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Google Fiber Prices Announced in Austin: No Surprises – 5/1Mbps Free, 1Gbps $70/Month

Phillip Dampier November 25, 2014 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Google Fiber 5 Comments

google fiberAustin residents will receive Google Fiber service under three rate plans: $70 for 1,000/1,000Mbps or 5/1Mbps at no charge after paying a $300 construction fee. A package including television costs $130 a month.

Google Fiber announced its prices this week in anticipation of a December launch in the capital city of Texas. But Google Fiber will arrive with at least two competitors beating them to the gigabit space: Grande Communications and AT&T.

Austin is the first city in the country to have three concurrent gigabit providers. Only Time Warner Cable has elected to sit out the city’s gigabit broadband fight. Google Fiber is expected to face stiffer competition in Austin than in Kansas City and Provo, where it also operates gigabit fiber networks. AT&T U-verse with GigaPower matches Google’s $70 price and San Marcos-based Grande Communications beats it, charging $64.99 for its 1,000Mbps service.

Google is sweetening the deal by converting the former home of a children’s museum into a “Fiber Space,” a community center at 201 Colorado Street – hosting concerts, community meetings, and clubs, in addition to showcasing Google’s fiber network.

As with AT&T’s gigabit U-verse upgrade, only a limited number of residents in Austin will initially be able to get the new fiber service. Google is initially lighting up areas in south and southeastern Austin. For some, the wait to eventually sign up could take up to several years as Google slowly builds out its network in the city of 885,000 people.

Merger Live or Die, Time Warner CEO Robert Marcus Cashes In: Nets $2.3 Million in Stock Sale

Phillip Dampier November 24, 2014 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 1 Comment
Marcus

Marcus

Time Warner Cable CEO Robert D. Marcus is a winner if he stays CEO of an independent Time Warner Cable or an even bigger winner if his efforts to sell the company to Comcast are eventually successful with regulators.

Marcus will enjoy a Thanksgiving holiday with his money — including an extra $2,272,320 he just won from a sale of 16,000 awarded shares of Time Warner Cable stock, sold at an average price of $142.02 a share on the open market.

He still has plenty of Time Warner Cable stock left — 61,281 shares worth nearly $9 million. If Time Warner Cable is ultimately sold to Comcast as he hopes, Marcus will walk away from the company after less than one year as its CEO with a golden parachute package worth at least $80 million.

The Trauma Trinity: Comcast, Time Warner, Charter Now America’s Most-Hated Companies

ygbix_logoAmericans would rather deal with unwanted telemarketing calls, fight their insurance company, or pay top dollar for oil and gas because almost anything is better than dealing with the cable company, if it happens to be named Comcast, Time Warner Cable, or Charter.

As state and federal regulators contemplate allowing these three companies to co-mingle, Americans have bottom-rated them like never before in the most recent YouGov BrandIndex survey of consumer satisfaction.

Any number below 60 results in the failing grade of “F” and shame for all concerned. The three cable operators managed a grade of just 13.2, nearly twice worse than the next lowest scoring industry – wireless providers. The cable sector once again achieved the lowest scores among 43 rated industries and has sunk to a level reserved for a war criminal popularity contest.

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YouGov BrandIndex

Although Time Warner Cable’s scores were called “crap” by one consumer advocate reviewing the data, Comcast performed much worse, plummeting to new lows after customers related to the gone-viral recording of Ryan Block’s customer service call from hell. Block spent more than 20 minutes arguing with a cocky and insufferable customer service representative who repeatedly resisted Block’s efforts to cancel his service. It hit a familiar nerve with Comcast customers and the company took a major hit, according to Lance Fraenkel, head of client services for BrandIndex.

cable guy“That to me stands out as a major event over the last few months that has damaged the brand and category perception,” Fraenkel told The Huffington Post.

The proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, although well received by non-profit groups and politicians receiving Comcast contribution checks, is a dead on arrival proposition for average consumers. This allowed Charter, which typically rates about as popular as burnt popcorn, to achieve a new high in its perennially dismal consumer satisfaction score. It can take its “barely neutral” rating to the bank.

