that keeps prices stable for our customers,” said Paul Landes, GCI senior vice president. “Viacom wants a rate increase that is 40 times that of the rate of inflation. Alaska pay TV providers, along with 700 small to mid-sized operators nationally, are saying ‘no’ to Viacom’s take all 26 channels or nothing demands.”

GCI is joined by Alaskan providers MTA and KPU in the dispute.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Cable ONE Viacom Channels Removed New Channels Added 4-1-14.mp4

Cable ONE released this video earlier today informing customers they were dropping Viacom networks. (1:00)

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Time Warner Cable, Comcast Crash, Burn in Consumer Reports’ 2014 Ratings

consumer reportsDespite claims of improved customer service and better broadband, Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s customer satisfaction scores are in near-free fall in the latest Consumer Reports National Research Center’s survey of consumers about their experiences with television and Internet services.

Although never popular with customers, both cable operators plummeted in the 2014 Consumer Reports ratings — Time Warner Cable is now only marginally above the perennial consumer disaster that is Mediacom. Comcast performs only slightly better.

In the view of Consumers Union, this provides ample evidence that two wrongs never make a right.

“Both Comcast and Time Warner Cable rank very poorly with consumers when it comes to value for the money and have earned low ratings for customer support,” said Delara Derakhshani.  “A merger combining these two huge companies would give Comcast even greater control over the cable and broadband Internet markets, leading to higher prices, fewer choices, and worse customer service for consumers.”

These ratings reflect Internet service only.

These ratings reflect Internet service only.

Comcast ranked 15th among 17 television service providers included in the ratings and earned particularly low marks from consumers for value for the money and customer support.  Time Warner ranked 16th overall for television service with particularly low ratings for value, reliability, and phone/online customer support.

Another ratings collapse for Comcast and Time Warner Cable

Another ratings collapse for Comcast and Time Warner Cable

Comcast and Time Warner Cable were mediocre on overall satisfaction with Internet service.  Both companies received especially poor marks for value and low ratings for phone/online customer support.

“In an industry with a terrible track record with consumers, these two companies are among the worst when it comes to providing good value for the money,” said Derakhshani.  “The FCC and Department of Justice should stand with consumers and oppose this merger.”

For as long as Stop the Cap! has published, Mediacom has always achieved bottom of the barrel ratings, with satellite fraudband provider HughesNet — the choice of the truly desperate — scoring dead last for Internet service. We’re accustomed to seeing the usual bottom-raters like Frontier (DSL), Windstream (DSL), and FairPoint (DSL) on the south end of the list. But now both Comcast and Time Warner Cable have moved into the same seedy neighborhood of expensive and lousy service. Comcast couldn’t even beat the ratings for Verizon’s DSL service, which is now barely marketed at all. Time Warner Cable scored lower than CenturyLink’s DSL.

Breathing an ever-so-slight sigh of relief this year is Charter Communications, which used to compete with Mediacom for customer raspberries. It ‘rocketed up’ to 18th place.

If you want top-notch broadband service, you need to remember only one word: fiber. It’s the magical optical cable phone and cable companies keep claiming they have but largely don’t (except for Verizon and Cincinnati Bell, among a select few). If you have fiber to the home broadband, you are very happy again this year. If you are served by an independent cable company that threw away the book on customer abuse, you are relieved. Topping the ratings again this year among all cable operators is WOW!, which has a legendary reputation for customer service. Wave/Astound is in second place. Verizon and Frontier FiOS customers stay pleased, and even those signed up with Bright House Networks and Suddenlink report improved service.

Ratings are based on responses from 81,848 Consumer Reports readers. Once again they plainly expose Americans are not happy with their telecom options. The average cost of home communications measured by the Mintel Group is now $154 a month — $1,848 a year. That’s more expensive than the average homeowner’s clothing, furniture or electricity budget. The same issues driving the bad ratings last year are still there in 2014: shoveling TV channels at customers they don’t want or need, imposing sneaky new fees along with broad-based rate increases every year, low value for money, and customer service departments staffed by the Don’t Care Bears.

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Cable Customer Service Improvements: Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Phillip "More empty promises from the cable industry" Dampier

Phillip “More empty promises from the cable industry” Dampier

Listening to Time Warner Cable’s “Here today and gone much richer tomorrow” CEO-in-passing Rob Marcus prattle on endlessly about improving “the customer experience” on analyst conference calls, the cable company’s blog, and in various press statements always makes me pinch myself to be certain I am not dreaming.

