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Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right: Comcast/Time Warner Cable “Worst Companies in U.S.”

Another satisfied customer

Comcast and Time Warner Cable have achieved new lows in the most important customer satisfaction survey in the United States, winning bottom honors as the two most despised companies in the United States.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index found Comcast and Time Warner Cable the only two companies in the country that scored below 60 on the ACSI’s 100 point scale. Comcast fell 5% to 60, while Time Warner Cable plunged 7% to 56, its lowest score to date.

“Comcast and Time Warner assert their proposed merger will not reduce competition because there is little overlap in their service territories,” says David VanAmburg, ACSI director. “Still, it’s a concern whenever two poor-performing service providers combine operations. ACSI data consistently show that mergers in service industries usually result in lower customer satisfaction, at least in the short-term. It’s hard to see how combining two negatives will be a positive for consumers.”

Broadband service seems to be a significant issue for customers. High prices, slow data transmission, and unreliable service drag satisfaction to record lows, as customers have few alternatives beyond the largest Internet service providers. Customer satisfaction with ISPs drops 3.1% to 63, the lowest score in the Index.

Verizon FiOS is the one bright spot in the survey, managing to grab a 71 score, beating AT&T U-verse, CenturyLink, and other providers. Cable broadband providers continued to score lowest. The best of the lot was Cox Communications, which isn’t saying much. It only managed a 6% fall to 64.

Customer satisfaction is also deteriorating for all the largest pay TV providers. Viewers are much more dissatisfied with cable TV service than fiber optic and satellite service (60 vs. 68). Though both companies drop in customer satisfaction, DirecTV (-4%) and AT&T (-3%) are tied for the lead with ACSI scores of 69. Verizon Communications FiOS (68) and DISH Network (67) follow. DISH Network may be the lowest-scoring satellite TV company, but it is better than the top-scoring cable company, Cox Communications (-3% to 63).

Among wireless carriers, things have not changed much this year.

Verizon Wireless achieved first place after climbing 3% to 75. T-Mobile (69), Sprint (68) and AT&T Mobility (68) are tightly grouped behind. As smartphone adoption continues to grow, network demands increase along with costs to the consumer, each contributing to stagnant customer satisfaction.

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New York Governor Orders Thorough Regulatory Review of Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger

Cuomo

Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has ordered the New York State Public Service to immediately start a thorough and detailed investigation into Comcast’s proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable, using new regulatory powers to reject any merger not in the “best interest” of Time Warner’s customers in New York.

“The State is taking a hands-on review of this merger to ensure that New Yorkers benefit,” Cuomo said. “The Public Service Commission’s actions will help protect consumers by demanding company commitments to strong service quality, affordability, and availability.”

New York implemented one of the nation’s strongest cable franchise laws in April that will now require the two cable operators to prove that any merger is in the public interest. An earlier law backed by the telecom industry put the burden of proof on the Commission to prove such transactions were not beneficial to the public.

Cuomo has requested the PSC check how the proposed merger will expand broadband in under-served areas and offer better broadband access to schools. The PSC will critically review the protections being offered to low income customers as well as how the proposed merger might impact consumer pricing and telecommunication competition overall.

PSC chair Audrey Zibelman said, “To determine whether the proposed transaction is in the public interest, the Commission will examine the proposal to ensure services the merged company would provide will be better than the service customers currently receive.”

comcast twcOne way to prove the merged company would not offer better service is to alert the Commission Comcast plans to reimpose usage caps on its customers while Time Warner Cable does not have any compulsory usage limits or usage billing.

Time Warner now serves 2.6 million subscribers in every major New York community: Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and the boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens and parts of Brooklyn.

The PSC is likely to hold public forums across the state in June to hear the views of affected consumers, but the record is now open to written and telephoned comments from anyone interested in the merger.

There are several ways to provide your comments to the Commission. Comments should refer to: “Case 14-M-0183.”

Via the Internet or Mail: The public may send comments electronically to the Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess, Secretary, at [email protected] or by mail or delivery to Secretary Burgess at the New York State Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350. Comments may also be entered directly into the case file by clicking on the “Post Comments” box at the top of the page.

