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Comcast/Time Warner: We Dare You to Compare – ‘Our Regular Retail Prices Are a Secret’

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One of the most difficult questions you can ask a customer service representative of either Comcast or Time Warner Cable is what their regular price is for service. As a Buffalo News reporter discovered in August 2013, Time Warner Cable refused repeated attempts to ascertain the non-promotional price of its broadband service.[1]

merger benefitsMaking a direct comparison between the prices charged by Comcast and those of Time Warner Cable require unnecessary perseverance made even more difficult by the fact Comcast only serves a tiny portion of New York State.

Both companies offer promotional deals to new customers as well as those threatening to cancel service, but those prices fluctuate wildly and eventually expire.

Time Warner Cable has made it even more difficult this year by completely eliminating the most popular plans from its retail price list: bundled service packages known in the industry as “double-play” (two services) or “triple play” (three services).[2]

A Time Warner Cable spokesman told the Los Angeles Times the company is required by regulators to provide pricing information for only some of its fees, and Internet rates are not one of them.[3] This year, Time Warner kept the size of its broadband rate hikes to itself. It is much the same for Comcast.

Both cable companies make a point of telling the news media that these prices, including installation, reflect the “rack rates” and that “most customers will pay less […] after cutting a deal for their programming package.”

ratehike1In 2011, Time Warner Cable raised some of its “rack rates” by up to 51.1 percent.[4]

That makes a rate comparison for television service difficult because the retail rates often do not reflect reality. But beyond rates, regulators need to understand Comcast television packages are very different from what Time Warner Cable customers are used to finding.[5] While Time Warner Cable bundles the vast majority of networks into a Standard TV package, Comcast offers a more extensive variety of packages. While at first glance this may seem to allow customers to better customize a package to meet their needs, Comcast has also taken care to break some of the most popular networks out of lower-cost packages and force customers to choose cable television packages costing much more to get them back.[6]

Sports fans and those who enjoy networks like Turner Classic Movies will have to pay Comcast $87.89 a month for its “Digital Preferred,” package[7], just to get back channels already included in the standard Time Warner Cable TV packages we are familiar with in New York.

At regular prices, a Comcast triple play customer should expect to pay $147.49 for the most bare bones TV, phone, and broadband package, $154.99 for the most popular package without premium channels, and $164.99 a month for a bundle that brings along a similar lineup to what TWC offers, along with Starz.[8] Comcast’s nearest equivalent to Time Warner Cable’s $200 Signature Home service costs $239.99 a month and offers no better Internet speeds than what Preferred Plus customers get.

[1]http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region-whats-the-big-secret-about-pricing-20130805
[2]http://www.timewarnercable.com/en/support/account-and-billing/topics/retail-rates.html
[3]http://articles.latimes.com/2014/mar/17/business/la-fi-lazarus-20140318
[4]http://articles.latimes.com/2011/dec/27/business/la-fi-lazarus-20111227
[5]http://www.timewarnercable.com/en/tv/digital-cable-tv.html
[6]http://www.comcast.com/Corporate/Learn/DigitalCable/digitalcable.html
[7]http://www.comcast.com/Corporate/Learn/DigitalCable/TVChannelLineUp.html
[8]http://www.comcast.com/shop/deals-dealfinder

NY’s Broadband Future Is Better With Time Warner Cable: Comcast’s Coming Usage Caps Kill Innovation

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Broadband will be critically impacted by any merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable in New York. The two companies could not be more different in their philosophies regarding access, pricing, and speeds.

say noThis merger will have an especially profound impact on broadband service in upstate New York, largely left behind out from getting Verizon’s fiber upgrades. New York’s digital economy critically needs modern, fast, and affordable Internet access to succeed. Verizon has not only ceased expansion of its FiOS fiber to the home network in New York, it has virtually capitulated competing for cable customers in non-FiOS areas by agreeing to sell Time Warner Cable service in its wireless stores.[1]  In cities like Rochester, served by Frontier Communications’ DSL, Time Warner Cable is the only provider in town that can consistently deliver broadband speeds in excess of 10Mbps.

Time Warner Cable has never been the fastest Internet provider and had a history of being slower than others to roll out speed increases. But it is also the only cable provider in the country that experimented with usage caps and consumption billing and shelved both after subscribers bitterly complained in market tests in cities including Rochester.[2]

Then CEO Glenn Britt announced the end of the usage cap trial just two weeks after it became public.[3] Britt would later emphasize that he now believed there should always be an unlimited use plan available for Time Warner Cable customers who do not want their Internet use metered.[4] In study after study, the overwhelming majority of customers have shown intense dislike of limitations on their Internet usage, whether from strict usage caps Comcast maintained for several years or usage allowances that, when exceeded, would result in overlimit fees.[5] Just this month, the Government Accounting Office confirmed these findings in a new study that reported near-universal revulsion for usage caps on home wired broadband service:[6]

In only two groups did any participants report experience with wireline UBP [usage-based pricing].

However, in all eight groups, participants expressed strong negative reactions to UBP, including concerns about:

  • The importance of the Internet in their lives and the potential effects of data allowances.
  • Having to worry about data usage at home, where they are used to having unlimited access.
  • Concerns that ISPs would use UBP as a way of increasing the amount they charge for Internet service.

Time Warner Cable has learned an important lesson regarding consumer perception of usage-based billing and usage caps on Internet service. In 2012, the company introduced optional usage caps for customers interested in a discount on their broadband service. Out of 11 million Time Warner Cable broadband customers, only a few thousand have been convinced in enroll such programs.[7]

Despite results like that, Comcast has not learned that lesson and has twice imposed unilateral, compulsory usage limits on their broadband customers, starting with a nationwide hard usage cap of 250GB per month introduced in 2008. Violators risked having their broadband service terminated by Comcast.[8] Today, for some that would be comparable to losing electricity or telephone service. The threat has profound implications in areas where Comcast is the only broadband provider.

