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AT&T Usage Caps U-verse GigaPower at 1TB/Month; Usual Overlimit Fees Apply

Phillip Dampier April 23, 2014 AT&T, Consumer News, Internet Overcharging 1 Comment

rethink attAT&T has usage capped its heavily promoted U-verse GigaPower fiber to the home service at 1TB a month, according to fine print appearing on communications sent to customers.

Any customer that exceeds 1TB of usage per month will be subject to AT&T’s usual overlimit fees: $10 for each additional 50GB of data sent or received. At least AT&T currently caps the maximum overlimit fee at $30 for its fiber customers.

Many Austin GigaPower customers are signing up for the company’s Premier package, which includes a waiver of equipment, installation, and activation fees and provides 36 months of fixed rates and free HBO and HD service along with 300/300Mbps broadband.

Enrolling in a discounted promotional plan does mean you consent to allow AT&T to collect information about your browsing habits through deep packet inspection.

 

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Comcast’s Spring Cleaning: More Rate Hikes, X1 Boxes, Wireless Gateways and Usage Caps

speed increaseComcast will increase capital spending in the first half of 2014 to hasten the rollout of its advanced X1 set-top boxes and new wireless gateways that provide public Wi-Fi from customer homes.

Comcast told investors Tuesday its increased spending will likely be offset by increased earnings from more subscribers and room for further price hikes over the course of the year.

First quarter consolidated revenue increased 13.7% to $17.4 billion over the past three months. Almost $11 billion of that comes from Comcast’s cable business. The company boosted cable earnings by 5.3% in the first quarter. Most of that came from a 4.5% increase in the average customer’s cable bill. Comcast subscribers, on average, pay $134 per month. They will pay even more by the end of the year.

Although Comcast’s head of its cable division Neil Smit noted the company implemented lower rate increases during the first quarter, there is room to boost prices further.

“I wouldn’t read any trends into it,” Smit said. “We took rate increases across the smaller percentage of our footprint this quarter than last year as well, but we target different offers to different customers and I don’t think we’re seeing it topping out. In the competitive arena, the offers are in the same ballpark, the promo prices go up and down, but the destination pricing is fairly similar across these various competitors.”

Roberts

Roberts

Comcast continued to buck cord-cutting trends and added 24,000 new video customers in the quarter, a major improvement over the 25,000 it lost at the same time last year. Comcast believes its new X1 platform and aggressive customer retention efforts are responsible for winning and keeping cable television customers. Ongoing speed enhancements in Comcast’s broadband division won the company 383,000 new Internet customers in the last three months. Broadband is Comcast’s biggest money-maker, and revenues increased a further 9% during the quarter owing to customer growth, rate hikes, and customers choosing higher-speed tiers. By the end of the quarter, 38% of Comcast’s residential customers subscribed to at least 50Mbps service, showing growing demand for higher speed Internet.

Sources tell Stop the Cap! Comcast intends to further expand its trial of usage caps (Comcast prefers to call them “usage thresholds”) to more markets this year. Comcast has settled on 300GB usage allowances for most broadband products in current test markets, charging $10 for each additional allotment of 50GB as an overlimit fee. Comcast has avoided trials of usage caps in areas where Verizon FiOS delivers significant competition. Verizon has no usage caps on either their DSL or fiber broadband products.

Comcast also picked up 142,000 new phone customers in the quarter, mostly from those subscribing to aggressively priced triple play service bundle promotions. Around 155,000 new triple play customers signed up over the last three months.

At the end of the first quarter, 68% of Comcast customers took at least two products and 36% took three products, compared to 33% at the end of last year’s first quarter.

Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, said there were several factors that fueled Comcast’s growth during the quarter, starting with its advanced X1 set-top box platform, which offers a better television experience and makes finding things to watch easier. If customers have an X1, Roberts told investors, they are less likely to drop cable television service.

