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Spectrum Launches Gigabit Upgrades Across Upstate New York, Dozens of Other Cities

Charter Communications today launched gigabit broadband upgrades across dozens of U.S. cities, including almost all of upstate New York, excluding Buffalo, and large parts of Texas, Ohio, California, and Virginia.

With the latest upgrades, customers in these cities are also getting speed bumps for Spectrum’s Internet Ultra package, which will now offer speeds of 400/20 Mbps. Customers can visit Spectrum.com to review their local speed options. Upgrades to the Ultra tier usually carry no service charges, but moving to gigabit speed will come at a cost — a mandatory $199 installation fee, with a service call required.

Some customers may need to swap out or replace their existing cable modems to take full advantage of 400+ Mbps speeds. A list of modems authorized for use on Spectrum’s network along with the speeds they support can be found here.

In other cities where Charter has already launched gigabit service, customers with Standard 100 Mbps internet plans also received a free upgrade to 200/10 Mbps, but readers report that speed upgrade has not yet taken place in areas launching gigabit service today:

  • Arizona: Yuma
  • California: Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Diego, El Centro
  • Kentucky: Louisville, Bowling Green, and Paducah
  • Massachusetts: Boston (Suburbs)
  • Nebraska: Lincoln, Omaha
  • New York: Binghamton, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Elmira/Corning, Utica, and Watertown
  • North Carolina: Greensboro, Wilmington, and Greenville
  • Ohio: Dayton, Cincinnati, Youngstown, Lima
  • Pennsylvania: Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh
  • Tennessee: Tri-Cities, Chattanooga, and Knoxville
  • Texas: Dallas/Fort Worth, Waco, El Paso, Beaumont/Port Arthur, and Wichita Falls
  • Virginia: Roanoke/Lynchburg, Norfolk (Suburbs) and Tri-Cities
  • Wisconsin: Milwaukee, Green Bay/Appleton

For most customers, here is Spectrum’s current broadband pricing (new customer promotions may offer significantly lower rates and bundled pricing may differ):

  • $64.99 Spectrum Internet Standard 100/10 Mbps (will eventually be upgraded to 200/10 Mbps)
  • $54.99 Spectrum Internet Standard 100/10 Mbps with Spectrum TV (will eventually be upgraded to 200/10 Mbps)
  • $89.99 Spectrum Internet Ultra (400/20 Mbps)
  • $79.99 Spectrum Internet Ultra (400/20 Mbps)
  • $124.99 Spectrum Internet Gig (940/35 Mbps)
  • $114.99 Spectrum Internet Gig (940/35 Mbps) with Spectrum TV

Spectrum Satisfaction Ratings Dive on “Take It Or Leave It Pricing” Post Time Warner Cable

Phillip Dampier April 23, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 1 Comment

Charter Communications’ takeover of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks has not proved popular, according to a new survey from Temkin Group.

The cable operator received rock bottom scores among customers frustrated about how Charter handles its acquired customers, especially those facing a transition to Spectrum plans and pricing. Customers have filled the company’s own forums with complaints about rate increases for newly required equipment or cable television plan changes that force customers to upgrade to win back channels deleted from their long-standing Time Warner Cable or Bright House lineups.

Customer dissatisfaction about the changes was picked up in Temkin Group’s 2018 Temkin Experience Ratings, U.S., published in March.

Just 35% of Charter/Spectrum customers were emotionally satisfied after interacting with Spectrum, the third worst performing company among the 318 surveyed across 20 different industries. Spectrum saw a ratings drop of 8.2% from 2017-2018, the worst performance decline among all TV and internet service providers,  according to Temkin’s survey.

Spectrum also scored just 57% on the “effort” metric, which measures how difficult it was to interact with the company to resolve a problem. Only 51% reported satisfaction with the ability of Spectrum to resolve their concern or problem, putting Spectrum on Temkin’s “Bottom 50 Organizations” — 312th best performer out of 318 companies. (Comcast, Cox, and Altice-Optimum actually performed slightly worse.)

Temken explains the root cause for perennially poor ratings of cable and phone companies: they often have a monopoly.

“There are some industries that have habitually poor customer experience,” Temken explains. “In many of the cases, these problem stems from some form of monopolistic power. TV service providers and internet service providers have carved out regions and have limited competition.”

