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Behind the Bulletproof Glass: More Misadventures at Comcast’s Customer Service Center

Marco S. was so frustrated by the line running outside of his local Comcast store, he snapped this photo. At least the weather was nice.

Marco S. was so frustrated by the line running outside his local Comcast store, he snapped this photo. At least the weather was nice.

Comcast customer Timothy Lee made a grave error in judgment. He decided to return his Comcast-owned cable modem to a Comcast customer service center… on a Saturday!

Long-time Comcast customers know only too well a Saturday visit to Comcast represents a major outing, with long lines that often extend outside and up to an hour or more waiting time.

Lee compared his visit to waiting in line at the post office, but that’s not really true except during the holidays — the post office is better organized and usually lacks the heavy-duty bulletproof glass and surly attitudes that separate Comcast’s “customer service agents” from their unhappy customers.

Predictably, Lee waited more than 30 minutes before his number was up.

Lee’s predicament is all too familiar. His only choice for high-speed Internet access is Comcast, and the cable company knows it. So just like your local Department of Motor Vehicles, there is no harm done if Comcast opens a customer service center with 10 available windows staffed by only two employees, one happily munching on pretzels ignoring the concert-length line during his 20-minute break.

Time Warner Cable’s service centers are not much better, although they usually have fewer windows to keep customers from getting their hopes up. Comcast’s bulletproof glass is also not in evidence at TWC locations, although the burly bank-like security guard is very apparent at some centers in sketchy neighborhoods. Time Warner Cable also offers seating, but visit wealthier suburban locations when possible, where comfortable couches replace the nasty hard benches or plastic furniture often found downtown.

Comcast was instantly ready to offer up the usual excuses:

Your recent visit to our Washington D.C. service center is certainly not the experience we want anyone to have. We’ve been working on  a multi-year project to revamp the hundreds of service centers we have around the country to better serve customers.  As part of that project, we will be remodeling the Michigan Avenue location and will open another service center in the District in early 2015.  We’re also introducing more options for customers to manage their accounts, including a new program we’re starting to roll out with The UPS Store to make them an authorized Comcast equipment return location.

It’s always better at Comcast sometime in the yet-to-be-determined future. Until then, suffer.

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FCC May Make Comcast/Time Warner Merger Contingent on Carriage of More TV Channels

cable tvJust when you thought the cable television lineup could not possibly get any larger,  insiders at Comcast are anticipating one of the possible conditions that could be imposed by the Federal Communications Commission in return for approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable is an agreement to carry more independently owned cable television channels.

One of the most vocal groups of consumers opposed to the merger deal have been viewers of independent Omaha, Neb.-based RFD-TV, which has landed carriage deals with Time Warner Cable but has been largely ignored by Comcast. For most of the summer, RFD-TV encouraged viewers to pelt the FCC with complaints about the merger deal, insisting that more networks not owned or operated by the top five media conglomerates get equal treatment on the Comcast cable dial. Thousands of viewers responded.

Comcast vice president David Cohen told Congress Comcast already carries more than 170 small or independent networks, although Comcast counts international networks distributed to customers at premium rates.

“It sounds wonderful. But when you peel back the onion . . . it’s really nothing at all,” Pat Gottsch, founder of RFD-TV told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Very few [independent] channels have full distribution, other than BBC World News and Al Jazeera.”

Independent networks have little leverage with major cable operators because they cannot tie carriage agreements to more popular mainstream cable networks. That is why little-known networks like Crime & Investigation Channel or the spinoffs of fX – fXX and fXM – have glided onto cable lineups while networks like RFD, The Tennis Channel, and BlueHighways TV have a much tougher time.

Time Warner Cable now widely carries RFD-TV, but often only on an added-cost mini-pay tier. In many Time Warner markets, RFD and Smithsonian TV replaced HDNet, also an added-cost network.

rfdtv_logoThe independent networks fear they will never become viable if they cannot reach the nearly one-third of the country’s cable television subscribers a combined Comcast and Time Warner Cable would serve. Others question whether they will be given fair consideration if their networks compete with an existing Comcast or Time Warner Cable-owned channel.

