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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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Unlike Here, British Broadband Customers Satisfied With Their Broadband Providers

Plusnet offers DSL and fiber broadband plans (in some areas) that offer budget-priced capped or unlimited use plans.

Plusnet offers DSL and fiber broadband plans (in some areas) that offer budget-priced capped or unlimited use plans.

While North American cable and phone broadband providers are among the most-hated companies on the continent, in the United Kingdom, customers gave generally high scores to their Internet providers.

PC Advisor partnered with Broadband Genie, an impartial, independent, and consumer-focused commercial broadband comparison service. Together they engaged an independent survey company (OnPoll) to survey 3,000 broadband users, chosen at random, in late 2013 and early 2014. They asked those users how happy they were with their ISP, tested the speed and reliability of their connections, and found out other valuable tidbits, such as how much they were paying, and for what exactly. Altogether, more than 10,000 U.K. broadband users contributed to the data that made an in-depth assessment of British broadband possible.

The results might stun those on the other side of the Atlantic. Unlike in Canada and the U.S., British broadband users are satisfied overall with their providers, and are enthusiastic about recommending many of them to others. Even the worst-performing provider – BE – still had a 46% recommendation rating, and the company was sold to BSkyB well over a year ago and is in the process of being merged with Sky’s broadband service.

Around 68 percent of British broadband users responding still rely primarily on various flavors of DSL for Internet service. But BT, the national telephone company, is in the process of upgrading facilities and dramatically increasing the amount of fiber optics in its network. The result is what the Brits call “Super Fast Broadband.” Back here, we call it fiber to the neighborhood service similar to AT&T’s U-verse or Bell’s Fibe. In many cases, improved service is providing speeds much closer to 25Mbps vs. the 1-6Mbps many customers used to receive. The upgrade is an important development, especially in rural Britain, often left without Internet access.

Cable broadband is much more common in North American than in the United Kingdom. While cable television became dominant here, the British favored small satellite dishes like those used by DirecTV or Dish customers. With BT dominating wired infrastructure, the government required the company to open its landline network to third-party providers. Some cable companies do exist in England, but they hold only a 12% broadband market share, even lower than fiber to the home service now at nearly 20%.

Great Britain treats broadband as a national priority, and although the current government has controversially settled for a hybrid fiber-copper network instead of delivering fiber straight to every British home, it’s a considerable improvement over what came before, especially in rural areas. Usage caps that used to dominate British broadband plans are now an option for the budget-minded. Unlimited use plans are becoming more mainstream.

With all the upgrade activity and improved service, the Brits have gotten optimistic about their broadband future. Only 12% of those surveyed loathe their broadband supplier. Another 20% were neutral about recommending their ISP, but 51% considered themselves satisfied and another 17% considered their provider top rate. Many in Britain even expect their Internet bill will decrease in 2014, and compared with North American prices, it’s often very low already.

The average price paid by customers of various British ISPs (excluding line rental)

The average price paid by customers of various British ISPs (excluding line rental)

Average speed received by customers varies depending on the technology. Virgin operates cable broadband, Plusnet uses a mix of DSL and fiber, while the slower performers are primarily ADSL.

Average speed test results per ISP (kbps)

  • Virgin: 27,266

    virgin-media-union-logo

    Was top-rated for broadband reliability.

  • Plusnet: 24,529
  • BT: 13,164
  • TalkTalk: 6,910
  • EE: 6,818
  • Demon: 6,586
  • Sky: 5,942
  • Eclipse: 5,786
  • O2: 5,642
  • Be: 5,458
  • AOL: 3,809
  • Post Office: 3,255

Overall ratings and reviews from PC Advisor found Virgin Media (cable) and Plusnet (DSL/Fiber) near tied for top ratings.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/PC Advisor Best cheapest fastest broadband UK ISPs rated 2-19-14.mp4

PC Advisor talks about this year’s British ISP review, which reveals Brits are generally satisfied with their broadband speeds and pricing. (3:51)

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House of (Credit) Cards: How to Blow Through Your Usage Cap With One Netflix Show

house-of-cards

“…every kitten grows up to be a cat. They seem so harmless, at first, small, quiet, lapping up their saucer of milk. But once their claws get long enough, they draw blood, sometimes from the hand that feeds them. For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: Hunt or be hunted.” — Francis Underwood

Addicts of Netflix’s hit series House of Cards may need to grab a card of a different kind to cover overlimit fees charged by your Internet Service Provider for blowing past your usage allowance.