This marks the eighth year Temkin has published its Temkin Experience Ratings, generated from compiling the results of a survey of 10,000 U.S. consumers about their recent interactions with 318 significant U.S. companies. Temkin measures three dimensions of a customer’s experience:

  • Success: To what degree were customers able to accomplish what they wanted to do after a recent interaction with a company.
  • Effort: How easy was it to interact with the company.
  • Emotion: How did the customer feel about those interactions.

The TV/internet service category has stood out in recent years for consistently delivering rock bottom ratings — the worst of Temkin’s surveyed industries. Only health insurance companies come close to the dismal ratings phone and cable companies deliver year after year.

Much of the decline in Spectrum’s rating is attributed to an increase in the negative emotions customers experienced after interacting with the company. In the last year, the company has adopted a much firmer position on pricing and packages that customers criticize as “take it or leave it pricing.” Spectrum also recently scaled up digital television conversion in many legacy Time Warner Cable markets, with many customers paying for new set-top boxes to continue receiving cable television service on all televisions in the home. The company has also frustrated early and enthusiastic adopters of broadband speed upgrades with compulsory upgrade fees as high as $199.

Based on Temkin’s four customer experience core competencies, it seems like Charter is mired at the first stage of what Temkin calls ‘Customer Experience Maturity’:

Stage One — Ignore: Organization does not focus on customer experience management and does not view customer experience as a core part of its value proposition.

The best performers in Temken’s annual study were supermarkets, which took five of the top 11 spots. The top-rated company in the 2018 study was Wegmans, a privately held supermarket chain operating in the northeastern U.S. Other top scorers included H-E-B, Publix, Aldi, Wawa, Citizens Bank, USAA, Subway, and Ace Hardware.

Renting? You May Lose “Free” Spectrum Cable TV Over Contract Disputes

Phillip Dampier March 28, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News, Video No Comments

No TV for you until you sign here.

Charter Communications is asking owners of apartment complexes, nursing homes, independent living/assisted care residences, and hotel and motel owners to sign new agreements allowing Spectrum to lock owners into a 10-year contract that includes a provision allowing retroactive rate increases and a requirement to turn over personal information on every resident to the cable company.

A number of apartment complexes bundle “free cable TV” into the lease as a selling point for renters. Others pay a discounted rate that is part of a resident’s monthly rent payment or service fee. These agreements are part of the murky world of “bulk service contracts” for cable service, and disputes between a property owner and Spectrum can cause the loss of cable service for every resident without warning.

Most of the disputes involve apartment complexes, assisted-living facilities, and hotels/motels formerly served by Time Warner Cable. Most are still under relatively short-term contracts with Time Warner Cable, which was acquired in 2016 by Charter Communications. Good Shepherd Fairview Nursing Home in Binghamton, N.Y. and Good Shepherd Communities, a senior living center in Endwell, N.Y., are good examples.

Mike Keenan has been involved in long-term senior care for 30 years, and over that time he has negotiated hundreds of contracts. But as WICZ in Binghamton reports, nothing prepared him for dealing with Spectrum and Charter Communications.

Good Shepherd Village is a senior living center in Endwell, N.Y.

Charter is using its ongoing digital conversion program as a tool to force “bulk contract” holders to sign new agreements with Charter Communications, often replacing still-valid contracts with Time Warner Cable. Many are not happy about the new terms Charter is offering, particularly one that locks them in with Spectrum service for the next decade and another that allows the cable company to raise rates retroactively.

Those unwilling to sign new contracts have been threatened with service being shut off, usually as digital conversion and TV signal encryption reaches their area, which requires new equipment to keep watching. Those complex owners that still refuse to sign are required to share each tenant’s personal details and address with the cable company.

“Spectrum had taken the position that even though we had a contract in force until December 2018 that we needed to sign a new contract immediately,” said Keenan, president and CEO of Good Shepherd Communities. “If not, they threatened that we would lose service at our Good Shepherd Fairview in Binghamton location and our Good Shepherd Villages at our Endwell location.”

Charter was true to its word. Efforts to negotiate obtaining digital adapters or set-top boxes under the old Time Warner Cable contract failed and with no warning, all 161 nursing home residents at Good Shepherd Fairview lost their cable television on Feb. 27. Two weeks later, 264 residents at Good Shepherd Village — the senior living center — also lost their television and internet service.