Time Warner’s Rob Marcus:

I’m focused on ensuring we establish a customer-centric, performance-oriented, values-driven culture defined by four basic tenets:

  • We put our customers first,
  • We are empowered and accountable,
  • We do the right thing, and
  • We are passionate about winning

What does that mean for customers? If we expect customers to trust us to connect them to what matters most, we must put them at the center of everything we do.

How is that working out for you?

Based on consumer surveys, many of Marcus’ customers may have a different sentiment:

  • Time Warner puts what is best for Time Warner first,
  • Time Warner is empowered to raise rates for no clear reason and as a deregulated entity is accountable to no one,
  • Time Warner does the right thing for Time Warner executives and shareholders,
  • Charlie Sheen was also passionate about “winning.”

 

So much for Comcast's customer service improvement project promised back in 2007.

So much for Comcast’s customer service improvement project promised back in 2007. (Source: ACSI)

There is nowhere to go but up when it comes to improving the abusive relationship most Americans have with the local cable or phone company. CNN asked the question, “do you hate your Internet provider,” and within hours more than 600 customers sang “yes!”

Marcus

Marcus

This is hardly a new problem. Karl Bode at Broadband Reports reminds us that Comcast broke its promises for major improvements in customer service more than five years ago. CEO Brian Roberts at the time blamed the troubles on Comcast’s enormity — taking 250 million calls a year handling orders, customer complaints, etc., is a lot for one company to handle.

“With that many calls, you are going to have failures,” Roberts admitted.

With more than 10 million Time Warner Cable customers waiting to move in at Comcast, if what Roberts says is true, things are about to get much worse. In fact, even before the merger was announced Comcast was just as despised as ever, thanks to rate hikes, usage caps, and poor service often delivered from their notorious sub-contractors that appear on the news for falling asleep, murder, digging in the wrong yard or blowing up laptops, dishwashers or homes.

Judging from the enormous negative reaction customers of both Time Warner Cable and Comcast had to the news the two were combining, it’s clear this merger isn’t the exciting opportunity Marcus and Roberts would have you believe.

‘If you despise Comcast today, your hate will know no bounds tomorrow as Comcast spends the next two years distracted with digesting Time Warner Cable,’ suggested one customer.

Another asked whether Americans have resigned themselves to a trap of low expectations, seeking out one abusive telecom company relationship after another.

highlights“After twenty years of Time Warner’s broken promises, service you can’t count on, and price hikes you can, I made the fatal mistake of running away from one bad relationship into the arms of another with the Bernie Madoff of broadband: AT&T,” wrote another. “Slower service, an unnecessary allowance on broadband usage, and one rate increase too many is hardly the improvement we were promised in the shiny brochure. But we have nowhere else to go.”

Being stuck with an independent phone company with no cable provider nearby can mean even worse service.

“I live in Seattle, and the only option in my neighborhood is CenturyLink DSL,” wrote Jen Wilson.

CenturyLink’s top speed in Wilson’s neighborhood? 1Mbps. At night, speeds drop to 122kbps — just twice the speed of dial-up Internet.

CNN’s Frida Ghitis observed the current state of broadband in the United States is alarmingly bad, and allowing Comcast and Time Warner Cable to merge won’t fix it:

Americans are divided on many issues, but resentment against these telecom giants is so pervasive that it may just be the most heartwarming symbol of national unity. And that’s as it should be. Except that the resentment should extend to politicians who have made this disastrous system possible and allow political contributions to prevent them from fixing it. The problem is not just one of dismal customer service. Instead, it is a growing threat to the country’s economic and strategic position.

If you travel overseas, you will quickly notice that Web access in much of the developed world is light years ahead of America’s. You may also be irritated to discover that far better Internet is much, much cheaper in other countries.

Time Warner's notorious modem rental fee was just a hidden rate hike, according to the ex-CEO.

Time Warner’s notorious modem rental fee was just a hidden rate hike, according to the ex-CEO.

Thus far, Time Warner’s remedy to improve service is yet another rate increase. Broadband prices are rising an average of $3 a month — $36 a year, with no speed enhancements on the horizon except in New York, Los Angeles, and cities where Google Fiber is threatening to kick the cable company in the pants. That means Time Warner’s 11.1 million broadband customers will deliver as much as $33.3 million more in revenue each month for broadband service alone. What will you get in return? In most cases, nothing.

