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The Invisible Rate Hike: Verizon Introduces New $0.99 “Because We Can” FiOS Voice Surcharge

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When is a rate increase not a rate increase? When it is an “administrative surcharge” of course!

Verizon FiOS phone customers will soon find the company’s latest innovation in the form of a new line on their June bill, along with a $0.99 surcharge.

Notice of Price Increase
Effective May 17, 2014, Verizon will apply an FDV Administrative Charge of $0.99 per FiOS Digital Voice line. This monthly surcharge helps defray account servicing costs associated with providing voice services. This is a Verizon surcharge, not a tax or governmental fee. Visit verizon.com for more information.

Instead of simply raising the advertised price of the service, Verizon added a new opaque charge which they admit is nothing more than an effort to increase revenue. Prospective customers will still see Verizon’s attractive promotional pricing, but only later discover the final bill is higher once taxes, fees, and other surcharges are tacked on.

In fact, Verizon’s new FiOS Digital Voice fee is subject to taxes as well, so for some the true cost of the rate increase is $1.21.

Some angry Verizon customers are switching to Ooma, a service that asks customers to pay upfront for the hardware but offers basic telephone service for free (customers pay well under $10 a month to cover taxes that Ooma does not pocket itself.) A more deluxe option including more phone features runs around $10 a month.

One annoyed customer considers the fee an end run around consumer contract law:

My concern [is] with a regulated utility’s ability to get around a contract price by labeling an increase as an “administrative charge.”

I called their customer service line to discuss/complain.  When I asked what would prevent Verizon from using this as a vehicle to increase prices by $10 or $15, assuming Time Warner/AT&T/DirectTV raised their prices as well, he admitted that he was not aware of any restrictions.  Neither am I.

I can’t find anything in my contract with Verizon that lets them increase my price by instituting back-end increases.  I’m pursuing with government regulators and encourage you all to do so as well.  If this gets through, there will be more.

In fact, one of the reasons why Verizon loves their digital voice product so much is because it is unregulated and not subject to government oversight. They can set rates at will and their current contract allows for the addition of administrative fees without violating any “price lock” agreements. So far, most companies implementing these fees have kept them low enough to avoid provoking government scrutiny, but the number of them and their respective amounts have increased over time.

Customer recourse? Complain and ask for a credit for the administrative fee or cancel service.

Verizon’s Idea of a “Modest Rate Increase” in New Jersey: 440%; $15 Billion Collected for Phantom Fiber

Verizon-logoWhile the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities was able to quickly settle its differences with Verizon by granting the phone company’s wish to walk away from its commitment to offer 45Mbps broadband across the state, New Jersey ratepayers are out $15 billion in excess phone charges levied since 1993 for promised upgrades many will never get.

The Opportunity New Jersey plan the state government signed with Verizon was supposed to expand advanced broadband across the state in return for “a modest amount of pricing flexibility” in the fees Verizon charged customers in New Jersey. But Verizon is not a modest company and a new report shows the phone company used the agreement to boost rates as much as 440% — primarily through ancillary surcharges including inside wire maintenance, wire investment, an investment recovery fee, a local number portability surcharge, merged local calling area charge, and various other charges for phone features including Caller ID, Call Waiting, etc.

Tom Allibone, the president of LTC Consulting joined forces with New Networks’ Bruce Kushnick to analyze more than 30 years of Verizon New Jersey phone bills and discovered when it comes to tallying up rate increases, Verizon’s addition skills are akin to taking out a bag of M&M’s and only counting the yellow ones.

“This Verizon New Jersey bill from April 2002 [...] has an “FCC Subscriber Line Charge”, which was $6.21 cents per line. Verizon’s quote doesn’t include this charge in their analysis of no increases between 1985 to 2008,” Kushnick writes. “The FCC Line Charge (it has many names), is on every local phone bill and the charge started in 1985. You can’t get service without paying this charge and the money does NOT go to fund the FCC but is direct revenue to Verizon New Jersey.”

verizonnjrateincreaseAfter adding up various other surcharges, Kushnick’s bill increased a lot.