The loss was devastating to residents, especially at the nursing home.

“Many of the residents are frail, some of them may be bedridden and their TV means everything to them,” Keenan said.

Keenan’s contract with Time Warner Cable was still valid, and its terms made it clear as long as Good Shepherd kept their payments current, they were owed service that Charter ultimately took away from hundreds of residents.

Apartment complex owners around the country are reviewing new contracts from Charter Communications and many are dropping “free cable TV” after decades of offering the service as an amenity included in the rent. Many who are ending their contracts believe a growing number of tenants neither need or want traditional cable service.

The deal-breaker for many is Charter’s insistence on offering a bulk discount only if the entire building signs up for service, which means owners will have to pay out-of-pocket for Spectrum service in vacant units or in apartments where the tenant has service with another provider.

WICZ in Binghamton, N.Y. reports Charter Communications used nursing home residents as pawns to force the hand of a nursing home manager to sign a new Spectrum contract, even though the current one with Time Warner Cable has not expired. (3:11)

Keenan

“Let’s say you’re paying for Spectrum” – the brand name for Charter’s service – “for 100 percent of the units,” attorney Tara Snow, a partner at Novitt, Sahr & Snow, told Habitat. “You may have 90 or 95 percent of the apartments signing up, but you always have some units that don’t.”

That leaves someone on the hook, either tenants or the property owner, to pay for cable service that nobody is watching. Under Time Warner Cable just a few years ago, the cable company would pay a co-op, condo association, or apartment owner an upfront cash bonus and ongoing “revenue-share fees” for getting a majority of residents — but not all — to sign up for service. It also allowed the company to market holdouts door to door.

No such luck with Charter, which wants to be paid for every unit no matter who is at home. For property owners staying loyal to Spectrum, some are absorbing the extra costs while others pass them on to tenants as part of their rent or monthly maintenance/service surcharges. A few are trying cost sharing arrangements that divide up the total bill equally among all tenants. But as younger renters move in and increasingly show no interest in cable television, the dwindling number who have cable are paying more and more to cover those that don’t.

“People are cord-cutting,” says Brian Scally, vice president of Garthchester Realty, a management firm. “Most people who still want cable want to select their own cable/internet/telephone provider.”

Of the 64 properties he manages, Scally told Habitat fewer than a dozen have signed up for a bulk rate, and those deals were signed years ago.

“I haven’t brought anybody new to bulk rate,” he says.

The other deal breaker for many is Spectrum’s 10-year contract, which locks owners in with a cable company a lot of tenants despise.

As a result, a growing number of apartment complexes and condos are terminating their bulk cable contracts as they expire, and have no intention of renewing under Charter’s draconian terms. Affected tenants are informed the “free” cable television they were receiving is ending and they should make individual arrangements with Spectrum to maintain service going forward.

Hotel and motel owners are also finding fault with Charter Communications, and some are taking their disputes to the Federal Communications Commission.

Yvonne Peach, who owns the Historic Coronado Motor Hotel in Yuma, Ariz., says dealing with Charter has been a nightmare since the merger.

After Charter converted commercial Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers to Spectrum plans and pricing, she lost service to all of her motel rooms for more than a week.

Historic Coronado Motor Hotel – Yuma, Ariz. (Image courtesy of owner)

“When they did the change over we didn’t have any cable TV in the hotel for 12 days,” Peach told KYMA-TV.

Spectrum advised her best solution would be to install leased set-top boxes in the hotel’s 126 rooms, a solution she claims caused even more problems. It seems Spectrum’s equipment doesn’t appreciate Yuma’s southwest Arizona heat, and the boxes regularly fail when air conditioning is switched off in unoccupied rooms.

“We’ve had over 100 of them replaced probably in the last I don’t how many months,” she said. “It’s a box that if the room isn’t rented every night it becomes deactivated.”

Those paying to stay in the motel are not happy to reach their rooms and find the television isn’t working either.

“We’ve lost thousands of dollars with people that would move out because of no TV in their room,” Peach said. “It comes and it will say dial an 800 number or something. But you know the guest. They are paying a certain amount for the room and they’re not going to call.”

KYMA-TV in Yuma, Ariz. reports Charter told this hotel owner her cable boxes were not working because they are not being kept air-conditioned. (2:29)

Spectrum ignores her complaints, she claims, transferring her from call center to call center in search of a solution. She finally took her complaint to the FCC, something she does not think should be required after paying the company $1,600 a month for cable television.

