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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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How Charter Communications Let Time Warner Cable Slip from its Grasp

surpriseFew were surprised more by the sudden announcement that Comcast was seeking to acquire Time Warner Cable all by itself than the negotiating team from Charter Communications.

Working for weeks to settle how Comcast and Charter would divide the second largest cable company in the country between them, they learned about the sudden deal with Comcast the same way the rest of the country heard about it — over Comcast-owned CNBC.

After Charter endured weeks of rejection from Time Warner Cable executives over what they called “a lowball offer,” Comcast had entered the fray to help Charter boost its offer and bring more cash to the table to change Time Warner Cable’s mind. In return, Comcast expected to acquire Time Warner’s east coast cable systems and much more.

That is where the trouble began.

Charter_logoAccording to Bloomberg News, the talks broke down because Charter wanted to hold onto as many Time Warner Cable assets as possible. Comcast chief financial officer Michael Angelakis expected Charter to divest more than just the New England, New York, and North Carolina Time Warner Cable systems. Angelakis also wanted control of Time Warner’s valuable regional sports networks in Los Angeles. When he didn’t get them, he stormed out of a meeting threatening to do a deal for Time Warner Cable without involving Charter at all.

The Wall Street Journal confirms the account, adding that both Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Angelakis agreed the talks with Charter seemed to be going nowhere.

Roberts

Roberts

Roberts called a secret meeting with top Comcast executives including Angelakis, Comcast Cable head Neil Smit, Comcast’s lobbying heavyweight David Cohen, and NBCUniversal CEO Steven Burke. Roberts asked each about the options on the table and their conclusion was to buy Time Warner Cable by themselves and cut Charter out of the deal.

Within days, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts reinitiated talks with Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus. The two companies had talked off and on ever since Charter Communications set its sights on acquiring Time Warner Cable. It was clear from the beginning Marcus and his predecessor Glenn Britt were cool to Charter’s overtures. Not only was Charter a much smaller operation, it also had a checkered past including a recent bankruptcy that wiped out shareholder value and was loaded with debt again.

The alliance between Charter and Liberty Global’s John Malone was also unsettling. Those in the cable industry had watched how ruthless Malone could be back in the 1990s when a then much-smaller Comcast secretly attempted to acquire control of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) — then the nation’s largest cable operator run by Malone. Malone was furious when he learned about the effort and went all out to kill the deal, acquiring the stake Comcast sought himself.

Malone’s cable empire would eventually fall with the sale of TCI to AT&T just a few years later. When AT&T decided it didn’t to stay in the cable business, it sold TCI’s old territories to Comcast, making it the largest cable operator in the country.

Malone

Malone

Malone’s brash attitude has also occasionally rubbed the cable industry’s kingpins the wrong way, especially in his public comments. Last year, Malone criticized Roberts’ more conservative operating style, which means Comcast pays a higher tax rate. Malone specializes in deals that leave his acquisitions with enormous debt loads, manipulating the tax code to stiff the Internal Revenue Service. In June, Malone was back again criticizing the lack of a unified national cable cartel better positioned to defeat the competition.

Under his leadership at TCI, many cable programmers didn’t get on TCI’s cable dial unless they sold part-ownership to TCI. Competitors were dispatched ruthlessly — home satellite dish service, then the most viable competitor, strained under TCI-led efforts to enforce channel encryption.

TCI-owned networks routinely required satellite subscribers to sign up with the nearest TCI cable system, which often billed them at prices higher than what cable subscribers paid. Subscribers had to buy not one, but eventually two decoder modules for several hundred dollars apiece before they could even purchase programming. The cable industry also worked behind the scenes to promote and defend enhanced zoning laws that made installing satellite dishes difficult if not impossible, and denied access to some programming at any price, unless it was delivered by a cable system.

Comcast-LogoMalone called today’s divided industry “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and insisted on a new major consolidation wave to enhance “value creation” and deliver some major blows to satellite and telephone company competitors.

Despite Liberty Global’s ongoing consolidation wave of European cable systems, his lack of financial resources to put his money where his mouth was left Time Warner Cable executives cold.

Already loaded with debt, Malone’s part ownership stake in Charter could not make up for Charter’s current status — a medium-sized cable operator with dismal customer ratings primarily serving smaller communities bypassed by larger operators.

A deal with Charter would mean Time Warner Cable's bonds would be downgraded to junk status.

A deal with Charter would mean Time Warner Cable’s bonds would be downgraded to junk status.

Moody’s Investor Service warned Charter’s offer to acquire Time Warner Cable was primarily financed with the equivalent of a credit card, and would leave the combined entity with $60 billion in debt with bonds promptly downgraded to junk level. Time Warner Cable had always considered its bonds “investment grade.”

Charter’s first clue something was wrong came when Comcast stopped returning e-mail and phone calls. That’s always cause for alarm, but Charter officials had no idea Comcast was secretly negotiating with Time Warner Cable one-on-one. In fact, Comcast’s Roberts was negotiating with Time Warner Cable over a cell phone while attending the Sochi Olympics.