The Tennis Channel and Bloomberg have both tussled repeatedly with Comcast over carriage agreements and channel placement. The Tennis Channel took Comcast all the way to a federal appeals court, but lost their case. Cable companies have won recognition of their First Amendment rights to choose the channels on their systems.

In years past, cable operators cited limited channel capacity as the most frequent reason a network could not be added to the lineup. Comcast continues to claim they have limited channel space for television channels, but that has not stopped the cable company from launching dozens of little-watched networks they receive compensation to carry (home shopping, TBN and certain other religious networks) or are contractually obligated to carry (add-on sports and entertainment networks owned by Disney, Viacom, Time Warner (Entertainment), Fox, and even Comcast itself, through its Universal division).

garbageComcast’s claim it already carries nearly 180 independent networks drew scrutiny when the company released the list of networks. At least half were added-cost international or pornography networks — all sold at a higher cost. More than a dozen others were independent sports channels packed into a higher-cost sports tier. Most of the rest were regional networks given very limited exposure. BlueHighways TV, which features bluegrass music, is seen in only 210,000 Comcast homes, mostly in Tennessee. That is less than 1% of Comcast’s total subscriber base.

The only prominent and truly independent networks given wide carriage on Comcast include Home Shopping Network and QVC, which pay a commission to Comcast for every sale made to a Comcast customer, BBC World News, and the Catholic EWTN network.

Mitigating the problem of independent network carriage may push the FCC to the path of least resistance – making carriage of some of these networks a requirement in return for merger approval.

It wouldn’t be the first time. Comcast agreed to launch 10 independent networks as a condition for FCC approval of its buyout of NBCUniversal. That deal is what brought BBC World News to the Comcast lineup, along with a range of little-known networks on high channel numbers: ASPiRE, BabyFirst Americas, Revolt, and El Rey. BabyFirst is targeted to babies and toddlers from 0-3 years old, but is also enjoyed by recreational drug users who find the network’s use of bright colors in their short-form videos entertaining. ASPiRE’s programming has been described by its critics as “crap.”

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N.Y. Regulators Predict Some Time Warner Customers Will Pay More Than Double to Comcast

Staff at the New York regulator overseeing the state’s telecommunications companies have determined that some Time Warner Cable customers will see their largest rate increase in New York history — more than double their current rate — if Comcast is successful in its bid to acquire Time Warner Cable.

At issue is Time Warner Cable’s heavily promoted ‘buy only what you need’ Every Day Low Price Internet service, which offers 2Mbps service for $14.99 a month.

Comcast has no plans to continue the discount offering, which means Internet customers will pay more than twice as much for Comcast’s cheapest Internet package available to all customers — Economy Plus (3Mbps), priced at $39.99 a month and only available at that price if you also subscribe to Comcast telephone or television service.

Time Warner Cable’s cheapest television package is priced at $8-20 a month. Comcast’s least-expensive TV package costs $17-20 a month.

“Time Warner’s lowest-priced offerings… represent choices for New York consumers,” Public Service Commission staff wrote in an Aug. 8 filing in the case, noted Albany’s Times-Union. “Any loss of these services would likely result in consumers paying more.”

Comcast denies it will raise prices for New Yorkers or any other Time Warner Cable customer, but noted it needs to study the “significant competition that it faces” before making any decisions on prices. When Comcast discovers Verizon FiOS isn’t providing much of a competitive threat in areas unreached after Verizon stalled its expansion efforts and AT&T U-verse and other telco broadband offerings cannot keep up with cable broadband speeds, they might assume they don’t face that much competition after all.

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Time Warner Cable Can Raise Pricing on 2-Year Promotions; Customer Sees $15 Surprise Rate Hike

fine printTime Warner Cable customers believing they can “lock in” prices for up to two years with one of the company’s service promotions might be surprised to learn the fine print allows the cable company to adjust prices after just one year of service, as this reddit user just discovered:

My bill went up $15. They tell me it’s ok because I’m still on the same promotion, it just went up in price. That I’m still saving over full retail price so it’s ok. The phrase “it’s only $15″ was used by the service rep.

