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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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Time Warner Cable Prepares to Unveil Set-Top-Box-Less Initiative That Comcast Limits to College Campuses

roku

Roku

Time Warner Cable is preparing to solve one of its customers’ biggest annoyances — the expensive and unruly set-top box — by getting rid of them for customers who don’t want them.

CED reports Time Warner Cable provided insight into its “Boxless Home” project at the SCTE Rocky Mountain symposium held last week in Denver.

“One of the projects that I lead is called Boxless Homes where we can take a different device and use it instead of our set-top boxes,” said Time Warner’s Louis Williamson. “We’ve actually addressed the big screen with the Roku. We’ve launched it but we haven’t officially launched what we call our Boxless Homes because its missing a couple of the key Title 6 requirements. and the most important one we’re trying to get working right now is secondary audio. We have closed captioning and other things in it.”

The new project would let subscribers pack up and return their current set-top boxes (not DVRs just yet) and replace them with Internet-enabled Roku, Xbox, and Samsung Smart TVs, potentially saving customers close to $100 a year or more. It is part of the broad transition away from analog service cable companies are making as they gradually move towards IP distribution of content — creating one large broadband pipe across which cable television, Internet access, and phone service will travel.

“We describe things like the iPhones, and iPads and other stuff as companion devices,” Williamson added. “You can use them with your TV, they work as remotes and they’re good for looking at TV for a bit. When you go to something that fits on the big screen, the 10-foot experience like a Roku or the Xbox, or our work we’ve done as an app on Samsung TV that does [live TV and video-on-demand], that’s where we look at as Boxless Homes. You don’t have to have one our boxes; you can use one of those devices as outlets in your home. We’ve been driving heavily to get to that point where we can enable all of our services on a device that is theirs. In a couple of markets the channel lineup is pretty much there except for the transactional video on demand. It’s just getting all the Title 6 compliance in and a good marketing strategy around how you drive it.”

Time Warner management likes the initiative because set-top box equipment is costly to buy and support and many customers would prefer to do away with the frustration and cost of extra equipment, especially when many cable set-top boxes installed in homes before Jan. 1, 2014 use more electricity than a home refrigerator, consuming an average of 446kWh hours each (about $50 a year per box, depending on local energy costs).

Time Warner Cable customers looking to save money already have the option of returning their old energy vampire set-top boxes for one of several new models Time Warner has introduced this year. Contact your local office to find the Time Warner set-top boxes available for service in your area:

Make
Model
Type
Features
On Power (W)
Sleep Power (W)
APD Power (W)
Total Electric Consumption (kWh/yr)
Motorola DCX3510-M Cable APD, AVP, CC, DVR, D2, HD, MR, MS 22.8 18.3 18.3 172
Motorola DCX3200-M Cable APD, AVP, CC, D2, HD, HNI 14.3 11.7 11.6 110
Cisco 8742HDC Cable APD, AVP, CC, DVR, D2, HD, MR, MS 21.7 18.4 18.4 170
Cisco 4742HDC Cable APD, AVP, CC, D2, HD, HNI 18.8 14.1 14.1 136
Samsung SMT-H3272 Cable APD, AVP, CC, DVR, D2, HD, MR, MS 30.3 25.8 25.8 239
Samsung SMT-H3362 Cable APD, AVP, CC, D2, HD, HNI 14.7 13.3 13.3 120
Feature Key
Shortcut
Feature Name
APD Automatic Power Down enabled by default
AVP Advanced Video Processing
CC CableCARD
D2 DOCSIS 2.0
D3 DOCSIS 3.0
DVR Digital Video Recorder
HD High Definition
HNI Home Networking Interface
MR Multi-room
MS Multi-stream
XCD Transcoding

For now, Time Warner expects most of those going box-less will be in the under-30 age demographic. They already have game consoles or Internet-enabled set-top boxes like Roku and are comfortable switching in and out of the Time Warner Cable TV app.

timewarner twc“I think its to early to say how its going to impact the traditional world,” Williamson said in response to a question about whether Boxless Homes will replace traditional MPEG-2 services or augment them. “Currently we don’t even market it or tell anyone about it. The IP video stuff has rolled out word of month. These are the early adopters who are understanding that there’s a TWC app that goes on the Roku box. They decide to go down to their kid’s room or somewhere else and make that their secondary outlet. That’s how it’s evolving now. I think as it gets more and more prevalent and we get on more and more devices, which is going to take time, then its going to be more interesting. Our app on Samsung TV is much closer to our same look and feel as on our se-sop box. Unfortunately these are the real high-end Samsung TVs with the smart hub technology and things like that. There’s not enough of them to understand what the impact is on our footprint.”

Comcast is also working on a box-less approach, but only for college campuses. Its “XFINITY on Campus” project offers streaming cable TV over students’ laptops or portable devices exclusively while on campus. The service is now limited to Emerson College, Drexel University, University of New Hampshire, Lasell College, and MIT. Comcast currently has no plans to offer box-less service to residential subscribers.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BTIG Demo of New TWC TV App on Roku 12-23-13.flv

Rich Greenfield at BTIG Research produced this hands-on demonstration and review of the TWC on Roku app. (6:23)

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Stop the Cap!’s Testimony Before the N.Y. Public Service Commission on Comcast-TWC Merger

lousy-tshirt-640x640For the benefit of new visitors, text items in bold are clickable links. A complete video from this event will be posted as soon as possible.