Malone finally got the word the deal was off just a short while before Comcast and Time Warner Cable leaked the story to CNBC.

Ironically, it was Malone who convinced Comcast to seek out a deal with Time Warner Cable. Comcast’s thinking had originally been it had grown large enough as a cable operator and sought out expansion in the content world, acquiring NBCUniversal. But Malone warned online video competitors like Netflix would begin to give customers a reason to cut cable’s cord or at the very least take their business to AT&T or Verizon’s competing platforms.

Comcast executives were convinced that gaining more control over content and distribution was critical to protect profits. Only with the vast scale of a supersized Comcast could the cable company demand lower prices and more control over programming. By dominating broadband, critics of the deal warn Comcast can also keep subscribers from defecting while charging higher prices for Internet access and imposing usage limits that can drive future revenue even higher.

Just like the “good old days” where customers had to do business with the cable company at their asking price or go without, a upsized Comcast will dominate over satellite television, which cannot offer broadband or phone service, as well as the two largest phone companies — AT&T, which so far cannot compete with Comcast’s broadband speed and Verizon, which has pulled the plug on further expansion of FiOS to divert investment into its highly profitable wireless division. If Comcast controls your Internet connection, it can also control what competitors can effectively offer customers. Even if Comcast agrees to voluntarily subscribe to Open Internet principles like Net Neutrality, its usage cap can go a long way to protect it from online video competitors who rely on cable broadband to deliver HD video in the majority of the country not served by U-verse or FiOS.

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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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Time Warner Cable Tells Charter Cable to Get Lost; War of Words Ensues

analysisTime Warner Cable executives brushed away Charter Communications’ first public offer to acquire the second largest cable company in the country in a debt-financed deal that Time Warner considers a lowball offer.

“[Charter's] proposal is grossly inadequate,” Time Warner Cable said in a statement. “We are confident in our standalone plan and we are not going to let Charter steal the company.”

Charter;s new service areas, if they win Time Warner Cable.

Charter’s combined service areas, if they win control of Time Warner Cable.

On Tuesday, Charter violated a long-standing, informal Code of the Cable Cartel that keeps cable companies from attacking each other.

twc charterCharter Communications chief operating officer John Bickham launched an investor presentation that trashed Time Warner Cable and its leadership, and contended fixing the cable company will take more work than first envisioned.

Bickham claimed Time Warner has exhibited a decade of a “failed operating strategy revealed by fact that they are losing customers at an alarming rate,” while Charter has a proven track record of performance.

Bickham

Bickham

Historians recollect Charter’s recent past differently. In 2009, mired in debt and lacking a disciplined business plan, Charter declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, wiping out shareholders and stiffing creditors.

Bickham capitalized on Time Warner’s 2013 summer of discontent, when a dispute with CBS resulted in the loss of the network from Time Warner Cable lineups (along with Showtime) in some of the biggest cities in the country. Combined with rate increases, subscribers began switching to the competition, especially where Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse gives cable operators stiff competition from money-saving new customer promotions.

Bickham described TWC as a company in shambles:

On Time Warner Cable TV: “It appears that Time Warner didn’t want to spend the money to go all-digital,” adding that the quality of TWC’s TV signal is poor and the company still lacks enough HD channels that could have been on the lineup if the cable company dropped analog service long ago.

On Time Warner Cable Internet: Bickham complained Time Warner is offering deep discounts on slow Internet packages, particularly its campaign targeting DSL customers with 2Mbps service for $14.99 a month. Bickham complains the large variety of Internet speed tiers are unnecessary, resulting in “nickel-and-dime charges to customers.” He argues Time Warner needs to simplify its offering by adopting a digital lineup and boost Internet speeds, so customers get at least 30Mbps service. Bickham did not mention Charter Communications also has a usage cap on its broadband products. TWC does not on most offerings.

On Time Warner Cable employees: “TWC never had a vision on high standards” for how the company manages its 50,000 employees. Bickham feels the workmanship of TWC installers leaves a lot to be desired.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Time Warner Cable Rejects Charter Offer 1-15-14.flv

Time Warner Cable rejected an acquisition offer from Charter Communications valued at more than $61 billion including debt, spurning the biggest unsolicited takeover bid since 2008. Manus Cranny examines why the offer was rejected on Bloomberg Television’s “Countdown.” (2:06)

Charter's price comparison chart for the benefit of Time Warner Cable shareholders lacks accuracy. Virtually nobody has to pay TWC's quoted retail rates and the chart assumes worst-case pricing for TWC customers, while also ignoring Charter's very high customer dissatisfaction score.

Charter’s proposed price comparison chart, produced for the benefit of Time Warner Cable shareholders, assumes worst-case pricing almost no Time Warner Cable customer actually has to pay.