This is complete bulls***.

edit: I really wish I thought ahead to record the call. Now that I’m off the phone he offered me a one time $15 credit to make next month better. Like that changes anything.

How can the term two-year promotion be used if it’s only good for 1 year you ask? Well Time Warner’s answer is that it’s still the same promotion, it just goes up after a year.

edit again: The one time $15 just posted to my account. They don’t even call it a customer service adjustment or anything, they call it a “Save a Sub adjustment.” Not even trying to hide it.

09/06/2014 Save a Sub Adj -15.00

This and many other Time Warner Cable customers probably missed the fine print, which reveals pricing for the promotion can, and often does, adjust after the first 6-12 months. Comcast, the potential new owner of Time Warner Cable, also runs promotions the same way. Here are examples from both companies:

Time Warner Cablecomcast twc: Three-product offers valid for new residential and existing customers. After 12 months, regular rates apply. Offers expire 10/19/14. Standard TV for $39.99 available for 12 months; in months 13-24, price will go up to $44.99; after month 24, price will go to retail.

Comcast: After first 6 months, monthly service charge increases to $109.99 for months 7-12. After 12 months, or if any service is cancelled or downgraded, regular charges apply. After 6 months, the monthly charge for HBO is $15 for 12 months and thereafter, regular rates apply.

Some cable operators bill promotions by charging the customer the regular price for service and then apply a fixed promotional credit for the length of the promotional offer. If rates increase during the promotion, the customer will see the rate increase on their bill and will end up paying more because the service credit they receive does not change to offset the increase.

Why are they allowed to do this? Because cable companies like Time Warner Cable have gradually moved away from term-length service contracts, especially where they do not face a new competitor like U-verse or FiOS entering their service area for the first time. With both competitors well-established, cable operators have moved away from two-year “contracts” to two-year “promotions,” but customers often do not know the difference.

This customer can switch providers at any time without a penalty. Instead he called and complained and received a one-time service credit. Chances are if he calls and threatens to cancel service, the retention agent will put him back on the original promotion or one offering a similar promotional price. The key word is “cancel,” which works like nothing else to motivate representatives to keep your business.

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Charlotte Taxpayers, Tourists Will Pay $33.5 Million for Improvements to Time Warner Cable Arena

charlotte-time-warner-cable-arena

Time Warner Cable Arena – Charlotte, N.C.

Taxpayers and tourists in North Carolina will be on the hook for $33.5 million in improvements for the “outdated” 10-year old Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte.

The Charlotte Hornets will spend the public’s money over the next ten years renovating restaurants and bathrooms and make several other improvements inside the stadium.

Time Warner Cable won the naming rights for the stadium by cutting a deal with the Hornets (then known as the Bobcats) to allow games to air on satellite and regional cable sports networks, especially Fox Sports Net South. The stadium is largely the financial responsibility of Charlotte-area taxpayers, but a wealthy basketball team and the area’s largest cable operator take most of the credit.

The city is contractually obligated to spend taxpayer dollars on renovations and city officials took credit for reducing the original request for $50 million down to $33.5 million. Deal critics contend taxpayers are footing the bill while the NBA team enjoys a free ride.

The city signed an agreement in 2005 that includes language compelling the city to be concerned with the image of the team and its sponsors. Specifically, the city agreed to maintain the arena as among the NBA’s “most modern” stadiums. Just a decade after opening, the Hornets contend the stadium no longer meets that obligation. Now taxpayers and tourists will pony up millions from a hotel/motel occupancy tax and a car rental tax to cover renovations, including those for tony, corporate-reserved hospitality suites.

Some city council members claimed to feel trapped into voting for the deal, which was approved in a 9-2 vote. The council’s two Republicans voted no.

“If we break a contract, who will believe our word?” at-large council member Claire Fallon, a Democrat, told the Charlotte Observer. “Who will believe us? I have to vote for it.”

But Republican councilman Ed Driggs believes the city has signed a sucker’s deal.