“Add up the ‘Total Monthly Charges’ for 2 phone lines— It’s ugly,” Kushnick said. “While the cost of the ‘monthly charges’ was $25.62, there’s an extra $17.70 cents — 70%. I thought that Verizon said there were no ‘increases.’”

“Anyone who has ever bought a bundled package of services from Verizon (or the other phone or cable companies) knows that they all play this shell game; the price of service you have to pay is always 10-40% more than the advertised price. That’s because the companies leave out the cost of these ancillary charges and taxes in their sale pitch,” he added.

Verizon raised local residential service rates 79% in 2008, according to Kushnick. Business customers paid 70 percent more. Caller ID rates increased 38% — remarkable for a service that has a profit margin of 5,695%. But Verizon did even better boosting the charge for a non-published number by 38% — a service that has a 36,900% profit margin as of 1999 — the services are even cheaper to offer now.

Telephone service is one of those products that should have declined in price, especially after phone companies fully depreciated their copper wire networks — long ago paid off. Companies like Verizon have cut the budgets for outdoor wire maintenance and the number of employees tasked with keeping service up and running has been reduced by over 70 percent since 1985, dramatically reducing Verizon’s costs. But Verizon customers paid more for phone service, not less.

The cost of service might not have been as much of an issue had Verizon taken the excess funds and invested them in promised upgrades, but that has not happened for a significant percentage of the state and likely never will. Instead, they just increased company profits. More recently, Verizon has directed much of its investments into its more profitable wireless division.

Even though Verizon achieved total victory with the Christie Administration-dominated BPU, the company is still making threats about any future plans for investment.

“It’s important that regulators and legislators support public policies that encourage broadband growth in New Jersey rather than ones that could jeopardize the state’s highly competitive communications industry, or risk future investments by providers like Verizon,” wrote Sam Delgado, vice president of external affairs.

Wall Street: Telecom Mergers Are Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Consumers: More Pocket-Picking

price-gouging-cake“Comcast Corp.’s bid to buy Time Warner Cable Inc. may be the opening act for a yearlong festival of telecommunications deals that would alter Internet, phone and TV service for tens of millions of Americans.” — Bloomberg News, May 14, 2014

Wall Street analysts remain certain Comcast and Time Warner Cable won’t be the only merger on the table this year as the $45 billion dollar deal is expected to spark a new wave of consolidation, further reducing competitive choice in telecom services for most Americans.

While the industry continues to insist that the current foundation of deregulation is key to investment and competition, the reality on the ground is less certain.

Let’s review history:

For several decades, the cable industry has avoided head-on competition with other cable operators. They argue the costs of “overbuilding” cable systems into territories already serviced by another company is financially impractical and reckless. But that did not stop telephone companies like AT&T and Verizon from overhauling portions of their networks to compete, and in at least some communities another provider has emerged to offer some competition. Some wonder if AT&T was willing to spend billions to upgrade their urban landline network to provide U-verse, why won’t cable companies spend some money and compete directly with one another?

The answer is simple: They can earn a lot more by limiting competition.

When only a few firms account for most of the sales of a product, those firms can sometimes exercise market power by either explicitly or implicitly coordinating their actions. Coordinated interaction is especially suspect where all firms seem to charge very similar prices and few, if any, are willing to challenge the status quo.

Since the 1980s, the telecommunications industry has been deregulated off and on to a degree not seen since the pioneer days of telephone service. That was the era when waves of mergers created near-monopolies in the oil, railroad, energy, tobacco, steel and sugar industries. By the late 1890s, evidence piled up that proved reducing the number of providers in a market leads to higher prices and poor service. The abuses eventually led to the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 and later the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914.

Here is what happened when the cable industry was reined in during the early 1990s, only to be deregulated again.

Here is what happened when the cable industry was reined in during the early 1990s, only to be deregulated again.

The generation of political leaders that dominated Washington during the 1980s developed selective amnesia about economic history and dismantled many of the regulatory protections established to protect consumers, arguing competition would keep markets in check. In the broadband and cable business, that has not proved as successful as the industry represents.