Comcast temporarily rescinded its cap in May 2012, but has gradually reintroduced various forms of usage-related billing and caps with market trials in several Comcast service areas[9]:

Nashville, Tennessee: 300 GB per month with $10/50GB overlimit fee;

Tucson, Arizona: Economy Plus through Performance XFINITY Internet tiers: 300 GB. Blast! Internet tier: 350 GB; Extreme 50 customers: 450 GB; Extreme 105: 600 GB. $10 per 50GB overlimit fee;

Huntsville and Mobile, Alabama; Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Georgia; Central Kentucky; Maine; Jackson, Mississippi; Knoxville and Memphis, Tennessee and Charleston, South Carolina: 300 GB per month with $10/50GB; XFINITY Internet Economy Plus customers can choose to enroll in the Flexible-Data Option to receive a $5.00 credit on their monthly bill and reduce their data usage plan from 300 GB to 5 GB. If customers choose this option and use more than 5 GB of data in any given month, they will not receive the $5.00 credit and will be charged an additional $1.00 for each gigabyte of data used over the 5 GB included in the Flexible-Data Option;

Fresno, California, Economy Plus customers also have the option of enrolling in the Flexible-Data Option.

courtesy-noticeComcast customers in these areas do not have the option of keeping their unlimited-use broadband accounts. Despite the fact Comcast executive vice president David Cohen refers to these as “data thresholds,” they are in fact de facto limits that carry penalty fees when exceeded.[10]

Cohen predicts these usage limits will be imposed on all Comcast customers nationwide within the next five years.[11] Time Warner Cable has committed not to impose compulsory limits on its broadband customers. Verizon has never attempted to place limits on its home broadband customers. Frontier shelved a usage limit plan of 5GB per month attempted in 2008 and currently provides unlimited service.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts sat for an interview with CNBC in June in which he implied usage growth was impinging on the viability of its broadband business, justifying usage caps. At the end of the interview, Time Warner Cable ran advertising emphasizing it has no usage caps.[12] Both companies have highly profitable broadband services, as do other providers across the country.[13]

As our group has found, usage caps and consumption billing on cable Internet and DSL are little more than a transparent rate increase and anti-competitive maneuver to restrict the growth of the industry’s biggest potential competitor: online video. If a consumer can stream all of their video programming over a broadband account, there is no reason to retain a cable TV package. Comcast’s usage cap provides a built-in deterrent for customers contemplating such a move.

While a Comcast representative offered (without any independent verification) that the average Comcast broadband user consumes fewer than 20GB of data per month, Sandvine released evidence in its Global Internet Phenomena Report 1H2014 study that cord-cutters in the U.S. – at least those whose usage indicates the use of streaming as a primary form of entertainment – now consume about 212GB of data per month (with 153GB of that going toward “real-time entertainment usage”).[14]

That would put many customers perilously close to Comcast’s current market tested usage allowance.

Approving the transfer of franchises from Time Warner Cable to Comcast has the potential of saddling the majority of New York residents with usage caps and/or consumption billing with little or no savings or benefit to the consumer while introducing a major impediment to potential online video competition to help curtail cable television pricing.

[1]http://www.verizonwireless.com/wcms/consumer/home-services/tv-internet-homephone/twc.html
[2]http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/04/16/us-timewarnercable-idUSTRE53F6EQ20090416
[3]http://stopthecap.com/2009/04/16/we-won-time-warner-killing-usage-caps-in-all-markets/
[4]http://www.twcableuntangled.com/2012/02/launching-an-optional-usage-based-pricing-plan-in-southern-texas-2/
[5]http://www.dailytech.com/Microsoft+Study+Bandwidth+Caps+Change+Internet+Users+Behavior/article24639.htm
[6]http://eshoo.house.gov/uploads/7.29.14%20Preliminary%20GAO%20Report%20Findings%20from%20Data%20Cap%20Study.pdf
[7]http://stopthecap.com/2014/03/13/time-warner-cable-admits-usage-based-pricing-is-a-big-failure-only-thousands-enrolled/
[8]http://arstechnica.com/uncategorized/2008/08/its-official-comcast-starts-250gb-bandwidth-caps-october-1/
[9] http://customer.comcast.com/help-and-support/internet/data-usage-trials-what-are-the-different-plans-launching
[10] http://customer.comcast.com/help-and-support/internet/data-usage-trials-what-are-the-different-plans-launching
[11]http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/14/comcast-wants-to-put-data-caps-on-all-customers-within-5-years/
[12]http://stopthecap.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/nocaps.png
[13]http://gigaom.com/2014/02/12/comcast-and-time-warner-cable-forget-tv-it-is-all-about-broadband/
[14]http://www.multichannel.com/news/technology/cord-cutters-gobble-down-bits-sandvine-study/374551#sthash.JYFP7o69.dpuf

			
			

The Internet is Essential, But Comcast’s ‘Internet Essentials’ is Essentially Off-Limits to Most Customers

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The Commission has heard repeatedly from New Yorkers concerned about Internet access for the poor and disadvantaged. Comcast and its supporters have frequently pointed to Internet Essentials as an example of the kind of altruism Comcast is allegedly known for in its vast service areas.

995 bologna

COMCAST: NOW SERVING BOLOGNA – $9.95 – Protesters outside of Comcast’s Philadelphia headquarters upset about Internet Essentials onerous terms and pre-qualification conditions. (image: Kevin McCorry/WHYY)

Unfortunately, the truth is very different. Internet Essentials is both a political tool for Comcast’s image-building effort and a discount program that carefully avoids cannibalizing the revenue the company already receives from hard-working, income-challenged broadband subscribers – many who might otherwise have qualified for the program had they know about it and made it through the onerous application process without being disqualified.