Television customers will be pick-pocketed for the newly-”enhanced” on-screen guide many still loathe, which carries a new surcharge applied to the cost of set-top boxes and DVRs. This “enhancement” alone will cost most customers with two boxes an extra $30 a year. It will provide Time Warner with more than $170 million each year in revenue enhancement.

The cable company that fought a battle with CBS last summer “on behalf of customers” faced with paying extortionist pricing for CBS-owned cable networks and local stations will instead send their extortion payment direct to Time Warner, thanks to a new $2.25/mo “Broadcast TV Fee” imposed this spring by the cable company.

But Time Warner is unlikely to hang on to that money for long.

If it wanted to discourage programmers from demanding double-digit percentage rate increases, the plan is likely to backfire once the networks smell the money — more than $25 million a month, $300 million a year — Time Warner claims to be collecting on their behalf.

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In the Money: Former Time Warner Cable CEO Sells Another 30,000 Shares of TWC Stock

Phillip Dampier March 3, 2014 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 7 Comments
Britt

Britt

Former Time Warner Cable CEO just picked up another $4,125,900 selling another 30,000 shares of the Time Warner Cable stock he accumulated before his retirement.

Britt’s lucrative compensation and retirement package regularly provided Britt with extra shares of company stock he is now selling off as the company contemplates its future as part of Comcast.

Despite the sale on Feb. 26, Britt still owns shares of the company valued at about $24,417,351. Britt sold 30,000 shares of company stock just two weeks ago for $4.3 million.

At the same time Britt is selling his shares, Time Warner Cable has announced rate increases amounting to an average of 6.4 percent on television and broadband service.

A new $2.25 monthly Broadcast TV Fee will also begin appearing on television customer bills this month. Time Warner Cable blamed the rate hike on increased costs.

 

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Time Warner Cable Hiking Rates for Earthlink and Time Warner Cable Customers

Phillip Dampier February 18, 2014 Consumer News, Earthlink, Time Warner Cable 3 Comments

timewarner twcEarthlink and Time Warner Cable are two independent companies, but you would never know it from Time Warner Cable’s mailed notification of rate increases that will apply to customers of both. In addition to general rate increases, Time Warner is now imposing its $5.99 monthly modem rental charge on Earthlink customers that used to avoid the modem fee.

The cable company has also seen fit to add a considerably higher monthly fee for “The Guide” — which refers to the on-screen guide offered through your set-top box. Love it or hate it, it will now cost you an extra $3.27 per month per cable outlet.

Your Time Warner Cable basic television package now called “Preferred TV” will now cost about $2.50 more per month, ranging from around $79 in Maine to $82.50 in Buffalo.

Other increases:

  • All cable TV customers should expect to see a new Broadcast TV Fee surcharge applied to their bills after the rate increase takes effect. In the northeast, it runs $2.25 a month;
  • Time Warner’s Variety Pass, which includes semi-premium movie channels is increasing to $10 a month in many markets. That is up around $1;
  • Your primary set-top box rental fee will increase from $8.99 a month to $10.25 a month. Each additional box will increase from $8.49 to as much as $10.25 a month, depending on the market;
  • Your broadband price may also be increasing. Lite Internet will be $37.99 a month, Basic $47.99, Standard $57.99, Turbo $67.99, Extreme $77.99, Ultimate 50 $88.99;
  • Earthlink customers will now pay $37.99 for Earthlink Lite and $57.99 for Earthlink Standard. Earthlink’s turbo upgrade costs an extra $10 and TWC’s $5.99 monthly modem rental fee will now apply unless you buy your own modem;
  • Customers with extra cable outlets installed after the new rates take effect will now owe an extra service fee of $1.50 per month per outlet.

Customers on promotional packages will not see the new rates applied to their accounts until after their promotions expire. Rate increases are generally rolled out region-by-region over the course of the year. These rate increases will apply to customers in the northeastern United States beginning with the March or April invoice.

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Time Warner Cable Imposing New $2.25 Monthly “Broadcast TV Fee” on Cable TV Customers

Phillip Dampier February 18, 2014 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 3 Comments

Time Warner Cable will begin adding a new “Broadcast TV Fee” surcharge on many of its customers’ bills during the next round of rate increases, including television customers in western New York who will be charged an extra $2.25 a month beginning this spring. The amount may vary depending on the city where you receive Time Warner Cable service.

broadcast tv fee

Time Warner Cable says the new Broadcast TV Fee defrays the “increased costs imposed by broadcasters.” It will not apply to customers on temporary promotions until they expire.