As online video streaming moves into the realm of 4K — the next generation of high-definition video — watching television shows and movies online could get very expensive because of the massive file sizes involved. It’s all just in time for ISP’s increasing enforcement of usage caps.

courtesy-notice-640x259Gizmodo just did the math for those intending to spend a weekend watching the entire second season of the made-for-Netflix series in high-definition:

Streaming in 1080p on Netflix takes up 4.7GB/hour. So a regular one-hour episode of something debiting less than 5GB from your allotment is no big deal. However, with 4K, you’ve got quadruple the pixel count, so you’re burning through 18.8GB/hour. Even if you’re streaming with the new h.265 codec—which cuts the bit rate by about half, but still hasn’t found its way into many consumer products—you’re still looking at 7GB/hour.

But you’re not watching just one episode, are you? Of course not! You’re binging on House of Cards, watching the whole series if not in one weekend then certainly in one month. That’s 639 minutes of top-quality TV, which in 4K tallies up to 75GB if you’re using the latest and greatest codec, and nearly 200GB if not. That means, best case scenario, a quarter of your cap—a third, if you’re a U-Verse customer with a 250GB cap—spent on one television show. Throw in a normal month’s internet usage, and you’re toast.

Sure you can send 900+ emails, download hundreds of songs, upload hundreds of pictures, but you can't watch one standard and one HD movie a day at the same time without blowing past your AT&T DSL limit.

Sure you can send 900+ emails, download hundreds of songs, upload hundreds of pictures, and play online games 24 hours a day, but you can’t also watch one standard and one HD movie a day at the same time without blowing well past your AT&T DSL limit.

What is worse is that h.265 is still more theoretical than actually available to most consumers, so customers will either have to settle with degraded video or prepare to eat close to 19GB an hour at the highest resolution. No wonder Netflix has introduced video degradation settings to save you from your ISP’s arbitrary cap. Of course, your video quality will suffer, especially on a big screen television.

Comcast customers (and presumably Time Warner Cable customers also eventually subjected to Comcast’s cap) will still have a generous 100GB left over to watch, browse, and send that avalanche of e-mails usage cappers love to boast about. If you live in the reality-based community and have a family active online, that 100GB isn’t going to go too far. Video game addicts regularly face downloading huge updates, many ranging from 8-12GB apiece. Call of Duty: Ghosts? That’s 39.5GB. Madden NFL 25? Another 12.51GB, says Gizmodo. Using a file backup cloud storage service can also eat your allowance for breakfast.

Gizmodo also mentions Sony’s Unlimited Video service has 70 titles (and growing) available in 4K. A Sony representative admits a single two-hour movie will burn up 40GB. Watch a few of those and you are well on your way to blowing your allowance Vegas-style.

AT&T cooked up the arbitrary de facto standard overlimit fee now adopted by many American ISPs, and granular it isn’t. Exceed your allowance by even 1 kilobyte and you will be charged an extra $10 for 50 extra gigabytes. Because AT&T, Comcast, Suddenlink, and others are not already paid enough for broadband service and their modem rental.

Online video is the online application most likely to put you over your limit. Most ISPs don’t like to talk about that, however. They prefer to explain caps in terms of activities no online user is likely to ever exceed, including sending thousands of e-mails, viewing hundreds of thousands of web pages, transferring boatloads of songs and images, and watching YouTube videos at low resolution.

If you don’t watch online video, your cable or phone company thanks you for paying for cable television instead. If you haven’t used a peer-to-peer network in years, chances are you won’t exceed any limits either. But as Internet usage continues to evolve, anything that appears to be a competitive threat delivered over your ISP’s broadband pipe can be effectively controlled with the elimination of flat rate Internet service and imposing overlimit fees that deter usage.

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Sticker Shock for Time Warner Customers: A Review of Comcast’s Rates & Packages

comcast twcShould a deal to merge Time Warner Cable with Comcast be approved by regulators, Time Warner Cable customers can expect a number of changes to their cable, Internet, and phone service because of Comcast’s much more involved rate plans¹.

Customers should expect to pay significantly higher prices for a package comparable to what Time Warner Cable offers today, especially for cable television.

Broadband speeds will be faster with Comcast, but also likely usage-capped at 300GB a month, with overlimit fees applied to “heavy users.”