Good evening. My name is Phillip Dampier from Stop the Cap!, a Rochester-based all-volunteer consumer group fighting for better broadband service and against Internet usage caps.

This is a critical moment for New York. The Internet has become a necessity for most of us and the future is largely in the hands of one company capable of delivering 21st century broadband to the majority of upstate New York. That company isn’t Verizon, which has ended FiOS fiber expansion while abandoning most of its upstate customers with slow speed DSL. Indeed, as their market share will attest, our broadband future is held in the hands of Time Warner Cable.

Comcast could have become a big player in New York had it chosen to compete head to head with Time Warner. But large cable operators avoid that kind of competition, preferring comfortable fiefdoms that only change hands at the whim of the companies involved. As local officials from across New York have already discovered, no major cable operator will compete for an expiring franchise currently held by another major cable operator.

Ironically, Comcast is using that fact in its favor, noting that since neither company competes directly with the other, making Comcast larger has no impact on competition. But that should hardly be the only test.

At issue is whether this merger is in the public interest. This year, for the first time in a long time, the rules have changed in New York. In the past, the Commission had to prove the merger was not in the best interests of New Yorkers. Now the onus is on Comcast to prove it is. It has fallen far short of meeting that burden.

Let’s start with Comcast’s dysfunctional relationship with its customers. With more than 75 citizen comments filed with the Commission so far. Comcast’s reputation clearly precedes it. The consensus view is perhaps best represented by one exasperated Clinton-area resident who wrote, I quote, “No. No no no. HELL no.

dream onThat kind of reaction is unsurprising considering Consumer Reports ranked Comcast 15th out of 17 large cable companies and called their Internet service and customer relations mediocre. Every year since 2007, Comcast’s CEO acknowledges the problems with customer service and promises to do better. Seven years later, the American Customer Satisfaction Index reports absolutely no measurable improvement. In fact, ACSI has concluded Comcast had the worst customer satisfaction rating of any company or government agency in the country, including the IRS.

In order to sell this $45 billion boondoggle to a skeptical public, Comcast has hired 76 lobbyists from 24 different firms and will reportedly spend millions trying to convince regulators and our elected leaders this deal is good for New York. If the deal gets done, Comcast’s biggest spending spree won’t be on behalf of its customers. Instead, Comcast has announced a $17 billion share buyback to benefit their shareholders. Imagine if this money was instead spent on improving customer service and selling a better product at a lower price.

don't careThe only suitable response to this merger deal is its outright rejection. Some may recommend imposing a handful of temporary conditions in return for approval – like the kind Sen. Al Franken accused Comcast of reneging on after its earlier merger with NBCUniversal. But this is one of those cases where you just can’t fit a round peg into a square deal for consumers, no matter how hard you try.

With respect to television, volume discounts have a huge impact on cable programming costs and competition. The biggest players get the best discounts, smaller ones are stunned by programming rate hikes and new competitors think twice about getting into the business.

AT&T said last week its 5.7 million customer U-verse television service was too small to get the kind of discounts its cable and satellite competitors receive. AT&T’s solution is to buy DirecTV, which might be good for AT&T but is bad for competition.

Frontier Communications has also felt the volume discount sting after adopting several Verizon FiOS franchises. When it lost Verizon’s volume discounts, Frontier began a relentless marketing effort to convince its customers to abandon FiOS TV and switch to technically inferior satellite TV.

Combining Comcast and Time Warner Cable will indeed help Comcast secure better deals from major programmers (including Comcast itself). But Comcast is already on record warning those savings won’t be shared with customers.

Comcast’s executive vice president David Cohen summed it up best: “We are certainly not promising that customer bills will go down or increase less rapidly.”

Is that in the public interest?

xfinity_blowsComcast suggests this merger will make its cable television market share no larger than it had in 2002 when it bought the assets of AT&T Cable. But this is 2014 and cable television is increasingly no longer the industry’s biggest breadwinner. Broadband is, and post-merger Comcast will control 40-50 percent of the Internet access market nationwide.

So what do Time Warner Cable customers get if Comcast takes over? A higher bill and worse service.

Several months before Comcast sought this merger, Time Warner announced a series of major upgrades under an initiative called TWC Maxx. Over the next two years, Time Warner Cable plans to more than triple the Internet speeds customers get now at no additional charge. Those upgrades are already available in parts of New York City, Los Angeles, and Austin.

A Time Warner Cable customer in Queens used to pay $57.99 for 15 megabit broadband. As of last month, for the same price, they get 50 megabits.

In contrast, Comcast’s Internet Plus plan delivers just 25 megabits and costs $69.95 a month – nearly $12 more for half the speed. Who has the better broadband at a better price? Time Warner Cable.

New York State’s digital economy depends on Internet innovation, which means some customers need faster speeds than others. Time Warner Cable’s Maxx initiative already delivers far superior speeds than what Comcast offers, despite claims from Comcast this merger would deliver New York a broadband upgrade.

isp blockTime Warner’s new top of the line Internet service, Ultimate 300 (formerly Ultimate 50), delivers 300 megabit service for $74.99 a month. Comcast’s top cable broadband offer listed on their website is Extreme 105, offering 105 megabit speeds at prices ranging from $99.95 to $114.95.