The Washington Post reported a remarkable admission from Comcast senior vice president David Cohen, who admitted he stalled the introduction of the program to use it as an incentive to win approval of its merger with NBCUniversal:[1]

In fall 2009, Comcast planned to launch an Internet service for the poor that was sure to impress federal regulators. But David Cohen, the company’s chief of lobbying, told the staff to wait.

At the time, Comcast was planning a controversial $30 billion bid to take over NBC Universal, and Cohen needed a bargaining chip for government negotiations.

“I held back because I knew it may be the type of voluntary commitment that would be attractive to the chairman” of the Federal Communications Commission, Cohen said in a recent interview.

John Randall, program manager at the Roosevelt Institute/Telecommunications Equity Project, after studying the terms and conditions and pre-qualifications necessary to sign up for Internet Essentials declared it was more a public (and government) relations exercise than a charitable endeavor.[2] Comcast’s terms protect its revenue base by disqualifying current customers (who presumably pay the regular price for Internet service), establishing a lengthy 90 day waiting period without cable or Internet service before current customers can sign up for the discount program, not allowing participation unless you have school age children qualifying for the National School Lunch Program, and not have an overdue bill or unreturned equipment.[3]

Perhaps that explains why, in 2013, only 150,000 out of 2.6 million households eligible for Internet Essentials were able to sign up. In Comcast’s home city of Philadelphia, only 3,250 families were signed up as of last summer.[4]

Jump through hoops for $9.95 Internet

Jump through hoops for $9.95 Internet

Comcast continues its revenue protection efforts to this day, even after announcing a recent “Amnesty” program for customers rejected from getting Internet Essentials because of a past due balance.

Just in time for regulators taking a hard look at Internet Essentials, Comcast has announced a 1.5 month special offer that includes “up to” six months of complimentary Internet Essentials service, but only to those who have never applied for the program before. Rejected applicants and current participants don’t qualify. Comcast does not specify whether customers will get an entire six months or a shorter term that seems to be indicated by the language Comcast uses.[5]

Comcast’s new “Amnesty Program,” for Internet Essentials is also replete with pre-conditions and fine print.[6]

Customers with a past due balance more than one year old will, “as long as they meet all the other eligibility criteria, provide amnesty for that back due bill for the purpose of connecting to Internet Essentials.”

It is unclear whether “amnesty” means Comcast will cancel collection efforts on the back balance or simply ignore it as grounds to reject an Internet Essentials application. Customers with a past due balance less than one year old don’t get much “amnesty” at all. Comcast wants them to pay up before they can sign up for Internet Essentials, but might accept an installment plan in certain circumstances.

Time Warner Cable, by accident, has managed to create a superior alternative to Internet Essentials that is open to everyone without pre-conditions or limits, although it costs $5 a month more than Comcast’s program.

Time Warner’s Everyday Low Price Internet ($14.99/month) was originally designed as  a marketing campaign targeting price-sensitive DSL customers. But Time Warner Cable also recognized the 2/1Mbps Internet service would appeal to the income-challenged.[7]

Time Warner’s program is vastly superior to Comcast’s Internet Essentials because every customer automatically qualifies for the service if they choose to enroll. There are no forms to fill out, income qualifications, account audits, waiting periods, or limits on how long you can keep the discounted service. Time Warner Cable seems unconcerned about whether this discounted Internet will cannibalize revenue from higher-priced plans and has launched aggressive marketing campaigns across its service areas.[8]

[1]http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/david-cohen-chief-dealmaker-in-washington-is-comcasts-secret-weapon/2012/10/29/151e055e-080a-11e2-858a-5311df86ab04_story.html
[2]http://stopthecap.com/2013/07/10/comcasts-internet-essentials-facade-padding-the-bottom-line-without-cannibalizing-your-base/
[3]http://www.salon.com/2013/07/10/comcasts_new_partner/
[4]http://stopthecap.com/2013/07/10/comcasts-internet-essentials-facade-padding-the-bottom-line-without-cannibalizing-your-base/
[5]http://corporate.comcast.com/comcast-voices/comcast-to-offer-six-months-of-free-internet-essentials-service-and-announces-debt-forgiveness-plan
[6]http://corporate.comcast.com/comcast-voices/comcast-to-offer-six-months-of-free-internet-essentials-service-and-announces-debt-forgiveness-plan
[7]http://www.twcableuntangled.com/2013/11/introducing-everyday-low-price-internet/
[8]http://www.twcableuntangled.com/2013/11/introducing-everyday-low-price-internet/

Comcast’s Growing List of Owned/Operated Networks Gets Bigger With Time Warner Cable

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This week’s revelation that a Comcast-controlled enterprise deliberately and consciously removed news content critical of Comcast and its public policy lobbying practices speaks to the impact media concentration has on news dissemination.

It also exposes the close relationship Comcast maintains with non-profit groups it financially supports, encouraging the kinds of positive letters about its operations the New York Public Service Commission can now find on file in this case.[1]

comcast twcThe group involved in the current controversy reportedly received $350,000 from Comcast and promptly began a vocal opposition campaign against Net Neutrality, an open Internet policy Comcast still opposes being enacted as official FCC policy.[2]

Professor Todd Gitlin of Columbia University called Comcast’s close relationship with the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) the “closest thing I can imagine to a political quid pro quo. The fact NewsOne saw fit to delete a report that they previously posted without any claim that anything was mistaken in the report tells you something about their commitment to open discourse.”

Jeff Cohen, an associate professor of journalism at Ithaca College, also commented on the NewsOne decision. “Just as corporate cash can corrupt civil rights groups, this incident shows how corporate power can corrupt and censor the news.”[3]

Time Warner Cable operates local news channels in most of the major New York cities it serves. These channels will also come under the umbrella of Comcast, giving it an even greater news voice through its NBC and Telemundo networks, MSNBC, local cable news operations, and owned and operated local broadcast affiliate stations in New York City.