Toll-Free Opinion Line: Individuals may choose to phone in comments by calling the Commission’s Opinion Line at 1 800-335-2120. This line is set up to receive in-state calls 24-hours a day. These calls are not transcribed, but a summary is provided to staff who will report to the Commission.

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

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

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

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

Let’s review history:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cable prices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Merger Watch Has Been Issued for Your Internet Service, Cable-TV Provider

moneywedThe announced merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable is expected to have far-reaching implications for other companies in the video and broadband business, with expectations 2014 could be one of the busiest years in a decade for telecom industry mergers and buyouts.

AT&T + DirecTV = Less Video Competition

Bloomberg News reports an announcement from AT&T that it intends to acquire DirecTV for as much as $50 billion could be forthcoming before Memorial Day. Such a merger would drop one satellite television competitor in AT&T landline service areas and promote nationwide bundling of AT&T wireless service with satellite television.

Historically low-interest rates would help AT&T finance such a deal and would turn DirecTV into a division of AT&T, easing concerns the satellite company has been at a disadvantage because it lacks a broadband and phone package.

“While the Comcast/TWC deal was the trigger, the backdrop of a slow macro economy, new competitors, shifts in technology and consumer habits all come together and force the need for more scale,” Todd Lowenstein, a fund manager at Highmark Capital Management Inc. in Los Angeles told Bloomberg.

Satellite television companies remain technologically disadvantaged to withstand the growing influence of online video and their subscriber numbers have peaked.

If AT&T buys DirecTV, the wireless giant could theoretically bundle its service with DirecTV’s video product, and in some areas of the country its U-verse high-speed broadband to the home, to compete with cable, said Amy Yong, an analyst at Macquarie Group in New York, in a note to clients.

Sprint + T-Mobile = Less Wireless Competition

Dish + T-Mobile = A Draw

mergerIn a less likely deal Sprint is still trying to pursue T-Mobile USA for a potential merger and if regulators reject that idea, Charles Ergen’s Dish Network is said to be interested.

To prepare Washington for another telecommunications deal, SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son’s lobbying firm, Carmen Group, has again been meeting with elected officials and regulators to argue the merits of a merger with T-Mobile, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Dish, which failed to buy Sprint last year, would be interested in acquiring T-Mobile if regulators block Sprint’s efforts, Ergen said. That hinges on whether SoftBank Corp. fails to win regulatory approval for its plan to buy T-Mobile, which is controlled by Deutsche Telekom AG, Ergen said last week. The Japanese wireless company owns 80 percent of Sprint.

All three deals carry a combined value of $170 billion in equity and debt and would impact 80 million Americans.

Suitors hope regulators will be in the mood to approve merger deals as they contemplate enlarging Comcast through its purchase of Time Warner Cable.

Even if all the deals don’t pass muster, Wall Street banks will still rake in millions in fees advising players on how to structure the deals. Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan would join executives winning considerable sums for reducing the number of competitors providing telecommunications services in the U.S.

Whether customers would benefit is a question open to much debate.

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Comcast: Usage-Based Billing for All Customers Within 5 Years; ‘We’re Also Allowed to Do Fast Lanes’

comcast highwayComcast will introduce usage-based billing on all of its broadband customers nationwide within five years, whether they like it or not.

Comcast’s executive vice president David Cohen told Variety he predicts the new usage limit will likely be 350GB a month but could increase to 500GB in 2019. Cohen claims consumers in usage-capped test markets prefer a preset usage limit and an overlimit fee of $10 for each additional 50GB of usage.

But Stop the Cap! has learned at no time has Comcast surveyed customers about whether they want their Internet usage metered or capped. That question is evidently not an option.

If Time Warner Cable territories are merged under the Comcast brand, usage billing would likely immediately follow.

Usage caps will go a long way to protect Comcast’s cable television package from online video, which if viewed in significant amounts could put customers over their monthly usage limit and subject them to higher fees.

“We’re trying to go slowly, not out of a regulatory concern (but because) we have no desire to blow up our high-speed data business,” he said.

cohenIf the merger is approved, Comcast will face significantly less competition in many Verizon service areas also served by Time Warner Cable. Verizon FiOS expansion has ended and the company continues to de-emphasize its DSL service, which is the only broadband competition Time Warner Cable faces in many upstate New York and western Massachusetts communities.