“Many don’t believe public money should be used to subsidize a for-profit business,” Driggs said. “How do we rationalize the terms of this? We pay all capital costs … and receive no proceeds. What kind of partnership is this?”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WBTV Charlotte Charlotte City Council votes to upgrade TWC arena 9-8-14.mp4

Eyebrows were raised when several council members, including the mayor pro tem, voted in favor of the Time Warner Cable Arena deal but against a public works project potentially financed by the federal government to expand the city’s Gold Line streetcar public transit system. WBTV in Charlotte reports. (2:31)

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NY Post: Imposing Conditions on Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger Would Be Useless

comcast cartoonIf regulators believe they can turn Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s mega-merger into a consumer-friendly deal in the public interest, they are ignoring history.

No matter what conditions regulators place on Comcast to approve its merger with Time Warner Cable, they will be toothless, television industry insiders told the New York Post.

Insiders suggest the Federal Communications Commission has been largely impotent enforcing conditions it required in earlier merger deals, including those Comcast promised to fulfill in its earlier merger with NBC Universal.

Among Comcast’s broken promises cited by The Post:

  • Comcast failed to live up to its promise to market its low-cost broadband service, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), an outspoken critic of the NBCU deal, told the FCC earlier this year;
  • Comcast paid a fine for not marketing A standalone $50 broadband service widely enough;
  • The giant cable provider’s hollow commitment to Net Neutrality didn’t stop it from excluding certain XFINITY video content from its data caps;
  • They discriminate against non-Comcast owned cable channels, especially those that compete with network Comcast owns or controls. Examples include The Tennis Channel and Bloomberg TV.

Industry insiders claim the larger Comcast gets, the more the company spends on clever lawyering and lobbying to keep itself out of legal hot water with Congress and regulators. That has begun to worry programmers like Discovery Communications, who filed objections to the merger deal.

Discovery officials warned the FCC Comcast’s takeover of Time Warner Cable would deliver an NSA-like treasure trove of viewer data to the nation’s biggest cable company. Comcast already monitors its customers’ viewing habits with tracking software installed inside set-top boxes that monitors what customers are watching at any given time. Comcast has refused to share that data with outsiders, and uses it primarily to pitch potential advertisers.

Comcast’s size already gives the company unprecedented power over cable programming rates during negotiations. Making the company even larger worries Discovery, which expressed concern that:

  • Comcast’s use of its bigger muscle to impose prices, terms and conditions that are overly favorable (for instance, preventing programmers from selling over-the-top rights or refusing to give competitors to its own services wide distribution);
  • The possibility that the cable giant could impose broader “most favored nation” clauses in agreements;
  • That Comcast could exercise control over national and local ad sales markets to the detriment of programers who also compete there.
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Time Warner Cable Executives Getting Huge Retention Bonuses; Layoffs Likely at the Bottom

Phillip Dampier September 8, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Time Warner Cable No Comments
Money for some

Money for some

Time Warner Cable will pay $416 million in retention bonuses to the company’s top and middle management to entice them to stay with the cable company as its merger deal with Comcast is scrutinized by regulators.

The bulk of the bonuses will be paid to the company’s top executives in New York, but an additional 1,800 middle management employees would also receive twice their regularly scheduled annual equity award to compensate for canceled awards in 2015 and 2016. About 15,000 rank and file employees eligible to participate in Time Warner’s supplemental bonus program will receive a much smaller bonus — averaging less than $70 per employee.

While upper level management will gorge on cash and stock, middle management will receive stock only. Rank and file employees will receive a token payout amounting to 50 percent of their target bonus for 2014. Recipients may want to save the money. As part of Comcast’s plans to realize cost savings from the merger, many employees of Time Warner Cable’s call centers and technical staff may not have a future paycheck at all if the merger is approved. Comcast relies heavily on existing offshore call centers for customer service and subcontracts a significant percentage of engineering and service call work to third-party subcontractors.

