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It’s Official: Charter Communications Buys Bright House Networks in $10.4 Billion Deal

Charter_logoCharter Communications today officially announced it will acquire control of Bright House Networks in a $10.4 billion deal the two companies are calling a “partnership.”

Widely anticipated, the deal will help Charter in its quest to become the second largest cable operator in the country, up from fourth place.

Bright House is the sixth largest cable operator, serving almost two million video customers in central Florida including Orlando and Tampa Bay, as well as Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, and California.

The deal will establish a partnership between Charter and Bright House’s current owner, Advance/Newhouse. But nobody will doubt who is in charge. Charter will own 73.7% of the venture, leaving the Newhouse family with a minority share of 26.3%. Bright House shareholders will receive shares of New Charter stock.

brighthouse1The deal is partly contingent on Time Warner Cable, which has a right to acquire Bright House for itself as part of a long-standing partnership between the two cable companies on programming and technology matters. But such an acquisition now seems remote, considering Time Warner Cable remains tied up in its year-long effort to be acquired by Comcast. An even larger Time Warner Cable would further complicate that transaction in Washington, where regulators are clearly concerned about supersizing Comcast. Since some regulators count Bright House customers as de facto Time Warner Cable customers, having Bright House acquired by Charter would seem to reduce Comcast’s influence over American broadband and cable television by cutting its combined market share from 29 to 27 million subscribers.

The Charter Sucks website could soon be getting more traffic.

The Charter Sucks website could soon be getting more traffic.

But Charter is also dependent on the Comcast deal closing, because that transaction delivers Charter another 2.5 million Time Warner and Comcast castoffs that will be sold service under the brand GreatLand Connections. The combination of those subscribers and Bright House will make Charter the second largest cable operator in the country.

Unfortunately for customers, Charter isn’t even close to second place in customer satisfaction or service. Beyond the very active Charter Sucks website, every consumer satisfaction measurement firm places Charter substantially below average in service, satisfaction, and pricing. Bright House scored on the high side.

“From the frying pan into the fire,” lamented Sam Pama, a former Bright House customer turned FiOS fan in Tampa. “First Frontier bought Verizon FiOS in Florida and now Charter is buying Bright House. Both treat their customers like crap.”

One piece of good news: Charter quietly shelved their usage caps months ago and Frontier has only toyed with them in the past, taking significant heat from Stop the Cap! before backing off. Neither are expected to slap usage limits or usage billing on customers in the foreseeable future.

Time Warner Cable Restoring Service in Parts of SE Texas Nine Years After Hurricane Rita

The Golden Triangle of southeastern Texas encompasses the cities of Orange to the east, Port Arthur to the south, and Beaumont to the west.

The Golden Triangle of southeastern Texas encompasses the cities of Orange to the east, Port Arthur to the south, and Beaumont to the west.

Nine years after Hurricane Rita swamped parts of the Golden Triangle region of southeastern Texas, Time Warner Cable is finally getting around to restoring service to parts of Orange County that haven’t had cable broadband since 2005.

A warm spring has allowed crews to start construction to parts of Orange County affected by the storm that wreaked havoc on the area nearly a month after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Although some properties were severely damaged by the hurricane, other utilities restored service to the area years ago. Time Warner Cable is the last, and it cannot come soon enough for Chelsey Walters.

The Orange, Tex. resident is forced to get usage-capped DSL broadband from AT&T, and her last monthly bill reached over $750.

“Both of my car notes are less than that and even with our Internet you cannot do anything because it drops and there are times when it does not work,” Walters told KBMT-TV in Beaumont. “When we first moved out there, they (Time Warner) came out and ran all the cables in my house, then called us and said – oh we do not service that area.”

The construction schedule for Orange County, Tex.:

  • Hwy. 105 East on Hwy. 62 to Caribou Ln. is forecast to be serviceable by the middle of May
  • From Woodcock St. to Michell Rd. is forecast to be serviceable by the middle of May
  • On Hwy. 62 from S. Meadow Dr. to Egan Dr. is forecast to be serviceable by the middle of May
  • On Tulane Rd. from Hwy. 62 to Burton Dr. is forecast to be serviceable by the middle of June
  • On Tulane Rd. from Burton Dr. to Old Hwy. 90 is scheduled to be on by the middle of June
  • On Old Hwy. 90 from Tulane Rd. to E. Wood Fern St. is forecast to be serviceable by the end of June
  • I-10 west from Med Davis Rd. to N. Lewis Dr. is forecast to be serviceable by the first of July
  • I-10 West from Naquin Rd. to Peru Rd. is forecast to be serviceable by the first of July
  • From Moss Ln. to Hartzog Rd. is forecast to be serviceable by the first of August

California Delays Consideration of Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger, Charter Realignment Until May

comcastbuy_400_241Californians get a reprieve from the menacing Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger with an announcement from the California Public Utilities Commission it is putting further consideration of the merger deal on hold until later this spring.

Consumer groups loudly protested the PUC for holding its single public hearing on the merger in San Francisco, which has been served almost exclusively by Comcast for years. Most of the impact of the merger will be felt in Los Angeles, where Time Warner Cable provides service to around 1.8 million customers. The deal also involves Charter Communications customers in the region, who will also end up as Comcast customers if the deal is approved.

The PUC eventually agreed to hold a meeting in Los Angeles, but then scheduled it for Good Friday. Now it has changed the date for the four-hour public input session to April 14, one day before tax returns are due. No specific information about the time of the meeting could be located on the CPUC website, but we do know it will be held in the auditorium of the Public Utilities Commission’s building at 320 West 4th St. in downtown Los Angeles.

That the CPUC seems to be heading towards approving the deal does not come as much of a surprise. The CPUC has been surprisingly friendly to the communications companies it regulates, in the past approving questionable statewide video franchise reforms on behalf of AT&T and generally permitting most of the merger and consolidation transactions that arrive at the commission for review.