Charter is America's second worst rated cable company. (Consumer Reports, 2013)

Charter is America’s second worst rated cable company. (Consumer Reports, 2013)

On its face, Charter’s plan for Time Warner Cable doesn’t look all bad, but execution is critical and Charter has a long-standing and very poor record of customer satisfaction, typically ranked in consumer surveys as America’s second worst cable operator year after year.

Should Charter win control of Time Warner Cable, big changes will be in store for TWC customers under the Charter umbrella:

  • Analog television would be phased out, along with “limited basic” packages. Charter wants to repurpose analog spectrum for faster Internet speeds, but that also means video customers will be required to get more set-top boxes;
  • Eliminate “Switched Digital Video” technology now in place on TWC systems. SDV is a bandwidth saver – only delivering digital TV signals customers in a particular neighborhood are actively watching. But those using inexpensive digital-to-analog set-top boxes on analog-only televisions can’t watch SDV channels, inconveniencing customers;
  • Increase the number of HD channels to 200+;
  • All residential set-top boxes would now support HD signals at no added cost and customers will be able to get up to four DVR boxes for $20 a month;
  • Time Warner Cable’s new minimum Internet speed would be 30Mbps with much faster added-cost tiers available, but usage caps will apply;
  • Time Warner Cable’s phone product would be repriced at $30 a month in the first year, $20 in the second with all calling features and voicemail included;
  • No term contracts will be offered and modem rental fees, regulatory surcharges, added taxes on Internet and Phone, and service visit fees will no longer be charged.

Charter customers can expect aggressive sales pitches for their “high value” triple-play bundle which may include services customers don’t want at a price that is largely non-negotiable. The more boxes and services you add, the greater the discount you will receive. In contrast, Time Warner Cable began de-emphasizing its triple play promotions in early 2012 and now aggressively promotes single and double play packages that typically omit phone service.

Unlike TWC, Charter has been more difficult when trying to negotiate customer retention discounts. Charter generally charges the same prices everywhere.

Their proposed offer for Time Warner customers will be a triple play offer starting at $110 a month for the first 12 months, then increase $20 in the second year to $130 a month and in year three the price will rise again to $150 a month. Charter’s typical “step-up” pricing is in $20 increments.

Charter is reluctant to allow customers to add or drop package components, so for most customers packages will be all-inclusive with no discounts for dropping channels or features. That means customers will likely end up with more television channels, more phone features, and faster Internet speeds, but at the cost of an eventually higher cable bill.

Any buyout could also mean some Time Warner Cable territories could be put up for sale to a third-party. Charter is especially interested in the New York and Los Angeles markets, but may have little interest in western New York and Ohio, New England, Kentucky and Wisconsin. Any orphaned TWC customers would likely be snapped up by companies like Comcast, which may join Charter’s takeover bid.

Any sale would need approval by the Federal Communications Commission and potentially the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, especially in Comcast becomes involved.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Tom Rutledge Explains Charter Offer for TWC 1-15-14.mp4

Time Warner Cable rejected a merger proposal from Charter Communications. Tom Rutledge, Charter Communications president and CEO, explains the offer as he describes as “rich and fair.” We feel like we’ve come a far way and have not received a serious response, Rutledge says. A CNBC exclusive. (4:35)

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North America Data Tsunami Warning Canceled; Usage Levels Off, Killing Excuses for Caps

(Image: BTIG Research)

The median bandwidth use slowdown (Image: BTIG Research)

Despite perpetual cries of Internet brownouts, usage blowouts, and data tsunamis that threaten to overwhelm the Internet, new data shows broadband usage has leveled off in North America, undercutting providers’ favorite excuse for usage limits and consumption billing.

Sandvine today released its latest broadband usage study, issued twice yearly. The results show a clear and dramatic decline in usage growth in North America, with median usage up just 5% compared to the same time last year. That is a marked departure from the 190% and 77% growth measured in two earlier periods. In fact, as Richard Greenfield from BTIG Research noted, mean bandwidth use was down 13% year-over-year, after the second straight six month period of sequential decline.

Companies like Cisco earn millions annually pitching network management tools to providers implementing usage caps and consumption billing. For years, the company has warned of Internet usage floods that threaten to make the Internet useless (unless providers take Cisco’s advice and buy their products and services).

“Demand for Internet services continues to build,” said Roland Klemann from Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group. ”The increasing popularity of smartphones, tablets, and video services is creating a ‘data tsunami’ that threatens to overwhelm service providers’ networks.”

Providers typically use “fairness” propaganda when introducing “usage based pricing,” blaming exponential increases in broadband usage and costly upgrades “light users” are forced to underwrite. A leveling off in broadband usage undercuts that argument.

ciscos plan for your futureA Cisco White Paper intended for the eyes of Internet Service Providers further strips the façade off the false-”fairness” argument, exposing the fact usage pricing has little to do with traffic growth, pricing fairness, or the cost of upgrades:

In 2011, broadband services became mainstream in developed countries, with fixed-broadband penetration exceeding 60 percent of households and mobile broadband penetration reaching more than 40 percent of the population in two-thirds of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

Meanwhile, traditional voice and messaging revenues have strongly declined due to commoditization, and this trend is expected to continue. Therefore, operators are now relegated to connectivity products. The value that operators once derived from providing value-added services is migrating to players that deliver services, applications, and content over their network pipes.