Among the top recipients of the largesse:

  • Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus, who will receive a golden parachute package worth $81.8 million in cash, restricted stock and stock options. Because his compensation package is so large, Time Warner Cable has also agreed to pay an extra $300,000 to allow Marcus to hire his own financial planning firm to manage the enormous sums involved;
  • The other top five executives of Time Warner Cable in New York will share more than $136 million in golden parachute compensation. They will have to figure out how to spend the money on their own.
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Zoom Telephonics Upset With Charter About Customer-Owned Modem Policies

Phillip Dampier September 4, 2014 Charter, Consumer News No Comments

zoomZoom Telephonics, a major manufacturer of cable modems, has asked the FCC to deny the sale of certain customers to Charter Communications as a result of the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable because Charter enforces an unfair customer-owned cable modem policy.

For the last two years, Charter has not allowed customers switching to New Package Pricing to use their own cable modem. They must get one from Charter. But three days before the FCC closed the comment window on the Time Warner Cable-Comcast-Charter transaction, Charter suddenly reversed course and invited customers to attach their own cable modems to the network, as long as the modem was approved by Charter.

As one might expect, no modem from Zoom appears on Charter’s approved modem list.

Instead, Charter has approved 17 modems that are not available from conventional retailers and lack 802.11ac wireless capability.

Charter has still not adopted certification standards that are open to Zoom and other cable modem producers, complains Zoom, nor has Charter yet made a commitment for timely certifications under this program.

“We support the customer-owned cable modem programs available from Comcast and Time Warner Cable,” said Frank Manning, Zoom’s president and CEO. “We have urged Charter to adopt a similar program, but so far Charter has declined. Our request is timely because Charter will significantly increase its number of customers if the transaction involving Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Charter goes through. In that event Charter will go from fourth to second place on the list of largest U.S. cable Internet providers.”

Zoom also complains that Charter still does not separately list the cost of its leased modems on customer bills, and Charter does not offer a corresponding savings to all customers who buy a qualified cable modem and attach it to the Charter network.

Charter Approved Modems for All Internet Tiers

Vendor Model
ARRIS TM802G
ARRIS TM804G
ARRIS TM822A
ARRIS TM822G
ARRIS TM902A
CISCO SYSTEMS DPC3008
CISCO SYSTEMS DPC3010
CISCO SYSTEMS DPC3208
CISCO SYSTEMS DPC3825
MOTOROLA SB6141
MOTOROLA SBG6580
NETGEAR CG3000D
UBEE DDW3612

Modems Approved for Speeds Up to 60Mbps

Vendor Model
MOTOROLA SB6120
MOTOROLA SB6121
UBEE U10C035
SMC NETWORKS SMCD3GN-RES

 

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FCC Chairman Complains About State of U.S. Broadband But Offers Few Meaningful Solutions

FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler doesn’t like what he sees when looks at the state of American broadband.

At a speech today given to the 1776 community in Washington, Wheeler complained about the lack of broadband competition in the United States.

“The underpinning of broadband policy today is that competition is the most effective tool for driving innovation, investment, and consumer and economic benefits,” Wheeler said. “Unfortunately, the reality we face today is that as bandwidth increases, competitive choice decreases.”

faster speed fewer competitors

“The lighter the blue, the fewer the options,” Wheeler said, gesturing towards his chart. “You get the point. The bar on the left reflects the availability of wired broadband using the FCC’s current broadband definition of 4Mbps. But let’s be clear, this is ‘yesterday’s broadband.’ Four megabits per second isn’t adequate when a single HD video delivered to home or classroom requires 5Mbps of capacity. This is why we have proposed updating the broadband speed required for universal service support to 10Mbps.”

But Wheeler added that even 10Mbps was insufficient as households increasingly add more connected devices — often six or more — to a single broadband connection.  When used concurrently, especially for online video, it is easy to consume all available bandwidth at lower broadband speeds.

Wheeler

Wheeler

Wheeler’s new informal benchmark is 25Mbps — “table stakes” in 21st century communications. About 80 percent of Americans can get 25Mbps today or better, but typically only from one provider. Wheeler wants even faster speeds than that, stating it is unacceptable that more than 40% of the country cannot get 100Mbps service. Wheeler seemed to fear that phone companies have largely given up on competing for faster broadband connections, handing a de facto monopoly to cable operators the government has left deregulated.