Is the public interest better served with 300 megabits for $74.99 from Time Warner Cable or paying almost $40 more for one-third of that speed from Comcast? Again, Time Warner Cable has the better deal for customers.

But the charges keep coming.

At least 90 percent of cable customers lease their cable modem from the cable company, and Comcast charges one of the highest lease rates in the industry – $8 a month. Time Warner Cable charges just under $6.

So I ask again, is this merger really in the public interest when broadband customers will be expected to pay more for less service?

Then there is the issue of usage caps, a creative way to put a toll on innovation. Usage caps make high bandwidth applications of the future untenable while also protecting cable television revenue.

If the PSC approves this transaction, the vast majority of New York will live under Comcast’s returning usage cap regime. There is simply no justification for usage limits on residential broadband service, particularly from a company as profitable as Comcast. Verizon FiOS does not have caps. Neither does Cablevision. But the majority of upstate New Yorkers won’t have the option of choosing either.

In 2009, Time Warner Cable lived through a two week public relations nightmare when they attempted an experiment with compulsory usage caps on customers in Rochester. After Stop the Cap! pushed back, then CEO Glenn Britt shelved the idea. Britt would later emphasize he now believed Time Warner should always have an unlimited use tier available for customers who want it.

Whether intended or not, Time Warner actually proved that was the right idea. In early 2012, the company introduced optional usage caps in return for discounts. They quickly discovered customers have no interest in having their Internet usage measured and limited, even for a discount. Out of 11 million Time Warner Cable broadband customers, only a few thousand have been convinced to enroll.

comcast sucksComcast doesn’t give customers a choice. In 2008, a strict 250GB usage cap was imposed on all residential customers with disconnect threats for violators. Since announcing it would re-evaluate that cap in May 2012, it now appears Comcast has settled on a new residential 300GB usage allowance gradually being reintroduced in Comcast service areas starting in southern U.S. markets.

Comcast executive vice president David Cohen cutely calls them “usage thresholds.” At Stop the Cap! we call it Internet Overcharging.

Cohen predicts Comcast will have broadband usage thresholds imposed on every city they serve within five years. Whether you call it a cap or a threshold, it is in fact a limit on how much Internet service you can consume without risking overlimit fees of $10 for each 50GB increment over your allowance.

Unlike Time Warner Cable, Comcast isn’t offering a discount with its usage cap, so those who use less will still pay the same they always have, proving again that usage caps don’t save customers money. (See below for clarification)

At the end of May I watched CNBC interview Comcast CEO Brian Roberts who implied during a discussion about Comcast’s usage caps that usage growth was impinging on the viability of its broadband business. Moments later, Time Warner Cable ran an ad emphasizing its broadband service has no usage caps. Both companies are making plenty of money from broadband.

This merger is bad news for customers faced with Comcast’s legendary bad service, its forthcoming usage caps, or the higher prices it charges. Even promised innovations like their much touted X1 set top platform comes with a gotcha Comcast routinely forgets to mention. Customers have to pay a $99 installation fee.

Stop the Cap! will submit a more comprehensive filing with the PSC outlining all of our objections to this merger, and there are several more. We invite anyone in the audience to visit stopthecap.com for this and other matters related to cable television and broadband. We appreciate being invited to share our views with the Commission and hope to bring a consumer perspective to this important development in our shared telecommunications future. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TWC News Hearing on Comcast 6-16-14.mp4

Time Warner Cable News covered the Public Service Commission hearing in Buffalo, which included testimony from Stop the Cap!’s Phillip Dampier. Also appearing was a representative from the National Black Chamber of Commerce advocating that telecom companies merge as fast as possible. The Chamber has received significant support from Comcast for several years now and representatives routinely testify in favor of Comcast’s business initiatives. (2:30)

Clarification: Comcast has different trials in different cities:

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. $10/50GB 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.

Comcast suggested customers can enroll in a cheaper usage plan in some of these markets. Yes they can, but only if they downgrade to Economy Plus service which offers speeds only up to 3Mbps. Their $5 discount is not available on any other plan.

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Thoughts on the NY Public Service Commission’s Information Meeting in Buffalo on Comcast-TWC Merger

Phillip "The new unofficial spokesman of Time Warner Cable?" Dampier

Phillip “The new unofficial spokesperson for Time Warner Cable?” Dampier

I testified last evening at the Buffalo Public Information Meeting held by the New York Public Service Commission on the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

The regulator invited four witnesses to testify about the merger last evening. The other three:

  • Mark E. Reilly, Comcast’s senior vice president of government affair, northeast division (for);
  • Aaron Bartley, executive director of PUSH Buffalo (against);
  • Christine Carr, executive director of Computers for Children (neutral).

The meeting was sparsely attended with only about two dozen in the audience, a good number of those arriving from Rochester. Also in attendance were groups with direct financial connections to Comcast, some partly disclosed during the evening, others not. Readers will not be surprised they were strongly in favor of the merger. Common Cause was represented and was clearly against the merger, although their representative also had harsh words for Time Warner Cable.