X1

X1

“These positive early results reinforce our decision to accelerate our X1 deployment this year, and we are now adding 15,000 to 20,000 X1 boxes per day, which is double our rate of deployment from just six months ago,” Roberts told analysts. “Additionally, we are now rolling out a new XFINITY TV app, which enables our customers to live stream virtually their entire television lineup on any IP device in the home and watch DVR recordings in the home or on the go.”

Although usage caps remain controversial, Comcast has been aggressive about increasing broadband speeds at least once a year.

“In broadband, we recently increased speeds again for the 13th time in 12 years,” Roberts offered. “Doubling speeds in our Blast products to 105Mbps, while our Extreme tier moved up to 150Mbps for customers in the northeast. And we’re not stopping there. Our focus on wireless gateway deployment is adding utility to our customers while at the same time helping us create the largest Wi-Fi footprint in the U.S. with over one million public Wi-Fi hotspots currently available to our customers.”

xfinitylogoAlthough Comcast’s first quarter capital expenditures increased $51 million (or 4.6%) to $1.1 billion (10.6% of cable revenue versus 10.7% in the first quarter of 2013), the cable company returned even more money to shareholders. In the first quarter, the company boosted return of capital by 35% to $1.3 billion. Comcast repurchased its own shares of stock totaling $750 million and paid $508 million in dividends for the quarter.

In 2014, Comcast will invest 14% of cable revenue (compared to 12.9% in 2013) to accelerate the deployment of X1 and wireless gateways, increase network capacity and continue to invest in expansion of business services and XFINITY Home. But it will spend far more than that placating shareholders. If Comcast wins support to buy Time Warner Cable, Comcast intends to increase its stock repurchase plan by $2.5 billion. The company earlier committed it would spend $3 billion on repurchasing its own shares, for an expected total of $5.5 billion during 2014.

When a company repurchases its own shares, it reduces the number of shares held by the public. That in turn means that if profits remain the same, the earnings per share increase. It also boosts the value of the massive portfolios of Comcast stock held by executives as part of their compensation packages.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Comcast Introducing the X1 Platform from XFINITY 4-14.mp4

Comcast produced this video showing off its X1 platform and new set-top boxes. (1:47)

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Time Warner Cable’s New Ad Campaign Advertises “No Data Caps”

nocapsTime Warner Cable has introduced a new marketing message to potential customers, promoting the fact its broadband service has “no data caps.”

The new ads, appearing for the first time earlier this month, break from the usual tradition of avoiding telling customers they can use broadband service as much as they like. The cable industry advertised “unlimited access” in its broadband offer for years to compete against dial-up Internet. More recently some have redefined the term to mean “you can use the service anytime day or night,” but not consume unlimited amounts of data.

Of course, with Comcast attempting to claim they have “no data caps” either, only “data thresholds,” Time Warner Cable still has some wiggle room should it impose usage-based billing. Technically, under that scheme users don’t have a “data cap,” just a usage allowance above which they will face overlimit penalties.

Still, it is a nice change for at least one major cable company to be willing to market service without data caps. Time Warner’s most likely intended target for the campaign is AT&T U-verse, which has increasingly cracked down on customers exceeding its own usage caps — 150GB a month for DSL, 250GB a month for U-verse. Customers pay a overlimit penalty of $10 for each 50GB allotment above those allowances.

 

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Comcast Awarded Golden Poo as Consumerist’s Worst Company in America for 2014

Comcast is 2014's Golden Poo award winner. (Image: Knight725)

Comcast is 2014′s Golden Poo award winner. (Image: Knight725)

Comcast eked out a narrow victory against Monsanto — the litigious-happy, genetically modified-seed company — to win top honors in the 2014 Consumerist “Worst Company in America” contest.

Comcast is a past recipient of the pro-consumer website’s Golden Poo award given to the company that most alienates its customers, winning first place in 2010 after implementing usage caps on its broadband customers, as well as runner-up status in 2008 and 2009 and third place in 2011 and 2013.

“Comcast’s win makes it only the second company to claim multiple Poos. Last year, video game biggie EA was both the first two-time winner and its first repeat champ,” reports Consumerist.