“It was the absence of competition that historically forced the imposition of strict government regulation in telecommunications,” Wheeler explained. “One of the consequences of such a regulated monopoly was the thwarting of the kind of innovation that competition stimulates. Today, we are buffeted by constant innovation precisely because of the policy decisions to promote competition made by the FCC and Justice Department since the 1970s and 1980s.”

Wheeler said competition between phone and cable companies used to keep broadband speeds and capacity rising.

“In order to meet the competitive threat of satellite services, cable TV companies upgraded their facilities,” Wheeler said. “When the Internet went mainstream, they found themselves in the enviable position of having greater network capacity than telephone companies. Confronted by such competition, the telcos upgraded to DSL, and in some places deployed all fiber, or fiber-and-copper networks. Cable companies further responded to this competition by improving their own broadband performance. All this investment was a very good thing. The simple lesson of history is that competition drives deployment and network innovation. That was true yesterday and it will be true tomorrow. Our challenge is to keep that competition alive and growing.”

But Wheeler admits the current state of broadband in the United States no longer reflects the fierce competition of a decade or more ago.

“Today, cable companies provide the overwhelming percentage of high-speed broadband connections in America,” Wheeler noted. “Industry observers believe cable’s advantage over DSL technologies will continue for the foreseeable future. The question with which we as Americans must wrestle is whether broadband will continue to be responsive to competitive forces in order to produce the advances that consumers and our economy increasingly demand. Looking across the broadband landscape, we can only conclude that, while competition has driven broadband deployment, it has not yet done so a way that necessarily provides competitive choices for most Americans.”

Wheeler recognized what most broadband customers have dealt with for years — a broadband duopoly for most Americans.

antimonopoly“Take a look at the chart again,” Wheeler said. “At the low end of throughput, 4Mbps and 10Mbps, the majority of Americans have a choice of only two providers. That is what economists call a “duopoly”, a marketplace that is typically characterized by less than vibrant competition. But even two “competitors” overstates the case. Counting the number of choices the consumer has on the day before their Internet service is installed does not measure their competitive alternatives the day after. Once consumers choose a broadband provider, they face high switching costs that include early termination fees, and equipment rental fees. And, if those disincentives to competition weren’t enough, the media is full of stories of consumers’ struggles to get ISPs to allow them to drop service.”

Wheeler emphasized that true competition would allow customers to change providers monthly, if a vibrant marketplace forced competitors to outdo one another. That market does not exist in American broadband today.

“At 25Mbps, there is simply no competitive choice for most Americans,” Wheeler added. “Stop and let that sink in…three-quarters of American homes have no competitive choice for the essential infrastructure for 21st century economics and democracy. Included in that is almost 20 percent who have no service at all. Things only get worse as you move to 50Mbps where 82 percent of consumers lack a choice. It’s important to understand the technical limitations of the twisted-pair copper plant on which telephone companies have relied for DSL connections. Traditional DSL is just not keeping up, and new DSL technologies, while helpful, are limited to short distances. Increasing copper’s capacity may help in clustered business parks and downtown buildings, but the signal’s rapid degradation over distance may limit the improvement’s practical applicability to change the overall competitive landscape.”

Wheeler finds little chance wireless providers will deliver any meaningful competition to wired broadband because of pricing levels and miserly data caps. Such statements are in direct conflict with a traditional industry talking point.

In a remarkable admission, Wheeler added that the only hope of competing with cable operators comes from a technology phone companies have become reluctant to deploy.

“In the end, at this moment, only fiber gives the local cable company a competitive run for its money,” Wheeler said. “Once fiber is in place, its beauty is that throughput increases are largely a matter of upgrading the electronics at both ends, something that costs much less than laying new connections.”

Wheeler also continued to recognize the urban-rural divide in broadband service and availability, but said little about how he planned to address it.