An advising administrative law judge attached a long list of recommended temporary conditions that should be included in any approval, covering everything from lobbying about municipal broadband to discount Internet service for the poor. Although Comcast claims it is willing to accept many of the short-term conditions, it also signaled objections to some of the most significant requirements, a potential sign Comcast might exercise its legal options in the future to be rid of the deal’s most onerous conditions.

Independent consumer groups not financially aligned with the cable industry are almost universally opposed to the merger as are many Californians.

New York Public Service Commission Delays Decision on Comcast-Time Warner Merger for the 7th Time

ny pscNew York regulators have once again kicked the can down the road, delaying a final decision on the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger for the seventh time.

Pursuant to a request from Department of Public Service staff in the above-referenced matter, Comcast Corporation and Time Warner Cable Inc. agree to extend the time for action by the Public Service Commission on the Joint Petition, with a final order issued no later than Monday, April 20, 2015.

There is no clear sign why the Public Service Commission has further delayed its final decision, but the merger remains mired in controversy on both the state and federal level. The FCC recently stopped the clock on further consideration of the merger as legal wrangling continues over who gets to see copies of cable programming contracts with Comcast.

A draft report from California regulators recommended approval of the merger in February, but only after dozens of conditions were recommended to protect the public and competition. Final consideration of the merger request may come next week at a general meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission.

 

Sorry, That Competing Online Video/Cord-Cutter Competitor is Dead in the Water When Usage Caps Arrive

Phillip "It isn't so dumb to own the pipes" Dampier

Phillip “It isn’t so dumb to own the pipes” Dampier

In 2006, AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre thought his company was at a disadvantage being stuck with “dumb pipes” while Google, Yahoo! (remember them?) and Vonage couldn’t count their earnings fast enough. While AT&T sold consumers plain DSL service, content was king on Wall Street and Whitacre groused it was unfair for bandwidth hogs to use “the pipes for free.” That one statement was the equivalent of throwing a lit match on a hillside in Malibu Canyon and a predictable firestorm over Net Neutrality ensued.

Nine years later, Net Neutrality is now official FCC policy, although the sour grape-eating Republicans will continue to throw Congressional hissyfits along the way. While they rely on tissue-thin evidence to back their assertion the FCC secretly colluded with the Obama Administration to stick it to AT&T and demand its repeal, the future of Net Neutrality will more likely be decided in a courtroom a year or two from now.

Back in 2006 AT&T primarily sold DSL service and was looking for cash to finance its then emerging U-verse platform. AT&T planned to follow cable’s lead, devoting most of the available bandwidth on its fiber to the neighborhood network to cable television programming. Broadband speeds were limited to just under 25Mbps — even less if a large household had multiple television sets in use.

But as the Great Recession arrived and wages stagnated, the cost of what used to be a “must-have” service for most Americans increasingly began to exceed the household budget and the day finally arrived when cable companies started losing more television customers than they were adding. Even worse, cable programming costs continue to spiral upwards and no major cable company can increase cable television rates fast enough to support the usual profit margin the industry counted on.

What Whitacre failed to realize nine years earlier is that broadband providers did not simply own “dumb pipes.” AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, Charter and other providers actually occupy two gilded catbird seats, with AT&T and Verizon dominating the wireless Internet business and Comcast, Time Warner, and Charter dominating at-home viewing and wired broadband. Lawmakers who deregulated both industries predicted pitting AT&T against Comcast or Verizon against Time Warner Cable would create competition not seen since Coke vs. Pepsi. Consumers would benefit and world-class service would result.

Instead, Time Warner Cable now sells Verizon Wireless phone service. Verizon gave up on expanding its FiOS network and is selling off its DSL and FiOS business in pieces to focus on its best moneymaker, Verizon Wireless. Comcast in turn threw in the towel on any notion of offering competing cellular service and, in fact, sold its acquired wireless spectrum to Verizon.

PlayStation Vue's lineup

PlayStation Vue’s lineup

The best way to make money is to avoid price wars with your competitors and the evidence shows there is growing peace in America’s Telecom Valley. Comcast can now raise your broadband bill because, for most, Verizon FiOS isn’t an option. AT&T U-verse does not have to hurry speed upgrades to customers if Time Warner Cable delivers no better than 50/5Mbps service in large parts of its service area. Google Fiber remains a minor threat, only available in a handful of cities. AT&T distributed more copies of its press release touting U-verse Gigapower — its gigabit Internet offering — than there are customers qualified to sign up.

Notice that we’ve drifted away from talking about cable television programming. So has the industry, now increasingly dependent on broadband rate increases to make up the difference in revenue they used to take home from their television packages.

But now that the biggest players have a predictable source of revenue, allowing disruptors to further challenge earnings isn’t something your local cable and phone company will allow for long. At the moment, those most likely to cause problems are the growing number of “over the top” streaming video services that do not require a cable television subscription to watch. But they do need broadband — Whitacre’s “dumb pipes” — to reach subscribers. To manage that, services like Apple, PlayStation Vue and Sling TV and their customers must deal with the gatekeepers — AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and others.

What Whitacre thought was a disadvantage is now becoming the best thing in the world — manning a toll booth on the only two roads most Americans can use to access online content.

Today, Sony officially launched its Internet-TV service, “PlayStation Vue” in three cities (New York, Chicago and Philadelphia) with a base price of $49.99/month. In includes more than 50 cable networks and in the three launch cities — local network affiliates. In Chicago and Philadelphia, where Comcast provides cable service, potential customers will need to pay $50 a month for Vue and another $64.95 a month for 50Mbps broadband — the least expensive broadband-only tier that is suitable for high quality viewing. Your combined bill for both services is $114.94 a month. Comcast charges $99.99 a month for its double play – 220 TV channels and 50Mbps broadband — almost $15 a month less for its package, and it includes around 150 more channels than Vue.

Comcast explans its new usage caps.

Comcast explains its new usage caps.