At the heart of the problem is the 1996 Telecommunications Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The sweeping law is littered with lobbyist landmines for consumers and their interests. Under the guise of increasing competition, the 1996 law actually helped reduce competition by removing regulatory oversight and, perhaps unintentionally, sparking an enormous rampage of industry consolidation followed by price increases. The Bush Administration kept the war on consumers going with the appointment of Michael Powell (now the CEO of the cable industry’s lobbying group) to chair the Federal Communications Commission. Under Powell, non-discriminatory access to networks by competitors was curtailed, and Powell’s FCC gave carte blanche to the cable industry’s plan to cluster its territories into large regional monopolies and a tight national oligopoly. The FCC’s own researchers quietly admitted in the early 2000s “clustering raised prices.”

Cable prices

By January 2001, cable operators had settled on rate increases that averaged three times the rate of inflation. While the national inflation rate hovered around 1%, cable companies routinely raised basic cable rates an average of 7% annually. Powell declared rising cable rates were not a consumer problem and adopted the industry’s classic talking point that rate increases reflect the “value of the programming” found on cable. In fact, even as cable customers grew increasingly angry about rate increases, Powell told three different reporters he wanted to further relax the FCC’s involvement in cable pricing. (McClintock, Pamela, “Powell: No Cable Coin Crisis” Variety, April 30, 2001; Hearn, Ted. “Powell: Value Matters in Cable Rates,” Multichannel News, March 13, 2002; Powell Press Conference, February 8, 2001; Dreazen, Yochi. “FCC Chairman Signals Change, Plans to Limit Intervention,” Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2001.)

cost_broadband_around_the_world_v2Economists reviewing data found in publicly available corporate balance sheets soon found evidence that the “increased programming costs”-excuse for rate increases did not hold water. The less competition or number of choices available to consumers in the market unambiguously lead to higher prices. It has remained true since Consumers’ Union revealed the financial trickery in 2003:

The cable industry will claim that programming costs are driving prices up. While programming costs have certainly risen, a close look at the numbers shows that rising program costs account for only a small part of the rising rates.

If costs were really the cause of rising prices, then the cable industries’ operating margins – the difference between its revenues and costs — would not be rising. The facts are just the opposite. Operating margins have been increasing dramatically since 1997. The operating margin for the industry as a whole will reach $18.8 billion per year in 2002, $7 billion more than it was in 1997. Operating revenues per subscriber have increased dramatically over that period, from $208 per year to $273. That is, after taking out all the operating costs, including programming costs, cable operators have increased their take per subscriber by over 30 percent.

[...] The ability of cable operators to raise rates and increase revenues, even with rising programming costs, stems from the market power they have at the point of sale. They would not be able to raise prices and pass program price increases through if they did not have monopoly power.

Consumers’ Union also foreshadows what will happen if another wave of industry consolidation takes hold the way it did over a decade earlier:

While the cable industry has certainly increased capital expenditures to upgrade its plants, it has actually sunk a lot more capital into another activity – mergers and acquisitions.

It is the outrageous prices that have been paid to buy each other out and consolidate the industry that is helping to drive the rate increases. Between 1998, when the first mega merger between cable operators was announced, and 2001, when the last big merger was announced, cable companies spent over a quarter of a trillion dollars buying each other out. In those four years, they spent almost six times as much on mergers and acquisitions as they did on capital expenditures to upgrade their systems. At the same time, the average price paid per subscriber more than doubled.

countries_with_high_speed_broadbandWhen a cable operator pays such an outrageous price, the previous owner is reaping the financial rewards of his monopoly power. The acquiring company can only pay such a high price by assuming that his monopoly power will allow him to continue to increase prices. Monopoly power is being bought and sold and borrowed against. The new cable operator, who has paid for market power, may insist that the debt he has incurred to obtain it is a real cost on his books. That may be correct in the literal sense (he owes someone that money) but that does not make it right, or the abuse of market power legal.

Fast-forwarding to 2014, economist and Temple professor Joel Maxcy said the same basic economic truths still exist today with Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable.

“My concern is the merger and the consolidation of the cable and internet delivery system for consumers and what will happen to internet and cable rates and choices,” Maxcy said, voicing his hesitancy about a deal that merges the nation’s two largest cable providers. “As that industry has gotten more consolidated over time, we have seen rates go up. The answer from them is that we’ve got more choices. Are we better off or not better off? I don’t know, but certainly rates have gone up at a much faster rate than the inflation rate. The result of more monopoly power is always higher prices and less choices and it seems that this merger moves in that direction.”

