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Tricky TV Antics: Wyoming, Nevada TV Stations Moving to Delaware, New Jersey

Phillip Dampier March 31, 2014 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments
KJWY-TV was a station in Jackson, Wyo. But now it serves Philadelphia, Pa.

KJWY-TV was a station in Jackson, Wyo. But now it serves Philadelphia, Pa.

Two small television stations in Wyoming and Nevada with audiences in the thousands have packed up and are moving to bigger cities after exploiting a loophole in FCC rules.

KJWY, Channel 2 in Jackson, Wyo. used to relay television programs from a Casper station for the benefit of the 9,500 people living in the Teton County community. The station operated with just 178 watts — the lowest powered digital VHF station in the country. KVNV, Channel 3 in Ely, Nev., originally relayed Las Vegas’ NBC affiliate for the benefit of 4,200 locals. Both stations were purchased at a very low-cost by a mysterious partnership of buyers back east.

Today, KJWY has a new call sign – KJWP. It’s still on Channel 2, but the station is now licensed to operate from Wilmington, Del, with its transmitter located just across the border in Philadelphia. It’s one of the rare few television stations in the eastern half of the country that have “K” call letters usually assigned to stations west of the Mississippi River. KVNV is expected to follow to its new home in Middletown Township, Monmouth County, N.J., later this year. Its transmitter will have nothing but open water between northern New Jersey and nearby New York City — its intended target.

The two stations’ original combined audiences likely never exceeded 10,000, because both stations had very limited range for their transmitters which served two very small communities. But in the big cities of New York and Philadelphia, the stations can now reach a potential audience north of ten million and collect advertising revenue the stations in Wyoming and Nevada could only dream about.

PMCM, LLC., obviously had this in mind when it acquired the two stations in 2009. The principals behind PMCM already own six Jersey Shore radio stations in Monmouth and Ocean County under the name Press Communications, LLC.

How Congress and the FCC Opened the Door

wor PMCM discovered a little-known law that was originally introduced to help spur the launch of VHF television stations serving small Mid-Atlantic states shadowed by nearby large cities. In 1982, New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley attached an amendment to an unrelated tax bill that required the FCC to automatically renew the license of any commercial VHF station that agrees to move to a state without one. The new law superseded nearly all the FCC’s other licensing regulations. At the time the law was passed, the only two states that were without any commercial VHF stations were Delaware and New Jersey.

That summer, RKO General, embroiled in a major scandal over illegal billing irregularities and deceiving regulators, thought it could save its New York station – WOR-TV – from threatened license revocation by agreeing to move from New York City to Secaucus, N.J. In agreeing to move the station, WOR would also expand much-needed coverage of New Jersey news and current affairs. But viewers barely noticed and by 1987 RKO General’s bad behavior got them booted out of the broadcasting business altogether after what FCC administrative law judge Edward Kuhlmann called a pattern of the worst case of dishonesty in FCC history. WOR’s new owners changed the call sign to WWOR-TV and the station’s home remains in Secaucus.

Two things happened after the mess with WOR. Bradley’s law remained on the books and America’s adoption of digital over the air television for full power stations meant channel number changes for many stations by the time the transition was complete in 2009. WWOR-TV relocated to UHF channel 38 (while still promoting itself as Channel 9) and Delaware’s only remaining VHF station is non-commercial WHYY Channel 12, a PBS station better known as hailing from Philadelphia. Once again, New Jersey and Delaware were without commercial VHF stations, a fact that did not escape the notice of PMCM.

Me-TV Launches in Philadelphia and New York

KJWP_LogoAfter a lengthy court battle with the FCC, PMCM successfully moved and relaunched KJWP, Channel 2, on March 1 as Philadelphia’s Me-TV affiliate. Although the transmitter power was raised, the station’s digital VHF signal still doesn’t reach very far, so its owners invoked “must-carry” with area cable systems, which means cable systems must carry the channel so long as the station does not ask for any payment.