An unrepentant Cohen also doubled down on paid prioritization — Internet fast lanes — declaring regardless of what the FCC decides on Net Neutrality, Comcast still has the right to offer paid prioritization to customers.

“Whatever it is, we are allowed to do it,” said Cohen, speaking at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit in New York. “We are not sure we know what paid prioritization, or what a fast lane, is. Fast lane sounds bad… (but) I believe that whatever it is, it has been completely legal for 15 or 20 years.”

The way Comcast’s lawyers read “Title II,” even if the FCC declares broadband ISPs to be common carriers, Cohen says Comcast will go right on selling prioritized access, claiming Title II doesn’t prohibit paid prioritization — indeed, he said, “the whole history” of Title II is that carriers are allowed to provide different levels of service at different prices, reports Variety.

Cohen said he expects Washington regulators will promptly approve the company’s buyout of Time Warner Cable with no delays, insisting the deal is “not that difficult” in terms of antitrust implications.

 

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Public Service Commission to N.Y. Towns: You Have No Negotiating Leverage Over Time Warner Cable

rensselaer countyRensselaer County is just a short drive to the east of New York’s capital city Albany, but for residents in the southern half of the county, it might as be in the middle of nowhere.

Welcome to the world of broadband have’s and have-nots. If you live in the county seat — Troy, Internet access is widely available. But if you live in a community like Nassau, in the southern part of the county, getting Internet access is strictly a hit or miss affair, and in practical terms, the only entity that will decide if you have reasonable access to broadband is Time Warner Cable.

Verizon has decided that the days of expanding DSL in rural areas are over. There is no possibility those without access to DSL now will ever see Verizon’s fiber network FiOS coming their way either. That has left many residents with an unfortunate choice between heavily usage-capped and slow satellite Internet access or heavily usage-capped and expensive wireless Internet from a cell phone company.

Nassau does have a franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable, the only cable operator willing to offer service in this part of upstate New York. The contract specifies Time Warner will bring service to any neighborhood where there are at least 20 residences within a one-mile radius.

The Record News covered negotiations for a franchise renewal for the cable company last year, and found Time Warner Cable held all the cards and the town had almost no leverage in the negotiations:

A rare sight in southern Renssalear County.

A rare sight in southern Rensselaer County.

“We really have no negotiating leverage or power and the Public Service Commission (PSC) was helpful in looking at the contract, but told us we were basically out of luck with any efforts to require anything,” said town Supervisor David Fleming, who said he was told by Time Warner Cable that specific areas in Nassau are “not currently serviceable.”

The town had marked out all the areas that were not served and met with Time Warner to try to gain extensions of service.

“This only succeeded in a couple of areas,” he said. “This is because PSC told us we have no bargaining power. The only big concession we were able to get was to reduce the number of houses per mile needed for service, but this was a pretty standard fall back for Time Warner.”

The town succeeded in negotiating standards down to 20 dwellings per cable mile from 30. “We continue to explore this matter, but frankly, there has been a great deal of unwillingness to expand service in our community,” Fleming said. “The state has been of no help in expanding services.”

As a result, Time Warner has been generally adamant about not expanding service to residents like Alan Austin, who lives on a street where 11 houses are built within a half-mile, technically the same ratio required by Time Warner Cable.

Rensselaer sign“We’ve asked them to bring the service and they won’t,” Austin told the newspaper.

Actually, Time Warner is willing to expand into Austin’s neighborhood — for the right price.

Time Warner agreed it would install cable service if the 11 homes collectively paid a $12,000 installation fee.

“We’re out of luck because we’re never going to get another nine houses in this mile,” Austin said. “We can’t get anybody to bring service here, unless we’re willing to pay an exorbitant amount.”

As for alternatives, don’t call Verizon, they’ll call you. The phone company has suggested rural residents consider their wireless broadband and phone service, assuming a cell tower can reach them with a reasonable signal. But the cost is very high — at least $50 for only 4GB of usage per month and another $20 for telephone service.