As if this were not enough, Internet access prices are dropping, sales volumes are declining, and markets are shrinking. The culprit: flat rate “all-you-can-eat” pricing. Such a model lacks stability—sending service provider pricing into a downward spiral—because it ignores growth potential and shifts the competition’s focus from quality and service differentiation to price.

While Klemann was spouting warnings about the dire implications of a data tsunami, Cisco’s White Paper quietly told providers what they already know:

Maximum Profits

Maximum Profits

“[Wired] broadband operators should be able to sustain forecasted traffic growth over the next few years with no negative impact on margins, as the incremental capital expenses required to support it are under control.”

If usage limits and consumption billing are not required to manage data growth or cover the cost of equipment upgrades, why adopt this pricing? The potential to exploit more revenue from mature broadband markets that lack robust competition.

“In light of the forecasted Internet traffic growth mentioned earlier and competitiveness in the telecommunications market, Cisco believes that fixed-line operators should consider gradually introducing selected monthly traffic tiers to sustain [revenue], while a) signaling to customers that “traffic is not free,” and b) monetizing bandwidth hogs more sustainably.”

Cisco makes its recommendation despite knowing full well from its own research that customers hate usage-based pricing.

“The introduction of traffic tiers and caps—especially for fixed broadband services—is not welcomed by the majority of customers, as they have learned to ‘love’ flat rate all-you-can-eat pricing. Most customers consider usage-based pricing for broadband services ‘unfair,’ according to the 2011 Cisco IBSG Connected Life Market Watch study.”

Cisco teaches providers how to price broadband like trendy boutique bottled water.

Cisco teaches providers how to price broadband like trendy boutique bottled water and blame it on growing Internet usage.

But with competition lacking, Cisco’s advice is to move forward anyway, as long as providers initially introduce caps and consumption billing at prices that do not impact the majority of customers… at first. In uncompetitive markets, Cisco predicts customers will eventually pay more, boosting provider revenue. Cisco’s “illustrative example” of usage billing in practice set prices at $45 a month for up to 50GB of usage, $60 a month for 50-100GB, $75 for 100-150GB, and $150 a month for unlimited access — more than double what customers typically pay today for flat rate access.

Usage billing arrives right on time to effectively handle online video, which increasingly threatens revenue from cable television packages.

Sandvine’s new traffic measurement report notes the increasing prominence of online video services like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and Amazon Video.

“As with previous reports, Real-Time Entertainment (comprised of streaming video and audio) continues to be the largest traffic category on virtually every network we examined, and we expect its continued growth to lead to the emergence of longer form video on mobile networks globally in to 2014,” Sandvine’s report noted.

Sandvine found that over half of all North American Internet traffic during peak usage periods comes from two services: Netflix and YouTube. YouTube globally is the leading source of Internet traffic in the world, according to Sandvine.

An old excuse for usage caps on “data hogs” – peer-to-peer file-sharing, continues its rapid decline towards irrelevance, now accounting for less than 10 percent of total daily traffic in North America. A decade earlier, file swapping represented 60 percent of Internet traffic.

Cisco’s answer for the evolving world of popular online applications is a further shift in broadband pricing towards “value-based tiers” that monetize different online applications by charging broadband users extra when using them. Cisco is promoting an idea that well-enforced Net Neutrality rules would prohibit.

Citing the bottled water market, Cisco argues if some customers are willing to pay up to $6 for a liter of trendy Voss bottled water, flat rate “one price fits all” broadband is leaving a lot of money on the table. With the right marketing campaign and a barely competitive marketplace, providers can charge far higher prices to get access to the most popular Internet applications.

“Research from British regulator Ofcom shows that consumers are becoming ‘addicted’ to broadband services, and heavy broadband users are willing to pay more for improved broadband service options.”

Wharton School professors Jagmohan Raju and John Zhang concluded price is the single most important lever to drive profitability.

The political implications of blaming phantom Internet growth and manageable upgrade costs for the implementation of usage caps or usage-based billing is uncertain. Even the “data hog” meme providers have used for years to justify usage caps is now open to scrutiny. Sandvine found the top 1% of broadband users primarily impact upstream resources, where they account for 39.8% of total upload traffic. But the top 1% only account for 10.1% of downstream traffic. In fact, Apple is likely to provoke an even larger, albeit shorter-term impact on a provider’s network from software upgrades. When the company released iOS7, Apple Updates immediately became almost 20% of total network traffic, and continued to stay above 15% of total traffic into the evening peak hours, according to Sandvine.