But it isn’t bad for everyone. Verizon FiOS in particular achieved top grades for service, with AT&T U-verse also doing better than the cable competition.

“If you have a couple brands in negative territory and the category average is still firmly positive, then you know that there are brands that perform well in the sector,” Fraenkel added.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable both acknowledged their lousy ratings, both promising to continue spending millions improving the customer service experience. Comcast has promised that annually since 2007 and its ratings continue to decline. Many blame offshore call centers and intransigent operators unwilling to depart from a script that emphasizes giving credits and refunds only as a last resort. Most complaining customers are offered temporary discounts on service upgrades, which eventually expire and result in an even higher bill.

Charter couldn’t be bothered responding to a call for a comment. When the alternative is DSL from Frontier, CenturyLink or Windstream, why should they?

Time Warner Cable Finishes Maxx Upgrades in NY, LA; Will Upgrade Only 7 Additional Areas in 2015

Phillip Dampier November 13, 2014 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 4 Comments

twcGreenTime Warner Cable has finished the rollout of TWC Maxx upgrades in New York and Los Angeles and will likely finish in Austin by the end of this year, delivering free broadband speed upgrades up to 300Mbps and a better television experience.

“Today marks an important milestone in Time Warner Cable’s commitment to provide our customers with best-in-class products and service,” said Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO Robert Marcus, in a release. “Every customer in our two largest markets now has access to the superfast Internet and new TV experience promised by TWC Maxx.  Faster speeds are also available to every customer in the Austin, Texas, market, and we’ve committed to reinvent the service experience in seven additional markets in 2015.”

Unless you live in Kansas City, Dallas, San Antonio, San Diego, Hawaii, Charlotte or Raleigh, there will likely be no reinvention of broadband service for you, with top speeds still “maxing” out at just 50/5Mbps at the beginning of 2016.

maxed outWhile Time Warner Cable customers have seen the company’s top premium speed stagnate at 50/5Mbps in many parts of upstate New York, South Carolina, western Ohio, and Maine for several years, TWC Maxx communities will see Standard Service speeds start at 50Mbps and rapidly increase from there. The differences in speed and price paid for broadband in Maxx markets vs. non-Maxx markets is staggering.

The average Time Warner Cable customer in Los Angeles will pay a promotional price of $35 a month for 50/5Mbps service. In upstate New York and other un-Maxxed areas, the price for that speed is $70 a month — twice as much.

Some customers in Los Angeles are being provided rent-free cable modems while subscribers in other cities continue to pay $6 a month.

There is speculation Time Warner Cable has set a conservative upgrade schedule for Maxx upgrades with the understanding the company will probably no longer exist long before the end of 2015, becoming a part of Comcast sometime early next year. Whether Comcast will continue the Maxx upgrade program is unknown, but it is doubtful — Time Warner’s maximum cable broadband speeds in Maxx markets are considerably faster than what Comcast offers most of its own customers.

 

Big Cable, Telcos Spent $42 Million In 2013-2014 Lobbying for Deregulation, Against Net Neutrality

AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and the cable industry’s chief lobbying group spent $42.8 million during the 2013-2014 election cycle to weigh in on issues including burying Net Neutrality, outlawing community broadband competition, winning tax breaks for themselves, and avoiding consumer protection regulations.

A Common Cause analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the Institute for Money in State Politics shows that the usual suspects poured money into political coffers on the state and federal level to influence lawmakers.

2014-contributions-from-net-1

On the federal level, murky party committees received the largest individual checks: a total of $862,223 for House and Senate Republicans and $552,605 for Democrats. Individual members of Congress also received their own contributions, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner ($98,175 from Comcast) and Democratic Senator Mark Pryor ($88,650 from Comcast, TWC, and National Cable and Telecom. Assn.) Pryor will need to spend his contributions quickly. He was de-elected by Arkansas voters last Tuesday.