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Comcast $avings: Your Bill Isn’t Going Down, Nor Will It Increase Less Rapidly

lousy tshirt

(Image: Crooks and Liars)

(Image: Crooks and Liars)

The mother of all cable mergers between Comcast and Time Warner Cable will bring tens of millions in executive bonuses and golden parachutes, massive job losses at Time Warner, a lucrative stock buyback that will help Comcast shareholders, and a higher cable bill and usage cap for you.

Back in 2008 when Stop the Cap! started we offered this tip for rational living: When a cable company promises you it has a great deal that will save you money, grab your wallet and run. Just as the sun rises in the east, cable bills never really go down, they just keep going up.

Comcast at least admits that fact of life when discussing the “benefits” of a merger with Time Warner Cable.

“We’re certainly not promising that customer bills are going to go down or even that they’re going to increase less rapidly,” David L. Cohen, a Comcast executive vice president, said in a conference call with reporters.

Heaven forbid.

Bigger has never been better for the cable industry. As waves of consolidation reduce the number of significant cable operators from dozens to fewer than 10, cable subscribers have contributed mightily to finance the merger deals. What used to be a big basic cable bill of $20 a month will soon exceed $75, and rising. The industry has always tied itself to the value proposition that a month of cable television costs no more than a cup of coffee. In 1990, it was Maxwell House. Today it’s closer to a Starbucks Grande Latte once taxes, fees, and surcharges are included.

Image: Mike Keefe

(Image: Mike Keefe)

The New York Times reports cable prices have grown at more than twice the rate of inflation over the last 17 years. But Comcast likes to say you are getting a lot more bang for your cable buck.

“Where we might have had 100 standard-definition channels in a package more than a decade ago, today you have 250 standard-definition channels plus 100 channels in high-definition,” Cohen told the Times. “The level of service being provided is night and day.”

According to Cohen’s way of thinking, that matters a lot more to you and I than the “Please pay this amount” at the bottom of your monthly bill.

The bountiful cornucopia that is Cohen’s idea of cable television bliss includes networks like Bonsai Xtreme, Office Supplies Network, Glidden’s Paint Dry 24/7, and… no, we’re kidding. But are TV One, Ovation, Youtoo TV, and Retirement Living TV any more compelling? You are probably paying for one or more of them now. Extra credit to customers that can even find them on their cable dial.

Time Warner Cable and Comcast carry most of the same networks, but they arrange them differently. Time Warner likes the shovel-them-all-at-you approach with one simple digital expanded cable tier. Only a handful of networks that should be on the basic lineup cost a little more and most of them are HD movie channels (and inexplicably RFD-TV, which features cattle auctions every Friday afternoon). Comcast nails their customers with a range of tiers and compels many to keep upgrading to get the networks they really want. Just ask subscribers like Thomas Howell of Seattle who was livid when Comcast moved Turner Classic Movies out of the equivalent of basic cable and put it on an enhanced basic tier that cost him an extra $18 a month.

What channels will they add next?

What channels will they add next?

“The s*** they shovel on cable these days and they can’t give us one channel with good movies that aren’t loaded with sex and violence without raping us for more money?” Howell told Stop the Cap! “My wife and I took back their box and we got satellite TV instead. We don’t want to pay for the crap they keep putting on our TV, but they don’t give you much choice.”

Comcast executives are living in a parallel universe and are not listening:

“I think consumers are going to benefit from this transaction,” Cohen added. “They’re going to benefit by quality of service, by quality of offerings, by technological innovation, and I don’t believe there’s any way to argue that they’re going to be hurt from a price perspective as a result of this transaction.”

“Mr. Cohen can pay my cable bill, then,” responded Howell. “He’s obviously got the money to pay whatever Comcast is asking, if he doesn’t get it for free.”

Remarkably even some House Republicans that are normally reticent about interfering with corporate affairs are expressing concern about the deal — especially those who represent districts served by either cable company.

You're gonna love this merger. It's best best best!

You’re gonna love this merger. It’s best best best!

“The proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable could have a significant impact on competition in the video and broadband marketplace,” said Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman. Comcast dominates Virginia.

Comcast and Time Warner argue they are not competitors so it will have no impact on the competitive landscape.