Some other highlights:

  • Average monthly mobile usage in Asia-Pacific now exceeds 1 gigabyte, driven by video, which accounts for 50% of peak downstream traffic. This is more than double the 443 megabyte monthly average in North America.
  • In Europe, Netflix, less than two years since launch, now accounts for over 20% of downstream traffic on certain fixed networks in the British Isles. It took almost four years for Netflix to achieve 20% of data traffic in the United States.
  • Instagram and Dropbox are now top-ranked applications in mobile networks in many regions across the globe. Instagram, due to the recent addition of video, is now in Latin America the 7th top ranked downstream application on the mobile network, making it a prime candidate for inclusion in tiered data plans which are popular in the region.
  • Netflix (31.6%) holds its ground as the leading downstream application in North America and together with YouTube (18.6%) accounts for over 50% of downstream traffic on fixed networks.
  • P2P Filesharing now accounts for less than 10% of total daily traffic in North America. Five years ago it accounted for over 31%.
  • Video accounts for less than 6% of traffic in mobile networks in Africa, but is expected to grow faster than in any other region before it.
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Time Warner Cable Doubles Premium Broadband Speeds in Los Angeles, New York, Hawaii

timewarner twcTime Warner Cable customers in Los Angeles, New York, and Hawaii subscribed to the company’s top 50/5Mbps Ultimate speed tier will get a free upgrade to 100/5Mbps between now and the end of this year.

“Residential customers in Los Angeles who subscribe to our Ultimate 50 tier are being automatically upgraded to Ultimate 100 at no extra cost,” said Time Warner’s Andrew Russell. “Ultimate 50 residential customers in New York City and Hawaii will be upgraded by year’s end. By early 2014, all customers in these markets will have access to Ultimate 100, with more TWC markets to follow next year.”

“Consumers are adding more and more connected devices into their digital lifestyle,” said Steve Cook, general manager of Time Warner Cable residential Internet. “These new ultra-fast Internet speeds are designed to satisfy their growing demand to stream, download and connect simultaneously across multiple devices.”

Time Warner Cable announced several speed upgrades over the last year, but it still remains the least aggressive major cable operator in the speed category. Among the largest five cable operators, Time Warner Cable’s premium speed tiers are the slowest, with top upstream speeds of just 5Mbps and a maximum downstream speed of 50Mbps for most. But Time Warner Cable has no compulsory usage caps or consumption billing.

Over the last year, Time Warner Cable increased speeds for all but their Extreme customers (30/5Mbps), the only plan to have not seen any major speed boost in most markets since being standardized as an entry level DOCSIS 3 tier.

Time Warner also announced a speed improvement for their budget-conscious Lite tier, now 1/1Mbps in most markets.

Priced at $14.99 per month, the new offering will deliver 2/1Mbps — adequate for basic web browsing, e-mail and limited multimedia use — and becomes available nationwide beginning Nov. 4.

“We’re making our entry-level product even better and more affordable for the casual Internet user and cost-conscious consumer,” said Cook. “At both ends of our speed options and everything in between, we’re focused on giving our customers the best experience at the best value.”

Time Warner Cable will now offer most customers seven different speed tiers, all unlimited use (except when opting in to usage limited plans in return for a discount):

  • Lite: 2/1Mbps
  • Basic: 3/1Mbps
  • Standard: 15/1Mbps
  • Turbo: 20/2Mbps
  • Extreme: 30/5Mbps
  • Ultimate: 100/5Mbps
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If Verizon or AT&T Wants to Sell Off Their Rural Landlines, Frontier Is Willing to Buy

frontier frankFrontier Communications is interested in buying landlines bigger phone companies like AT&T and Verizon might want to sell.

CEO Maggie Wilderotter sat down with The Wall Street Journal to answer questions about her leadership of the independent telephone company.

Despite ongoing landline disconnects and a challenging business environment that led to a second quarter loss of $38.5 million, Wilderotter says Frontier is “well positioned for success” and is willing to acquire new customers castaway by larger phone companies like AT&T and Verizon.

I would do acquisitions only if they’re smart,” Wilderotter said. “We would buy assets that drive more scale. We would look at another carve out like the Verizon acquisition or acquiring stand-alone rural telephone companies.”

Frontier’s last acquisition in 2010 nearly tripled its size after picking up landlines sold off by Verizon Communications.

Independent telephone companies like Frontier are not just buyers, however. Wilderotter hinted Frontier has received offers encouraging a sale of the company, perhaps even one from a satellite provider like Dish Network or DirecTV.

“Other players [like] CenturyLink have similar assets,” Wilderotter said. “Some unconventional folks might look. The satellite category [for instance]. We have had conversations in the past. They weren’t the right offers.”

Many shareholders stay loyal to Frontier because the company pays a significant dividend to those holding stock. Anything that threatens the dividend typically drives Frontier’s stock price lower, so Wilderotter was quick to note any other acquisitions will not come at the expense of that dividend.