Niagara County Legislator David E. Godfrey (R-Wilson) and Orleans County Legislator Lynne M. Johnson (R-Lyndonville), representing the Niagara Orleans Regional Alliance, spoke on behalf of rural New Yorkers who lack broadband service. Neither went on record opposing the merger but seemed to suggest its approval be tied to a rural broadband solution. The record on successfully pulling that off in earlier deals has been mixed at best. The cable industry treats its Return On Investment formulas like a biblical text. If expanding service isn’t going to make the companies money in the short term, it is very unlikely to happen. We believe New York’s broadband subsidy program is a better deal for consumers if it means keeping Comcast out of New York.

The audience was almost entirely silent during the event and it wrapped up earlier than originally planned. Buffalo seemed less engaged on broadband issues than I would have expected. Had the hearing been held in Rochester, I have no doubt the audience would have been far larger. Broadband matters in Rochester have always drawn crowds and significant news coverage. One Buffalo resident offered that the PSC chose its meeting location poorly — on “an out of the way” college campus in Amherst now in summer session that charges for parking (although we did park for free). Others have told us the meetings were poorly advertised. Thankfully, the PSC is keeping the record open for comments in writing and by phone.

The strongest contrast of views came from testimony from Mr. Reilly and myself, although the meeting was not configured as a debate.

Reilly

Reilly

Mr. Reilly did not seem well-informed about specifics regarding Comcast’s products and pricing. He stumbled through incomplete answers when asked directly (twice) to compare Comcast’s prices against Time Warner Cable. Unfortunately, the question and answer session did not allow for interjection from other witnesses, because if it did, I was more than ready to help Mr. Reilly answer that question because I brought the rate cards for both companies with me. Perhaps he did not want to answer, because as the evidence clearly shows, Comcast costs more.

He also implied Comcast had widely deployed up to 505Mbps broadband service in its service area. Speeds of 300-500Mbps are offered only to a limited number of customers that can, number one afford the high asking price ($300/month plus installation fee) and second are passed by Comcast’s fiber or Metro Ethernet networks.

We also disagreed over usage caps. Reilly claimed the average Comcast customer used just 17GB a month. Comcast’s own website claims median monthly data usage is 20-25GB per month. But according to Digital Trends, the average family with Internet-only service uses 212GB of data each month — more than seven times those who watch traditional television. That is because after cutting cable-TVs cord, they are watching shows over their broadband connection. That number is rising, and fast. Over the four years Comcast had a nationwide cap, it did not adjust it upwards even once to account for broadband growth.

Independent analysis from Sandvine found that Internet users, in general, are accessing increasingly larger amounts of data. The overall mean usage on North American fixed-access networks (as opposed to mobile networks) was 51.4 GB in March, which is up from the 44.5 GB noted in Sandvine’s most recent previous study. Cord-cutters as a whole now dominate network usage, accounting for a 54-percent majority of total monthly network traffic. Cord-cutters are also responsible for some of the cable industry’s biggest revenue challenges with their television packages.

The old industry meme that usage caps affect only a tiny minority of customers was also trotted out. We did not have the opportunity to ask, “if only a tiny percentage of customers exceed their allowance, why bother with usage caps at all?”

Time Warner Cable was not represented at the meeting, and in an ironic twist, that left me as their unofficial spokesbooster. In fact, nobody seemed aware of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade program which is delivering faster, more affordable Internet access than Comcast offers over its cable broadband network without the threat of looming usage caps.

Jump through hoops for $9.95 Internet

Jump through hoops for $9.95 Internet

Internet affordability emerged as a major topic last evening. Predictably Comcast touted its $9.95 Internet Essentials program without mentioning its highly restrictive pre-qualification requirements:

The program is only available to households that (i) are located where Comcast offers Internet service; (ii) have at least one child who receives free/reduced rate school lunches through the National School Lunch Program (the “NSLP”) and as confirmed annually while enrolled in the program; (iii) do not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment; and (iv) have not subscribed to any Comcast Internet service within the last ninety (90) days (sections 1(i)-(iv) collectively are defined as “Eligibility Criteria”). The program will accept new customers for three (3) full school years, unless extended at the sole election of Comcast. Comcast reserves the right to establish enrollment periods at the beginning of each academic year in which it accepts new customers that may limit the period of time each year in which you have to enroll in the program.

2. In order to confirm your eligibility for the program, Comcast will need to verify that your children receive free/reduced rate school lunches through the NSLP in the initial enrollment year and each subsequent year you are enrolled in the program. In order to confirm eligibility, participants in the program will be required to provide copies of official documents establishing that a child in the household is currently receive free/reduced rate school lunches through the NSLP. Each year you will be required to reconfirm your household’s current eligibility by providing Comcast or its authorized agent with up-to-date documentation. If you fail to provide documentation proving your eligibility in the program, you will be deemed no longer eligible to participate in the program.

3. You will no longer be eligible to participate in the program if (i) you no longer have at least one child living in your household who receives free/reduced rate school lunches under the NSLP; (ii) you fail to maintain your Comcast account in good standing; (iii) Comcast ceases to provide the Covered Service to your location; or (iv) your account opened under the program is closed. A change in address may result in your account being closed, even if you continue to receive Comcast services at a different address. Program participation also may be terminated if the Covered Service is upgraded, altered or changed by you for any reason. If you are no longer eligible for the program, but continue to receive the Covered Service from Comcast, regular rates, and any other applicable terms and conditions will apply to the Covered Service.