In closing, as a reminder to the Commission, Comcast’s list of broadcast, cable and digital media assets is already enormous and will grow even larger if a merger with Time Warner Cable is approved.[4]

Comcast-NBCUniversal

Broadcast Television
NBC Television Network
NBC Entertainment
NBC News
NBC Sport Group
Universal Television (UTV)
Universal Cable Productions
NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution
NBCUniversal International Television Distribution

NBC Local Media Division
NBC New York (WNBC)
NBC Los Angeles (KNBC)
NBC Chicago (WMAQ)
NBC Philadelphia (WCAU)
NBC Bay Area (KNTV)
NBC Dallas/Fort Worth (KXAS)
NBC Washington (WRC)
NBC Miami (WTVJ)
NBC San Diego (KNSD)
NBC Connecticut (WVIT)
NBC Everywhere
LX TV
Skycastle Entertainment

Telemundo
KVEA (Los Angeles)
WNJU (New York)
WSCV (Miami)
KTMD (Houston)
WSNS (Chicago)
KXTX (Dallas/Fort Worth)
KVDA (San Antonio)
KSTS (San Francisco/San Jose)
KTAZ (Phoenix)
KNSO (Fresno)
KDEN (Denver)
KBLR (Las Vegas)
WNEU (Boston/Merrimack)
KHRR (Tucson)
WKAQ (Puerto Rico)
KWHY (Los Angeles) (Independent)

Television Channels
Bravo
Chiller
CNBC
CNBC World
Comcast Charter Sports Southeast
Comcast Sports Group
Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
Comcast SportsNet California
Comcast SportsNet Chicago
Comcast SportsNet Houston
Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic
Comcast SportsNet New England
Comcast SportsNet Northwest
Comcast SportsNet Philadelhpia
SNY
The Mtn.-Mountain West Sports Network
CSS
Comcast Sports Southwest
New England Cable News (Manages)
NBC Sports Network
The Comcast Network
E! Entertainment Television
G4
Golf Channel
MSNBC
mun2
Oxygen Media
Cloo
Sprout
The Style Network
Syfy
Universal HD
USA Network
The Weather Channel Companies
Syfy Universal (Universal Networks International)
Diva Universal (Universal Networks International)
Studio Universal (Universal Networks International)
Universal Channel (Universal Networks International)
13th Street Universal (Universal Networks International)
Movies 24 (Universal Networks International)
Hallmark Channel (non-U.S.) (Universal Networks International)
KidsCo (Interest) (Universal Networks International)

Film
Universal Pictures
Focus Features
Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Parks and Resorts
Universal Parks and Resorts

Digital Media
DailyCandy
Fandango
Hulu (32%)
iVillage
NBC.com
CNBC Digital
Plaxo

Communications
XFINITY TV
XFINITY Internet
XFINITY Voice

Sports Management
Comcast-Spectator
Philadelphia Flyers
Wells Fargo Center
Global Spectrum (Public Assembly Management)
Ovations Food Services
Front Row Marketing Services
Paciolan
New Era Tickets (ComcastTIX)
Flyers Skate Zone

Other
Comcast Ventures, which is invested in numerous companies.

Time Warner Cable

Local channels`
Time Warner Cable News[5]
NY1: Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island
NY1 Noticias: Spanish language news for New York City
NY State of Politics Blog
TWC News Capital Region (Albany, Amsterdam, Saratoga and Berkshire counties)
TWC News Central NY (Syracuse, Ithaca/Cortland, Utica/Rome)
TWC News Hudson Valley
TWC News Northern NY (Watertown/Ft. Drum)
TWC News Southern Tier (Elmira/Corning, Binghamton/Oneonta)
TWC News Western NY (Buffalo, Finger Lakes Region, Jamestown, Rochester, and Batavia)

Regional Sports Networks
Metro Sports
Time Warner Cable Sports
Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Time Warner Cable Deportes
TWC Sports 32
SNY

Other Holdings
Adelphia — former cable television company in PA
NaviSite — cloud and hosting services company
Insight Communications — cable operator
DukeNet Communications — Fiber optic network
Time Warner Cable Internet
Time Warner Cable Media (advertising)

[1]http://documents.dps.ny.gov/public/MatterManagement/CaseMaster.aspx?MatterCaseNo=14-m-0183
[2]http://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/06/06/12769/civil-rights-groups-fcc-positions-reflect-industry-funding-critics-say
[3]http://www.republicreport.org/2014/comcast-affiliated-newsite-censored-my-article-about-net-neutrality-lobbying/
[4]http://www.cjr.org/resources/index.php
[5]http://twcnews.com/

Time Warner Cable Announces Eight New Cities for Maxx Upgrades; Northeast Can Forget It

twcmaxYou have to live in a warmer climate to be on the list of the next eight cities to get Time Warner Cable’s massive Maxx upgrade.

This afternoon, Time Warner announced it would more than triple the broadband speeds of customers in Austin, Charlotte, Dallas, Hawaii, Kansas City, Raleigh, San Antonio and San Diego at no extra charge.

“We are committed to reinventing the TWC service experience market-by-market,” said Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus. “We want our customers to know a new experience is coming that brings them super-fast Internet speeds and a more advanced TV product.”

Most of the cities on the upgrade list either have or are at least facing the threat of fiber-based competition from AT&T or Hawaiian Telcom. With Verizon’s long-suspended FiOS project and Frontier’s ‘DSL or Die’-philosophy, Time Warner Cable has so far avoided spending money on upgrades where its only significant competition comes from DSL. Outside of New York City, Time Warner has yet to announce any upgrades within its northeast division, which dominates cable service in Maine, western Massachusetts, New York, and parts of Ohio.

With both Google and AT&T promising fiber service in Austin, Time Warner wasted no time beginning upgrades in the capital city of Texas, which have already delivered faster Internet speeds across large sections of the city. By the end of this week, more than half of Time Warner’s broadband customers in Austin will have access to free upgraded speeds.