Wilderotter

Wilderotter

“We would do acquisitions in a way that preserves the dividend,” Wilderotter said. “We might take on more debt instead.”

Frontier’s business plan relies heavily on selling service in less competitive rural areas often bypassed by large cable operators. Because of inherent network limitations created by copper telephone lines, Frontier maintains market dominance mostly in communities where cable service is not widely available or is provided over antiquated infrastructure unsuitable for significant broadband upgrades.

In the last two years, Frontier has spent several billion dollars to upgrade its own infrastructure to offer faster and more reliable Internet access, but the upgraded service is still out of reach for many Frontier customers who need it the most. In central West Virginia, Frontier customers in Gilmer (pop. 8693) and Braxton (pop. 14,523) Counties can’t wait to drop satellite Internet access for Frontier DSL. The infrastructure has been reportedly in place for several months, but the service has not yet been switched on.

Additional Frontier broadband expansion depends on company investment and federal broadband improvement funds.

In September, West Virginia’s congressional delegation announced an award of roughly $24.1 million in leftover federal funds to continue construction of broadband infrastructure in rural areas of the state.

“With help from the FCC, so many more of our families and businesses will soon have the transformative and necessary power of high-speed Internet at their fingertips, opening the doors to many new educational and economic opportunities,” said Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

Frontier also recently applied for an extra $28.9 million from the Connect America Fund to target broadband for another 47,000 homes and business in West Virginia.

Gilmer County

Gilmer County, W.V.

If Frontier receives 100% of the requested amount, the Obama Administration’s broadband funding programs will have contributed $63 million towards service improvement in West Virginia.

Frontier Communications manager Daniel Page said the next target areas for broadband improvement are in Pleasants (pop. 7,605) and Ritchie (pop. 10,236) Counties, both in northwest West Virginia.

Wilderotter says 85% of Frontier customers now have broadband access available to them, up from 60% in 2011.

“Our goal is to be able to reach over 90%, probably by the end of this year or first part of next year,” Wilderotter said.

The biggest challenges facing Frontier over the next year?

“Technology disruption—and [industry players'] business models being challenged,” Wilderotter told the newspaper. “Customer expectations on how they utilize the Internet continue to morph as rich applications are made available.”

To manage increased traffic, Frontier can invest in capacity upgrades or start network management measures to limit subscribers’ Internet usage.

Frontier has run a usage limit trial in Kingman, Ariz., Elk Grove and Palo Cedro, Calif., Mound, Minn. as well as Cookeville and Crossville, Tenn. for over a year to measure bandwidth consumption by application type. In those areas, Frontier DSL is usage capped at 100 or 250GB per month. Customers exceeding their allowance are advised to either limit usage or convert to a “high user” service plan starting at $99.99 a month.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Fox Business News Frontier Broadband 8-8-13.flv

Frontier CEO Maggie Wilderotter told Fox Business News in August the company was “laser focused” on broadband.  (5 minutes)

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EPB Celebrates 4th Anniversary With Free Speed Upgrades And Price Cuts; $69.99 for 1Gbps Service

epbEPB this morning celebrated its fourth anniversary by thanking Chattanooga residents for supporting the utility’s fiber network with a series of price cuts and speed increases.

Beginning today, EPB’s fiber broadband customers are getting the following upgrades and savings:

  • 50/50Mbps customers get a free upgrade to 100/100Mbps service with no change in their current price ($57.99/month);
  • 100/100 and 250/250Mbps customers get a free upgrade to 1,000/1,000Mbps service;
  • 1,000/1,000Mbps customers now paying $349 a month will see their bills slashed to $69.99 a month, a savings of $230 a month;
  • EPB’s business broadband customers will be contacted individually to coordinate the speed upgrades.

gig_speedsCustomers will see the new speeds provisioned within the next two weeks. At least 3,000 residential customers will be upgraded to gigabit service.

EPB also reported this morning it has 55,000 broadband customers.

EPB is one of the nation’s most successful municipal fiber providers and is proving itself a major challenger to Chattanooga’s cable competitor Comcast and incumbent phone company AT&T.

AT&T’s U-verse is the least capable network in Chattanooga, because its fiber-to-the-neighborhood technology currently limits AT&T’s maximum broadband speed in the city to 24/3Mbps. AT&T says it is working on doubling or tripling speeds, but it still leaves U-verse far behind Comcast and EPB.

Comcast has lost at least 47,000 customers in Chattanooga, estimates EPB CEO Harold DePriest. Comcast originally had 122,000 customers on the EPB grid when EPB launched fiber broadband. This year, Comcast has about 75,000 customers and is expected to see numbers decline further in 2014 to about 60,000 customers.

The best Comcast offers is 505/20Mbps service in select cities, with a price tag of $400 a month.

The best Comcast offers is 505/20Mbps service in select cities, with a price tag of $400 a month.