But Comcast also has another weapon it is testing is several of its markets — the resumption of usage caps and overlimit fees on its broadband service. Comcast customers in most test markets are given 300GB a month, after which they face overlimit fees of $10 for each additional increment of 50GB. While web browsing and e-mail fit more than comfortably within those caps, watching HD video may not. That leaves a potential Vue customer with a major dilemma. Should they pay $15 a month more for service than they can pay Comcast for a better package -and- chew away their usage allowance using it?

Comcast has yet to figure out how to install a coin collector on top of your television set, so you can watch as much Comcast cable television as you’d like. But watching streaming video could get very expensive if it exceeds a future Comcast usage allowance.

Smaller video packages from providers like Sling TV or the forthcoming Apple streaming service might make more sense, but will still be subject to Comcast’s usage caps if/when they are reintroduced around the country, while Comcast’s own television service will not.

This is why cable and phone companies hold enormous power over their potential competitors, even if Net Neutrality is fiercely enforced. Usage caps and usage-based billing represent an end run around Net Neutrality and both are permitted. The FCC has consistently refused to engage on the issue of broadband usage caps, leaving providers with a useful weapon to deter customers from dropping their television package in favor of an online alternative.

With most Americans having a choice of only one or two “dumb pipes” over which they can reach these services, being an owner of those pipes and getting to set the rates and conditions to use them is a very comfortable (and profitable) place to be.

California Public Utilities Commission Predictably Issues Tentative Approval of Comcast-TWC Merger

cpucWe grant the application of Comcast Corporation (Comcast), Time Warner Cable Inc. (Time Warner), Time Warner Cable Information Services (California), LLC (TWCIS) and Bright House Networks Information Services (California), LLC (Bright House) for approval of the transfer of control of TWCIS and Bright House to Comcast. In addition, we grant the application of Comcast, TWCIS and Charter Fiberlink CA-CCO, LLC (Charter Fiberlink) to transfer a limited number of business customers and associated regulated assets of Charter Fiberlink. — Proposed Decision of California Administrative Law Judge Karl J. Bemesderfer

In a decision widely expected by observers for almost a year, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is poised to conditionally approve the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable with dozens of pages of conditions to appease state politicians, concerned commissioners, and interest groups seeking to protect Californians from the competitive impact of what will easily become the state’s largest cable provider, serving 84% of households.

Administrative Law Judge Karl J. Bemesderfer issued his lengthy “proposed decision” in February, acknowledging the deal’s opponents have proved their contention the merger is not in the interests of Californian consumers, but then recommends approving it anyway:

In more concrete terms, the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner reduces the possibilities for content providers to reach the California broadband market. While the FCC’s pending reworked Net Neutrality rules may mitigate some of this effect, the sheer dominance of Comcast’s post-merger position causes us concern.

Parties have made a convincing showing of the anti-competitive consequences that Comcast’s post-merger market power may have on the deployment of broadband in California, and of anti-competitive harms that would occur in California if the merger is consummated. We are also persuaded by evidence of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program’s weak performance in closing the digital divide in California and fulfilling universal service goals, and thus do not view it as a mitigating factor without additional conditions.

While the protesters and intervenors vigorously assert that we should deny the applications outright, they also urge us, in the alternative, to impose conditions ameliorating the potential harms should we decide that such conditions are within our powers and sufficient to render the resulting transaction not adverse to the public interest.

While we are troubled by the protesters’ and intervenors’ many examples of potential harms that may flow from the merger, we believe that those harms may be mitigated by the imposition of conditions on our approval consistent with our powers under state and federal law.

comcast twcBemesderfer proposes a lengthy list of conditions the cable giant must meet for at least five years after merging, including offering discounted Internet service programs, improve customer service, provide free backup batteries for Comcast phone service, and promise it will stop lobbying against community broadband projects.

But the judge said nothing about Comcast’s runaway rate increases likely in a de facto monopoly environment, its own vice president’s prediction that all Comcast broadband customers will be enrolled in a usage-based billing scheme within five years, and lacks specificity explaining the enforcement measures the CPUC will take against Comcast if it fails to meet the commission’s conditions.

The five-member commission could take up Bemesderfer’s recommendations as early as the end of this month, but is more likely to postpone consideration until later this spring. The commission can adopt, change, or discard Bemesderfer’s recommendations.

Accusations that the CPUC has grown too cozy with the companies it regulates only grew louder after consumer groups complained Bemesderfer bent over backwards trying to get Comcast’s merger deal closer to the concept of “the public interest.” For them, it isn’t nearly close enough.

“To read the recent 100-plus-page decision from the CPUC, you wouldn’t think this proposed merger is good for anyone,” writes Tracy Rosenberg, executive director of Media Alliance, which opposes the deal. “The regulator approved the merger with more than two dozen conditions to mitigate the bad impacts on Californians.”

Rosenberg hints the CPUC is ill-equipped to effectively watch over a multi-billion dollar telecom giant like Comcast. By proposing an ambitious set of requirements the CPUC cannot possibly enforce or defend in court with its current limited budget. Taxpayers may have to dig deep to cover legal bills likely to pile up in Sacramento if Comcast decides to rid itself of CPUC meddling in the courts. Comcast has already announced strenuous objections to at least 20 of the 25 conditions Bemesderfer recommends imposing.

Image courtesy: cobalt123

Comcast to California: Hey, slow down a moment. We don’t like your pre-conditions.

Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin chronicles Comcast’s objections in a convenient clickable format:

The table of contents of Comcast’s 46-page report gives a sense of just how much the cable company disagrees with California’s proposed conditions. Here are the main bullet points as written in Comcast’s argument; we’ve added hyperlinks and additional text in italics to further explain the requirements and Comcast’s objections:

The proposed decision improperly expands the scope of the proceeding beyond the commission’s jurisdiction and authority.