In brief, you can only qualify if you don’t have Comcast Internet service already. If you do, Comcast demands you stay without Comcast Internet service for at least 90 days before applying (good luck making that work). This is nothing more than a revenue protection mechanism for Comcast so that customers don’t downgrade to discounted Internet. Only poor families with school age children qualify and Comcast intrusively re-verifies eligibility regularly. Had a past due bill in the past or loss/stolen equipment? You are not qualified. Miss a payment? Comcast can kick you off the program. Try to upgrade any part of your Comcast package? You are done with Internet Essentials. Move to a new address? Your Internet discount isn’t going with you.

John Randall from the Roosevelt Institute came to a similar conclusion:

Comcast’s Internet Essentials program does more to benefit Comcast’s customer acquisition, public relations, and lobbying departments than to help people in America who need high-speed Internet access at a reasonable price. The reality is that the program is a cleverly designed customer acquisition program that benefits Comcast’s bottom line.

It was also a cynical way to help Comcast win approval of its merger with NBCUniversal. Comcast held back the program until they could use it as a political chip in their merger lobbying campaign. As we reported back in 2012:

In 2009, Comcast insiders were hard at work on a discount program for the disadvantaged who could not afford Comcast’s regular prices for broadband service. But the program was stalled at the direction of Cohen, who wanted it to be a chip with regulators to win approval of its acquisition of NBC-Universal. The program, sure to be popular among advocates of the digitally disadvantaged, was a key part of approving the $30 billion deal.

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

You would probably take this used car to a mechanic before deciding whether to buy. Why doesn't Comcast know the state of Time Warner's cable systems before they made an offer?

You would probably take this used car to a mechanic before deciding whether to buy. Why doesn’t Comcast know the state of Time Warner’s cable systems before they made a $45 billion offer?

Lastly, Mr. Reilly repeatedly confessed Comcast did not know the state of Time Warner Cable’s system and equipment and could not answer questions about precisely how much Comcast would invest in upgrades. He admitted Comcast’s part-acquisition of Adelphia Cable (its systems were largely divided up between Comcast and Time Warner) resulted in a major under-estimate of repair and upgrade work required.

If I buy a used car, I take it to an expert who can describe its current condition, alert me to likely service required both now and in the near future, and predictions about the vehicle’s anticipated lifetime. Apparently Comcast buys cable systems sight-unseen.

It was widely known in the industry at the time that troubled Adelphia Cable properties were neglected as the company neared bankruptcy. Imagine Adelphia as a metaphor for the state of Sears or K-Mart these days.

Two members of the Rigas family that founded Adelphia were convicted on multiple charges of securities fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and bank fraud. Prosecutors said the Rigases hid the fact the company was dangerously overextended with $2.3 billion in unreported debts. The family used the company’s bank accounts to finance a range of personal follies, including 100 pairs of slippers for Timothy Rigas and more than $3 million to produce a film by John Rigas’ daughter. We don’t know if the film was actually any good.

At the end of the evening in Buffalo, we were still left with the impression Comcast’s promises and commitments were vague and the much-touted benefits were much to be desired as soon as you began reading the fine print.

But frankly, I was disappointed by the low turnout. Consumers who do not want Comcast to be their next Internet provider -must- make their feelings known or that is precisely what is going to happen. We need all New Yorkers within travel distance of Albany or New York City to pack the PSC’s meeting rooms and have the courage to get up and speak. You can talk for 30 seconds or 3-5 minutes. You can also write or call the PSC if you want to extend your remarks in writing. New Yorkers have the power to throw a major wrench into a deal very few of us wants. But only if they make their voices heard:

Wednesday, June 18

SUNY Albany
Performing Arts Center
1400 Washington Avenue
Albany

6:00 pm: Informational Forum
7:30 pm: Public Statement Hearing

Thursday, June 19

NYS DPS Office
90 Church Street
New York

Please bring ID with you.

6:00 pm: Informational Forum
7:30 pm: Public Statement Hearing

Those who cannot attend or prefer not to speak at a public statement hearing may comment electronically to Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess, Secretary, at [email protected] or by mail or delivery to the Secretary at the Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350. Comments should refer to “Case 14-M-0183, Petition of Comcast Corporation and Time Warner Cable Inc.”

Toll-Free Opinion Line: You may call the Commission’s Opinion Line at 1-800-335-2120. This number is set up to take comments about pending cases from in-state callers, 24 hours a day. Press “1″ to leave comments, mentioning the Comcast/Time Warner merger.

All comments provided through these alternative methods should be submitted, or mailed and postmarked, no later than July 31, 2014. All such statements and comments will become part of the record and be reported to the Commission for its consideration.

All submitted comments may be accessed on the Commission’s Web site at www.dps.ny.gov, by searching Case 14-M-0183.

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Stop the Cap! Invited to Participate in N.Y. PSC Hearings on Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger

nys psc

The New York State Public Service Commission has invited Stop the Cap! to testify about the impact of Comcast and Time Warner Cable merging on New York State residents.