Neither Comcast or AT&T is competing on price for higher speed broadband in Chattanooga. Comcast charges $114.95 a month for 105/20Mbps service and offers 505/100Mbps service in a handful of other cities, for $399.95 a month. Comcast is also currently testing the reintroduction of usage caps and overlimit fees in several markets.

AT&T charges $65 a month for 24/3Mbps service — its fastest — with a 250GB monthly usage cap, currently not enforced. For $5 more, EPB customers get 1,000/1,000Mbps with no usage limits or overlimit fees.

EPB has been criticized by conservative groups, bloggers, and its competitors that argue municipal utilities have no business being in the broadband business. Most of these groups predicted EPB Fiber would deliver a costly failure for Chattanooga utility ratepayers. The utility has also come under repeated fire from the conservative editorial page in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, often from ex-editorial writer Drew Johnson, who was fired in August.

DePriest can afford to take the criticism all in stride. He has been with the publicly owned utility for 42 years and has seen Chattanooga transformed from its old manufacturing roots into an increasingly high-tech city, thanks in part to EPB’s robust broadband infrastructure that has exceeded even EPB’s expectations.

EPB’s original business plan called for 28,000 customers to break even, with an estimated ceiling of 43,000 customers that would be willing to sign up. EPB has already passed both estimates with additional growth anticipated. DePriest even predicts EPB could surpass Comcast — the city’s biggest broadband and cable TV player — in market share by the end of next year.

Far from being a financial failure, EPB Fiber is now covering the $19 million debt payment incurred by the utility’s electric business, protecting Chattanooga residents from an electricity rate increase.

EPB is also making money offering advice to other cities who want to launch their own publicly owned fiber networks and avoid making costly mistakes. Consulting services will net EPB more than $1 million over the next three years.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/EPB EPB 4th Anniversary Speed Increases Price Cuts for Gigabit 9-17-13.flv

EPB CEO Harold DePriest announces speed increases and price cuts for customers to celebrate the utility’s fourth anniversary in the broadband business. (3 minutes)

Correction: The original story misreported Comcast’s upstream speed for its 505Mbps tier as 20Mbps. It is, as corrected above, 100Mbps.

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Comcast Raising Rates in Pacific Northwest: $70.49/Month for Cable TV

Comcast oregonComcast rates are going up again this fall in the Pacific Northwest, now exceeding $70 a month.

At least 600,000 cable customers in Oregon and southwestern Washington will pay 4.4 percent more for 100-channel television service beginning this October, raising the cost of Standard basic cable to $70.49 a month.

Despite threats of cord cutting, customers in the Pacific Northwest have remained loyal to the idea of paying for television, according to Fred Christ, policy director for the Metropolitan Area Cable Commission in Washington County.

“Subscriber numbers remain steady,” Christ told The Oregonian. “People still don’t see an easy alternative to Comcast, Frontier (FiOS TV), or the satellite providers, all of which cause more or less the same amount of pain.”

Comcast Rates (Image: The Oregonian)

The newspaper notes sports programming may not be the cause of this year’s rate increase.

The cost of Comcast’s discounted “Digital Economy” cable package, which excludes most expensive sports networks, is rising at nearly double the rate of Standard Cable, up 8.6 percent this fall to $37.95 a month.

For those who cannot afford traditional Standard cable television, Comcast’s limited basic service, which primarily consists of local TV channels, runs $12-22 a month depending on the customer’s location. It also increased in price by about $1.30 a month in August.

Comcast may not mind cord cutters too much, because it reaps significant profits from the broadband service that powers online viewing. Comcast raised speeds from 15 to 20Mbps last spring along with the price. The popular “Performance” tier now costs $53.95 a month.

Comcast is testing the reintroduction of usage caps in a handful of service areas, typically providing up to 300GB of usage per month before overlimit fees kick in. But those Internet usage limits do not yet apply in the Pacific Northwest.

Comcast blamed the rate increases on network enhancement investments including faster Internet speeds, more multi platform video and better customer service. Comcast is currently introducing its new X1 cable box that makes finding programming easier.

Customers can avoid the worst of the price increases by choosing a bundled service package, which will see a lower rate increase. Current customers can also call Comcast to negotiate a better deal by threatening to cancel service.

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Mediacom Usage Caps Annoy Customers; Usage-Based Billing Excuses Don’t Fit the Facts

Mediacom, logo_mediacom_mainthe worst-rated cable operator in the United States, claims it needs usage caps and consumption billing to force heavy users to pay for needed upgrades. But that isn’t what Mediacom’s executives are telling investors and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Thomas Larsen, group vice president of legal and public affairs for Mediacom told The Gazette the consumption-based billing program was intended to pay for the cost of network upgrades incurred by “individuals who are the highest users.”