The station’s reach is defined by the FCC far beyond its actual broadcast signal. Officially, the station can demand cable carriage as far south as Dover, Del., as far west as Lancaster, Pa., almost all of southern New Jersey and into northern New Jersey. Today, Comcast and other cable systems carry KJWP across Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. Verizon FiOS is adding the station by this weekend and it is also available via satellite TV local station packages. Unlike larger stations fighting to be paid by cable systems, KJWP is happy to be carried by all without charge because it can sell advertising to a much larger potential audience. It plans to produce local programming, including news, which opens up even more advertising opportunities.

KVNV remains on the air in Ely for now as a My Family TV affiliate, showing a mix of family friendly and religious programs. But its days as a Nevada broadcast station are numbered. KVNV will officially sign-off in Ely for good in a few months and relaunch operations across the New York City market as New York’s official Me-TV affiliate. Like with KJWP, KVNV will keep its original call letters and invoke must-carry, which means the station is likely to appear on northern New Jersey Comcast systems, Time Warner Cable in Manhattan and other boroughs, as well as Cablevision on Long Island and across parts of Brooklyn.

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Sports Channel Sticker Shock: Your Basic Cable TV Bill Headed to $125/Month

Phillip Dampier March 31, 2014 Consumer News 9 Comments
Your cable bill is going up... a lot.

Your cable bill is going up… a lot.

Within five years, the average cable television subscription will reach $125 a month, primarily because of rapidly rising sports programming costs that are enriching already wealthy sports teams and players.

Professional and college sports are benefiting from the largesse of sports channels and networks all competing for the rights to televise games. Until a decade ago, those rights typically went to the highest paying broadcast television network. But as traditional cable sports networks like ESPN find themselves competing with more than three dozen other cable networks and regional sports channels, bidders need ever-deeper pockets to stay in the running. With cable customers footing the bill, the sky has been the limit.

Cable companies that routinely complain about runaway inflation in sports programming costs suddenly go silent when they get a piece of the action. Take Time Warner Cable, for example. A substantial amount of the company’s recently announced rate hike they blame on “increased programming costs” comes from networks they own and operate. A network dedicated to just one team – the Los Angeles Dodgers, will cost subscribers slightly less than $5 a month. SportsNet LA was created around Time Warner’s 25-year rights deal to show Dodgers games. The cable company is paying $8.3 billion for the privilege. Another network, dedicated to the Los Angeles Lakers, also costs Time Warner Cable customers $4 a month whether they watch or want the channel or not.

sportsnetOut east, the Yankees Channel YES costs subscribers around $3.50 a month — a bargain compared to the Dodgers — with prices expected to increase further in the years ahead. ESPN, by far the largest sports network, insists on more than $5 a month from every customer even if they have never watched the network.

Every year, prices are rising for sports programming, and fast. The lucrative billions in revenue are now turning up in players’ salaries, provide piles of money to “non-profit” educational institutions with college sports teams, and are inflating the overall value of the teams for their owners.

The inflation spiral is accompanied by a framework of entitlement, where owners, players, and schools now expect regular increases in payments to secure television rights. Those costs are passed on directly to every subscriber, because few sports networks will allow themselves to be sold “a-la-carte” only to those who actually want to watch.

With even more sports networks launching on the horizon, the average cable bill that now costs about $90 a month will increase by $35 a month to reach $125 a month within a few years, according to the Los Angeles Times:

The dispute over telecasts of Dodgers baseball games exemplifies the problem with the current setup. Time Warner Cable wants to charge Southern California subscribers slightly less than $5 a month to watch the games on a Dodger channel. Area TV distributors (such as DirecTV, Cox Cable and AT&T U-verse), fearing a consumer backlash, are resisting. If Time Warner and the Dodgers win, it’s a lucrative deal — for them. Not so for those who don’t care to watch. Even Dodger fans, blacked out now, aren’t really winners. The system denies all of us meaningful choices. All subscribers end up subsidizing programming we never watch.