“The threat from non-network content providers is a concern for the cable industry,” Maxcy added.

“We’re moving to a situation where we don’t need cable, but we still need the internet and the cable companies are the ones that have control of that,” he said. “Consolidating them together makes them more competitive against the outside forces, but the other argument makes the whole thing less competitive so they’ll have more ability to control the access to Netflix, YouTube and the like. People that may develop other similar sorts of services will have a hard time getting the access they would like to purchase those.”

Chris Stigall spoke with economist and Temple professor Joel Maxcy on Talk Radio 1210 WPHT in Philadelphia about Comcast’s attempt to purchase Time Warner Cable and what that means for consumers. Feb. 18, 2014 (12:10)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Philadelphia Customers Launch Revolt Against Comcast’s 15-Year Franchise Renewal

cap comcastComcast customers in Philadelphia are organizing to stop the cable company from winning a 15-year franchise renewal to continue providing service in the city unless the cable operator changes its ways after years of rate increases and poor customer service.

CAP Comcast! argues Comcast is not paying its fair share and is not a good corporate citizen in the city.

“Comcast has outsized power in a Philadelphia still suffering under economic crisis,” says the group. While the company charges some of the highest cable rates in the country, it has successfully earned $64 billion in revenue and an extremely low corporate tax bill.

“During the last franchise negotiation, Philadelphia elected officials and appointed leaders secured important resources for our city, including funds for public access television, and about $17 million a year for Philadelphia’s general fund,” said Bryan Mercer, co-executive director at Media Mobilizing Project. “But since that time, Philadelphia has shuttered over 20 schools and slashed services that our communities need.  Comcast pays less than 4% in corporate tax revenue, in a state where the average is almost 10%. And they’re getting $40 million in subsidies for their new planned building. If Comcast wants a chance to profit from our communities, Philadelphia should ensure Comcast pays their fair share, or invite other communications companies to serve our city.”

Among the group’s key arguments:

“Comcast accesses our streets – our public rights of way – to sell cable and other services in Philadelphia,” said Hannah Sassaman, policy director at Media Mobilizing Project. “At the same time, they are earning huge profits here and nationally, and planning to merge with Time-Warner Cable.  Comcast has lobbied to stop City Council from passing bills that would expand paid sick days to hundreds of thousands of workers who don’t have them, and their executives have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Governor Corbett, who has cut over a billion dollars from Pennsylvania education.

CAP Comcast! is asking for a five-year rate freeze for Comcast services while increasing broadband speeds and access to all Philadelphians. It also seeks fair treatment for Public, Educational, and Government access channels, expanded affordable Internet access without pre-conditions, involvement in solving local community problems, support of worker rights, and an end to passing along the cost of the franchise fee to customers.

The group has a petition on its website.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Comcast Tell Comcast to Pay Its Fair Share 5-2014.mp4

CAP Comcast! produced this video introducing its campaign to prevent another 15 year franchise for Comcast in Philadelphia unless the company changes its ways. (2:51)

Comcast’s Spring Cleaning: More Rate Hikes, X1 Boxes, Wireless Gateways and Usage Caps

speed increaseComcast will increase capital spending in the first half of 2014 to hasten the rollout of its advanced X1 set-top boxes and new wireless gateways that provide public Wi-Fi from customer homes.

Comcast told investors Tuesday its increased spending will likely be offset by increased earnings from more subscribers and room for further price hikes over the course of the year.

First quarter consolidated revenue increased 13.7% to $17.4 billion over the past three months. Almost $11 billion of that comes from Comcast’s cable business. The company boosted cable earnings by 5.3% in the first quarter. Most of that came from a 4.5% increase in the average customer’s cable bill. Comcast subscribers, on average, pay $134 per month. They will pay even more by the end of the year.

Although Comcast’s head of its cable division Neil Smit noted the company implemented lower rate increases during the first quarter, there is room to boost prices further.