Our testimony will concentrate on an examination of whether the merger is in the best interests of consumers and customers, focusing on issues ranging from usage caps to broadband speeds and pricing and the quality of service provided by both companies. Our remarks will also include a brief overview of the impact of the merger on competition in the state and whether New York would be better served by Comcast or an independent Time Warner Cable.

We will be testifying at the hearing in Buffalo, N.Y., on Monday June 16 starting at 6pm. The public is welcome to attend and will be free to make remarks during the open forum starting at 7:30pm. We urge all New York residents to attend this hearing or others to be held in Albany and New York City. Consumers have significant weight with the New York commissioners and your comments have often derailed the agendas of telecom companies in the state (the Fire Island Verizon Voice Link fiasco, Verizon’s service improvement oversight, stopping Time Warner Cable from cutting off late-paying phone customers on nights and weekends, etc.)

comcast twcIf a sufficient number of residents voice strong concerns about the merger, there is a significant chance New York regulators could place conditions on the merger making it untenable, or could reject it outright, which could torpedo the merger nationwide.

More information from the New York Public Service Commission:

The New York State Public Service Commission will be conducting a series of informational forums and public statement hearings on the petition of Comcast Corporation and Time Warner Cable Inc. allowing Comcast to acquire Time Warner Cable.

The informational forums will consist of presentations by Comcast and other invited parties on the proposed transaction and its likely impact on consumers in New York. The Administrative Law Judge, attending Commissioner and DPS Senior Staff may ask questions of the invited speakers.

Immediately following each informational forum, there will be a public statement hearing at which interested members of the public may offer their views about the Petition in person, before an Administrative Law Judge assigned by the Commission. A verbatim transcript of each hearing will be made for inclusion in the record of the case.

The informational forums and public statement hearings will take place at the following times and places:

Monday, June 16

SUNY Buffalo
Student Union Theater
106 Student Union
Buffalo, NY

We will post driving directions to the forum next week.

Those in or near greater Rochester should contact us and let us know you are attending. We may try to arrange car pooling if there is sufficient interest.

6:00 pm: Informational Forum
7:30 pm: Public Statement Hearing

Wednesday, June 18

SUNY Albany
Performing Arts Center
1400 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY

6:00 pm: Informational Forum
7:30 pm: Public Statement Hearing

Thursday, June 19

NYS DPS Office
90 Church Street
New York, NY

6:00 pm: Informational Forum
7:30 pm: Public Statement Hearing

It is not necessary to be present at the start of the hearing or to make an appointment in advance to speak. Persons interested in speaking will be asked to complete a card requesting time to speak when they arrive at the hearing, and will be called in the order in which the cards are received.

(Cartoon: Heller, Denver Post)

(Cartoon: Heller, Denver Post)

Speakers are not required to provide written copies of their comments.

The public statement hearings will be kept open until everyone wishing to speak has been heard or other reasonable arrangements have been made to include their comments in the record.

Disabled persons requiring special accommodations should contact the Department of Public Service’s Human Resource Management Office at (518) 474-2520 as soon as possible. TDD users may request a sign language interpreter by placing a call through the New York Relay Service at 711 to reach the Department of Public Service’s Human Resource Office at the (518) 474-2520 number. Individuals with difficulty understanding or reading English are encouraged to call the Commission at 1-800-342-3377 for free language assistance services regarding this notice.

Other Ways to Comment

Internet or Mail: Those who cannot attend or prefer not to speak at a public statement hearing may comment electronically to Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess, Secretary, at [email protected] or by mail or delivery to the Secretary at the Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350. Comments should refer to “Case 14-M-0183, Petition of Comcast Corporation and Time Warner Cable Inc.”

Toll-Free Opinion Line: You may call the Commission’s Opinion Line at 1-800-335-2120. This number is set up to take comments about pending cases from in-state callers, 24 hours a day. Press “1” to leave comments, mentioning the Comcast/Time Warner merger.

All comments provided through these alternative methods should be submitted, or mailed and postmarked, no later than July 31, 2014. All such statements and comments will become part of the record and be reported to the Commission for its consideration.

All submitted comments may be accessed on the Commission’s Web site at www.dps.ny.gov, by searching Case 14-M-0183. Many libraries offer free Internet access.

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Comcast Sock Puppet Says Rejecting Merger of Comcast/Time Warner Cable Because It’s Big Is Bad

Supporting Comcast's merger agenda

Supporting Comcast’s merger agenda

A conservative think tank with ties to corporate money and the American Legislative Exchange Council says the FCC should not reject the Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger for emotional, “big is bad” sloganeering.

Seth Cooper, a former director of the ALEC Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force and current Amicus Counsel for the corporate group made his comments about the merger under the moniker of the Free State Foundation.

The FCC’s due diligence in that examination of the deal, Cooper says, must “disregard pleas for it to reject Comcast/TWC out of hand, based on appeals to emotional incredulity or ‘big is bad’ sloganeering; Stand firm against calls that, under the guise of protecting consumers, the agency impose conditions in order to protect market rivals…; reject dragging out its review process…; and avoid the imposition of any conditions on the merger unrelated to demonstrable concerns over market power and anticompetitive conduct.”