But Mediacom’s August 10-Q filings (Mediacom LLC and Mediacom Broadband LLC) with the SEC indicate Mediacom’s revenues are increasing faster than the cable operator’s costs to provide service, as customers upgrade to more costly, faster speed Internet tiers.

internet limitRevenues from residential services are expected to grow as a result of [broadband] and phone customer growth, with additional contributions from customers taking higher speed tiers and more customers taking our advanced video services,” Mediacom reports. “Based upon the speeds we offer, we believe our High Speed Data (HSD) product is generally superior to DSL offerings in our service areas. As consumers’ bandwidth requirements have dramatically increased in the past few years, a trend we expect to continue, we believe our ability to offer a HSD product today with speeds of up to 105Mbps gives us a competitive advantage compared to the DSL service offered by the local telephone companies. We expect to continue to grow HSD revenues through residential customer growth and more customers taking higher HSD speed tiers. “

Mediacom’s consumption billing program, already in effect for new customers, will be imposed on all Mediacom broadband customers starting in September. Larsen claims only about three percent of customers will be impacted by the usage allowance, which will include 250GB of usage for customers selecting the company’s most popular speed tier. Larsen also claimed the average Mediacom customer uses only 14GB per month.

That usage profile is below the national average, and leads to questions about why Mediacom needs a usage allowance system when 97 percent of its customers do not present a burden to the cable company.

“Once a customer reaches their monthly allowance,  for $10 they can purchase an additional 50GB a month of capacity,” Larsen explained. “Each time that they reach that next level, they’ll be able to purchase another allotment. We’re never going to stop you from using data, we’re just going to charge you more if you exceed your monthly allowance. Before, we could cap you, there was no mechanism for them to purchase more.”

Mediacom did not frequently enforce its usage caps in the past except in instances where usage levels created problems for other customers. Despite Larsen’s assertion Mediacom would spent the overages collected from heavy users on broadband upgrades, Mediacom’s report to the SEC indicates broadband usage has never been a significant burden for the cable operator:

Our HSD and phone service costs fluctuate depending on the level of investments we make in our cable systems and the resulting operational efficiencies. Our other service costs generally rise as a result of customer growth and inflationary cost increases for personnel, outside vendors and other expenses. Personnel and related support costs may increase as the percentage of expenses that we capitalize declines due to lower levels of new service installations. We anticipate that service costs, with the exception of programming expenses, will remain fairly consistent as a percentage of our revenues.

Although Mediacom reported field operating costs rose 7.6%, much of that increase was a result of greater fiber lease and cable location expenses on its wireless backhaul business for cell towers and greater use of outside contractors. In the company’s latest 10-Q filing, Mediacom reports its revenues increased 2.9 percent in the past year while its costs rose only 1.5 percent. Mediacom’s revenues from its broadband division are even more rosy, rising 9% in the past year alone. In fact, broadband is the company’s highest growth residential business.

Many of Mediacom’s long-standing customers were initially promised they would be exempt from usage caps, with only new customers subject to usage limits. But Mediacom has unilaterally changed their minds, much to the consternation of some customers.

As of this afternoon, Mediacom is still promising customers usage caps only apply to new customers and those making plan changes.

As of this afternoon, Mediacom is still promising customers usage caps only apply to new customers and those making plan changes.

“It is my belief a man’s word is gold and when Mediacom customers have been told for ages they were grandfathered in with no usage data charges unless they changed plans, that is how it is supposed to be,” said D. Gronceski. “I have explicitly turned down service increases in the past to stay on the unlimited usage plan originally offered by Mediacom [...] so I get screwed twice, once for bandwidth caps and again because I’m not getting the services I would be getting if I had not refused the automatic increases.”

annoyedOther customers incensed about the new usage limits have called to cancel service only to be threatened with steep early termination fees.

“Why do I have to pay an early termination fee?” asked AustinPowersISU. “The way of billing for the service is changing and I do not agree to this method of billing. I should be allowed to terminate my service without paying a fee.”

A Mediacom social media team representative offered one suggestion for customers finding themselves quickly over their usage limits: upgrade to faster speed tiers at a higher price. As for complaints about the unilateral introduction of usage caps with overlimit fees, it’s tough luck for customers, on contract or off:

All Internet users will be held to the new terms of service and usage based billing as of Sept. 7, 2013.  There is no agreement to sign, no acknowledgement needed.  Continuing to utilize Internet services is acceptance of these changes. If for any reason you do not feel that your current service level meets your needs, let us know and we can have a representative contact you with further options.

[...] Per the posted terms of service and acceptable use policy, there has always been an established data consumption threshold (data allowance) to be enforced at Mediacom’s discretion.  With this change, we have clarified these methods of enforcement and have expanded the allowance to offer different levels of users different options.  We have notified the proper departments of possible additions, but these statements are and have been posted.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KCRG Cedar Rapids Mediacom Going Usage Billing 8-21-13.mp4.

KCRG in Cedar Rapids reports Mediacom is switching to consumption billing for broadband service in September.  (2 minutes)

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