  • The proposed decision would impose sweeping common carrier utility type regulation on the merged entity’s broadband and VoIP services in derogation of federal and state law.
  • Other conditions in the proposed decision exceed the commission’s authority or are otherwise unlawful. [According to Comcast, these conditions include requirements related to Lifeline phone service, diversity, website design standards, backup batteries, video programming, non-interference with competing voice services, buildout requirements, opposition to municipal broadband projects, and privacy complaints.]

The proposed decision adopts intervenors’ [merger opponents] flawed analyses and claims regarding market share and competition.

  • The transaction will not increase market power or reduce consumer choice.
  • The FCC’s new definition of “advanced telecommunications capability” has no relevance to this proceeding. [The Federal Communications Commission recently said that Internet service must provide at least 25Mbps download speeds and 3Mbps upload to qualify as broadband or “advanced telecommunications capability.” That decision increased Comcast’s “broadband” market share to 56 percent nationwide.]
  • Concerns regarding future overbuilding are baseless and unsupported by the record. [The question here is whether Comcast and Time Warner Cable would ever compete against each other directly if they cannot merge.]
  • The transaction presents no risk to edge providers [companies that deliver content and applications over the Internet], the highly competitive internet backbone, or consumers’ access to broadband content.

Other factual findings in the proposed decision are invalid and do not support the suggested conditions.

  • TWC is not a “policy competitor” to Comcast. [The California judge’s proposal said TWC is a “policy competitor” to Comcast because it has different positions and business models. “For example, Time Warner has applied to the Commission to offer Lifeline as a tariffed service, while Comcast has not,” the judge wrote.]
  • Mandatory diversity measures are unnecessary. [Comcast says California’s requirements amount to mandatory race-based quotas that violate state law and the US Constitution.]
  • Concerns regarding Comcast’s battery backup program and other network safety issues are based on inaccurate assertions.
  • The transaction will not harm wholesale offerings.
  • Internet Essentials is successful by any objective metric and the program’s extension to TWC and Charter areas will provide substantial public interest benefits. [Internet Essentials is a low-cost Internet service for the poor that Comcast was required to create in exchange for approval of its 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal. California wants Comcast to expand program eligibility further than Comcast is willing to. Comcast objects to a requirement to double download speeds from 5Mbps to 10Mbps. California also wants Comcast to achieve a 45 percent adoption rate among eligible consumers, which Comcast says is an unrealistic goal.]
  • The proposed decision imposes unlawful rate and performance regulations based on inaccurate assumptions about TWC services and is in all events unjustified. [California wants Comcast to offer standalone broadband service for five years at prices not exceeding those charged by Time Warner Cable.]
  • The proposed decision adopts incorrect data regarding Comcast’s quality of service and network safety and reliability.
  • The “benchmark” competition theory adopted in the proposed decision is refuted by the record evidence. [California proposes an annual report requirement because the merger would eliminate the commission’s ability to compare reliability, customer service, prices, and service offerings of Comcast and TWC.]
  • Other suggested conditions are unauthorized and unnecessary. [This section further covers a requirement to not interfere with voice services. Comcast says “it is unnecessary because Comcast does not interfere with voice services or degrade customers’ ability to complete calls.” This section also addresses a website accessibility requirement, which Comcast says is unnecessary because the company “already offers a comprehensive and user-friendly website that benchmarks to best practices for website accessibility.”]

Rosenberg argues a merger like Comcast and Time Warner Cable should have been easy to reject just on the basis of its size and scope.

“Economists use a scale called the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index to measure the level of concentration in a market,” Rosenberg said. “Anything with an HHI increase of more than 200 points is likely to enhance market power. The HHI increase for the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable is a 4,927-point increase in the fixed broadband market.”

In plain English, “California customers have nowhere to run,” Rosenberg writes. “If they had a choice, many of Comcast’s customers wouldn’t be their customers. If the merger with Time Warner goes through, that choice is about to get a whole lot worse.”

Instead of accommodating a merger proposal that seems clearly the opposite of the public interest, Rosenberg suggest an easier alternative.

“If something takes two dozen onerous conditions to prevent significant damage, then maybe the public is better off without it,” Rosenberg writes. “On March 26, the commission will vote on the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. A million conditions can’t make this a good enough deal. There comes a time to just say no.”

Charter Cable in Talks to Acquire Bright House Networks in an All-Stock Deal; Deal May Still Fall Apart, Source Says

charterCharter Communications is in talks with Si Newhouse, Jr., the billionaire owner of Bright House Networks, to acquire the cable operator in an all-stock deal that could be worth over $12 billion, according to a report by Bloomberg News.

Bright House Networks serves 2.5 million customers, primarily in central Florida but also in parts of Alabama, Indiana, California and Michigan. Bright House has been closely controlled by the Newhouse family and has avoided efforts to consolidate the cable industry for more than two decades.

The deal is not yet finalized, according to two people asking not to be identified discussing confidential details of the deal. A side dispute over who will control voting shares of Charter after any acquisition remains at issue. John Malone’s Liberty Broadband, the largest single shareholder of Charter, is said to be seeking a larger ownership share of Charter Communications in what analysts expect will be a gradual takeover of Charter by Malone.

This afternoon, Bright House confirmed acquisition talks are underway.

brighthouse1“While we have had conversations with many parties about this transaction, we do not have an agreement with anyone regarding future plans for Bright House,” a company spokeswoman said in the statement.

The deal may also depend on whether regulators approve the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Time Warner Cable currently represents Bright House in most cable programming negotiations and the two cable companies have closely worked together on technology and services for more than a decade. That collaboration is likely to end if the Comcast merger is approved, stranding New House as a small independent operator.

Charter was long-expected to make offers to acquire other cable operators in its quest to grow larger, especially after failing in its bid to acquire Time Warner Cable for itself. An acquisition of Bright House by Charter would allow the company to further expand its presence in the south and midwest where it focuses most of its cable operations.