A sample Comcast bill

A sample Comcast bill

Customers may also be surprised to discover Comcast levies a number of ancillary fees that Time Warner does not, especially for various tasks completed by a Comcast customer service representative.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable have very different operating philosophies. Comcast is quickly moving customers to all-digital cable television service, so those Time Warner customers without set-top boxes or CableCARDs should be ready for a rapid transition to all-digital TV. Time Warner Cable, in comparison, has moved slowly towards digital service and uses a stop-gap technology that delivers some digital channels to neighborhoods only when being watched as a bandwidth conservation measure. Comcast will likely scrap that technology in favor of an all-out drive to switch to digital service.

Comcast’s television packages are very different from what TWC customers are used to buying. Time Warner customers can expect significant channel losses with Comcast’s nearest equivalent basic cable service. If you enjoy a lot of sports or old movies, Comcast will make you spend nearly $20 more on a higher-cost tier to get back the networks that Time Warner used to bundle as part of their basic cable service. But Comcast makes adding “whole home” DVR service look a lot more affordable than the $30+ unbundled fee Time Warner Cable has traditionally charged for the equipment and service.

In general Time Warner Cable customers should expect a higher bill for cable television, unless they want to downgrade service (for which Comcast also charges a service fee).

Broadband service from Comcast is also very different from what Time Warner Cable has offered. Most TWC customers now get 15/1Mbps service. Most Comcast customers get 25/5 or 50/15Mbps service. However, TWC doesn’t force usage caps on customers and Comcast is systematically reimposing them on theirs city by city, usually 300GB a month. The tradeoff with Comcast is faster advertised speed that comes usage-limited vs. slower speeds you can use as much as you want. Comcast also charges the highest modem rental fees in the country — now $8 a month in most places. Customers can and should buy their own modems. Those Time Warner Cable customers who already have better double-check to make certain Comcast will still support that equipment.

Phone service isn’t much different between the two companies, so we’re not covering it here.

Television Packages

Comcast offers a bigger variety of television packages than Time Warner Cable. Comcast likes to bundle premium channels into some of their higher end packages. Time Warner Cable’s prefers an a-la-carte approach with HBO and other similar networks.

tvComcast customers start with Limited Basic service, comparable to Time Warner Cable’s Broadcast Basic package. It primarily features over the air local television stations and often runs under $10 a month. Effective this year, there is also a $1.50/month Broadcast TV surcharge applicable to all cable TV customers.

A new concept for Time Warner Cable customers is Comcast’s Digital Economy package that includes Limited Basic, Digital Economy channels, and a standard definition cable box and remote. Consider this barely promoted tier the economy bare bones basic cable package. In addition to local channels, Digital Economy offers a lineup of home shopping channels, CNN, HSN, Cartoon Network, Lifetime, History, A&E, E!, Comedy Central, Spike TV, USA Network, Fox News Channel, The Weather Channel, Food Network, Animal Planet, TLN, BET, TV Guide Network, Discovery Channel, Comcast Network, CSPAN, EWTN, Jewelry Television, and Music Choice. This package is $40 a month, although promotions may cut the cost. For some, this may be more than enough.

But most Comcast cable TV customers choose the Digital Starter package that also includes Limited Basic, Expanded Basic, MoviePlex, and Music Choice. The lineup includes just over 80 channels. This $69.95 package is still smaller than what Time Warner Cable offers its digital cable customers, leaving out 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. There are other channels left out of the lineup as well. But Digital Starter customers do get the full lineup of Encore movie channels, for which TWC charges extra. However, sports and old movie fans will be dismayed to find so many sports networks and Turner Classic Movies excluded. Comcast customers have to pay more to get them back in the lineup.

Those who can’t live without sports networks and TCM, among other networks noted above, will have to pay for Comcast’s 150+ channel Digital Preferred package. This tier brings back the cable channels you used to get with Time Warner Cable (plus Encore), but it costs an extra $17.95 a month. Check your current Time Warner Cable TV bill. Compare it against Comcast’s total combined charge of $87.89 a month for a comparable lineup. How much is your cable TV bill going to increase after Comcast takes over?

special reportFor those who want even more, Comcast offers Digital Premier, with more than 190 channels. This package includes Digital Preferred, HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax and Comcast’s Sports Entertainment Package. It adds an extra $57.45 a month on top of the $69.95 Digital Starter package. That is $127.40 a month just for television service.

Time Warner customers looking for a DVR will probably be mystified by the way Comcast charges for DVR service. Comcast markets “whole house” DVR service much more aggressively than TWC. This service, dubbed AnyRoom, lets customers watch recorded shows on any set-top box-equipped television in the home, along with managing recordings. DVR service with Comcast costs an extra $8-10 a month, but Comcast also charges an “HD Technology Fee” of $9.95 a month to enable “whole house” service. Many higher end bundled packages incorporate the DVR service into the package, along with the Technology Fee.