Net Neutrality is a major topic on the minds of the cable and telco companies, as is ongoing deregulation and decommissioning rural landline service, and pushback on revelations AT&T and Verizon were only too happy to turn over your phone records to the federal government.

In the states, the bigger the issues coming up in the legislature, the bigger the campaign checks. In Florida, AT&T is the state’s single largest source of political donations, giving $1.53 million to state lawmakers in the past year and another $660,000 to Gov. Rick Scott (R) and his appointed heads of state agencies. AT&T is lobbying for eliminating Florida’s telecommunications tax, win the right to place cell towers wherever they wish without much interference from local officials, and further deregulation. Most of AT&T’s money goes into the hands of the state’s Republicans.

In New York and California, Democrats got a major chunk of money from Comcast and Time Warner Cable — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo received $60,800 each from both Comcast and Time Warner Cable (totaling $121,600). California Governor Jerry Brown received $54,400 from Time Warner Cable and $27,200 from Comcast. Both states are reviewing the merger of the two companies this year. AT&T and Verizon are also major donors – AT&T wants to dismantle the rural telephone network in California and Verizon is trying to convince the New York legislature to approve its own rural landline replacement – Voice Link. It also wants reduced scrutiny of its landline performance in New York and more access to New York City buildings where it faces resistance from property owners who want compensation from Verizon to install FiOS.

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New York Regulators Again Delay Final Decision on Comcast-Time Warner Merger

Stop the Cap! has learned the New York State Public Service Commission has again delayed its final decision on the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

The latest deadline the PSC will pass is Nov. 19, and the new deadline, accepted by both cable operators, is Dec. 31, 2014.

Sources tell us the multiple delays come as a result of regulators underestimating the complexity of the transaction and its potential impact on New York residents.

There is also an ongoing legal dispute over the possible public release of information both cable companies argue is proprietary and confidential. Public interest groups argue otherwise and consider details about current broadband subscriptions, future expansion plans, and the possible fate of Time Warner Cable’s $14.99 low price Internet plan worth sharing with New York residents.

Time Warner Cable Boosting Basic Broadband Speed from 3 to 6Mbps

Time Warner Cable is in the process of upgrading “Basic” broadband tier ($30-40 a month) customers from 3 to 6/1Mbps at no extra charge. You may have the upgraded speeds even if you haven’t received e-mail from Time Warner Cable yet. Follow the instructions below and check your speed:

basic speed

(Image courtesy: Rachel Barnhart)

A merger with Comcast will see Time Warner Cable customers forced to downgrade back to 3Mbps for Comcast’s basic “Economy Plus” service ($39.95/mo) or pay a higher Internet bill for Comcast’s 6Mbps Performance Starter plan ($49.95/mo). An $8 a month modem rental fee also applies, likely to rise to $10 by early 2015.

The Menace of the Unburied Line: Cable & Phone Companies Create Hazards for Homeowners

One Alabama customer found her fence the home of not one, but two artistically-managed Charter Cable lines serving her neighbors.

One Alabama customer found her fence the home of not one, but two artistically-Amanaged Charter Cable lines serving her neighbors.

All across the country, people are encountering communications wiring that belongs underground or on a utility pole, but is instead scattered on the ground or left dangling on fences or in the street. Isolated incidents or a consequence of deregulation that has left community leaders’ hands tied? Stop the Cap! investigates.

A Louisiana woman eight months pregnant is suing Cox Communications Louisiana and its contractor after tripping over an exposed cable wire in her mother’s backyard the company didn’t bother to bury.

In Fort Myers, Comcast connected a neighbor’s cable service in a senior living community by scattering a cable across lawns and sidewalks for nearly a year before finally burying it.

In Alabama, Charter Cable turned cable wiring into an art form, attaching multiple homeowners’ cable TV wires in artistic designs to a neighbor’s fence, and he wasn’t even a customer.

Welcome to the scourge of the unburied, exposed cable wire. Typically called a “drop” by cable installers, these lines are common in communities where a cable or phone company uses a third-party contractor to manage buried lines. Some manage them better than others.