TWC customers in these communities who subscribe to the Standard Internet plan, formerly up to 15Mbps, will now receive up to 50Mbps, and customers who subscribe to the Ultimate plan, formerly up to 100Mbps, will receive up to 300Mbps – more than three times their current speeds, at no extra charge. In non-upgraded areas, Time Warner’s maximum speed remains 50/5Mbps.

Time Warner Cable Promises Possible 1Gbps Upgrade for Los Angeles by 2016

gigabitAssuming Comcast doesn’t take over Time Warner Cable and change priorities, the city of Los Angeles is getting a commitment Time Warner will “be in a position to offer” gigabit broadband speeds to homes and businesses in the city no later than 2016.

“Over the last four years, Time Warner Cable has invested more than $1.5 billion to enhance our infrastructure and services in Los Angeles. This significant investment coupled with new ‘Gigasphere’ technology positions us to be able to introduce gigabit-per-second speeds in 2016,” said Peter Stern, executive vice president and chief strategy, people and corporate development officer at TWC. “Leveraging our existing network allows us to deliver these speeds faster and with less disruption than any other provider.”

The new gigabit broadband service will be deployable with an upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which offers cable operators a more efficient way to deliver broadband over current cable system infrastructure.

“We believe the introduction of consumer gigabit speeds in our near future will facilitate even greater innovations among students, entrepreneurs and many industries powering the Los Angeles economy,” said Dinni Jain, chief operating officer at TWC. “Cable was the first to bring broadband Internet to the masses nearly 20 years ago, and thanks to the dynamic nature of our fiber-rich network, we foresee endless new possibilities as we roll-out gigabit speeds to all of Los Angeles.”

twcmaxThe first Gigasphere pilot test will begin sometime next year. But a Comcast takeover could shift priorities away from offering the kinds of broadband speeds Time Warner is providing under its TWC Maxx upgrade program. Time Warner’s Internet speeds in upgraded areas are now substantially faster and cheaper than what Comcast offers in its service areas. Comcast could decide to retire the broadband upgrade program altogether and settle on offering speeds comparable to what it already sells across much of its national footprint.

Comcast is also readying a return to usage caps and overlimit fees, with no options for unlimited service, in several test markets.

But there are some caveats on Time Warner’s side as well.

Time Warner’s careful language suggests the company may be technologically capable of providing gigabit speeds but isn’t absolutely committing to offer those speeds anytime soon. Time Warner will not complete Maxx upgrades in Los Angeles until the end of this year, and the company has made no announcements about further expanding Maxx upgrades to other cities. No pricing details were available.

I Love You Comcast! An Amazing 180 for Former Antitrust Attorney David Balto

Phillip "I got whiplash just watching" Dampier

Phillip “I got whiplash just watching” Dampier

A former policy director at the Federal Trade Commission and antitrust attorney at the U.S. Justice Department has managed an impressive 180 in just a few short months regarding the merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast.

In February, David Balto told TheDeal the proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable “is a bad deal for consumers.” Today, Mr. Balto’s panoply of guest editorials, media appearances and columns — suddenly in favor of the merger — are turning up in the New York Times, the Orlando Sentinel, Marketplace, WNYC Radio, and elsewhere.

Balto’s arguments are based on “research” which, in toto, appears to have been limited to thumbing through Comcast’s press releases and merger presentation. That was enough:

First, this deal should create benefits for Time Warner customers, who will gain a significantly faster Internet and more advanced television service.

Second, competition is increasing in both the pay-TV and broadband businesses. Ninety-eight percent of viewers have a choice of three or more multichannel services, plus growing options online. Yahoo just announced a new video service, joining Netflix, Amazon and YouTube. In the last five years, cable has lost about seven million customers, satellite has gained nearly two million, and the telecommunications companies have gained six million.

Third, Comcast’s post-merger share of broadband falls closer to 20 percent when including LTE wireless and satellite providers. Over all, 97 percent of households have at least two competing fixed broadband providers — three or more if mobile wireless is included.

We used to wonder why government officials and regulators were so easily fooled by the corporate government relations people sent into their offices armed with press releases, talking points, cupcakes, and empty promises. We understand everyone isn’t a Big Telecom expert, but too often regulators’ reflexive acceptance of whatever companies bring to their table threatens to win them rube-status. We’d like to think Mr. Balto isn’t Comcast’s sucker, and we certainly hope there are no unspoken incentives on the table in return for his recent, very sudden conversion to celebrate all-things Comcast. Maybe he’s simply uninformed.

Balto

Balto

Although our regular readers — nearly all consumers and customers — are well-equipped to debunk Mr. Balto’s arguments, for the benefit of visitors, here is our own research.

First, Comcast’s Internet service is not faster than Time Warner Cable. Mr. Balto needs to spend some time away from Comcast’s merger info-pack and do some real research. He’ll find Time Warner Cable embarked on a massive upgrade program called TWC Maxx that is more than tripling broadband speeds for customers at no extra charge. Those speeds are faster than what Comcast offers the average residential customer, and come much cheaper as well. Oh, and TWC has no compulsory usage limits and overlimit penalties. Comcast’s David Cohen predicts every Comcast customer will face both within five years.

Second, that “advanced TV platform” Balto raves about requires a $99 installation fee… for an X1 set-top box. It also means equipment must be attached to every television in the house, because Comcast encrypts everything. At a time when customers want to pay for fewer channels, Comcast wants to shovel even more unwanted programming and boxes at customers. Older Americans who want their Turner Classic Movies have another nasty surprise. They will need to buy Comcast’s super deluxe cable TV package to get that network, at a cost exceeding $80 a month just for television. Ask Time Warner customers what they want, and they’ll tell you they’d prefer old and decrepit over an even higher cable TV bill Comcast has already committed to deliver.