Austin is lucky enough to receive some reception from Sprint, which is slightly more reasonably priced. But to get a reliable signal, he has to place his mobile Wi-Fi hotspot in his non-climate-controlled attic. When temperatures fall or soar, the hotspot stops working. Austin has rigged a remote-powered fan in the attic to blow cool air on the hotspot this summer to keep it up and running.

“It’s ridiculous,” he admitted. “People don’t believe me when I tell them these things, but that’s what we deal with.”

The newspaper also pondered the impact of being an Internet have-not with respect to education. In more than a few communities in the county, teachers avoid giving assignments that require students to do research over the Internet, putting them at a potentially serious disadvantage when they attend college.

Businesses also avoid areas where broadband poses a significant challenge, which affects jobs. Selling a home in a broadband blackout zone can also be difficult as savvy buyers increasingly now insist on Internet accessibility.

Without the benefit of bundling discounts, rural Americans pay substantially higher prices for telecommunications services. A promotional bundle from Time Warner Cable can provide phone, Internet, and television service for less than $100 a month. Austin says his package costs more than twice that — more than $220 monthly between paying bills for Verizon phone service, DirectTV television and Sprint for broadband Internet.

These kinds of challenges are ready-made to be addressed on the local government level, but cable and phone companies lobbied successfully for near-total deregulation, making it impossible for town officials to provoke change. In fact, had the community successfully revoked Time Warner Cable’s franchise, no other commercial provider would be willing to step in. That remains common in every community considering its future relationship with the area’s cable company. An informal understanding between cable operators keep them from competing outside of their defined territories.

That leaves Nassau officials with no options, except whether to renew Time Warner’s franchise on the company’s terms for five or ten years. Time Warner wouldn’t hear of a five-year contract so the town capitulated and agreed to a 10-year franchise renewal that will continue to leave residents like Austin without much hope for cable broadband service indefinitely.

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Time Warner Cable Customers in Queens Enjoying Free Maxx Broadband Speed Upgrades: 300/20Mbps

8681_262Time Warner Cable’s major broadband speed upgrade is alive in the Astoria, Woodside and Long Island City neighborhoods of Queens, N.Y.

The Time Warner Cable Maxx upgrade is Time Warner Cable’s effort to catch up to other cable operators that have significantly upgraded broadband speeds for customers over the last 18 months. Time Warner Cable has traditionally been one of the slowest major cable broadband providers in the country, with most customers only able to buy speeds up to 50/5Mbps. But Time Warner Cable has also committed to keeping unlimited use service available to customers, unlike Comcast, Charter, Cox, Suddenlink, and Mediacom.

The free speed upgrades are the largest ever for Time Warner Cable, typically more than tripling speeds for most customers.

Stop the Cap! has heard from readers in Queens who discovered the upgrades took effect this week, so we have been able to take a closer look at what customers can expect as Time Warner rolls out upgrades across New York City and Los Angeles and finally extending faster speeds over the next two years in other cities.

new speed

(Image: ematrix)

Arris Touchstone Telephony Gateway TG1672g

Arris Touchstone Telephony Gateway TG1672g

The first notification your area is about to receive an upgrade will come in a letter from Time Warner Cable.

Customers subscribing to the fastest speed tiers may need new equipment. Time Warner Cable is using 8-channel bonding in Queens for its 100 and 200Mbps tiers and 16-channel bonding for its 300Mbps tier. Some older and low-end DOCSIS 3 modems only support four channel bonding. For instance, a customer using a four-channel capable Motorola 6121 modem in Queens with Time Warner’s 30/5Mbps Extreme tier will only get speeds up to 50/5Mbps after the upgrade. If the customer owned a Motorola 6141, which supports eight channel bonding, they will get the full advantage of the upgrade: 200/20Mbps. But even the 6141 isn’t enough for Time Warner’s top tier: 300/20Mbps. Customers would need an upgrade to a 16-channel capable modem.

Time Warner’s notification letter says customers can swap out a company-owned cable modem for a 16-channel capable model, currently the Arris TG1672g, either by mail, through an area Time Warner Cable store, or with a service call. The usual modem rental fees still apply.