Cooper parrots Comcast’s press releases promoting the multi-billion dollar merger, claiming it will lead to a faster transition to digital cable, faster Internet speeds via DOCSIS 3.1, and expanded wireless backhaul services.

Unfortunately for Cooper, the facts are not on his side.

As part of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx initiative, the march to digital cable in unmistakable at Time Warner. TWC Maxx-upgraded cities now get faster speeds at a lower cost than what Comcast offers, and no data caps. Both cable companies are already in the wireless backhaul market, installing fiber to cell towers to support 4G LTE broadband. But LTE-enabled towers are highly likely to already have fiber connections, limiting future growth. A merger between the two cable companies won’t dramatically change that market reality.

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NY Times’ Reality Check: Feds Should Block the Godzilla-Sized Time Warner Cable-Comcast Merger

free_press_comcast_twc_market_shares-791x1024The New York Times recommends the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission reject Comcast’s $45 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable, if only because the combined company will have an unregulated choke-hold on telecommunications services not seen since the days of the regulated AT&T/Bell monopoly.

In an editorial published Sunday, the newspaper called out many of the “merger benefit”-talking points claimed by the two cable giants as specious at best, hinting some even bordered on misleading:

By buying Time Warner Cable, Comcast would become a gatekeeper over what consumers watch, read and listen to. The company would have more power to compel Internet content companies like Netflix and Google, which owns YouTube, to pay Comcast for better access to its broadband network. Netflix, a dominant player in video streaming, has already signed such an agreement with the company. This could put start-ups and smaller companies without deep pockets at a competitive disadvantage.

There are also worries that a bigger Comcast would have more power to refuse to carry channels that compete with programming owned by NBC Universal, which it owns. Comcast executives say that they would not favor content the company controls at the expense of other media businesses.

The company argues that this deal would not reduce choice because the company does not directly compete with Time Warner Cable anywhere. Comcast would face plenty of competition in high-speed Internet service, they say, from telephone and wireless companies.

The reality is far different. At the end of 2012, according to the FCC, 64 percent of American homes had only one or at most two choices for Internet service that most people would consider broadband. Wireless services can handle streaming video, but many customers of Verizon or AT&T would blow through their monthly wireless data plan by streaming just one two-hour high-definition movie, at which point they would have to fork over extra fees.

Comcast executives argue that companies like Sprint are planning to provide very fast Internet service that will compete with wired broadband. But wireless companies have been working on such services for more than a decade with little success.

Those wireless services that do exist uniformly impose low usage caps and cost considerably more than traditional wired broadband plans, especially when considering the cost compared to the actual speed delivered to consumers.

The Times doesn’t believe imposing a litany of conditions in return for approving the deal, similar to those involving Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal, would be sufficient to protect consumers from monopoly abuse.

“This merger would fundamentally change the structure of this important industry and give one company too much control over what information, shows, movies and sports Americans can access on TVs and the Internet,” concluded the newspaper. “Federal regulators should challenge this deal.”

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Time Warner Cable Unsurprisingly Chooses Austin as Its Next 300Mbps Upgrade City

Greater Austin, a city served by up to four different broadband providers — three either offering or promising fiber to the home service — is getting a speed upgrade from the one company that is sticking with its fiber-coax network — Time Warner Cable.

Starting June 3, Time Warner Cable customers who receive letters regarding the upgrade will see major broadband speed boosts at no additional charge:

speed-plan-chart-2014

 

Austin: Keeping the good broadband all to themselves. (Image courtesy: Kong)

Austin: Keeping the good broadband all to themselves. (Image courtesy: Kong)

The upgraded speeds will be offered to approximately 40 percent of customers in Austin and surrounding communities in June, with the remaining customers in the area getting upgraded through early fall. Here is the upgrade schedule:

June Speed Upgrade: Downtown Austin, West Campus, Hyde Park, Clarksville, Old Enfield, North Loop, Terrytown, Highland Park West, Central East Austin, Windsor Hills, Copperfield, Springdale Heights, Harris Branch, Edinburgh Gardens, Rollingwood, West Lake Hills, Lost Creek, Barton Creek, Jollyville, Anderson Mill, Brushy Creek, Bull Creek Park, Steiner Ranch, River Place, Canyon Creek, and the Reserve at Twin Peaks, as well as these communities: Manor, Cedar Park, Jonestown, Bee Cave, Kyle, Mountain City, and Uhland.

Fall Speed Upgrade: Round Rock, Leander, San Marcos, Elgin, Marble Falls, Lockhart, Bastrop, Fredericksburg, Taylor, Smithville, Wimberley, Liberty Hill, Lago Vista, Buda, Kyle, Elroy, and Lakeway.

“These significant speed increases will allow all our Internet customers in the greater Austin area to enjoy TWC Internet better,” said Kathy Brabson, area vice president of operations for Time Warner Cable in Central Texas.

Time Warner says it is spending about $60 million to upgrade its Austin-area network. That investment may help the cable company withstand competition from providers like Grande Communications, AT&T, and Google. For most in Austin, Time Warner Cable will be the first provider to dramatically boost Internet speeds. Google Fiber has postponed its launch until this fall, AT&T’s U-verse fiber to the home service is more press release than reality, and Grande Communications, although offering 1,000Mbps service for $65, only has that service available in parts of the greater Austin area.