“I wouldn’t read any trends into it,” Smit said. “We took rate increases across the smaller percentage of our footprint this quarter than last year as well, but we target different offers to different customers and I don’t think we’re seeing it topping out. In the competitive arena, the offers are in the same ballpark, the promo prices go up and down, but the destination pricing is fairly similar across these various competitors.”

Roberts

Roberts

Comcast continued to buck cord-cutting trends and added 24,000 new video customers in the quarter, a major improvement over the 25,000 it lost at the same time last year. Comcast believes its new X1 platform and aggressive customer retention efforts are responsible for winning and keeping cable television customers. Ongoing speed enhancements in Comcast’s broadband division won the company 383,000 new Internet customers in the last three months. Broadband is Comcast’s biggest money-maker, and revenues increased a further 9% during the quarter owing to customer growth, rate hikes, and customers choosing higher-speed tiers. By the end of the quarter, 38% of Comcast’s residential customers subscribed to at least 50Mbps service, showing growing demand for higher speed Internet.

Sources tell Stop the Cap! Comcast intends to further expand its trial of usage caps (Comcast prefers to call them “usage thresholds”) to more markets this year. Comcast has settled on 300GB usage allowances for most broadband products in current test markets, charging $10 for each additional allotment of 50GB as an overlimit fee. Comcast has avoided trials of usage caps in areas where Verizon FiOS delivers significant competition. Verizon has no usage caps on either their DSL or fiber broadband products.

Comcast also picked up 142,000 new phone customers in the quarter, mostly from those subscribing to aggressively priced triple play service bundle promotions. Around 155,000 new triple play customers signed up over the last three months.

At the end of the first quarter, 68% of Comcast customers took at least two products and 36% took three products, compared to 33% at the end of last year’s first quarter.

Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, said there were several factors that fueled Comcast’s growth during the quarter, starting with its advanced X1 set-top box platform, which offers a better television experience and makes finding things to watch easier. If customers have an X1, Roberts told investors, they are less likely to drop cable television service.

X1

X1

“These positive early results reinforce our decision to accelerate our X1 deployment this year, and we are now adding 15,000 to 20,000 X1 boxes per day, which is double our rate of deployment from just six months ago,” Roberts told analysts. “Additionally, we are now rolling out a new XFINITY TV app, which enables our customers to live stream virtually their entire television lineup on any IP device in the home and watch DVR recordings in the home or on the go.”

Although usage caps remain controversial, Comcast has been aggressive about increasing broadband speeds at least once a year.

“In broadband, we recently increased speeds again for the 13th time in 12 years,” Roberts offered. “Doubling speeds in our Blast products to 105Mbps, while our Extreme tier moved up to 150Mbps for customers in the northeast. And we’re not stopping there. Our focus on wireless gateway deployment is adding utility to our customers while at the same time helping us create the largest Wi-Fi footprint in the U.S. with over one million public Wi-Fi hotspots currently available to our customers.”

xfinitylogoAlthough Comcast’s first quarter capital expenditures increased $51 million (or 4.6%) to $1.1 billion (10.6% of cable revenue versus 10.7% in the first quarter of 2013), the cable company returned even more money to shareholders. In the first quarter, the company boosted return of capital by 35% to $1.3 billion. Comcast repurchased its own shares of stock totaling $750 million and paid $508 million in dividends for the quarter.

In 2014, Comcast will invest 14% of cable revenue (compared to 12.9% in 2013) to accelerate the deployment of X1 and wireless gateways, increase network capacity and continue to invest in expansion of business services and XFINITY Home. But it will spend far more than that placating shareholders. If Comcast wins support to buy Time Warner Cable, Comcast intends to increase its stock repurchase plan by $2.5 billion. The company earlier committed it would spend $3 billion on repurchasing its own shares, for an expected total of $5.5 billion during 2014.