Has competition truly increased? Not in the eyes of most Americans who at best face a duopoly and annual rate hikes well in excess of inflation. Even worse, for most consumers there is only one choice for 21st century High Speed Internet service – the cable company. Mr. Balto conveniently ignores the fact cable’s primary competitor is still DSL which is simply not available at speeds of 30+Mbps for most consumers. In some areas, like suburban Rochester, N.Y., the best the local phone company can deliver some neighborhoods like ours is 3.1Mbps. That isn’t competition. Verizon and AT&T have both stopped expanding DSL. Verizon has ended FiOS expansion and AT&T’s U-verse still maxes out at around 24Mbps for most customers. AT&T’s promised fiber upgrades have proven to be more illusory than reality, available primarily in a handful of multi-dwelling units and new housing developments. In rural areas, both major phone companies are petitioning to do away with landline service and DSL altogether.

Raise your hands if you want Comcast’s “benefits.” In New York, out of 2,300 comments before the PSC, we can’t find a single one clamoring for Comcast’s takeover. The public has spoken.

Cable "competition" in Minneapolis

Cable “competition” in Minneapolis. Charter and Comcast have also teamed up to trade cable territories as part of the Time Warner Cable merger package deal.

Satellite television’s days of providing the cable industry with robust competition have long since peaked. AT&T is seeking to further reduce that competition by purchasing DirecTV, not because it believes in satellite television, but because it wants the benefits of DirecTV’s lucrative volume discounts.

Any antitrust attorney worth his salt should be well aware of what kind of impact volume discounting can have on restraining and discouraging competition. Comcast’s deal for Time Warner will let it acquire programming at a substantial discount (one they have already said won’t be passed on to customers) so significant that any would-be competitors would be in immediate financial peril trying to compete on price.

Frontier Communications learned that lesson when it acquired a handful of Verizon FiOS franchises in Indiana and the Pacific Northwest. After losing Verizon’s volume discounts, Frontier was so alarmed by the wholesale renewal rates it received, it let loose its telemarketing force to convince customers fiber was no good for television and they should instead switch to a satellite provider they partnered with. It’s telling when a company is willing to forfeit revenue in favor of a third party marketing agreement with an outside company.

So what does this mean for a potential start-up looking to get into the business? Since programming is now a commodity, most customers buy on price. The best triple-play deals will go to the biggest national players with volume discounts – all cable operators that have long agreed never to compete directly with each other.

In the Orlando Sentinel, Mr. Balto seemed almost relieved when he concluded Comcast and Time Warner don’t compete head-to-head, somehow easing any antitrust concerns. It is precisely that fact why this deal must never be approved. Comcast has been free to compete anywhere Time Warner provides service, but has never done so. Letting Comcast, which has even worse approval ratings than Time Warner, become the only choice for cable broadband is hardly in the public interest and does nothing for competition. Instead, it only further consolidates the marketplace into a handful of giant companies that can raise prices and cap usage without restraint.

If Mr. Balto truly believes AT&T and Verizon will ride to the rescue with robust wireless broadband competition, his credibility is in peril. Those two companies, among others, are completely incapable of meeting the growing broadband demands (20-50GB) of the home user. With punishing high prices and staggeringly low usage caps, providers are both controlling demand and profiting handsomely from rationing service at the same time. Why change that?

No 3G/4G network under current ordinary traffic loads can honestly deliver a better online experience than DSL, and customers who attempt to replace their home broadband connection in favor of wireless will likely receive a punishing bill for the attempt at the end of the month. The only players who want to count mobile broadband as a serious competitor in the home broadband market are the cable and phone companies desperately looking for a defense against charges they have a broadband monopoly or are part of a comfortable duopoly.

One last point, while Mr. Balto seems impressed that Comcast would continue to voluntarily abide by the Net Neutrality policies he personally opposes, he conveniently omits the fact Comcast was the country’s biggest violator of Net Neutrality when it speed limited peer-to-peer traffic, successfully sued the government over Net Neutrality after it was fined by the FCC for the aforementioned violation, and only agreed to temporarily observe Net Neutrality as part of its colossal merger deal with NBCUniversal. It’s akin to a mugger promising to never commit another crime after being caught red-handed stealing. A commitment like that might be good enough for Mr. Balto, but it isn’t for us.

Here’s How to Tell the N.Y. Public Service Commission to Reject the Comcast/TWC Merger

ny pscThe New York Public Service Commission needs to hear from you about the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. Unlike some of the southern and midwestern states that have utility commissions that basically rubber stamp the agenda of Big Telecom companies, New York’s PSC has a reputation for being tougher and more customer-oriented. But the PSC cannot act in your interest if you don’t share your views.

It is incredibly easy to file your own comments with the PSC. Nearly 2,300 New Yorkers have done so thus far, but we need to make sure they understand our serious objections to Comcast’s usage caps, its expensive service, and customer abuse.

We have provided a sample letter below. We hope you will write your own, but offer ours as a guide that includes some of our biggest concerns. We may prepare another one soon outlining other concerns.

How to file your comment:

  • E-Mail: [email protected]
  • Mail: Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess, Secretary, Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350.
  • Phone: 1-800-335-2120 (press “1” to leave a recorded comment)

All comments should refer to “Case 14-M-0183, Petition of Comcast Corporation and Time Warner Cable Inc.”

Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess
Secretary
Public Service Commission
Three Empire State Plaza
Albany, New York 12223-1350

Re: Case 14-M-0183, Petition of Comcast Corporation and Time Warner Cable Inc.

Dear Ms. Burgess,

I am writing to ask the Public Service Commission to reject the merger proposal of Comcast and Time Warner Cable on the ground the companies have failed to show such a merger would be in the best interests of New York and its residents.