The TG1672g (download user manual) is a fully capable broadband and Wi-Fi home gateway that also supports Time Warner’s phone service:

  • 16×4 Channel Bonding
  • Full Capture Bandwidth Tuner
  • Multi Processor Technology with an Intel Atom Core Application Processor
  • DOCSIS® 3.0 and PacketCable™ 2.0 compliant design
  • 4 port Gigabit Ethernet Wireless Router
  • 3×3 Integrated Dual Band Concurrent
  • 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11n radios with Beam Forming
  • USB 2.0 Host Port
  • Upcoming support for DLNA and File Storage
  • Two FXS lines of carrier-grade VoIP with HD voice support
  • MoCA1.1 for in Home Video and Data distribution over Coax
  • Dual Stack IPv4/IPv6 Home Router
  • Internal Power Supply for Highest Reliability and reduced energy consumption
  • Battery backup: Single battery pack for reaching a full 8 hours of standby support

If picking up new equipment, a Time Warner representative will probably let you know if your account is flagged “Maxx-capable,” which means your neighborhood’s upgrade is imminent or complete. Time Warner may also want to swap out your set-top boxes if you subscribe to cable television, although readers report cable television service and the on-screen guide in Queens doesn’t look any different at present. The backup battery inside the cable modem is rated for up to 10 years of life and is replaceable by the user for around $60.

Customers who own their own cable modem might have to buy a new one if they are seeking the company’s fastest speeds. Time Warner’s latest approved modem list should guide what, if any, new equipment you might need. If you are considering buying your own modem, you might plan your purchase around the model(s) that support the speeds you want.

approved modems

Time Warner Cable’s Latest Approved Modem List

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TWC Techs Launch 300 Mbps Internet Speeds at Queens NY Hub 5-6-14.flv
Technicians launch 300Mbps broadband speeds for Time Warner Cable customers in Queens, N.Y. (1:27)

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Comcast Promises Wonderland of Broadband Ecstacy if Time Warner Cable Deal Goes Through

Neil Smit, CEO Comcast Cable (left), Ryan Lawler, TechCrunch (right)

Neil Smit, CEO, Comcast Cable (left), Ryan Lawler, TechCrunch (right)

Of all the tech companies to turn up at TechCrunch’s Disrupt New York 2014 event, Comcast Cable seemed the least likely to qualify as the kind of innovative start-up TechCrunch loves to cover.

But there sat Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit with TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler, discussing Comcast’s mega-merger with Time Warner Cable, its peering agreement with Netflix, broadcast TV streamer Aereo, and Comcast’s legendary dismal customer service.

Smit’s arrival on stage to a smattering of tentative applause was a clear sign there was no love for the cable giant in the audience, particularly from many New York area Time Warner Cable customers dreading a future with Comcast.

Smit was immediately confronted with the fact Comcast was recently voted the Worst Company in America by Consumerist readers, prompting yet another promise that improving customer service was Comcast’s “top priority,” the same promise Comcast gave in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

“I think if there’s one thing to disrupt in our business, it’s customer service,” Smit added.

Smit defended Comcast’s merger with Time Warner, relying heavily on video subscribers to downplay the concentrated market power Comcast would have after the merger. Smit pointed out Netflix has the largest subscriber count of any pay television channel or platform and denied Lawler’s contention that a merger would give Comcast more than 50% of the American broadband market.

“I think the number is a little less than that — it is closer to 40% but if you include wireless than it would be less than 20%,” Smit responded, referring to the LTE 4G wireless networks from wireless carriers that come with very low usage caps and very high prices.

Comcast-LogoSmit also promised major broadband speed upgrades and other improvements for Time Warner Cable customers, but nobody mentioned Comcast’s gradual reintroduction of usage caps on residential broadband accounts.

Comcast Cable’s CEO also addressed several other hot button issues:

Smit claimed Comcast has a good working relationship with the FCC and is providing advice on whatever changes to Net Neutrality FCC chairman Tom Wheeler will propose later this month.

Despite the fact Comcast could ultimately benefit if Aereo is found to be legal by the U.S. Supreme Court, Smit recognized Comcast also owns NBC and other broadcast programmers and was concerned about the economic impact if cable operators stopped paying for over-the-air programming.