In the northern United States, replacement drops installed during the winter months often stay on the ground until spring because the ground in frozen, but in warmer climates in the southeast, cable companies are notorious for “forgetting” about orphaned cable lines that can take weeks or months to bury, often only after intervention by a local media outlet or politician.

Chardae Nickae Melancon’s complaint claims Cox installed cable service in June, 2013 and left the cable wire exposed in the backyard. In late August, Melancon claims she tripped and fell over the wire injuring her arm, right side, and other unspecified injuries. Her suit alleges Cox was warned the wire was installed improperly and only after her injury did Cox return to finish the job.

In Fort Myers, it took more than 11 months for Comcast to return and bury its line, snaked across lawns and sidewalks connecting several buildings in the retirement community.

Comcast left this cable lying across a sidewalk in a retirement community in Fort Myers, Fla. for 11 months.

Comcast left this cable lying across a sidewalk in a retirement community in Fort Myers, Fla. for 11 months.

“You know this [community] is 55 and older. We have got people in here that are 90 years old,” Bonnie Haines, a resident in the Pine Ridge Condo retirement community told WFTX-TV. “Could you imagine them walking or walking around that sidewalk and tripping over this, what would happen? They couldn’t see it at night. Fortunately for me I know it’s there. I’ve lived with it all this time but if somebody would come to visit an older person or something, they don’t know it’s there.”

Across the street lies another unburied Comcast cable.

“We’ve called multiple times. we’ve reported it multiple times,” said Eric Ray, the manager of the Pine Ridge Homeowners Association. “In fact, every time I see a Comcast truck in here I personally grab the driver, take him over to the spot, and he puts in a work order and takes pictures right in front of me and still no response.”

Comcast’s last reply before making the evening news:  “We’ll get to it soon.”

Twenty four hours after being a featured story on the station’s newscast, the cables were finally buried.

In Montgomery, Ala., an artistic cable installer has used one resident’s fence as the adopted home of Charter Cable’s lines. Jamie Newton, who isn’t a Charter customer, noticed an orange Charter Cable line attached to her fence one day after returning home. That was two years ago. Suddenly, an extra cable appeared, draped like Christmas tree garland.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WFTX Ft Myers Residents worried about exposed cable tv wire 1-15-14.mp4

Residents of a Ft. Myers, Fla. retirement community worry residents as old as 93 could be seriously injured if they trip over this Comcast Cable left on the sidewalk for at least 11 months. (3:00)

“At first I was surprised, and then it turned into a little bit of anger and frustration,” Newton told WSFA. “I have small children, I have friends’ children over, and the neighborhood kids come and play in my backyard. It’s not safe.”

Charter Cable is not interested because Newton is not a customer. Charter in fact recorded just one complaint from a Charter customer six months earlier, and they claimed a “glitch” was responsible for the cable not being buried.

(Image: WEWS-TV Cleveland)

(Image: WEWS-TV Cleveland)

While some customers have been encouraged to remove offending lines that cross property lines themselves, some have gotten into trouble doing so, charged with destruction of private property. The most common mistake homeowners make is cutting or displacing cables placed on or in a utility easement, which can be difficult to identify.

Some of the worst problems occur with cables that served now ex-customers. Residents complain AT&T, Comcast and Charter are not responsive to requests from non-customers to deal with abandoned wiring in disrepair. An outside line supervisor in San Francisco tells Stop the Cap! AT&T has few provisions to manage cabling no longer in service for a paying customers.

The city of Cleveland, Ohio is a prime example of how AT&T deals with unused cables. Residents reports dozens of abandoned lines snipped at head level and allowed to dangle off utility poles, eventually to fall to street level where children can handle them. Time Warner Cable was also accused of allowing cables to hang over Cleveland streets. Some are left over after demolishing vacant houses but the most frequent cause of hazardous cables is competition. When a customer cuts cable’s cord, drops a landline, or flips between providers, installation crews often cut and leave old lines swaying in the breeze or draped over sidewalks.