But it is not a done deal yet. The talks between Charter and Bright House could still fall apart and may not result in a deal, one source cautioned.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Charter in Talks to Buy Newhouse Bright House Networks 3-12-15.flv

Bloomberg News reports Charter Communications is in talks with the Newhouse family to acquire Bright House Networks in an all-stock deal. (1:22)

If Comcast Can’t Have Time Warner Cable, What Will It Acquire Instead: Netflix? Sprint? Roku?

Could this be Comcast's next target?

Could this be Comcast’s next target?

As Wall Street continues contemplating mom and dad at the FCC and Department of Justice calling off Comcast’s elopement with Time Warner Cable, some analysts believe Comcast will have to spend the money now burning a hole in its pocket on something.

“Given the strength of Comcast’s balance sheet and an insatiable appetite for acquisitions, we do not believe Comcast would be content with its existing portfolio (no different than after they failed in their 2004 attempt to buy Disney),” wrote Richard Greenfield from BTIG Research.

Greenfield has grown increasingly pessimistic about the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal since realizing regulators were not going to follow the usual procedure of rubber-stamping approval with mild, short-term conditions to appease politicians. As President Barack Obama highlights telecommunications public policy in his second term, the cable industry (and broadband in particular) has come under unprecedented scrutiny and visibility in the press.

This winter, the FCC redefined broadband speed to mean a connection offering at least 25Mbps. That virtually eliminates DSL as a meaningful competitor, and would hand a combined Comcast/Time Warner Cable over 55% of broadband homes in the United States. The FCC’s approval of Net Neutrality and regulating broadband as a public utility led the audience in attendance to give a standing ovation to Chairman Thomas Wheeler and the two Democratic commissioners voting in favor of the policy change. The public sentiment is clearly against industry deregulation and unfettered deal-making, particularly when it involves Comcast, one of the most-loathed corporations in America.

Greenfield

Greenfield

Greenfield notes momentum is on the side of consumer groups fighting for Net Neutrality, oversight, and an end to cable industry consolidation.

Assuming Comcast’s deal with Time Warner Cable fails, what can Comcast spend its money on without running into a regulator buzzsaw?

Comcast could easily continue a mergers and acquisitions strategy if it avoids attempting to dramatically increase its cable footprint. For instance, Comcast could still choose to sell some of its less important cable systems to Charter Communications — already part of the proposed Time Warner Cable transaction — and make up that subscriber loss by acquiring Cablevision, which provides service in the important suburban New York City market. Of course, the Dolan family is notorious for not selling to anyone, and a considerable number of extended family members are employed as executives in the company.

Cable operators have returned to a strategy of hedging their content costs by spending billions to acquire content producers and sports teams in hopes of moderating their price demands. In the 1980s and early 1990s, large cable operators insisted on owning a piece of nearly every cable network shown on their systems. Today, having an ownership stake in the cable networks one negotiates with at contract renewal time is a helpful advantage.

Comcast has several attractive acquisition targets Greenfield believes it can consider:

  • Comcast-LogoTime Warner (Entertainment): Not affiliated with Time Warner Cable, owning Time Warner (Entertainment) would gain Comcast important cable networks like TNT, HBO, and the Warner Bros. studio.
  • Netflix: Acquiring one of the best assets cord cutters have might prove difficult with regulators in Washington, but buying the ultimate TV Everywhere experience could deliver a digital platform that puts Comcast’s own online content portal to shame. The deal would also come with the talent that made Netflix an international success. If Comcast were to acquire Netflix, it would combine a superior streaming platform with an enormous content library.
  • Acquire online video content sites and producers: Linear live television continues to be challenged by an array of on-demand content and video clips from various websites like Vice — videos that could be further monetized by matching Comcast’s advertising sales team with online media.
  • Next generation online video set-top box manufacturers: The traditional cable box is dead to a lot of subscribers who prefer the simplicity (and price) of Roku and other similar alternatives. Current cable boxes are huge, expensive, and simply lack the creative imagination of the competition. If Comcast can’t beat Roku, it could buy it.
  • Buy Sprint or T-Mobile: Greenfield believes Comcast lacks a wireless component in its product lineup as consumers increasingly move towards portable devices. Comcast would be financially foolish to build a network from the ground up, so acquiring an existing one makes more sense. AT&T and Verizon Wireless are likely out of reach, but Sprint and T-Mobile are not. Both carriers’ parent companies seem ready to sell, if the price is right. Of the two, Sprint might be willing to sell first. Sprint’s owner — Japan’s Softbank — has discovered the United States is a huge country that can swallow up endless amounts of investment and still leave it saddled with a second-rate network.

Greenfield is only speculating and there are no indications Comcast is seriously considering a next move should the Time Warner Cable deal be killed in Washington. But it does signal Wall Street does expect Comcast to do something.

Lawsuit Plaintiff Byron Allen: Comcast Uses ‘Least Expensive Negro’ Al Sharpton to Cover Up Discrimination

Allen

Allen: Comcast thinks “Give Sharpton $50,000 and a bucket of chicken and we’re good.”

A $20 billion racial discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of black-owned media companies has uncovered alleged ties between executives of Comcast and Time Warner Cable and public officials who have allegedly helped cover up cable industry discrimination, price-fixing, collusion, and illegal payoffs.

Byron Allen, chairman and CEO of Entertainment Studios, in a blitz of eyebrow-raising interviews, accuses the two cable giants of putting minority-owned channels in the back of the bus, while falsely claiming black celebrities are the owners of minority networks that are actually controlled by former Comcast executives and private equity firms.

“Comcast has, in essence, created a ‘Jim Crow’ process with respect to licensing channels from 100 percent African American–owned media,” the suit reads, according to The Huffington Post. “Comcast has reserved a few spaces for 100 percent African American–owned media in the ‘back of the bus’ while the rest of the bus is occupied by white-owned media companies.”

The lawsuit, filed against Time Warner Cable, Comcast, the Urban League, the NAACP, former FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, claims the defendants are taking payoffs from the two cable giants and colluding to promote their business agendas and give minority support to their mergers and acquisitions.