Wheeler’s answer to the broadband dilemma fell firmly in the camp of promoting competition and avoiding regulation, a policy that has been in place during the last two administrations with little success and more industry consolidation. Most of Wheeler’s specific commitments to protect and enhance competition apply to the wireless marketplace, not fixed wired broadband:

1. comcast highwayWhere competition exists, the Commission will protect it. Our effort opposing shrinking the number of nationwide wireless providers from four to three is an example. As applied to fixed networks, the Commission’s Order on tech transition experiments similarly starts with the belief that changes in network technology should not be a license to limit competition.

In short, don’t expect anymore efforts to combine T-Mobile and Sprint into a single entity. Wheeler only mentioned “nationwide wireless providers” which suggests it remains open season to acquire the dwindling number of smaller, regional carriers. Wheeler offers no meaningful benchmarks to protect consumers or prevent further consolidation in the cable and telephone business.

2. Where greater competition can exist, we will encourage it. Again, a good example comes from wireless broadband. The “reserve” spectrum in the Broadcast Incentive Auction will provide opportunities for wireless providers to gain access to important low-band spectrum that could enhance their ability to compete. Similarly, the entire Open Internet proceeding is about ensuring that the Internet remains free from barriers erected by last-mile providers. Third, where meaningful competition is not available, the Commission will work to create it. For instance, our efforts to expand the amount of unlicensed spectrum creates alternative competitive pathways. And we understand the petitions from two communities asking us to pre-empt state laws against citizen-driven broadband expansion to be in the same category, which is why we are looking at that question so closely.

Again, the specifics Wheeler offered pertain almost entirely to the wireless business. Spectrum auctions are designed to attract new competition, but the biggest buyers will almost certainly be the four current national carriers, particularly AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Although low-band spectrum will help Sprint and T-Mobile deliver better indoor service, it is unlikely to drive new market share for either. Wheeler offered no specifics on the issues of Net Neutrality or municipal broadband beyond acknowledging they are issues.

3. Incentivizing competition is a job for governments at every level. We must build on and expand the creative thinking that has gone into facilitating advanced broadband builds around the country. For example, Google Fiber’s “City Checklist” highlights the importance of timely and accurate information about and access to infrastructure, such as poles and conduit. Working together, we can implement policies at the federal, state, and local level that serve consumers by facilitating construction and encouraging competition in the broadband marketplace.

competitionMost of the policies Wheeler seeks to influence exist on the state and local level, where he has considerably less influence. Based on the overwhelming interest shown by cities clamoring to attract Google Fiber, the problems of access to utility poles and conduit are likely overstated. The bigger issue is the lack of interest by new providers to enter entrenched monopoly/duopoly markets where they face crushing capital investment costs and catcalls from incumbent providers demanding they be forced to serve every possible customer, not selectively choose individual neighborhoods to serve. Both incumbent cable and phone companies originally entered communities free from significant competition, often guaranteed a monopoly, making the burden of wired universal service more acceptable to investors. When new entrants are anticipated to capture only 14-40 percent competitive market share at best, it is much harder to convince lenders to support infrastructure and construction expenses. That is why new providers seek primarily to serve areas where there is demonstrated demand for the service.

4. Where competition cannot be expected to exist, we must shoulder the responsibility of promoting the deployment of broadband. One thing we already know is the fact that something works in New York City doesn’t mean it works in rural South Dakota. We cannot allow rural America to be behind the broadband curve. Our universal service efforts are focused on bringing better broadband to rural America by whomever steps up to the challenge – not the highest speeds all at once, but steadily to prevent the creation of a new digital divide.

Again, Wheeler offers few specifics. Current efforts by the FCC include the Connect America Fund, which is nearly entirely devoted to subsidizing rural telephone companies to build traditional DSL service into high-cost areas. Cable is rarely a competitor in these markets, but Wireless ISPs often are, and they are usually privately funded and consider government subsidized DSL expansion an unwelcome and unfair intrusion in their business.

“Since my first day as Chairman of the FCC my mantra has been consistent and concise: ‘Competition, Competition, Competition,'” said Wheeler. “As we have seen today, there is an inverse relationship between competition and the kind of broadband performance that consumers are increasingly demanding. This is not tolerable.”