The argument from merger proponents is that a larger Comcast will have a stronger position to fight programmer rate increases. But Comcast has a poor record of success at its current monolithic size, with no evidence making it larger will make much difference. Even if it did, will those savings be passed on to subscribers? Cohen signals they won’t when he warns cable bills will not go down as a result of the merger. In fact, Comcast recently added a $1.50 monthly Broadcast TV surcharge to alienate local television stations in the eyes of subscribers and boost Comcast’s profits. But most will blame the cable company for the rate increase, not the local CBS station.

Consumers generally hate their local cable company, with some minor exceptions (WOW! does very well by customers, as does Verizon’s FiOS in customer rankings). Why? Because in 1995 you paid an average of $22.35 for 44 channels of basic cable. In 2012, you paid $61.63 for 150 channels, 100 or more you never watch and don’t want.

Demands for a-la-carte — pay only for the channels you want — have fallen on deaf ears for years, with nothing on the horizon to change the current pricing model. Besides, some critics warn if a-la-carte does become reality, cable companies will dramatically jack up the per channel price to protect their revenue.

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Verizon’s Latest Financial Results Reaffirm Wireless Cash Cow is King, FiOS Expansion Still Dead

Verizon-logoVerizon FiOS expansion is still dead while cash cow Verizon Wireless will continue to get the bulk of Verizon’s attention this year, according to a top executive.

Verizon chief financial officer Fran Shammo delivered the latest quarterly financial results to Wall Street analysts Tuesday and had few specifics about how the Cadillac of wireless carriers will handle increasingly meddlesome competition from T-Mobile, which has torn up the comfortably profitable mobile industry’s business plan and threatened to launch an all-out price war.

Verizon Wireless remains a major earner for Verizon, delivering nearly $18 billion in revenue and $8.3 billion in adjusted profitability during the last quarter alone. Verizon is relying on the quality of its network to keep customers from bolting to less expensive competitors. This month, T-Mobile announced it was prepared to cover the early termination penalty of AT&T customers ready to switch. It’s only a matter of time before Verizon customers are treated to a similar offer and that worried investors enough to send Verizon’s share price downwards even though the company beat analyst’s earnings estimates.

Clues about Verizon’s game plan for 2014 became clearer as Shammo took questions and outlined the company’s strategy.

Wireless Will Get Most of Verizon’s Attention

cash cowAgain this year, Verizon Wireless will get the bulk of Verizon’s attention and financial resources. Verizon Wireless finished 2013 with $81 billion in wireless revenue — up $5.2 billion from 2012 — which represents two-thirds of Verizon’s total earnings. The wireless business has delivered a profit margin of 49% or higher for five of the last seven quarters.

Where do the increased earnings and profits come from?

“Service revenue growth continued to be driven by more customers and devices, increase of data usage, and smartphone penetration,” said Shammo. “Our Share Everything Plans are doing exactly what we expected — driving device adoption and stimulating higher usage — resulting in increases in both the number of devices and revenue per account.”

Shammo said little about the spectrum shortages Verizon claimed were responsible for an end to unlimited use data plans in favor of usage-capped, consumption-based billing. On the contrary, Shammo admitted Verizon expects to grow average revenue per account and profits on the back of usage billing as customers boost wireless data usage and have to upgrade to higher-priced plans in the future. Shammo also noted the company’s restrictions on early upgrades and charging upgrade/activation fees have delivered more revenue to Verizon and deterred customers from phone upgrades, which saves Verizon money.

Verizon Wireless customer bills rose an average of 7.1 percent during the fourth quarter to more than $157 per month.

“We have seen consistent growth in this metric,” said Shammo. “For the full year, average revenue per account was up nearly $10 or 6.9%.”

Some of that increase is attributable to Verizon’s higher cost Share Everything plans, which often cost customers more than the plans they abandon.

Share Everything = a higher Verizon Wireless bill for many customers.

Share Everything = a higher Verizon Wireless bill for many customers.

“In just 18 months more than 46% of our postpaid accounts are on these plans,” said Shammo. “In 2013 we effectively doubled the number of accounts on Share Everything from 8.1 million to 16.2 million.”

In the coming year, Verizon plans to spend up to $17 billion on network maintenance and expansion, but the bulk of it will be spent on the wireless side of the business. Verizon has again cut investment in its wired networks.

Shammo noted Verizon Wireless plans to repurpose some of its 3G spectrum to 4G LTE service this year, which cuts costs for Verizon while stimulating usage which will eventually force many customers into data plan upgrades.