The nation’s largest cable company, Comcast managed to irritate more than any other with an arbitrary usage cap it now wants to call a “data threshold,” shoddy service, service calls that never happen, incompetent technicians that set customer homes on fire, billing errors, and inventing new profit-padding fees for almost everything.

Getting larger with the acquisition of NBC Universal did little to improve matters for customers, and one high executive cynically delayed a planned low-income discount Internet access offer to use as a carrot with the FCC to win approval of its NBC merger deal. To this day, Comcast goes out of its way to impose a number of qualifications for its Internet Essentials program to protect profits potentially harmed by customers switching to cheaper service to save money.

finaldeathmatch2014

Now Comcast wants to buy Time Warner Cable, the country’s second largest operator. Despite the fact there is little love from subscribers for Time Warner, many suspect Comcast will prove much worse. A merger brings the threat of a 300GB usage limit on broadband, an even higher modem rental fee, and cable television packages that are often more expensive than those from Time Warner.

Comcast’s greatest defense for its merger is that it doesn’t compete with Time Warner Cable so there are no antitrust concerns. But since the cable industry has borrowed from New York’s Five Families‘ playbook, they almost never compete anywhere in the country, preferring to divide up territories and avoid head-to-head competition.

“By Comcast’s logic, it would then be perfectly okay for Comcast to be the only cable and Internet provider in the country, since there isn’t really any competition among the players in this marketplace to begin with,” writes the Consumerist.

We say don’t give them any ideas.

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Comcast Gobbledygook: “We Don’t Have Data Caps, We Have Data Thresholds”

The Plain English Campaign's Golden Bull Award is given to companies that prefer gobbledygook over plain English.

The Plain English Campaign’s Golden Bull Award is given to companies that prefer gobbledygook over plain English.

Comcast is outraged by slanderous suggestions it has data caps on its broadband service.

In response to the scathing report from the Writers Guild of America that pleads for the FCC to block the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Comcast has accused to WGA of getting its facts wrong and being nothing more than a meddling union.

The WGA writes in their filing with the FCC:

The WGAW has also joined Public Knowledge in asking the FCC to enforce the condition that Comcast not use “caps, tiers, metering, or other usage-based pricing” to treat affiliated network traffic differently from unaffiliated traffic. Comcast has violated this condition by exempting its online video service, Xfinity Streampix, from its own data caps, while the viewing of content by other, unaffiliated video services such as Netflix or YouTube would count against a user’s data cap. The violation of this merger condition is a clear threat to competition from online video distributors, and the FCC should respond by requiring Comcast to stop exempting its Streampix service from data caps.

Comcast pounced on the WGA filing, calling it inaccurate.

Comcast-Logo“We don’t have data caps — and haven’t for about two years,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s vice president of government communications. “We have tested data thresholds where very heavy customers can buy more if they want more — but that only affects a very small percentage of our customers in a few markets.”

Until 2012, Comcast had a uniform usage cap of 250GB a month, above which a customer risked having their broadband service suspended. In 2013, the usage allowances were back, reset at 300GB a month and rolled out to a series of expanding “test markets” that today include Huntsville and Mobile, Ala., Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Ga., Central Kentucky, Maine, Jackson, Miss., Knoxville and Memphis, Tenn., and Charleston, S.C.

nonsenseCustomers who exceed this allowance won’t have their broadband service suspended, they will just get a higher bill, as Comcast charges $10 for each additional 50GB of usage.

In contrast, Time Warner Cable neither has a data cap or a data threshold. Stop the Cap! made sure that didn’t happen when Time Warner attempted to impose its own usage limits back in 2009. We successfully organized protests sufficient to get Time Warner executives to back off and shelve the idea. If Comcast takes over, Time Warner Cable customers will likely eventually face Comcast’s “data thresholds,” which are a distinction without much difference. Whatever you call it, it’s a limit on how much a customer can use Comcast’s already-expensive broadband service before bad things happen.