Although Time Warner Cable has never been a prize, Comcast’s reputation for bad service, high prices, rationed Internet access, and customer abuse is well documented in just about every community the company serves. Comcast has repeatedly been voted the “Worst Company in America” by Consumer Union’s Consumerist.com. The American Consumer Satisfaction Index has documented so many complaints about Comcast, it declared it the worst company it has ever scored, performing even worse than the Internal Revenue Service. For more than three years running, Harris Interactive has called Comcast one of the least reputable companies in America.

That alone should be enough to reject this merger out of hand. Permitting it would reward this company’s appalling behavior towards its own customers and expose New Yorkers to an even bigger monopoly problem than we deal with now. Unless you live in a Verizon FiOS service area, cable is your only real choice for true broadband speeds. DSL is rapidly losing favor and market share and Verizon has shown no interest in expanding it.

Comcast already uses its market power to its advantage by raising prices… a lot. Time Warner Cable charges less for its services than Comcast does.

For example, Time Warner Cable offers a standard television service package that provides all the popular cable networks for one price. Comcast offers a similar package but stripped out cable networks including Cloo, CNBC World, Al Jazeera America, Discovery Fit & Health, Disney XD, DIY, a range of ESPN’s extra networks, EWTN, Fine Living, Fox Business News, Great American Country, IFC, Investigation Discovery, Lifetime Real Women, Military Channel, MLB, most of MTV’s extra networks, NBA, National Geographic Channel, NFL Network, NHL Network, most of Nickelodeon’s extra networks, OWN, Oxygen, Sundance, Turner Classic Movies, The Science Channel, and VH1′s extra networks.

Customers who want these networks, like Turner Classic Movies, National Geographic, and IFC will have to pay a stunning price of up to $86 a month — just for television. Many of these networks are especially popular with fixed income older residents, who will now face an even larger cable TV bill.

Comcast promotes the fact its Internet speeds are faster than Time Warner Cable, but that is not true as Time Warner Maxx upgrades arrive. Comcast Internet service costs more, is slower, and increasingly usage-capped. Time Warner Cable has made clear it will not limit customers’ Internet usage. Comcast has made clear it will, predicting usage limits/usage-based pricing will be imposed on customers across its entire footprint within five years. That is no improvement for New York. That is literally a downgrade. We can do better in New York with Time Warner Cable.

In fact, the company has promised extremely little to New York after winning your approval to merge. Comcast is so arrogant, it already announced it will not share any cost savings with customers, promising even higher cable bills for New York with the merger. Even its touted X1 set top system will cost New Yorkers — it comes with a steep installation price of almost $100. Again, how does this serve the public interest?

Comcast’s public service programs are also woefully inadequate. Its Internet Essentials is a bureaucratic nightmare that only provides temporary discounts to a small percentage of customers (with school age children) who need an affordable Internet option. I guess childless couples and the elderly poor don’t matter. Time Warner Cable offers a $14.99 discount program available to anyone who wants it, no paperwork or waiting periods required.

It is my understanding Comcast must prove this merger is in the public interest to win your approval. It has utterly failed to do so, and I expect my state’s Public Service Commission to reject this merger. This is one deal that can never be modified sufficiently to make it acceptable for people like myself. You are doing us no favors trying to negotiate for an Internet discount program or expanding Comcast’s service area by a small amount in rural upstate New York. The end result is that millions of New Yorkers will get worse service than we get today, at a higher price, with little/no competition on the horizon.

This is a rare opportunity for our state, which lost most of its oversight powers over the cable industry years ago. Cable operators have abused their deregulated status and have raised prices, provided dreadful customer service, and have kept competition away. Letting Comcast into New York from Buffalo to the Bronx will only encourage more abuse, wreaking havoc on New York’s growing digital economy. Let’s send a clear message to Comcast New York isn’t willing to put our broadband future in the hands of “the worst company in America.” Let’s make it clear enough is enough.

Sincerely,

 

Antitrust Us: Is ComVerizablAsT&TWCDirecTV Really Best for American Broadband?

Bad enough

Bad enough

A big company needs a big name, and so what if you can’t say it out loud, so long as your check reaches the cable cartel on time to avoid those inconvenient late fees.

The shock waves of the $45 billion dollar proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable (not to mention AT&T and DirecTV) have reached as far as Great Britain where appalled editorial writers in the British press are pondering whether Washington has lost its mind or just its integrity… or a combination of both, by actually contemplating the unthinkable rebirth of the American Robber Baron.

Only instead of railroads powering America’s early 20th century economy, today its broadband. Overseas, broadband is plentiful, fast, and cheap. Back home, cable operators are hard at work in a comfortable monopoly/duopoly working on excuses to justify Internet rationing with usage caps, outrageous equipment rental fees, rate hikes, and usage billing for a product about as cheap to offer as a phone call on one of those unlimited calling plans you probably already have.

From The Economist:

“On “OUTLAW”, a drama that aired on NBC, a Supreme Court justice leaves the bench to join a law firm. In real life he might have begun working for Comcast, America’s largest cable company, which owns NBC. Many of Washington’s top brass are on Comcast’s payroll, including Margaret Attwell Baker, a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), America’s telecoms regulator, who in government had helped approve Comcast’s takeover of NBCUniversal in 2011. Even Barack Obama has Comcast ties. “I have been here so much, the only thing I haven’t done in this house is have seder dinner,” he quipped at a fundraiser hosted last year at the home of David Cohen, Comcast’s chief lobbyist.

“It helps to have influential friends, especially if you are seeking to expand your grip on America’s pay-TV and broadband markets.

“[…] The deal would create a Goliath far more fearsome than the latest ride at the Universal Studios theme park (also Comcast-owned). Comcast has said it would forfeit 3m subscribers, but even with that concession the combination of the two firms would have around 30m—more than 30% of all TV subscribers and around 33% of broadband customers. In the cable market alone (ie, not counting suppliers of satellite services such as DirecTV), Comcast has as much as 55% of all TV and broadband subscribers.