“We pay $9 billion a year for content,” Smit said. “One of the things that I question in the Aereo solution is: are they paying for content? The spend for that content has to come from somewhere.”

Smit also noted Comcast is increasingly targeting younger audiences by signing deals with college campuses to bring Comcast service to students to hook them as future subscribers. Comcast is also creating new packages with fewer channels to appeal to millennials. Smit also acknowledged many younger family members are accessing cable programming using passwords associated with their parent’s cable account.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TechCrunch Interview with Neil Smit 5-6-14.mp4

Here is the complete interview TechCrunch conducted with Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit. (22:20)

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Competition Killer: Access to Time Warner Cable’s Business Fiber Network at Risk from Comcast Merger

comcast twcCompanies in the Pacific Coastal region of California are concerned about losing wholesale access to Time Warner Cable’s business fiber network if the cable company is acquired by Comcast.

Independent business communications providers acquire connectivity at wholesale rates from providers like Time Warner Cable and provide competition in the telecommunications marketplace.

“Time Warner Cable actually provides wholesale access, at least to its fiber network,” Dave Clark, president of Santa Barbara-based Impulse Advanced Communications, told the Pacific Coast Business Times. “From a competitive telecom perspective, they cooperate and work with competitive telecoms. Comcast does not. The big fear in the competitive telecom industry is that Comcast buys Time Warner and cuts [wholesale access] off.”

3 countiesCurrently, third-party access to cable broadband technology is provided on a voluntary basis by cable operators. Regulated telephone companies like Verizon and AT&T that serve California are required to offer open access to competitors, at least on their copper line networks.

If Comcast decides it won’t continue wholesale access to Time Warner’s network, it can cut off access almost immediately.

“The worst impact is going to be Ventura County, which has chunks of Time Warner,” Clark told the newspaper. “If Time Warner down there stops providing any wholesale access to facilities, those customers will be worse off. They’ll have fewer competitive options.”

Customers in Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara counties would see the number of cable providers serving the area cut in half, from four providers to two. Charter and Time Warner Cable customers would be transferred to Comcast. That’s a major development, because Comcast now only operates in a tiny area of Santa Maria and the Santa Ynez Valley. Now the company would be dominant in Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties. Cox would still serve its customers in the South Coast region.

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The 5 Cable & Phone Companies Intentionally Sabotaging Your Use of the Internet

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Level 3′s global network: Orange lines represent Level 3-owned infrastructure, yellow lines show leased or co-owned connections.

Five of the largest Internet Service Providers in the country are intentionally sabotaging your use of the Internet by allowing their network connections to degrade unless they receive extra compensation from content companies they often directly compete with.

Mark Taylor, vice president of content and media for Level 3, wrote a lengthy primer on how Internet providers exchange traffic with each other across a vast global network. While clients of Level 3 are likely to have few problems exchanging traffic back and forth across Level 3′s global network, vital interconnections with other providers that make sure everyone can communicate with everyone else on the Internet are occasional trouble spots.

Every provider has different options to reach other providers, but favor those offering the most direct route possible to minimize “hops” between networks, which slow down the connection and increase the risk of service interruptions. These connections are often arranged through peering agreements. Level 3 has 51 peers, minimized in number to keep traffic moving as efficiently as possible.

This oversaturated port in Dallas cannot handle all the traffic trying to pass through it, so Internet packets are often dropped and traffic speeds are slowed.

This oversaturated port in Dallas cannot handle all the traffic trying to pass through it, so Internet packets are often dropped and traffic speeds are slowed.

Taylor writes most peering arrangements were informal agreements between engineers and did not involve any money changing hands. Today, 48 of the 51 Level 3 peering agreements don’t involve compensation. In fact, Level 3 refuses to pay “arbitrary charges to add interconnection capacity.” Taylor feels such upgrades are a matter of routine and are not costly for either party.

Peering agreements have been a very successful part of the Internet experience, even if end users remain completely in the dark about how Internet traffic moves around the world. In the view of many, customers don’t need to know and shouldn’t care, because their monthly Internet bill more than covers the cost of transporting data back and forth.