“The industry spends about $50 billion a year licensing cable networks in which 100 percent African American-owned media receives less than $3 million per year in revenue from that $50 billion stream of money that is spent to acquire content,” he said.

Under normal circumstances, many African-American civil rights organizations would immediately raise a ruckus over the imbalance, but Allen alleges Comcast and Time Warner Cable have bought their silence, and in the case of Al Sharpton, his loyalty and support.

Byron Allen accuses Comcast of locking out 100% black-owned networks.

Byron Allen accuses Comcast of locking out 100% black-owned networks.

“Instead of spending real money with real, 100 percent African American-owned media, it is easier to give [Sharpton] $50,000 to give them a cover,” he said. “‘Give [Sharpton] $50,000 and a bucket of chicken and we’re good.'”

Allen called Sharpton the “least expensive negro” Comcast could find, and rewarded his loyalty with a $750,000 annual salary hosting a barely watched nightly show on Comcast-owned MSNBC.

“Why is Sharpton on TV every night on MSNBC? Because he endorsed Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal,” Allen said. “He signed the memorandum of understanding back in 2010. He endorsed the merger. Next thing you know we’re watching him on television trying to form a sentence. Every night we have the privilege of watching adult illiteracy.”

Attwell-Baker is a defendant for her highly visible warp speed trip through D.C.’s revolving door, as the former Republican FCC commissioner seemed to be writing her resignation letter seconds after voting in favor of the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger, quickly accepting a high paid lobbying job with the cable company.

“President Obama promised us transparency, hope, and change,” he said. “And what happened in the Obama administration is former commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker voted for the merger of Comcast NBCU and then 90 days later took a much higher paying job with Comcast after granting them the merger. That was betraying the public’s trust as a public service.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/HuffPost Byron Allen 2-27-15.mp4

Watch the HuffPost Live interview with Byron Allen, who reveals who really owns the minority channels Comcast brags about. (7:37)

“President Obama has been bought and paid for. He has taken donations from Comcast. Comcast is his biggest contributor,” he added. “AT&T is one of his biggest contributors. Listen, Obama, your own FTC is investigating AT&T for throttling. How can you even consider them to buy DirectTV when you’re suing them? Is it because you took donations? Yes, Obama. Don’t even think about letting them merge until they settle this lawsuit and that lawsuit.”

Sharpton

Sharpton, in addition to being a regular supporter of Comcast’s various business agendas, also hosts a nightly show on Comcast-owned MSNBC, for which he is paid $750,000 a year.

“AT&T spent more money on Al Sharpton’s birthday party than they have on 100 percent African-American owned media combined,” Allen said. “He (Sharpton) should return the money because AT&T doesn’t even celebrate Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday. The employees there take it as a sick day.”

Apart from Allen’s inflammatory appearances on cable news, his lawsuit does bring to light several important new facts about Comcast’s claims it supports minority-owned channels. Allen’s lawsuit alleges many of those channels are actually secretly owned and controlled by former Comcast executives, private equity firms, and Wall Street banks.

  • Aspire is controlled by Leo Hindery and Leo Hindery is not black. They don’t pay Aspire any subscription fees. Aspire is free,” said Allen.
  • “Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs’ network Revolt TV is controlled by a private equity firm called Highbridge Capital. The person who runs Highbridge Capital is a former Comcast executive named Payne Brown. Highbridge Capital is owned by JP Morgan. On the board of JP Morgan is Steve Burke, the number two executive at Comcast,” said Allen.

These revelations are important because Comcast promised to create and carry minority-owned channels as part of several conditions mandated by regulators to approve the 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal. Allen claims Comcast has broken its commitment and instead created “token front” networks or minority network “window dressing” that feature well-known African-American celebrities that pose as owners of the networks, but in fact they are controlled by white-owned businesses.

The lawsuit claims Comcast carries only one 100% African-American owned and controlled network — the Africa Channel. But dig a little deeper and you find the network is owned by a former Comcast/NBCU executive that played a critical part organizing minority group support for the NBCUniversal buyout.

Comcast and Sharpton’s organization both dismissed the lawsuit as inflammatory and frivolous.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Sharpton called black pawn in white game 3-1-15.flv

Byron Allen appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources and called Sharpton “a black pawn in a very sophisticated white economic chess game. He’s being used by his white masters at Comcast and AT&T. He just needs to shut up and get in the bleachers.” (7:12)

How to Score a Better Deal From Time Warner Cable and Save Over $700 a Year: 2015 Edition

In 2012, Stop the Cap! helped thousands of readers slash their Time Warner cable bills by more than $50 a month with less than 10 minutes of effort. This year, it will take you longer to read this article than it will to get a better deal from Time Warner Cable.

Many of our readers have contacted us to let us know their promotional rate has expired and have sought help scoring more savings from Time Warner Cable. This year, we decided to enlist the help of Stop the Cap! volunteers who are also Time Warner Cable customers to see what kind of savings we could negotiate from the cable company that dominates much of the northeast, Texas, southern California, and parts of the midwest. We’re happy to report even greater savings (more than $700 annually for some) are there for the asking. Even better, it took some of us less than five minutes to win a better deal and by using social media, we never had to argue with anyone — great news if you don’t like negotiating on the phone.

When your Time Warner Cable promotion expires, expect to receive a letter like this in the mail, gradually increasing your rates.

When your Time Warner Cable promotion expires, expect to receive a letter like this in the mail, gradually increasing your rates.

Our volunteers for this effort came from Rochester, N.Y. (myself), Greensboro, N.C.,  Flower Mound, Tex., Los Angeles, Calif., and Portland, Maine. Two of us are triple play customers with 50/5Mbps broadband, Preferred TV (the 200+ channel package), and Time Warner home phone service. Two others are double play customers with Preferred TV and 30/5Mbps service, and our volunteer in Portland is a broadband-only customer.