At regular prices, a Comcast triple play customer should expect to pay $141.99 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. 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 “regular” customers get.

Internet Plans

comcast-splash-internetComcast does offer faster Internet service than what Time Warner Cable has sold for the last 3-4 years, but it will likely come with a usage cap of 300GB per month, with overlimit fees applied to those who exceed their allowance. Internet-only customers are going to find higher prices for broadband service than what Time Warner Cable charges. Comcast prefers bundled service customers, and deters cord-cutters with extremely high Internet-only pricing.

Comcast’s Internet Tiers (The first price is for Internet-only service followed by the price, when different, for customers subscribing to more than broadband)

  • Economy: 1.5Mbps/384kb (N/A)
  • Economy Plus: 3Mbps/768kbps ($39.95 $29.95)
  • Performance Starter: 6/1Mbps ($49.95)
  • Performance: 25/5Mbps ($64.95 $51.95)
  • Blast: 50/15Mbps ($74.95 $61.95)
  • Extreme 105: 105/20Mbps ($114.95 $99.95)

Modem fees are extra unless you buy your own equipment.

Other Comcast Fees You Better Know About

fine printComcast charges a number of extra fees and surcharges that raise customer bills without affecting Comcast’s advertised prices. The ones we have not already covered are included below. Among our favorites: Comcast charging $20 to hound you at your front door for a past due payment, charging shipping/handling and other fees for “self-install” kits that save Comcast money not having to dispatch a technician to your home, installation -and- activation fees for extra outlets, and that $249 “go away” service charge for their 105Mbps broadband tier. It is important to note not everyone will pay these fees and promotions often waive some of them. Customer service representatives will also drop some of them when asked, and may remove them from your bill if you complain loudly enough.

Ancillary Service Fees You May Encounter

  • Reactivation fees: Shut off for non-payment or vacation? Comcast charges $5 to reactivate Internet service, $5 to reactivate a phone line, and $1.99 to turn back on your cable television;
  • Field Collection Charge: If Comcast sends someone to your residence to collect a past due balance or pick up unreturned equipment, there is a $20 charge per visit;
  • Returned Payment Fee: $20 per returned payment;
  • Late Fee: 5% of your account balance;
  • Name Change Fee: $1.99;
  • Pay by Phone Convenience Fee: Making a payment by phone with a customer care representative will cost $5.99 per payment;
  • Copy of Bill: For bill statement copy requested by phone or in person, there is a $5 charge per bill;
  • Unreturned/Damaged Equipment: Charged at the suggested manufacturer’s replacement cost.

Common Equipment Fees

  • Signal Amplifier: $35/each
  • Self-Install Kit Convenience Fee: $40
  • Self-Install Kit Shipping & Handling: $9.95 (Standard Delivery)
  • Self-Install Kit Shipping & Handling: $29.95 (Priority Mail)
  • Remote Control Replacement by Mail (Separate Shipping): $5.95/each
  • other chargesVoice/Data Modem (Used for customers with phone and Internet service): $8/mo²
  • Wireless Gateway (Provides Wi-Fi service): $8/mo²
  • Cienna 3931 Modem & Netgear Wireless Router: $19.95/mo
  • Wireless Adapter (each, one-time charge): $30.00
  • Limited Basic Only Service Converter: $1/mo
  • Digital Converter: $2.50/mo
  • Remote Control: $0.18/mo
  • HD Digital Converter (Limited Basic Only): $2.20/mo
  • Digital Adapter (Limited Basic Only): $0.50/mo each
  • CableCARD: 1st card is free, each additional is $1/mo
  • Customer-Owned Video Equipment Credit: $2.50/mo

Installation and Service Calls (May vary with promotions)

  • Installation fee for one product: $32
  • Installation fee for two products: $80
  • Installation fee for three products: $90
  • In-Home Service Call: $32.10
  • Service Charge for Custom Installation Work: $33.20/hr
  • Installation fee for additional outlets: $13.35/ea at time of new customer visit, $32.15/ea for existing customers
  • Activation fee for additional outlets: $5.60/ea for new customers, $22.05/ea for existing customers
  • Relocation fee for additional outlets: $13.60/ea for new customers, $28.55/ea for existing customers
  • VCR/DVD Connection Charge: $7.90 for new customers, $16.35 for existing customers
  • Upgrade/Downgrade Service Fee (no in-home visit required): $1.99 per instance
  • Upgrade/Downgrade Service Fee (in-home visit required): $26.30 per instance of an upgrade, $12.05 per instance of a downgrade
  • payment centerUpgrade Standard Definition DVR or HD DVR Service: $26.30