In effect, because of the way channels are bundled, all pay-TV subscribers (roughly 100 million households) are subsidizing sports. The subsidy is substantial. The Pac-12 conference estimates it will receive $3 billion in TV revenue over a 12-year period. For ESPN, it’s much more. If roughly 90% of pay-TV households purchase the bundle that includes ESPN, that network alone will receive just short of $6 billion in revenue in a single year.

That’s a major subsidy, and, given a Cox Cable representative’s estimate that only 15% to 20% of viewers regularly watch sports programming, it’s paid mostly by viewers who neither watch nor wish to subsidize ESPN programming. These viewers swallow the bitter inflationary pill in order to watch other channels in the bundle.

Both college and professional sports teams benefit from the subsidy. The winners include UCLA and UC Berkeley, taxpayer-supported institutions, and USC and Stanford, preeminent private, nonprofit institutions that also benefit from federal money. UCLA alone reportedly received $14.5 million in TV revenue over the last year. Americans are accustomed to college athletic programs that make money, but do we really want these revenues to be generated on the backs of angry consumers who must pay a sports subsidy every time they purchase subscription TV?

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Comcast Wants to Invest $2.5 Billion More on Stock Buybacks if Merger Deal Approved

Phillip Dampier March 31, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News No Comments

One of Comcast’s biggest investments of 2014 won’t pay to boost broadband speeds, improve customer service, or upgrade cable systems.

comcast-shareToday the cable company announced plans to spend an extra $2.5 billion — $5.5 billion total — this year to buy shares of its own stock in a share buyback program designed to please investors.

The extra investment will only come if shareholders approve the deal to merge Comcast and Time Warner Cable into a single company. If the merger is successful, Comcast is prepared to spend even more on share buybacks with money it plans to collect from the sale of three million current Time Warner customers that will be spun away in the merger.

Bloomberg News reports Comcast shares have fallen 10 percent since the acquisition was announced last month, reducing the value of the company’s all-stock offer. The proposal of 2.875 in Comcast stock for each Time Warner Cable share was worth $142.49 a share last week, down from $158.82 the day the transaction was made public.

By buying back shares in its own stock, Comcast will cut the number of shares outstanding, which increases earnings per share and usually boosts the stock’s price. The share repurchase will benefit shareholders and any top executives who receive bonuses based on successfully increasing the value of earnings per share. Customers get nothing.

Neither will the tax man if Comcast and Time Warner Cable structure its deals as spinoffs qualifying as tax-free transactions.

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Time Warner Cable Wins Cheap Hydropower from New York State for Its Buffalo Call Center

timewarner twcTime Warner Cable is one of three New York businesses that are the latest to be awarded almost 1 megawatt of inexpensive hydropower under the state’s ReCharge New York program.

The cable company was allocated 176 kilowatts of electricity for its new call center in Buffalo from the Power Authority’s hydroelectric plants in Lewiston and Massena, and from the open market. In return, it plans to add 152 new jobs in Buffalo.

The program is designed to encourage businesses to increase investment in New York communities. Most of the inexpensive power awarded recently went to Pratt and Whitney in Middletown in the Hudson region and to six businesses on Long Island.

“ReCharge NY is one of the strongest tools in the Empire State’s economic development arsenal,” Governor Cuomo said. “Low-cost power for businesses has helped create thousands of high-impact jobs in local communities, and its ripple effect of ReCharge NY can be felt statewide. Innovative initiatives like ReCharge NY continue to establish New York as a great place for businesses to thrive and grow.”

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Time Warner Cable Releases Video Showing Broadband Upgrades Underway in LA, NYC

twcmaxDespite its pending merger with Comcast, Time Warner Cable is still promising to boost broadband speeds by the end of this year in New York City and Los Angeles.