The problem grew so pervasive in Cleveland, city officials requested telecom companies coordinate an audit of their cable networks and remove dangerous wiring before someone gets hurt. But all they can do is ask. Ohio’s sweeping telecom deregulation law stripped local authority over AT&T and Time Warner Cable. The city’s leverage is now based on creative code enforcement and embarrassing the companies in the local media.

“We don’t have any regulation for phone and cable companies and hanging wires create a hazardous situation and it’s going to have to be regulated,” said Cleveland councilman Tony Brancatelli. “One of these times it’s going to be a hot line.”

Local media reported nearly the same problem four years earlier in Cleveland, and efforts to keep up with cables left in disrepair seem to wane after the media spotlight moves on.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WEWS Cleveland Neighbors worry kids will get desensitized to seeing low wires 4-3-14.mp4

Kids are at risk if they begin to disrespect hanging utility wires. An epidemic of abandoned cable and telephone cables are dangling over Cleveland streets and deregulation means cities have to ask providers nicely to deal with the problem. (3:00)

Time Warner Cable and AT&T have also pointed fingers at each other, implying the other is more responsible for the cables left hanging:

AT&T: “We certainly welcome attention on the topic of safety and any telephone wires that look out of place. To that end, we encourage you to share with your viewers the number for our statewide repair information line: 800-572-4545. Please do call this line to report locations of telephone wires that look out of place.  While your story pointed out that many of the problem lines you saw may not have been telephone lines, we look forward to removing or repairing any that we find, that indeed belong to our company.”

Time Warner Cable: “Maintaining line clearance is something we act quickly to correct anytime we identify a potential issue. Though it is not clear who owns the wires you cite in your story, when our lines need to be adjusted, we take immediate action.  If someone comes across a line they feel maybe too low, please call us and we will respond.”

One important tip from Stop the Cap! for both your safety and avoiding legal entanglements — don’t take on the job yourself.

Municipal officials tell us readers should call a local code enforcement officer and have them investigate utility cable issues. Unresponsive companies or those creating dangerous conditions for the public can be fined and most will respond quickly to an officer’s request to manage the problem, even when deregulated.

Customers allowing the cable company to install a temporary line in their own yard should check if they are signing a total liability waiver as part of the process. Doing so can limit your leverage if the cable company doesn’t return to bury the line.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WEWS City of Cleveland promises to address low hanging wires 4-7-14.mp4

WEWS-TV in Cleveland followed up on their earlier report after getting no response from cable and phone companies and finding even more hazardous, abandoned wiring littering Cleveland. (3:15)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WEWS Cleveland Major utility and cable companies meet with City of Cleveland 4-17-14.mp4

Cleveland officials asked cable and phone companies to send representatives to coordinate action to fix the problem, but deregulation makes the effort voluntary. (2:47)

Third Party Contractors Sue Comcast In Race to the Bottom for Wages, Business Contracts

Cable Line LogoComcast’s dependence on third-party contractors to support its cable plant and handle certain service calls has made a few companies very rich while putting several others into bankruptcy.

In March, Cable Line, Inc., and McLaughlin Communications filed suit against the cable company in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court for putting them out of business after being compelled “to start and finance work in new markets, only to abandon [both] firms once they had been induced to create the infrastructure necessary for Comcast’s expansion.”

Attorney Charles Mandracchia alleges both companies were sold on Comcast’s commitments and hired and trained scores of workers, opened new facilities and borrowed heavily to finance purchases of trucks and equipment only to face what the suit calls an arbitrary cancellation of both companies’ contracts while their workforce was hired away by firms favored by Comcast.

“This is about more than my company,” Cable Line owner Kevin Diehl told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “‘Scale up or die,’ they told us. I bought a Harrisburg warehouse and a Perkasie office,” and built his staff up to 120 workers.

Comcast’s dependence on Diehl’s firm was so strong, the cable company enforced a no-compete clause in Cable Line’s contract to block a lucrative acquisition offer from another company in the early 2000s.