In response, Spectrum blamed the lack of air conditioning for its box failures, in addition to the “relocation of the digital adapters by hotel staff, which are dedicated to a particular room on the account.”

In other words, if you move equipment between hotel rooms, Spectrum claims that equipment will deauthorize. Spectrum effectively wants motel guests placed in rooms where their cable equipment is still functioning, preferably where air conditioning is left running.

“If you’ve been driving all day and you get in your pajamas and you’re ready for bed and you’re watching TV and the TV doesn’t work, do you want to move to another room without complaining? No, nobody does,” said Peach.

In upstate New York, heat isn’t a significant problem, but having a bulk account representative in Rochester, 2.5 hours away by car from Binghamton is. The representative did not understand Binghamton and Endwell are two different communities about seven miles apart.

“This whole thing could have been avoided,” Keenan said. He called the New York Public Service Commission to complain and within a day multiple Spectrum trucks arrived loaded with set-top boxes — one per residence, potentially finally resolving the dispute, but not the bad feelings that emerged as a result.

“Time Warner Cable was saying ‘we need our customers,’” Keenan said. “The experience I have had with Spectrum is Spectrum is saying ‘you need me.’”

WICZ-TV follows up the next day with this report explaining why it is important to stay wary of cable companies offering long contracts. (1:09)

Charter Raises Earthlink’s Legacy Grandfathered Broadband Rates

Phillip Dampier March 27, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Earthlink 10 Comments

Charter Communications is raising rates for its dwindling number of Earthlink customers still subscribed to Earthlink’s legacy internet plans in an effort to avoid Spectrum’s entry-level $65 internet service.

Charter has started to notify customers grandfathered on an Earthlink plan that they are going to be gradually stepping rates up, starting with a $5 increase. Stop the Cap! reader Christopher Rzatkiewicz shared a copy of the bad news on his recent Spectrum bill.

Charter Communications terminated its agreement allowing Earthlink to sell its service over its cable broadband network after completing its merger deal with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. That left an undetermined number of Earthlink customers paying $41.95 a month for Standard Earthlink 15/1 Mbps service, considerably cheaper than Time Warner Cable’s identical, $59.99 15/1 Mbps plan.

This last loophole allowed some customers to avoid switching to Spectrum’s more costly $65 entry-level 100/10 Mbps plan (200 Mbps in select areas). But now Spectrum is gradually taking away Earthlink’s price advantage. The new rate is $46.95 a month, and is likely to continue increasing in similar increments at least twice a year, until its price reaches about $60.

To help convince customers still holding on to older service plans to switch to Spectrum plans and pricing, Charter will continue raising rates on older legacy plans from Time Warner Cable, Bright House, and Earthlink to remove any price advantages those plans may have originally had. That will allow Charter to eventually claim its plans are always cheaper and better.

Charter Communications/Spectrum Standard Broadband Plans

  • $46.95 Earthlink Standard¹ (15/1 Mbps)
  • $59.99 Time Warner Cable Standard² (15/1 Mbps)
  • $44.99 Spectrum Standard New Customer 1-Year Promotion³ (100/10 Mbps⁴)
  • $65 Spectrum Standard for Existing Customers (100/10 Mbps⁴)

¹ Earthlink service is no longer available to Charter/Spectrum customers. If you cancel your grandfathered Earthlink plan, you cannot return to this plan in the future.
² Time Warner Cable internet service is grandfathered and no longer available to new customers. If you switch to a Spectrum plan, you cannot return to a Time Warner Cable plan.
³ To qualify as a new customer, either cancel service in your name and enroll as a new customer under another household member’s name or cancel existing service and wait 30 days to re-qualify as a new customer.
⁴ This plan offers 200 Mbps download speed in select areas.

Charter Communications Facing $1 Million Fine and NYC Franchise Revocation

The Chair of the New York State Public Service Commission announced today that the Commission is seeking a possible revocation of Charter Communication’s franchise to serve New York City and a $1 million fine payable to New York State for failing to meet its network buildout obligations agreed to as part of its 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable.

“It is critically important that regulated companies strictly adhere to the state’s rules and regulations,” said Commission chair John B. Rhodes. “If a regulated entity like Charter’s cable business decides to violate or ignore the rules, we will take swift action and hold them accountable to the full extent of the law.”