The TWC Maxx program was announced before the merger, but Time Warner says it is still going ahead with upgrades and produced a video showing some of the behind-the-scenes work in Los Angeles.

Although the video doesn’t show much more than people pointing at equipment displays and maintaining equipment racks, it does include an interview about what Time Warner is doing to prepare for infrastructure upgrades serious enough to need a bigger air conditioner for the building.

Time Warner does warn customers they may experience brief service interruptions as a result of the work.

When complete, Time Warner Cable customers in both cities will have all-digital television service and major broadband speed upgrades:

 

Current Mbps Speeds Up to

New Mbps Speeds Up to

Everyday Low Price   Customers

2/1

3/1

Basic Customers

3/1

10/1

Standard Customers

15/1

50/5

Turbo Customers

20/2

100/10

Extreme Customers

30/5

200/20

Ultimate Customers

50/5

300/20

These upgrades may be modified if/when Comcast takes over, and Time Warner has not disclosed which cities will get the upgrades next.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TWC Behind The Scenes at a Los Angeles Hub Time Warner Cable 3-26-14.flv

Jay Gormley, a former reporter for KTVT in Dallas now working for Time Warner Cable takes customers on a tour of a Los Angeles Time Warner Cable hub slated to get service upgrades. (2:01)

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As Usual, Big Telecom in the Running for Worst Company in America 2014

2014wciabracketdayfive

Our friends at The Consumerist invite you to participate in the 2014 Worst Company in America contest. Readers are invited to cast a series of votes — one each day — to help narrow the field to the truly abysmal, the god-awful, and the despised. The ultimate winner receives the Golden Poo award.

Not surprisingly, the nation’s biggest telecom companies are among the regular finalists. The big ones are all there — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and AT&T.

Hated cable companies frequently beat down big banks like the vipers at Chase, where settlements in the hundreds of millions with the government for wrongdoing are almost a monthly occurrence. Voters would rather fly the Unfriendly Skies with Divided Airlines, Last Frontier Air — even US Scare — than deal with Comcast’s offshore customer service. The bad boys at Electronic Arts and Koch Industries bring knives to AT&T’s gunfight on good customer relations.

Over the last eight years, Comcast turned up as the big winner of the Golden Poo award in 2010 and either runner-up or third place in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013. AT&T achieved third place in 2012. Time Warner Cable and Verizon are usually eliminated in the finals, but their regular appearance on the nominations list is not something they can be proud of. Time Warner Cable has already managed to beat back EA, big winner in 2012 and 2013. So this year they might go all the way to the top… or is it bottom?

Year Winner Runner-up Third place
2006 Halliburton Choicepoint Wal-Mart and US Government
2007 RIAA Halliburton Wal-Mart and Exxon
2008 Countrywide Financial Comcast Diebold and Wal-Mart
2009 AIG Comcast Bank of America and Ticketmaster
2010 Comcast Cash4Gold Bank of America and Ticketmaster
2011 BP Bank of America Comcast and Ticketmaster
2012 Electronic Arts Bank of America AT&T and Wal-Mart
2013 Electronic Arts Bank of America Comcast
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Time Warner Cable, Comcast Crash, Burn in Consumer Reports’ 2014 Ratings

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

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

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

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

These ratings reflect Internet service only.

These ratings reflect Internet service only.

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

Another ratings collapse for Comcast and Time Warner Cable

Another ratings collapse for Comcast and Time Warner Cable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New York Regulators Could Derail Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger

Gov. Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo

New York State is hardly overwhelmed with excitement over the merger of the nation’s largest and second-largest cable operators and is taking steps to give regulators enough power to derail the merger.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided the state will not be a bystander as the $45 billion deal is reviewed by federal regulators and is seeking new powers for the state’s Public Service Commission that could force Comcast and Time Warner Cable to prove their merger is pro-consumer.

The New York Post reports the new approach would be the opposite of current rules that force the PSC to carry the burden of proof that a deal hurts the public interest.