We used three methods to contact Time Warner to discuss our current bills:

  • Calling Time Warner Cable’s office and asking for a lower rate or to cancel service;
  • Tweeting a message to Time Warner threatening to change providers;
  • Posting a complaint about our cable bill on the company’s Facebook page.

Dealing with customer churn – the rate of customers coming and going – is always a concern at cable companies. New customer promotions are costly and often include a cash rebate. It is much less expensive for Time Warner to lower the bills of current customers than trying to win back wayward ex-customers with promotions later on. The company maintains several specialized customer retention call centers around the country that pay employees around $14 an hour + a bonus for each customer they keep. Employees are trained to deal with hostile callers and pleas for lower bills by escalating unresolved service problems to technical specialists, issuing service credits, and cutting rates.

bill shockBut telephone retention specialists also have an incentive to cut back on your package before they cut the price. Just as we found three years ago, the two volunteers that phoned for a better deal were significantly less happy with the outcome than those who relied on social media.

“Their ‘review’ of my package quickly turned into an interrogation about whether I needed this movie channel or that Internet speed,” said Stop the Cap! volunteer Denise, who insisted on a better deal or her next phone call would be to sign up for service from Verizon. “Before they talk price, they want you to cut back on services.”

Cerise, a broadband-only customer in Portland had the same experience.

“I wanted a better deal than the $60 I am paying them for 15Mbps Internet-only service and they wanted to cut my speed to 6Mbps before we would even talk price,” Cerise said. “They knew my only other choice was DSL from FairPoint.”

My experience with Twitter was even easier than it was three years ago. Time Warner acceded to my request for a better deal in a message left on my voicemail: a rate cut of $63 a month with no change in service. I never had to speak with anyone and the new rate has already been applied to my account.

Sam, a triple play customer in Los Angeles took a phone call from Time Warner after his wife blasted the company on its Facebook page about a “new special promotional rate” that was “neither special or promotional” in her eyes.

“Their letter in the mail makes it sound like they are doing you a favor, but it’s really just the dead-end road back to paying normal prices.”

Time Warner Cable promotions run typically 12 or 24 months, after which the company mails a letter inviting you to experience a new “promotional rate” reset to a higher price, but not one that will usually deliver bill shock. A year after that less generous promotion expires, in most cases rates reset to regular pricing.

How to Negotiate

Because our experiences consistently found that interacting with Time Warner’s social media team is more effective at winning the best possible deal, we again strongly recommend you do not call Time Warner looking for a better deal. Instead, engage them through Twitter or Facebook. But before that happens, get organized:

1. Visit Time Warner Cable’s current plans and promotions web page. Your goal is to note the current promotions available and find the package that most closely resembles the services you have now. You can get a current copy of your Time Warner bill from the My Services section of Time Warner’s website.

Second, visit the competition. Check your phone company for any promotional offers for services like U-verse or FiOS, or satellite television promotions many telephone companies bundle with DSL. Familiarize yourself with the packages you would consider signing up for and jot down the prices.

Are you overpaying for premium movie channels? If you are paying more than this, you are.

Are you overpaying for premium movie channels? If you are paying more than this, you are.

Third, be flexible. The best promotional deals go to those who sign up for Time Warner Cable’s triple play packages. If you are a double play customer, adding phone service may actually cost you less on certain promotions than the best double play offers, even if you never use the phone line. If you have landline service from the phone company, Time Warner’s triple play offers will certainly save you in the long run, because unlimited long distance and local calling can often be added for as little as $10 a month. You can also consider switching to Ooma, a top-rated landline provider that works over your broadband connection and costs as little as $5 a month.

Fourth, ask about free or discounted upgrades to your existing service. Time Warner Cable has several attractive promotions for services that many customers dismiss as too expensive. Whole House DVR lets you watch DVR recordings on other televisions in the home. Some promotions add this feature for just a few dollars extra a month — less than maintaining two DVRs in the home. Also consider a broadband speed upgrade to 30/5 or 50/5Mbps. Attractive promotions are usually available for these as well.

Fifth, be willing to drop premium movie channels before you start negotiations. Time Warner raised the price of add-on HBO to $16.99 in January and other premium channels typically cost around $13 a month each. You are better off dropping them before negotiating for a better deal. After your new deal is in place, you can visit Time Warner’s website and add back the premiums you want at new promotional prices:

  • A 12-month premium promotional package combining HBO, Cinemax, Starz, and Showtime runs $29.99 a month and can be ordered online;
  • HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz can be had a-la-carte for $9.99 a month each for one year (The Movie Channel is inexplicably not included and costs $15.99/mo — you won’t miss it) and you may also qualify for a $50 rebate by adding Starz before March 31, 2015.

Finally, unless you live in a Time Warner Cable Maxx city (New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Kansas City, etc.), it usually doesn’t pay to negotiate over modem rental fees. Time Warner has waived modem fees in certain cases in Los Angeles, but we recommend you invest in buying your own modem and be rid of the modem rental fee  for good. If you are not in a Maxx market, we still recommend the Motorola SB6141, which will work at speeds up to 100Mbps on Time Warner’s network. If Maxx is coming to your area and you want even faster speeds, we recommend the ARRIS/Motorola SB6183 ($130+). It is approved to work at 300Mbps speeds in Maxx-upgraded areas.

Now you are ready to reach out!

twitter_logo

Sign up for a Twitter account.

tweet

Once registered and logged in, click the button that appears like a quill pen at the upper right corner of your screen and a new window will appear where you can compose a message of 140 characters or less. You will address your message to @TWC_Help (note the underscore – you can cut and paste that address into your message or use Twitter’s search function – type in TWC and you should be able to find and select it there). Here is a sample Tweet we came up with, but you can compose your own, of course:

twc_help

After clicking the Tweet button, your message will be read by Time Warner’s social media team. Sometime later, you will receive a response asking for your contact information and account number. This should be sent in a private “Direct Message,” not as an open Tweet:

response

Click the three dots and find the option Share via Direct Message. Click it, add TWC_Help as a recipient and click Next. A conversation window will appear with their message and a space for your private response. Include your Account Number and PIN from your Time Warner Cable bill and a callback number, as shown below.

direct message

 

Time Warner should call you back within the next three days. If you do not receive a reply to your Tweet, send another one during regular business hours. They may have missed your first message.

facebook_logoYou can also try Facebook to lodge your rate protest.