The WGA and Comcast get along about as well as oil and water, so the back and forth is to be expected. The Writer’s Guild also fiercely opposed Comcast’s merger with NBCUniversal. But when it comes to who is playing fast and loose with the truth, it isn’t the group that writes for a living. Comcast’s doublespeak about data caps is no better than calling The Great Recession a periodic equity retreat. It isn’t fooling anyone.

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Comcast Hotspot Wi-Fi Usage Will Be Tied Back to Customer’s Broadband Account

xfinity wifiComcast customers using the company’s growing network of Wi-Fi network hotspots will have their usage tracked to their broadband accounts, opening the door for Comcast to count wireless use against a customer’s future monthly usage allowance.

As part of a press release announcing that more than 300,000 Comcast hotspots are now available in New England, the cable company added that it is preparing to activate its Xfinity Wi-Fi Neighborhood Hotspots in the region, allowing other Comcast customers to share your Comcast Internet service over a separate Wi-Fi channel provided by your gateway. But it noted customers will need to log-in first, permitting Comcast to measure just how much of the wireless service you are using:

wifi hotXfinity WiFi Neighborhood Hotspots – In June of last year, Comcast announced its plans to create millions of WiFi access points for its customers through a neighborhood hotspot initiative. Comcast is the first major ISP in the country to deploy this innovative technology. This new initiative gives customers with Xfinity Wireless Gateways an additional “xfinitywifi” signal (or SSID) in their home that is completely separate and distinct from the private and secure home WiFi signal. Offered at no additional cost, the additional WiFi signal will allow visiting Xfinity Internet subscribers instant, easy access to fast and reliable WiFi without the need to share the home’s private network password and without an impact to the home subscriber’s speed. And since visitors sign in with their own Xfinity credentials, their usage and activities are tied back to their own accounts, not the homeowner’s.

 

Comcast is testing the reimplementation of a usage cap – now set at 300GB a month – in several cities in the southern U.S. Wireless usage could eventually also be counted against that cap.

Many of Comcast’s primary outdoor hotspots are in larger cities, such as Greater Boston. Most of the one million total hotspots Comcast hopes to activate are located in residential customers’ homes using Comcast’s Wireless Gateway.

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Charter’s Rebranded “Spectrum” Service Arrives in Fort Worth; New Name, New Reputation?

Phillip Dampier March 25, 2014 Broadband Speed, Charter, Competition, Consumer News, Video 1 Comment

charter spectrum logoCharter Communications’ latest attempt to rehabilitate its reputation with customers in Fort Worth, Tex. arrived this week in area mailboxes, as Charter reintroduced itself as “Charter Spectrum.”

Fort Worth is the first major city to get Charter’s broad-based service upgrade that began more than a year ago with a switch to all digital television service.

The newly available bandwidth no longer needed to support analog television has allowed Charter to expand its video service to more than 200 HD channels, up from fewer than 100.

Customers also start their Spectrum experience with a free broadband speed bump — from 30Mbps to 60/4Mbps (with a barely enforced monthly usage cap of 250GB), and an improved cable telephone service with nationwide calling.

Charter Spectrum's mailer is now arriving in Ft. Worth mailboxes. (Courtesy: TheTechGuru)

Charter Spectrum’s mailer is now arriving in Ft. Worth mailboxes. (Courtesy: TheTechGuru)

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge openly admitted last year Charter had an inferior product compared against the competition. Upgrading Charter’s cable systems was designed to correct that and the company hopes its rebranding will deliver a marketplace reset, but some Charter customers remain skeptical.

“Same pig, fresh lipstick,” wrote one Charter customer in Missouri.

Others complain Charter’s upload speeds remain anemic at just 4Mbps.