“[The proposed changes] are very important arrangements, and the state has a valid role in making sure that the consumer is protected,” Cuomo said at the State Museum in Albany.

A source told the newspaper the rules change “could essentially kill the deal.”

comcast twcSince the federal government deregulated the cable industry in the 1990s, state and local officials have had little oversight over cable service and pricing, but in many states regulators still have a voice in mergers and other business deals.

The Cuomo Administration denied the rule changes were specifically aimed at Comcast, claiming that the state was simply mirroring the type of regulations impacting gas and oil companies doing business in New York.

If the deal fails to win approval in New York, it would mean Comcast could not assume control of Time Warner Cable’s lucrative franchises in New York City and most of upstate New York. Analysts speculate Comcast is especially interested in aligning its operations in northern New Jersey with those of Time Warner Cable in New York — both part of the largest television market in the country.

nys pscSo far, Comcast does not seem concerned about Cuomo’s proposal.

“We are confident that the pro-competitive, pro-consumer benefits like faster Internet speeds and improved video options resulting from the transaction are compelling and will result in approval from the state,” Comcast said in a statement, adding that it looks forward to “presenting the multiple consumer benefits” of the deal for New Yorkers.

Reuters reports Florida, Indiana and Pennsylvania — home state for Comcast’s corporate headquarters — will also be taking a closer look at the merger.

Florida will be coordinating with U.S. Department of Justice’s anti-trust officials to review the deal.

“We are part of a multistate group reviewing the proposed transaction along with the U.S. DOJ Antitrust Division,” the Florida attorney general’s office said in an email.

Indiana is studying the impact of the merger on its state, and Pennsylvania promised an “independent review.”

The attorneys general group is focused on broadband instead of cable television in assessing the $45.2 billion deal, according to a source familiar with the effort who was not authorized to speak on the record.

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Golden Parachute Bonanza for Time Warner Cable Executives

powerballNormally when one learns they are losing a job after only a few months in management, it is a time for sober reflection and emotional recovery.

Not so for top executives at Time Warner Cable who can expect Golden Parachute packages that rival the Powerball jackpot.

CEO Robert Marcus, who will eventually walk away from Time Warner Cable after becoming its CEO only this year will receive a package worth up to $80 million, according to a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That is way up from the estimated $56 million severance package he was anticipating.

In addition to more cash and stock options, Time Warner Cable created something called a “supplemental bonus opportunity” that will hand Marcus an extra $2.5 million in walk-around money if he agrees to stick around until the merger is completed. The idea behind the bonus incentive is to keep executives happy during the pendency of the merger. If top employees defect or lose focus on Time Warner Cable’s operating plan over the coming year, it could rattle the value of the company’s stock.

Most regular employees are not invited to the enhanced compensation party and will spend the rest of this year updating their resumes before the combined company finds millions in “cost savings” from anticipated layoffs and call center closures.

Time Warner Cable’s Golden Parachute Compensation

Name Cash
($)(1)(2)
Equity
($)(3)
Perquisites/
Benefits
($)(4)
Other
($)(5)
Totals
($)
Robert D. Marcus
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (former President and Chief Operating Officer) 20,458,904 56,506,890 399,838 2,500,000 79,865,632
Glenn A. Britt
Retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer(6)
Arthur T. Minson, Jr.
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer 7,008,904 19,327,402 80,132 675,000 27,091,438
Michael LaJoie
Executive Vice President and Chief Technology and Network Operations Officer 3,374,658 12,539,053 72,164 325,000 16,310,875
Philip G. Meeks
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Business Services 3,715,068 7,622,524 58,751 300,000 11,696,343
Irene M. Esteves
Former Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Among the benefits for the top-five executive officers:

  • accrued but unpaid bonus for any previously completed fiscal year, based on actual results for the year;
  • pro rata bonus for service during the year of termination, based on actual results for the year;
  • 36 months of continued salary and bonus payments, paid on TWC’s normal payroll payment dates for salary, where the bonus component is set at target.