Under Wheeler’s leadership, Comcast has filed a petition to assume control of Time Warner Cable, AT&T is seeking permission to buy DirecTV, Frontier Communications is acquiring the wired facilities of AT&T in Connecticut, and wireless consolidation continues. A forthcoming test of Wheeler’s willingness to back his rhetoric with action is whether he will support or reject these industry consolidating mergers and acquisitions. Wheeler’s FCC has also said little to nothing about the consumer-unfriendly practice of usage caps and usage-based billing — both growing among wired networks even as they upgrade to much-faster speeds and raise prices.

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Love for Comcast’s Merger Fueled By $100,000+ in Contributions

Emanuel

Emanuel

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been prominently cited by Comcast as an example of a U.S. mayor that has the insight to support the company’s $45 billion buyout of Time Warner Cable.

But Comcast also had the insight to avoid mentioning it had paid Emanuel and a political slush fund controlled by him more than $100,000 before Emanuel took pen to paper in support of the merger.

The International Business Times notes the mayor of the Windy City has deposited giant campaign contributions from Comcast and its top executives for years, including two signed by the author of Comcast’s press release thanking Emanuel for his support himself — executive vice president David Cohen. In addition to a $5,000 personal donation to Emanuel, Cohen also signed a check for $10,000 payable to the notorious Chicago Committee, a political slush fund Emanuel controls and uses to keep other local politicians in line with his agenda.

Since Emanuel first ran for mayor in 2010, Comcast and its executives have spent $50,000 on his campaign. When Emanuel was a congressman, Comcast was one of his top donors — spending $46,000 total from 2003 until 2o08. Other executives gave another $25,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that Emanuel chaired at the time.

With that kind of generosity, Emanuel had no trouble signing one of Comcast’s “template” letters in support of the merger, telling the FCC it was great for Chicago and would enhance Comcast’s “generous presence” in the area. While generous to Emanuel and other politicians, Comcast has pounded Chicago residents with relentless rate increases and perennially receives dismal customer approval ratings from locals.

Although Emanuel’s letter told the FCC the merger would not reduce choice, elevate prices, or otherwise harm consumers, piles of Comcast’s cash may have obscured Emanuel’s vision of what ordinary Comcast customers endure. WLS-TV in Chicago reports Comcast’s customer service borders on “abusive.” (1:38)

 

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  • Limboaz: You see, the thing is, any money spent by Comcast on customer service is money they can't spend on gobbling up even bigger chunks of the TV, Internet ...
  • Retta: Grrrr Cox!! We recently got charged a termination fee. I called to see what it was for, since I still had service. After 8 phone call transfers thro...
  • djl2442: And I thought no one could rival how bad Comcast and time warner cable are. 1 att call later to cancel service and it was like hell on earth. Was able...
  • The Kin: Good to see some good news in Kentucky for once. Since I live here, it's been a pain in the ass to get any type of real internet connection. I'm stuck...
  • MELODY: IVE BEEN CON<TRICKED INTO VERIZON DEAL I WANT OUT AND I NEVER SAW A CONTRACT!...
  • Paul Houle: It is really fun to watch apologists for the wireless industry squirm when you use the $10 a GB talking point which can be turned into: $100 to downl...
  • Tom M: Signed the petition and forwarded the link onto friends. Thanks for fighting the good fight, Philip....
  • Chuck: Craig Moffet is a joke, he beats up Sprint, has no idea what he's talking about, he must have considerable holdings in other carriers. Has he ever wor...
  • RG: You can thank the greedy cable companies for that. Cox for one, was supposed to support VOD on the Premiere with an agreement signed with Tivo about 4...
  • Tony: We cannot use On Demand (VOD) via Roamio. It is maddening....
  • KF: Tony, I also have Charter and have not been able to get On Demand (VOD) to work through the Roamio. Charter insists that VOD is impossible with the R...
  • Phillip Dampier: If enough U-verse customers say goodbye over data caps, there probably won't be data caps. They are just there to further monetize their operation, wh...

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