Visit the Time Warner Cable Facebook page and find the box (as shown highlighted below) where you can write a public message on the page.

As with Twitter, you want to get straight to the point and tell Time Warner you are paying too much for cable service and have a better offer from a competitor. Let them know you are willing to consider their counter-offer, if it arrives soon.

They are likely to respond asking for your account information, including the account number and PIN as shown on your monthly bill. Again, send this information privately using the Facebook Messenger. Include your best contact number.

twc facebook

Here is where your write your public complaint about your cable bill and ask for a better deal. You should keep this short and to the point, and do not post your account information here. Wait for their reply and respond in a private message.

 

Our Results

Was $175. Now $112.

Was $175. Now $112.

Myself – Rochester, N.Y.: Full package of every cable television channel on offer, no premiums, Whole-House DVR with five cable boxes, 50/5Mbps broadband, Unlimited Home Phone: $112/mo, down from a fading promotional price now resetting to $175 (had been gradually increasing from $110 since 2014)

Tania, Greensboro, N.C.: Double play of all cable television channels, no premiums, DVR and one traditional set-top box with 30/5Mbps broadband: Was paying $156. Offered $99 with free upgrade to 50/5Mbps and Whole House DVR; offered and declined Unlimited Home Phone for extra $10/month. This promotion essentially matched AT&T U-verse introductory pricing for comparable services with slower broadband.

Denise, Flower Mound, Tex.: Started by calling Time Warner to cancel over $175 cable bill covering all cable channels, one premium, DVR with extra set-top boxes, 50/5Mbps broadband. Representative wanted her to cancel HBO and drop Internet speed to a lower 15Mbps tier to bring price to $125 range. She threatened to call Verizon, representative told her to ‘go ahead.’ On the second attempt Denise used Twitter and representative phoned back the next day with a message her bill was instantly cut to $120 and she will receive a one time $30 inconvenience credit for the rudeness she experienced over the phone. She keeps HBO and all of her other services and was offered to call back to discuss free Whole House DVR service.

Sam, Los Angeles: Used Facebook to contact Time Warner Cable about his $215 cable bill. Sam appreciated the fact TWC Maxx had arrived in Los Angeles and boosted his broadband speed to around 200Mbps, but didn’t appreciate the $25 a month rate reset that occurred this month as his promotional rate ended. Sam has a full cable television package, three premium movie channels, fast Internet, and Home Phone Unlimited. He also has two DVR boxes, two standard cable boxes, and rented his cable modem. Sam told Time Warner he would rather spend his money with Netflix, Amazon, and Sling’s $20 cable television over the Internet package and he was prepared to cut the cord. Time Warner cut his bill instead. He’s temporarily dropping all of his premium movie channels to score a promotion of $129 a month, drop the second DVR in favor of Whole House DVR service, and he is buying his own modem. He will add back his premiums on the aforementioned $30 a month promotion, which also gives him Starz and a $50 rebate.

Cerise, Portland, Me.: Our broadband-only volunteer, Cerise had the most trouble securing a better deal. Time Warner Cable initially wouldn’t budge beyond offering the same rate new customers get for one year: $34.99/mo + modem rental fee for 15/1Mbps service. Stop the Cap! intervened before Cerise considered her alternative – 6Mbps DSL from FairPoint Communications. After we pointed out Earthlink was selling identical broadband service on Time Warner’s network for $29.95 a month for six months, Time Warner’s “no” turned into “yes” and they agreed to match that price. If they don’t match that price again next year, Cerise can make a phone call and jump ship to Earthlink for their $29.95 promotion and then jump back to Time Warner six months after that. Cerise is also buying her own modem.

Let us know about how your negotiations went in the comment section below.

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Recent Comments:

  • Limboaz: A billion dollars seems like a steal when you consider how big Toronto is. Meanwhile the cable ISP's down here in the States plot how they can jack up...
  • sandiegohdtv: In another part of my town, Cox offers this program as well. However, they offer it all year round and I believe you can register for it online....
  • sandiegohdtv: Made a huge error. It was 15 mbps to 60 mbps. Sorry, for that as I thought the filing meant that, but I did check it over again. I found out when it w...
  • Phillip Dampier: It's a bit complicated depending on where you live and who serves you: Regardless of what we want, it is almost a certainty TWC's and Bright House'...
  • JayS: Could you clarify #1 & #7. It appears that the acquirer, Charter, only offers one (1) level of internet speed. I would expect they would unify al...
  • Phillip Dampier: You will end up keeping your existing modem for phone service only (at no charge) and your own purchased modem will supply Internet access only. It's ...
  • Phillip Dampier: This is likely because Time Warner management has curtailed some of their most aggressive promos this year, so the ones you can get now cost a little ...
  • Phillip Dampier: I think most if not all premium channels are available on promo for $9.99. I do not know if they can handle swapping one for the other however....
  • Phillip Dampier: It probably isn't a "contract" but an agreement. If you were promised a two year commitment, they should be giving it to you. Probably the promo you w...
  • dawsonfiberhood: This reminds me how AT&T and TWC have squandered opportunities to avoid customer dissatisfaction by provisioning the modems at *exactly* the contr...
  • framistat: This doesn't always work. The Webster, NY office was helpful back in mid 2014 and continued my promo rate for basic internet @ 24.99 for a year. How...
  • Phillip Dampier: On what page do you see that referenced? I only saw mention of adopting Bright House's program. I will be very surprised in Charter offers a 15Mbps ti...

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