Things changed dramatically in 2012 when Comcast suddenly canceled its contract and gave Cable Line’s business to larger firms that recruited away his trained workforce. Cable Line went out of business shortly afterwards. McLaughlin makes similar claims.

“Comcast clearly had a decided intent and plan to eliminate small companies like Cable Line and McLaughlin Communications in order to monopolize the market, and in fact it did precisely that,” according to the lawsuit.

installerAllegations of corruption were included in a similar federal lawsuit filed by an Illinois-based cable installer, Frontline Communications, that claimed top Comcast officials “accepted cash, gifts and other benefits” in exchange for awarding installation contracts to favored firms. That case was dismissed on a technicality and has yet to be refiled.

A handful of firms favored by Comcast have done well as favored partners. Dycom, a Florida-based telecommunications installer with a nationwide footprint has acquired a number of smaller competitors over the last three years and disclosed to the Securities & Exchange Commission that just three companies — AT&T, CenturyLink and Comcast account for 39% of its business. If Comcast and Time Warner Cable win merger approval, that number will increase to above 50%.

With consolidation of third-party cable contractors continuing, workers have seen dramatic compensation cuts. Installers working for Dyson-acquired Prince Telecommunications accuse the company of cutting their labor rate in half. Others complain contractors force them to buy their own tools, under-compensate for fuel and don’t pay workers when they arrive to find subscribers not at home to accept a service call.

“This consolidation across the country is very bad for skilled cable technicians, who now have very few choices of employment,” Diehl told the newspaper, warning that installers working for Time Warner Cable will see even more dramatic compensation and benefits cuts “as Comcast gobbles them up.”

Diehl told the newspaper he personally helped build Comcast’s cable system in the Philadelphia suburbs and calls it “obsolete.”

“It should be fully fiber. It should have a bigger power supply, like FiOS,” Diehl said. “That’s why your TV sometimes doesn’t work after a storm.”

Earlier this week, UniTek Global Services Inc., a Blue Bell company that employs 3,200 people installing DirecTV, ATT, Comcast and other TV and Internet systems, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in federal bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Del. The company is seeking a “comprehensive debt restructuring” after trying to diversify its business portfolio beyond its major clients, including Comcast.

GreatLand Connections Has Few Employees, No Building; Yet Wants to Serve 2.5 Million Subscribers

greatlandGreatLand Connections, a new cable company with no headquarters building and only a handful of employees, is seeking permission to serve 2.5 million ex-Comcast/Time Warner Cable customers while saddled with $7.8 billion in debt the day its opens for business.

The entity, now administered primarily by a small executive team, will trade on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol ‘GLCI’ and would start operations in 2015. Tidbits about the planned cable operator were included in a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, primarily concerning how shareholders and executives will be handled if the merger is approved.

GreatLand Connections was created to appease the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission that earlier expressed concern about any single cable operator exceeding 30 percent of the national cable television market. Spinning off 2.5 million customers in less desirable service areas keeps Comcast’s market share just under 30%, but the SEC filing reveals Comcast isn’t exactly kicking customers out in the cold and disinheriting them. Comcast shareholders will own and control 67% of GreatLand Connections. Comcast will also select six of the nine members of the Board of Directors at GreatLand, and the SEC filing includes an admission to shareholders that a conflict of interest could exist between certain executives and board members who have investments in both cable companies.

The new company’s large debt load — about five times the company’s estimated earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes, and certain other expenses, is designed to shield Comcast from having to pay taxes on the spinoff. GreatLand’s filing states the transfer deal and spin-up of its company will qualify as a tax-free reorganization transaction.

The initial debt load is considerably higher than what most other cable companies carry, which makes it likely subscribers will be asked to help pay it off in the form of higher rates for years to come.

Even without a single piece of office furniture in place, GreatLand could begin serving as one of the nation’s largest cable companies with an estimated value of $5.7 billion in less than a year.

(Clarification: This article was updated to reflect Comcast shareholders will own 67% of GreatLand after the transaction closes.)

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