Wall Street Bank Money Party

comcast twcIn the all-encompassing merger proposal submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Time Warner Cable noted it sought the advice of several Wall Street investment banks and related institutions. Unsurprisingly, based on the material submitted voluntarily by Time Warner Cable and Comcast, the banks submitted written reports declaring that the merger proposal seemed fair. For that, these advisers were well-compensated. In all, Time Warner Cable and Comcast will pay a combined $135.5 million in fees in return for the positive assessment of the merger’s potential:

  • In connection with Allen & Company’s financial advisory services, TWC has agreed to pay Allen & Company an aggregate cash fee of $25 million, a portion of which was payable upon delivery of Allen & Company’s opinion to the TWC board of directors in connection with the merger and $17.5 million of which is contingent upon consummation of the merger;
  • In connection with Citi’s services as TWC’s financial advisor, TWC has agreed to pay Citi an aggregate fee of $36 million, of which a part was payable upon delivery of its opinion and $28.5 million is payable contingent upon consummation of the merger. In addition, TWC has agreed to reimburse Citi for certain expenses, including fees and expenses of counsel, and to indemnify Citi and related parties against certain liabilities, including under federal securities laws, arising from Citi’s engagement;
  • TWC has agreed to pay Morgan Stanley for its financial advisory services in connection with the merger an aggregate fee of $36 million, of which a part was payable upon delivery of its opinion and $28.5 million is payable contingent upon the closing of the merger;
  • In connection with Centerview Partner’s LLC services as the TWC independent directors’ financial advisor, TWC has agreed to pay Centerview an aggregate fee of $11 million, portions of which were payable upon the rendering of Centerview’s opinion and in connection with its engagement and $3 million of which is payable contingent upon consummation of the merger;
  • J.P. Morgan has acted as financial advisor to Comcast with respect to the proposed merger and will receive a fee from Comcast for its services equal to a total of $27.5 million, $25 million of which will become payable only if the proposed merger is consummated.
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Cable Customer Service Improvements: Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Phillip "More empty promises from the cable industry" Dampier

Phillip “More empty promises from the cable industry” Dampier

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

Time Warner’s Rob Marcus:

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

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

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

How is that working out for you?

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

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

 

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

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

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

Marcus

Marcus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Rick: I just called few minutes ago Got 45 mbs for 47.50$...
  • Kyle: First call was offered 12Mbps for $36 18Mbps for $41 When I saw the price differences I had to call back. When I said that I know of better deals...
  • Phillip Dampier: But how often do we see a cable company's customer service center held up? Truth be told, it's the people behind the glass who are doing the robbing. ...
  • Michael Elling (@Infostack): I used to say that the free market competitors were supported by the social democrats, while the social monopolies were supported by the free-market c...
  • anon: if you can afford a bill that high, you can afford to move the hell out!...
  • Bob Mc: Have to say that there was no problem with Brighthouse (Florida, Merritt Island) in setting up my new TIVO Roamio Plus with the M-card and tuning adap...
  • bop: In part of Phillip home town. A bank took down their plexiglas because it wasn't needed. Held up three times since....
  • Josh Taylor: I'm glad that Time Warner is taking a stand against selling itself to other companies. otherwise it would be the end of Cartoon Network if NewsCorp ge...
  • Colt33: Well there's all this plus the fact that they keep adding new customers and not updating their lines. $45 for getting 1.5mb/s max is criminal compared...
  • Tye T.: Cox doesn't actually throttle their customers. If you should exceed your data cap to an excessive extent then cox will eventually terminate or suspend...
  • Cicuta: I just got the Comcast stupid email letting me know about the modem upgrade and as soon as I read it I said .... screw them! If other people want to u...
  • anon: it is only expected when you are operating in an urban ghetto like philadelphia....

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