Broadband-Specific Installation/Service Charges

  • Additional IP Address (first): $4.95/mo
  • Additional IP Addresses (second and/or third) $9.00/mo each
  • Professional Internet Installation: $99.95
  • Wireless Networking On-Site Professional Set-up (up to 4 devices per trip): $49.95
  • Wireless Networking On-Site Professional Set-Up (extra trips): $99.95/ea
  • Wireless Networking On-Site Professional Set-Up (each additional device over 4): $29.95/ea
  • Broadband-related In-Home Service Visit: $40/per trip
  • Extreme 105Mbps Broadband Professional Installation/Activation Surcharge: $249.00

¹The rates and services quoted in this piece were taken from Comcast’s current rate card for Cambridge, Mass. Rates and services may vary slightly in other markets. The rate card was effective June 2013.
²Comcast charges $7 a month for their modem rental in certain other markets.

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AT&T Mailing More Warning Letters to Customers Exceeding Their Usage Allowance

Phillip Dampier February 17, 2014 AT&T, Editorial & Site News, Internet Overcharging 3 Comments

att-logo-221x300AT&T wants customers to pay attention to their broadband account’s monthly usage limits: 150GB for DSL or 250GB for U-verse. Customers who exceed their allowance are more likely than ever to get a warning letter from AT&T threatening overlimit fees if they continue to ‘use too much’ Internet.

AT&T customers in Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Florida have shared identical warnings with Stop the Cap! received during the last 10 days — in each case it was the first warning notice received about exceeding AT&T’s arbitrary allowance:

Dear AT&T High Speed Internet Service Customer,

We want to remind you that your AT&T High Speed Internet service includes 150 gigabytes (GB) of data for each billing period.

You have exceeded 150 GB this billing period.

We’ll waive the charges for additional data this month and notify you as your usage approaches 150 GB in future months.

The next time you exceed 150 GB you’ll be notified, but not billed. However if you go over your data plan in any subsequent billing period, we’ll provide you with an additional 50 GB of data for $10. You’ll be charged $10 for every incremental 50 GB of usage beyond your plan.

AT&T imposed usage caps a few years ago but has generally not enforced them, even when usage meters show an excess of 500GB in Internet traffic. Some AT&T customers still have no access to a working usage meter, making compliance even more difficult. Stop the Cap! has yet to receive a verified copy of a billing statement actually showing overages billed to customers, but the increasing number of warning letters may indicate overlimit fees are forthcoming for persistent ‘violators.’

We recommend that customers receiving these warning letters send a warning of their own by calling AT&T and threatening to cancel service over the issue of unacceptable usage caps. Let AT&T know that you consider usage-based billing a deal-breaker and you will begin exploring your options with other providers. Remind AT&T that they already earn a lot of money from you and that any overlimit fees that appear on your bill will mean the immediate termination of your account.

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From the Frying Pan Into the Fire: Time Warner Customers to Be Burned by Comcast Buyout

Phillip "Ouch!" Dampier

Phillip “Ouch!” Dampier

Spending the day watching cable business news channels gush approval of last night’s surprise announcement that Comcast would acquire Time Warner Cable is just one excellent reason this deal should never be approved.

CNBC, owned by Comcast, particularly fell all over itself praising the transaction. Some of the reporters — many Time Warner Cable customers — actually believed Comcast would be a significant improvement over TWC. It is, if you want higher modem rental fees, higher cable TV bills, and faster broadband speeds you can’t use because of the company’s looming reintroduction of usage caps. CNBC didn’t bother to mention any of that, and why should they? CNBC reporter David Faber was the first to break the story of the merger last evening and among the first this morning to score an extended, friendly interview with the CEOs of both Comcast and Time Warner Cable, pitching softball questions to the two of them for nearly 15 minutes.

That’s a problem. How often do you hear news reports that include the fact the parent company of the channel has an ownership interest in one of the players. Do you think you are getting the full story when a Comcast employee asks Comcast’s CEO about a multi-billion dollar deal on a network owned and operated by Comcast. Incorporating Time Warner Cable and its news operations into Comcast only makes the problem worse.

As far as cable business news networks and the parade of Wall Street analysts are concerned, this is a fine deal for shareholders, consumers, and the cable business. Ironically, several on-air reporters and commentators defended the merger claiming it isn’t an antitrust issue because Comcast and Time Warner Cable never compete with each other. They never asked why that is so.