Because of ongoing upgrades the average utilization of Level 3′s connections is around 36 percent of capacity — busy enough to justify keeping the connection and providing spare capacity for days when Internet traffic explodes during breaking news or over the holidays.

csat-1024x635However, Taylor says more than a year ago, something suddenly changed at five U.S. Internet Service Providers. They stopped periodic upgrades and allowed some of their connections to become increasingly busy with traffic. Today, six of Level 3′s 51 peer connections are now 90 percent saturated with traffic for several hours a day, which causes traffic to degrade or get lost.

“[The] congestion [has become] permanent, has been in place for well over a year and [...] our peer refuses to augment capacity,” Taylor wrote. “They are deliberately harming the service they deliver to their paying customers. They are not allowing us to fulfill the requests their customers make for content.”

Taylor adds all but one of the affected connections are U.S. consumer broadband networks with a dominant or exclusive market share. Where competition exists, no provider allows their Internet connections to degrade, said Taylor.

Taylor won’t directly name the offenders, but he left an easy-to-follow trail:

“The companies with the congested peering interconnects also happen to rank dead last in customer satisfaction across all industries in the U.S.,” Taylor wrote. “Not only dead last, but by a massive statistical margin of almost three standard deviations.”

Taylor footnotes the source for his rankings, the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. The five worse providers listed for consumer satisfaction:

  • Comcast
  • Time Warner Cable
  • Charter Communications
  • Cox Communications
  • Verizon

AT&T has also made noises about insisting on compensation for its own network upgrades, blaming Netflix traffic.

level3In fact, Netflix traffic seems to be a common point of contention among Internet Service Providers that also sell their own television packages. They now insist the streaming video provider establish direct, paid connections with their networks. Level 3 is affected because it carries a substantial amount of traffic on behalf of Netflix.

Ultimately, the debate is about who pays for network upgrades to keep up with traffic growth. Taylor says Level 3′s cost to add an extra 10Gbps port would be between $10-20 thousand dollars, spare change for multi-billion dollar Americans cable and phone companies. Normally, competition would never allow a traffic dispute like this interfere with a customer’s usage experience. Angry customers would simply switch providers. But the lack of competition prevents this from happening in the United States, leaving customers in the middle.

This leaves Taylor with a question: “Shouldn’t a broadband consumer network with near monopoly control over their customers be expected, if not obligated, to deliver a better experience than this?”

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  • txpatriot: The Oregon PUC has been investigating rural call completion problems in that state as early as 2012: http://www.oregonlive.com/forest-grove/index.ssf...
  • Phillip Dampier: Did your service get locked which prompted the chat or was it a revelation that came after asking about something else?...
  • Jim: Here's a crazy idea, why doesn't AT&T just offer a fair price to all customers and stop playing games? They often advertise a promotional price fo...
  • Hamza: lol I have a 250gb plan and I'm at 500gb now. I joined Cox's Tech Chat and the guy told me I had 3 warnings on my account this billing cycle...and co...
  • Limboaz: Comcast up to dirty tricks to stop competition: http://www.fiercecable.com/story/centurylink-accuses-comcast-using-lobbying-heft-block-it-competitive...
  • Phillip Dampier: Register all third party call handlers and develop a protocol that includes a limit on how many times a call can be passed to another party, a provisi...
  • humbug: And anon, no I can't really afford it, but surprisingly, at least to you, I don't want to move just for decent communications access. The federal gov...
  • more humbug: GCI has a usage page where we're supposed to be able to monitor the usage. I usually quit any significant downloading about halfway through the billi...
  • JayS: Poor call completion seems to exist in all states, not just those that have recently deregulated;re-regulating, following the old rules, does not appe...
  • Michael Elling (@Infostack): Phil, Superlative work. I sincerely hope it has the much needed and necessary impact inside and outside the Beltway. Michael...
  • Chris Conder: Copper. A race to the bottom. Where are the men and women of fibre? Moral and optic. Its time to get real and build the infrastructure of the future....
  • Ryan Brodnax: This pisses me off in ways that you can't even imagine. First of all the company website says there is no limitations on usage at this time. I watch a...

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