Worse

Worse

“Comcast will argue that its share of customers in any individual market is not increasing. That is true only because cable companies decided years ago not to compete head-to-head, and divided the country among themselves. More than three-quarters of households have no choice other than their local cable monopoly for high-speed, high-capacity internet.

“For consumers the deal would mean the union of two companies that are already reviled for their poor customer service and high prices. Greater size will fix neither problem. Mr Cohen has said, “We’re certainly not promising that customer bills are going to go down or even that they’re going to increase less rapidly.” Between 1995 and 2012 the average price of a cable subscription increased at a compound annual rate of more than 6%.”

Before blaming it all on President Obama’s close relationship with Comcast’s top executives, it was the Republicans in Washington that set this tragic monopolistic farce into motion. Michael Powell, President George W. Bush’s idea of the best man in America to protect the public interest at the FCC, represented the American people about as well as ‘Heckuva Job Brownie.’ Instead of promoting competition, Powell used his time to beef-up his résumé for a very cushy post-government job heading America’s top cable lobby – the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Attwell-Baker was even more shameless, departing the FCC for her sweet new executive digs at Comcast just a short time after enthusiastically voting in favor of its NBCUniversal merger deal.

snakePowell and others made certain that Internet Service Providers would not be classified as “common carriers,” which would require them to rent their broadband pipes at a reasonable wholesale rate to competitors. The industry and their well-compensated friends in the House and Senate argued such a status would destroy investment in broadband expansion and innovation. Instead it destroyed the family budget as prices for mediocre service in uncompetitive markets soared. Today, consumers in common carrier countries including France and Britain pay a fraction of what Americans do for Internet access, and get faster speeds as well.

Letting Comcast grow even larger, The Economist argues, will allow one company to dominate not just your Internet experience, but also the content consumers access and at what speed.

“There is plenty for Mr Obama and Mr Cohen to discuss at their next dinner,” concludes the magazine. “But better yet, officials could keep their distance from Comcast, and reject a merger that would reduce competition, provide no benefit to consumers and sap the incentive to innovate.”

Considering the enormous sums of money Comcast has shown a willingness to spend on winning over supporters for its business agenda, restraint on the part of Washington will need voter vigilance, much the same way calling out non-profits who gush over Comcast while quietly cashing their contribution checks must also be fully exposed to regulators who will ultimately decide the fate of the merger.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Antitrust Us.mp4

Antitrust Us: Cartoonist Mark Fiore takes on the corporate idea that merging cable companies together creates more competition. (1:50)

Comcast Using Ethically Disgraced Ralph Reed to Advise on Time Warner Cable Merger

That "paragon of virtue" Ralph Reed is helping Comcast with their merger problems.

That “paragon of virtue” Ralph Reed is helping Comcast with their merger problems. (Image: Mark Fiore)

The owner of left-leaning MSNBC has engaged a religious conservative activist to handle consulting work on Capitol Hill for a cable company so hated, even ardent pro-business conservative Republicans are holding their noses contemplating a merger that would make Comcast even larger.

Ralph Reed has tried to keep his head down during his 8-10 year “association” with Comcast, whose executives make regular major contributions to Democratic Party candidates and play golf with President Barack Obama.

Reed’s ethically challenged past has made him notorious in Washington, and many well-connected lobbyists avoid publicly associating with the man who helped the disgraced lobbyist Ralph Abramoff rip off Native Americans for $100 million. Even worse, while Abramoff and Reed were working to rob various tribes blind in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana,  the next mission would be protecting off-shore sweatshops in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. possession that lacks American labor law protections. Workers were paid less than half the American minimum wage, had their movements restricted, were sexually exploited, and churned out products for corporations that could still claim they were proudly “Made in the U.S.A.”

Both men kept it ‘klassy with a k’ with respect to their paying clients. Abramoff routinely called  tribal leaders “monkeys” and Reed wanted to use his new found expertise in corporate lobbying to enrich himself. Reed sent e-mail to Abramoff recommending himself as a corporate lobbying asset, because of his ability to mobilize hundreds of thousands of religious conservative households through an extensive network of politically active pastors willing to use religion to advance the agendas of his corporate clients.

“I need to start humping in corporate accounts,” Reed wrote Abramoff, noting he could quickly create anti-gambling astroturf groups morally opposed to allowing new gambling ventures on religious grounds. In reality, his opposition was actually designed to protect Abramoff’s existing clients — Native American tribal casinos — from facing new competition.

comcast twcReed is theoretically trying to promote the Comcast merger with skeptical political and religious conservatives who have heard loud complaints from constituents about the cable company. But one of Reed’s self-proclaimed selling points is that he prefers to move in the shadows.

“I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare,” Mr. Reed told a Virginia newspaper in 1991. “I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag.”

Had Reed kept a lower profile, his association with Comcast might have never seen the light of day.

“It’s widely known because Ralph’s been on conference calls,” one insider said. “It has been at least eight years; it’s been some time.”

Century Strategies, the Atlanta-based firm Reed owns, has been on retainer with Comcast for eight or 10 years, the source said.

ralph reed bio

Unfortunately for Comcast, Reed has appeared at one too many microphones lately, spouting off at various conservative functions including the annual Faith & Freedom Coalition, where he loudly compared the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage as a historical mistake as explosive as the 1857 Dred Scott decision. That was the one where the court ruled that all blacks — slaves as well as free — were not and could never become citizens of the United States. How could I have missed the similarities!

Comcast didn’t respond to a request for comment about its reported engagement of Reed’s company. Century Strategies also didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Washington Blade, which exposed the Reed-Comcast link, to confirm the reports.

Much of what constitutes official paid lobbying vs. an informal conversation is just part of the murky world of Beltway lobbying. So far, Reed has not filed as an official lobbyist.

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