They're here!

They’re here!

Comcast is hoping the government will give its merger a pass with few conditions for the same reason, without bothering to note the cable industry has existed as a cartel in the United States for decades, each company with a territory they informally agree not to cross. With this deal, Comcast’s fiefdom will now cover about half of all cable subscribers in the U.S., covering 43 of the 50 largest metropolitan markets, and have about a 30% total market share among all competing providers — by far the largest. An 800 pound gorilla is born.

Three million current Time Warner Cable subscribers will not be coming along for the ride and will likely be auctioned off to Charter or another cable operator in a token gesture to keep Comcast’s total market share at the 30% mark the FCC formerly insisted on as an absolute ownership limit — before Comcast successfully sued to have that limit overturned.

The rest of us can say goodbye to our unlimited broadband plans and get ready to pay substantially more for cable and broadband service. Despite claims from remarkably shallow media reports, an analysis of Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s rates clearly show TWC charges lower prices with fewer “gotcha” fees.

Reviewing some recent promotional offers for new customers, Comcast customers pay nearly $35 more for a triple play package than Time Warner customers pay:

Time Warner Cable's Rob Marcus gets a $56.5 million golden parachute after 43 days on the job as CEO.

Time Warner Cable’s Rob Marcus gets a $56.5 million golden parachute after 43 days on the job as CEO.

The Comcast Starter plan costs $99 per month for the first 12 months with a 2-year agreement that includes a nasty divorce penalty. After 12 months, your price increases to $119.99 for the remaining year. The $99 plan accidentally doesn’t bother to mention that customers renting a Comcast cable modem/gateway will pay an extra $8 a month, which raises the price. Since many cable subscribers also want HD DVR service, that only comes free for the first six months, after which Comcast slaps on a charge ranging from $16-27 a month for the next 18 months. Assuming you are happy with the limited channel lineup of the Starter package (and many are not), you will pay up to $154 a month. Oh, we forgot to mention the Broadcast TV surcharge just introduced that increases the bill another $1.50 a month.

Time Warner Cable’s new customer promotions typically cost around $96 a month, including their annoying modem rental fee. DVR service can range from free to $23 a month depending on the promotion, making your monthly rate around $119 a month for 12 months, with no contract and no penalty if you decide to cancel.

“It is pro-consumer, pro-competitive, and strongly in the public interest,” said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, defending the deal.

Actually, it is in Comcast’s interest. If approved, the biggest investment Comcast will make is spending $10 billion — not to upgrade Time Warner Cable systems — but to launch a major stock buyback program that will directly benefit shareholders.

“On a personal level, it’s never easy to cede control of a company,” said Rob Marcus, Time Warner Cable’s chief executive. “However in this case, it just makes too much sense.”

Before reaching for a Kleenex to wipe any tears away, consider the fact Marcus will do just fine giving up his leadership of TWC just over a month after taking over. His generous goodbye package is worth $56.5 million, not bad for 43 days of work. Time Warner Cable employees won’t share that bounty. In fact, with $1.5 billion in promised savings from the deal’s “synergies” — code language for layoffs, among other things — a substantial number of Time Warner Cable employees can expect to be fired during the first year of the combined company.

The biggest impact of this deal is a further cementing of the duopoly of cable and phone companies into their cozy positions. Instead of encouraging competition, Comcast’s new size-up will guarantee fewer competitors thanks to the concept of volume discounts. The largest providers get the best prices from cable programmers, while smaller ones pay considerably more for access to CNN, ESPN, and other popular channels. Comcast will benefit from reduced pricing for cable programming, which we suspect will never reach customers through price reductions. But any potential startup will have to think twice before selling television programming at all because the prices they will pay make it impossible to compete with Comcast.

Another satisfied customer

Another satisfied customer

Frontier discovered this problem after acquiring FiOS systems from Verizon in Indiana and the Pacific Northwest. When Verizon’s volume discount prices expired, Frontier’s much smaller customer base meant much higher programming costs on renewal. They were so high, in fact, Frontier literally marketed FiOS customers asking them to give up fiber optic television in favor of satellite.

Unless you have pockets as deep as Google, offering cable TV programming may be too expensive for Comcast’s competitors to offer.

Broadband is already immensely profitable for both Time Warner Cable and Comcast, but now it can be even more profitable as Comcast persuades customers to adopt their wireless gateway/modems (for a price) and imposes a usage cap of around 300GB per month. Yes, Comcast will deliver speed increases Time Warner Cable couldn’t be bothered to offer, but with a pervasive usage cap, the value of more Internet speed may prove limited. It’s a case of moving away from Time Warner’s argument that you don’t need faster Internet speed to Comcast’s offer of faster speed that you can’t use.