“If you look at a 3G usage moving to a 4G, we know that — and we have seen it in our base — as soon as you get on the 4G with video consumption and the quality of video your usage goes up,” said Shammo.

Verizon FiOS Expansion is Still Dead

Verizon has no plans to expand its FiOS fiber network beyond the areas where the company previously signed franchise agreements several years ago. In fact, Shammo is already reallocating money that in years past targeted FiOS expansion, shifting it to Verizon Wireless.

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead. No plans for further expansion in 2014.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still dead. No plans for further expansion in 2014.

Shammo added Verizon will continue upgrading to fiber and decommission its copper network within existing FiOS areas, pushing customers with traditional landline service to basic FiOS phone service.

For those bypassed by FiOS, Shammo indicated it will be business as usual for Verizon, still selling DSL and phone service. But he hinted that within three years, Verizon might be open to selling off wireline customers in non-FiOS areas if a company approached Verizon with a lucrative deal. Verizon is under increased regulatory scrutiny in states like New York where there is concern Verizon is diverting resources away from deteriorating landline infrastructure in favor of its unregulated wireless network.

Shammo admitted Verizon stepped back from competing as hard as usual with cable competitors during the third quarter, believing consumers don’t want installers in their homes during the holiday season. As a result, the number of new FiOS customers was down from October-December. But with recent rate increases and voluntary upgrades, revenue remains up. With less than one million potential customers in the FiOS footprint still waiting for the fiber network to arrive, Shammo was comfortable stepping back from promotions temporarily.

Verizon FiOS has been highly successful for Verizon’s wireline division, now representing about 73% of Verizon’s consumer revenue. More than half of Verizon’s FiOS customers have upgraded to FiOS Quantum Internet speeds, starting at 50Mbps. With that kind of success, what holds Verizon back from further expanding FiOS? Verizon’s current CEO Lowell McAdam comes from a Verizon Wireless background and seems preoccupied with the wireless business. Wall Street is also firmly against Verizon increasing investment in fiber when diverting that spending to high-profit wireless can earn a much faster, more lucrative return.

Those lucky enough to have FiOS will continue to see upgrades in 2014. Chief among them is a new proprietary router that will assure Wi-Fi service in the home more closely matches the broadband speeds customers are buying, up to 100Mbps or more.

Verizon’s Intel OnCue Acquisition Doesn’t Mean Online Cable Competition is Coming

Despite a piece in GigaOM suggesting Verizon’s acquisition of Intel’s OnCue technology was all about competing head-to-head with Comcast, Shammo downplayed any expectation Verizon was about to declare war on  that cable company or anyone else:

Shammo

Shammo

As far as the OnCue acquisition, look, the focus here is really to accelerate the availability of the next-generation IP video service which we will integrate into the FiOS video service. And really what we are trying to do is differentiate this even more so with fiber to the home versus others with the TV offerings and reducing the deployment costs. And this really accelerates us from if we were trying to build IP TV versus buying the IP TV technology.

From an FiOS customer perspective, we expect the benefits that they will have more elegant search and discovery activity and cost stream ease of use. But also keep in mind, with the acquisition of Verizon Wireless and becoming 100% ownership of that we also plan to take that platform and integrate it more deeply with our Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network. So that really was the strategy behind this.

 Verizon Wireless Has Enough Spectrum for the Next 3-4 Years

Shammo told investors Verizon Wireless has plenty of wireless spectrum to meet customer needs for the next 3-4 years, but he did outline Verizon’s short-term plans on spectrum management:

As far as our portfolio, obviously we like the 700 megahertz for the coverage of the LTE that we did. AWS is our sweet spot at this point in time, which is the spectrum that we have been swapping for [with competing carriers], so we have a very efficient portfolio of spectrum and I think we have shown through the years that we are very efficient on how we use spectrum.

Keep in mind that, as I said, we will participate in the auctions because we will need more spectrum, but right now our current position is that with the AWS that we have and that we are launching in markets that you know in New York and San Francisco, Chicago we are lighting that spectrum up. It is pretty much completed in New York. We will continue to add to that, but keep in mind though too that we will also re-appropriate our 3G spectrum to 4G.

So we will take that PCS spectrum that has been running in our 3G network — as the volume of that network continues to decrease as we move more 3G phones to 4G, we will bring re-appropriate that spectrum over to the 4G LTE. So three to four years we are in very good shape from a spectrum holding position, but we will participate in the upcoming auctions.

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