Charter’s new pricing promotions were designed to simplify the shopping experience. There are now just three heavily promoted Spectrum triple play packages:

spectrum packages

A customer taking advantage of the Triple Play Gold promotion will pay a one-year promotional price of $129.97 a month. (Customers can also select individual services or build their own double-play bundle). The fine print mentions the price rises to $149.97 the second year and then reverts to an undisclosed “standard rate” after that. TV set-top boxes are required on every cable-connected television ($7 a month each – not included in the price). The Internet modem carries no additional charge. Phone taxes, fees and surcharges are also covered, but other taxes, fees, and surcharges are not.

Offers are valid for new customers only, and those who have not subscribed within the last 30 days and have no outstanding debt obligation to Charter.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WLOS Asheville Charter Going Digital 11-11-13.flv

Charter Spectrum arrives only after your local Charter system moves to all-digital television service. That happened last fall in Asheville, N.C., where customers were told they needed a digital set-top box on every television in the home. WLOS-TV covered the story back on Nov. 11, 2013. (1:44)

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Cable Industry Has Charts to Prove Your Broadband is Screaming Fast

Tracking Cable’s Top Internet Speeds
NCTA-Charts_2_tracking broadband speeds

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) offers this infographic to suggest the deregulated cable broadband industry works well without any interference from meddling politicians.

Their claim: “Ongoing investments have enabled cable providers to continue boosting broadband speeds with top tiers increasing 50% every year.”

The reality: Cable’s broadband speed comes at a very high cost. The majority of Americans cannot buy 505Mbps residential broadband service from Comcast and even if you could, the price tag hovers around $300 a month, with a nearly-$1,000 early contract termination penalty, a $250 installation and $250 activation fee. Customers at other cable providers often find their maximum speed is just 50Mbps and/or their Internet usage is limited by a usage cap.

Google Fiber and some other gigabit fiber to the home providers are offering unlimited 1,000Mbps service for $70 a month with no installation or activation fee if a customer agrees to stick around.

Verdict: The cable industry could do better for much less.

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Cable Customer Service Improvements: Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Phillip "More empty promises from the cable industry" Dampier

Phillip “More empty promises from the cable industry” Dampier

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

Time Warner’s Rob Marcus:

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

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

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

How is that working out for you?

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

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

 

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

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

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

Marcus

Marcus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time Warner Cable Admits Usage-Based Pricing is a Big Failure; Only Thousands Enrolled

Phillip Dampier March 13, 2014 Audio, Internet Overcharging, Time Warner Cable No Comments
internet limit

Time Warner Cable customer hate usage caps and usage-based pricing.

Time Warner Cable admits customers don’t want usage-based pricing of their broadband service, with only a fraction of one percent of their nationwide customer base choosing to enroll in usage-limited plans in return for a discount.

Time Warner began offering customers a usage-based plan more than two years ago, with discounts starting at $5 a month for light users. Sources at the cable company have repeatedly told Stop the Cap! usage-based pricing has never been popular with customers with only a handful enrolling every month. That was confirmed this week by Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus, noting despite offers of discounts for 5GB and 30GB usage-allowance plans, neither are popular. In fact, Marcus admitted customers strongly want to keep their unlimited use plans.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet, and Telecom Conference, Marcus added that regardless of the plans’ unpopularity, he intends to keep them around to sell the idea that customers should get acquainted with paying based on usage.

twc logo“If you take the 30GB a month and compare it to what median usage is, let’s say high 20s — 27GB a month, that would suggest a whole lot of customers would do well by taking the 30GB service,” Marcus said. “Notwithstanding that, very few customers — in the thousands — have taken the usage based tiers and I think that speaks to the value they place on unlimited — not bad because we plan to continue to offer unlimited for as far out as we can possibly see.”

Despite the low enrollment, Marcus has no plans to jettison usage pricing anytime soon.

“I think that the concept of ‘use more-pay more – use less-pay less’ is an important principle to have established, so notwithstanding the low uptake of the usage-based tiers I think it is a very important component of our overall pricing philosophy.”

Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus admits usage based pricing plans for broadband are exceptionally unpopular with customers, with only a few thousand enrolled. Mar. 12, 2014 (2:03)
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