Customers hoping for a better customer service experience may have been cheered by this misleading passage in today’s New York Times:

Nonetheless, about 8 million current Time Warner Cable customers will become Comcast customers. That may be a good thing for those customers, as Comcast is seen as an industry leader in terms of providing high-quality television and Internet services, while Time Warner Cable has a reputation for poor customer service.

It may be seen as an industry leader by Comcast itself, but consumers despise Comcast just as much as they hate Time Warner Cable. In fact, the American Consumer Satisfaction Index found Comcast was hardly a prize:

  • ACSI’s lowest rated ISP
  • Second-lowest ranked TV service
  • Third-lowest ranked phone service

Comcast consistently scores as one of the lowest rated companies across all the segments it participates in. It has the dubious description of being the lowest rated company in the lowest rated industry.

So why the near universal disdain for ISPs? Even cable companies have to compete with satellite providers. That’s not the case here. Add to that the relatively few companies, regional near-monopolies, high costs, and unreliable service and speed and you have a recipe for bad customer service and little incentive to improve it.

Customers particularly dislike their experiences with call centers, and the range and pricing of available plans.

Higher prices, usage caps, surcharges, and fewer channels for more money. What’s not to love about that?

Just about a week ago, Rob Marcus unveiled his vision of an upgraded Time Warner Cable that looked good to us, and retained unlimited use broadband service. Apparently this is all a case of “never mind.”

The fact is, a merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable will only benefit the companies, executives, and shareholders involved, while doing nothing to improve customer service, expand broadband, increase speeds, cut prices, and give customers the service they want. It is anti-consumer, further entrenches Comcast’s enormous market power (it also owns NBC and Universal Studios), and gives one company far too much control over content and distribution, particularly for customers who don’t have AT&T U-verse or Verizon FiOS or a community-owned provider as an alternative.

This deal needs to be rejected. When T-Mobile found itself out of a deal with AT&T, it survived on its own even better than expected. So can Time Warner Cable, with the right management team.

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Comcast Reaches Surprise Agreement to Acquire All of Time Warner Cable for $44 Billion

timewarner twcComcast will announce later this morning it has reached an agreement to acquire all of Time Warner Cable in an all-stock deal worth $44 billion.

If approved by regulators, Comcast will dramatically increase its size as the nation’s largest cable operator with over 33 million subscribers — vastly outnumbering every other cable company in the country. It also likely means Time Warner Cable broadband subscribers will eventually be subject to Comcast’s usage caps and overlimit fees, now being market tested around the country.

The offer of $159 a share for Time Warner Cable stock – $1 less than what TWC CEO Rob Marcus demanded for a buyout – is far higher than the $133 a share in cash and stock offered earlier by Charter Communications.

Tonight’s revelation that Time Warner Cable and Comcast reached a deal, first reported by CNBC, likely caught Charter by surprise. Charter had tried to acquire Time Warner Cable for months, going as far as nominating candidates for TWC’s board of directors that could have influenced a sale of the company. At the same time, Charter thought it was negotiating a friendly deal with Comcast to divide Time Warner Cable territories between the two companies.

Comcast-LogoTime Warner Cable management offered no clues they were negotiating with Comcast and delivered a presentation to shareholders last week promising major upgrades for Time Warner customers and future success as a standalone cable operator. All of those plans are now in doubt.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable reportedly believe the deal will quickly pass any antitrust review before the end of the year because neither company competes in the same markets, but Comcast will offer to divest a token three million subscribers from the combined company, according to sources.

The FCC formerly limited cable companies from owning or controlling more than 30% of the cable industry, but Comcast successfully sued to have that ownership cap overturned. A belief the deal would present looming antitrust problems could be grounds for the U.S. Department of Justice to oppose the deal, likely terminating it.

monopolyConsumer groups hope the deal gets derailed as soon as possible.

“In an already uncompetitive market with high prices that keep going up and up, a merger of the two biggest cable companies should be unthinkable,” said Free Press president Craig Aaron. “This deal would be a disaster for consumers and must be stopped. No one woke up this morning wishing their cable company was bigger or had more control over what they could watch or download. But that — along with higher bills — is  the reality they’ll face tomorrow unless the Department of Justice and the FCC do their jobs and block this merger. Stopping this kind of deal is exactly why we have antitrust laws.”