Some customers will need to upgrade and/or exchange their current cable modem to receive the full speed upgrade. Customers leasing a modem can get information about whether an upgrade is needed from Time Warner’s Speed Increase website. We still strongly recommend customers consider purchasing their own modem — it will pay for itself in no time. Communication to the first group of customers about the new speeds and details about equipment is being delivered to homes this week.

Separately, Time Warner also announced it is expanding its local Wi-Fi hotspot network, but did not share any specific details.

Stop the Cap! will not be surprised to see Kansas City the next upgrade choice for Time Warner Cable — Google Fiber is up, running, and competing there. The rest of us will have to wait up to two years for faster speeds to arrive.

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Comcast Hires Everyone for D.C. Lobbying Blitzkrieg for Merger Deal With Time Warner Cable

Comcast has at least 40 lobbying firms working on its merger deal with Time Warner Cable.

Comcast has at least 40 lobbying firms working on its merger deal with Time Warner Cable.

It’s shock and awe time in D.C. as Comcast pulls out all the stops to ram its $45 billion deal with Time Warner Cable down Washington’s throat.

The Hill reports Comcast is assembling one of the biggest lobbying teams ever seen inside the beltway, hiring at least seven additional lobbying firms on top of the 33 it already retains. Their mission: to pressure legislators and overwhelm regulators to accept the merger deal and ignore the critics.

The lobbying firms are loaded to the rafters with D.C.’s frequent revolving-door travelers — former legislators, staffers, regulators and their aides that worked in the Clinton and Bush Administrations who now work on behalf of the companies many used to oversee.

On Comcast’s generous payroll: former aides for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House and Senate Judiciary committees, in addition to the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission — precisely the agencies that will review the merger for anti-trust concerns.

“If you’ve worked on the committees, or if you’ve worked in an agency overseeing a transaction like this, you’ve got knowledge about how the process works and credibility with the staff — it’s that simple,” one lobbyist told the newspaper.

A quick review of some of the players from The Hill:

Joseph Gibson of The Gibson Group, which started lobbying for Comcast in April, has held several prominent roles with the House Judiciary Committee, whose members grilled Comcast executives for four hours earlier this month. Gibson also worked at the Justice Department, including a stint advising the assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division.

Louis Dupart, a veteran of Capitol Hill, the Defense Department and the CIA who’s now at the Normandy Group. He says on his firm’s website that he “has had multiple successes at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission on major anti-trust reviews for DuPont, Google, People Soft and other companies.”

The Normandy Group signed Comcast as a client last month. Another lobbyist at the firm, Krista Stark, served as legislative director to Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) when he was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Marc Lampkin, the managing partner of Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Schreck’s Washington office, has ties to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and bills himself as “a close confidante to a number of key Republican members of the both the House and Senate.”

Justin Gray of Gray Global Advisors, another Comcast hire, has ties to Democrats as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Corporate Advisory Council. The biography on his firm’s website credits him with leading “engagement strategies with respect to antitrust and FCC approvals of mergers and other consolidation transactions on behalf of leading satellite radio and cable providers.”

comcast twcLobbyists like Gray used astroturf tactics to mobilize various unaffiliated non-profit groups to write glowing letters in support of consolidating Sirius and XM Radio, usually in return for generous contributions. It is likely to be more of the same with this merger.

In 2011, Comcast spent $19 million on its lobbying effort to win approval of its buyout of NBCUniversal. Last year, it almost spent the most on lobbying of any corporation, coming in second only to defense contractor Northrop Grumman.

Watchdog groups are repulsed by the blatant use of recently-resigned FCC personnel and former legislative aides that left positions working for the public interest to take lucrative jobs with Comcast’s lobbying teams.

“Though Comcast is not alone in its revolving door lobby strategy, what is unprecedented is the gravity of the revolving door abuse now being employed by a small handful of very wealthy communications firms,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen.

Holman found 82 percent of Comcast’s lobbying squad in 2014 had worked in the public sector before going to K Street.

Consumers and customers don’t have a well-funded lobbying team fighting for their interests.

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How Time Warner’s Glenn Britt Met Your Bank Account; Cashing Out Another $4 Million

Britt

Britt

Another two weeks, another stock sale for retired Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt. The man that oversaw a business now rated worse than the MERS coronavirus no longer has to worry about the day-to-day ordeals of running a cable company under fire. His biggest challenge is where to stash all the cash he collects selling off the generous profligate number of shares he received during 12 years at the helm of the cable operator, as well as those granted in his golden parachute retirement package.

Last Friday, Britt dumped another 30,000 shares on the open market at an average price of $136.04 a share. His total take home: $4,081,200.00.

Incredibly, no matter how many shares Britt sells, he seems to end up with the same number he started with. The Legacy reports Britt still owns 177,542 shares in the company after the sale, worth an estimated $24,152,814. That does not include what he has cashed out over the last several months.

When you consider your last rate hike, remember one of the “increased costs of doing business” facing Time Warner Cable is paying exorbitant salaries, bonuses and benefits to top executives that increase annually. That is money out of your wallet.

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