When a company repurchases its own shares, it reduces the number of shares held by the public. That in turn means that if profits remain the same, the earnings per share increase. It also boosts the value of the massive portfolios of Comcast stock held by executives as part of their compensation packages.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Comcast Introducing the X1 Platform from XFINITY 4-14.mp4

Comcast produced this video showing off its X1 platform and new set-top boxes. (1:47)

Cogeco Won’t Lower Your Bill; Warns Customers Not to Be “Victims” of Landline Cutting

Phillip Dampier April 14, 2014 Canada, Cogeco, Competition, Consumer News No Comments

cogecoDespite growing competition from Bell’s fiber-to-the-neighborhood service Fibe, now expanding into many of Cogeco’s outer suburban service areas, Cogeco will not negotiate a better deal for customers, preferring to emphasize its customer service and “right-sizing” bundles of services to best meet customer needs.

As a result of higher prices, Cogeco’s earnings and profits are up for the second quarter of 2014. In the quarter profits rose to $58.5 million — up from $48.9 million during the same quarter a year ago. Revenue rose to $518.4 million from $458.5 million.

“We don’t like competing on price,” said Cogeco CEO Louis Audet said. “I’m not saying it’s zero, but we really don’t like competing on price.”

Audet

Audet

Customers have been offered sign up discounts from Cogeco’s most aggressive competitor on pricing – Bell. But when customers in parts of Ontario and Quebec call Cogeco to negotiate for a lower price, they are largely being turned down.

Audet said Cogeco instead emphasizes that customers will receive better customer service from the cable company, and customer retention specialists are trained to adjust packages to emphasize the services customers want without cutting their cost.

“It’s a right-sizing exercise,” Audet said. “Maybe the person wants a little less video, but they want higher Internet speeds.”

Cogeco isn’t winning the battle to keep its price-sensitive customers, however. The company lost 10,305 subscribers in the second quarter, nearly double the amount lost in the same quarter a year ago. Cogeco now serves 1.96 million Canadian cable television customers.

Customers are also dropping their Cogeco phone service, a decision Audet said makes them “victims” of cell phones. Cogeco permanently disconnected 6,000 landlines in the quarter, up from 5,550 a year ago. It still serves 473,000 phone customers.

The company lost almost 6,000 telephone customers in the quarter compared with additions of 5,550 in the same quarter last year. It had more than 473,000 residential phone customers left.

Despite the customer losses, rate increases more than made up for lost revenue, giving the company a nearly $10 million boost in profits during the second quarter alone.

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

Phillip Dampier April 7, 2014 Competition, Consumer News 10 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.

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.

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)

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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  • Ernesto Honez: Was that a confirmed and signed "contract"? Was it verbal? Was it sent out in a letter as bulk mailing, or with a first class stamp? Was it's delivery...
  • Matt: I just got off the phone with AT&T. I called saying that I found a promotion through Time Warner for $34.99 for 15 mbps and I am trying to cut dow...
  • Phillip Dampier: It first went to a handful of test markets in upstate New York (not Rochester) and then has been redesignated as a feature enhancement in Maxx markets...
  • Steve Rea: Any idea when the new DVR is coming to Rochester? I remember a story you posed over 2 years ago from the CEO of TWC at the time! saying it was comi...
  • AustinTX: James, my suggestion would be to switch to TWC rental modems, and fry 2-3 of them over the course of several weeks by running 24v AC into the coax con...
  • Dragos: For 1Gbps in Romania we pay around 12 EUR (VAT included - 24%). http://www.rcs-rds.ro/internet-digi-net/fiberlink?t=internet-fix&pachet=digi_ne...
  • James R Curry: Hey, Phillip - While not related to Comcast directly -- I rent my modem from TWC, and while I'd rather buy one outright, there's one big factor ...
  • Sean: I believe that there are issues intermixing DOSCIS 2/3 modems on a node. It's been about 5 years since I've worked with a CMTS so I am by no means an...
  • AustinTX: Yep, this isn't about "your old modem isn't capable of the wonderful new speeds we're providing to your service tier", it's about "we know your custom...
  • MJ Lee: This is strange. I did get a letter from Time Warner saying my apartment was qualified for Time Warner Cable Maxx, but when I applied for it, I got an...
  • Tim: You know this is overstating the case ... unlimited data adsl2 plans are available from $60 in Australia. Average price is about $90...
  • Phillip Dampier: I think 10/Gbps is available in the USA as well, on an obscenely expensive metro Ethernet or commercial fiber link provisioned by a telecom company. ...

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