“It is simply dangerous for a large proportion of our nation’s critical communications infrastructure to be in the hands of one provider,” said Public Knowledge staff attorney John Bergmayer. “It is already the nation’s largest ISP, the nation’s largest video provider, and the nation’s largest home phone provider.  It also controls a movie studio, broadcast network, and many popular cable channels. An enlarged Comcast would be the bully in the schoolyard, able to dictate terms to content creators, Internet companies, other communications networks that must interconnect with it, and distributors who must access its content.”
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HissyFitWatch: Canadian Telecom Companies Annoyed Consumers Getting The Upper Hand

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

As the United States battles back against the introduction of usage caps and rising prices for broadband service, increased competition and regulated open wholesale access to some of Canada’s largest broadband providers have given Canadians an advantage in forcing providers to cut prices and improve service.

Canadians can now easily get unlimited broadband access from one of several independent ISPs that piggyback service on cable and phone networks. Some large ISPs have even introduced all-you-can eat broadband options for customers long-capped by the handful of big players. As customers consider switching providers, cable and phone companies have been forced to cut prices, especially for their best customers. Even cell service is now up for negotiation.

The more services a customer bundles with their provider, the bigger the discount they can negotiate, say analysts who track customer retention. Bell, Rogers, Telus, and others have a major interest keeping your business, even if it means reducing your price.

“It’s far more lucrative for the telecom company to keep you there for the third or fourth service,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told AP. It cuts down on marketing, service and installation calls, he added.

Getting the best deal often depends on your services, payment history, and how long you have been a customer. Cellphone discounts are the hardest to win, but customers are getting them if they have been loyal, carry a large balance and almost never pay late.

telus shawBigger discounts can be had for television and Internet service — cable television remains immensely profitable in Canada and broadband is cheap to offer, especially in cities. Americans often pay $80 or more for digital cable television packages, Canadians pay an average of $60.

Internet service in Canada now averages $45 a month, but many plans include usage caps. It costs more to take to the cap off.

Because of Canada’s past usage cap pervasiveness, online video is not as plentiful in Canada as it is in the United States. There has been considerably less cord-cutting in the north. Despite that, Canadians are ravenous online viewers of what they can find to watch (either legally or otherwise). As usage allowances disappear or become more generous, online video and the Internet will continue to grow in importance for service providers.

Customers should negotiate with their provider for a better deal, particularly if Bell’s Fibe TV is in town. Bell has been among the most aggressive in price cutting its fiber to the neighborhood television service for new customers ready to say goodbye to Rogers or Vidéotron.

Shaw and Telus battle for market share in the west and also have room to cut customer bills and still make a handsome profit.

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Consolidation: Financial Sector Wants Bell Canada To Buyout Maritime’s Bell Aliant

bellCanadian investment analysts are recommending that Canada’s telecom giant Bell (BCE) should explore buying out Bell Aliant, Inc. the largest telephone company in the Maritimes, to further consolidate Canada’s telecommunications marketplace.

Bell already effectively controls the phone company serving provinces east of Quebec through its 44 percent stake in the venture. Picking up the rest through a takeover would make financial sense, said Maher Taghi, a telecom analyst at Canada’s Desjardins Securities.

The Globe and Mail reports Yaghi explained in a note to investors a buyout would boost overall free cash flow for Bell (BCE), primarily from the increased revenue paid by customers for phone, television, and Internet service.

Bell_AliantBell Aliant has been one of Canada’s most conservative telecom companies serving the country’s smallest provinces in Atlantic Canada, as well as parts of rural Ontario under the NorthernTel brand and Télébec, which serves rural Quebec.

Unlike Bell (BCE), Bell Aliant has aggressively deployed fiber to the home service in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia to stem landline losses. Bell Aliant’s FiberOP customers avoid stingy usage caps that are pervasive across the rest of Canada. Its fiber network delivers strong competition to cable operators.

Bell (BCE) is already a major player in Canadian telecommunications, both with its landline operation and Fibe — mostly a fiber-to-the-neighborhood service — wireless phone and broadband, owner of more than two dozen specialty cable networks, a satellite TV service, owner of the CTV television network, new owner of Astral Media, and a few dozen radio stations across Canada. With this level of media concentration, Bell (BCE) would have a tough time trying to buy any additional media assets, but with its current de facto control, Bell would likely have little regulatory scrutiny merging Bell Aliant into its existing operations.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bell Aliant FiberOP Intro Video 1-2014.flv

Bell Aliant’s FiberOP introductory video explains the network and its features for Atlantic Canada. (2:20)

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