The most serious potential consequence is the revocation of Charter’s franchise agreement with New York City, which would force the cable operator out of the most important media market in the country. The Commission has opened an official proceeding to investigate whether Charter has tried to achieve its network expansion targets by using addresses in New York City where the company was allegedly already offering service or should have been.

Is Charter Meeting its Buildout Obligations in New York?

One of the key requirements Charter had to meet in New York in return for approval of its buyout of Time Warner Cable was an expansion of its cable footprint to at least 145,000 additional New York homes or businesses over a four-year buildout period. These “passings” — where service would be available for the first time, had to be in areas where the company was not already compelled to offer service through its existing franchise agreements. This requirement was designed to overcome the cable company’s traditional objections to servicing a location because of inadequate Return On Investment. A detailed audit performed by the Commission discovered more than 14,000 ineligible passings included by Charter in its December milestone report. Once these addresses were disqualified, Charter fall short of its obligation by more than 8,000 passings. As a result, this triggers an automatic $1 million fine, payable each time Charter fails to meet its agreed-upon buildout milestones.

New York City officials were concerned that Charter’s most recent milestone report asserted the cable company expanded service to 12,467 addresses in New York City, despite an existing franchise agreement with the city that included requirements that would guarantee those addresses either already had or should have had cable service available. If those allegations are proven true, Charter attempted to meet its buildout obligations by fudging the numbers.

“Metropolitan NYC is one of the most-wired cities in America and the world, and essentially, 100% of the NYC areas are served by one or more 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) wireline providers
such as Verizon FiOS, Cablevision, RCN, and Charter itself,” the Commission wrote.

The PSC’s staff conducted detailed reviews of 490 of those addresses claimed by Charter as having cable service available for the first time. None of them were found to be valid for inclusion in Charter’s service expansion reports, either because they were already serviced by Charter’s network or received service from a competing provider offering at least 100 Mbps service, or both.

In two instances, the staff found Charter was claiming new service expansion in buildings clearly already covered by the city’s existing franchise agreement.

“In a more egregious example, Charter also listed the Reuters Building as countable toward the December 2017 target in Charter’s January 2018 filing, which has a listed address of 3 Times Square,” the PSC wrote. “Staff could not find any photos of the building prior to 2014 beside aerial views, but construction was completed in 2001, well before the effective date of the current franchise agreements.”

In either case, Charter may be stuck between a rock and a hard place. If the company argues it did, in fact, provision cable service only recently, Charter probably materially breached its franchise agreement with the city, providing immediate grounds to begin franchise revocation proceedings under PSL §227.11. If Charter argues instead it was in compliance with its franchise agreement and did in fact already offer cable service to those addresses, Charter would be subject to an investigation about why it misled the regulator by claiming those locations as “new passings” when they were not.

Franchise Fee Dispute

A second controversy involves the amounts of franchise fee payments payable to New York City. City officials claim those payments have declined year-over-year since Charter completed its merger with Time Warner Cable.

Rhodes

A decline in franchise fee payments could be the result of cord-cutting, which has taken its toll on cable TV subscriptions at almost every cable company in the country. The fewer cable TV subscribers, the more likely revenue declines are going to occur, which in turn cuts franchise fee payments.

Charter Communications’ business model is also a departure from its predecessor, Time Warner Cable. In addition to ending many pricing promotions, Charter also stopped marketing stripped down, budget-conscious television packages. Many customers also faced dramatic rate increases as a result of Charter’s new bundled TV packages, which in some cases required customers to pay substantially more to keep all the channels included in their original Time Warner Cable package. As a result, many customers changed providers. Others decided to “cut the cord” and drop television service altogether while retaining broadband. The franchise fee does not apply to internet or phone service — just television.

Still, the PSC wants to audit Charter’s books to verify the company’s accounting has not departed from Time Warner Cable’s interpretation of the franchise fee agreement and unfairly undercut the city.

Charter has been given 21 days to respond with clear and convincing evidence it is not in violation of its franchise agreement with New York City or its merger obligations with New York State. If the Commission does not receive satisfactory evidence by the deadline, it is likely to begin hearings on whether Charter has committed material breaches of its agreements serious enough to warrant fines and/or franchise revocation.

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