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

nys psc

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

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

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

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

More information from the New York Public Service Commission:

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 16

SUNY Buffalo
Student Union Theater
106 Student Union
Buffalo, NY

We will post driving directions to the forum next week.

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

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

Wednesday, June 18

SUNY Albany
Performing Arts Center
1400 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY

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

Thursday, June 19

NYS DPS Office
90 Church Street
New York, NY

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

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

(Cartoon: Heller, Denver Post)

(Cartoon: Heller, Denver Post)

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

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

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

Other Ways to Comment

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

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

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

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

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

Phillip Dampier April 23, 2014 AT&T, Consumer News, Internet Overcharging 4 Comments

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Telus Implementing Usage-Based Billing April 21; Already Raised Broadband Rates in Feb.

Phillip Dampier April 3, 2014 Canada, Internet Overcharging, Telus No Comments

Telus is notifying customers in Prince George, B.C. and surrounding areas it will begin imposing usage-based billing for Internet service effective April 21.

Despite claims that implementing usage-based charges will save customers money, nearly every Telus broadband user is already paying a higher bill because of a rate increase announced in late January.

logoTelus

telus data allowance

Telus’ usage allowances range from 15GB a month for High Speed Lite users to 400GB for Telus Internet 50 users. Telus is also imposing a scaled overlimit fee system based on the total amount of excess usage. Customers face a $5 overlimit fee for up to 50GB of overuse to a maximum of $75 for 350GB and above. A typical customer with a 150GB usage allowance using 250GB would pay the usual $55/month broadband charge plus a $25 overlimit penalty, raising the price of service to $80.

Starting in June, Telus will introduce an Unlimited Internet Usage option (price not disclosed) for any of their Internet plans.

overlimit fees

Telus wants to fence in "data hogs" with "fairness."

Telus wants to fence in “data hogs” with “fairness.”

“It’s fair that people pay for how much they use, as you would with any other service,” Telus explained. “Our goal is to offer customers a broad spectrum of plans that meet everyone’s needs, and to get customers on the right plan for them.

“Someone who uses their basic Internet service for a bit of email, Skyping with the grandkids, and sharing photos shouldn’t pay as much as someone who games and downloads hundreds of gigabytes of videos every month,” Telus added.

Of course, every customer is already paying more after Telus raised its broadband rates on Feb. 26.

“The cost of managing, expanding and improving our network continues to rise,” Telus explained. “We’re doing our best to keep rate increases as moderate as possible, while still offering great services, flexibility and good value.”

So effectively no customer is actually saving any money with Telus’ usage-based billing. They are actually paying more today and could potentially pay much more when overlimit fees take effect later this month.

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

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

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

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

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

The WGA writes in their filing with the FCC:

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

Comcast pounced on the WGA filing, calling it inaccurate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Cable Industry Has Charts to Prove Your Broadband is Screaming Fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Verizon Admits Congestion Problems for Its LTE 4G Network in NYC, San Francisco, and Chicago

They are coming.

Verizon Wireless quietly admitted Tuesday its much-vaunted LTE network is suffering speed slowdowns so serious, some customers in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco are being randomly kicked off Verizon’s 4G network to slower 3G service until congestion eases.

Fran Shammo, Verizon’s chief financial officer, volunteered that online video was the likely culprit and he was surprised by usage growth well in excess of what Verizon predicted.

Current estimates from the company suggest Verizon’s LTE customers are responsible for 64% of all data traffic on Verizon’s wireless network nationwide. But in large cities, Shammo said traffic numbers are much higher.

Shammo

Shammo

“There are certain pockets where we’re absolutely going to experience that down tick from the LTE network to 3G because of capacity constraints,” Shammo admitted.

The sudden revelation Verizon now has insufficient capacity for its LTE service is a significant reversal for Shammo, who has repeatedly told investors Verizon has enough wireless spectrum for the next 4-5 years.

In May 2013, Shammo told investors attending the JPMorgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference:

As I have said before, our spectrum position right now is very good, with the AWS transaction that we completed with the cable carriers last year, with the sale of the spectrum that we are doing with AT&T later this year, obviously giving that spectrum to someone who can utilize it better than we can at this point in time. So I think our holdings are exactly where we need to be. And I have said before we really don’t need spectrum for the next four to five years, with the way that we deployed CDMA and how we will utilize that spectrum from our CDMA deployment over to the 4G network as we need it.

Later that same month, Shammo confidently repeated his assertion Verizon was all set for spectrum at Barclays Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference:

Well, we have — from where we sit today, we have a very good spectrum portfolio which is why we went after the AWS spectrum, which is really going to be used for our capacity of LTE. The 700 megahertz that we have contiguous across the United States is used for the coverage piece. So we’re in pretty good shape for the next four to five years, even with reallocating our 3G spectrum over to our 4G network. [...] And we think, look, we think that there will be enough spectrum there. We think that technology change — I mean, people are already talking about LTE advanced. Well, LTE advanced is nothing more than creating a bit more speed on the network. But really LTE advances around being able to utilize the spectrum much more efficiently within the network.

Carriers can boost coverage with additional traditional cell towers, street level picocells, or in-building femtocells.

Carriers can boost coverage with more cell towers, street level picocells, or in-building femtocells.

Some critics suggest Verizon is ginning up a spectrum crisis as new FCC chairman Tom Wheeler begins to look at the current state of wireless spectrum and competition in the wireless industry. They also point to the fact Verizon has so much unused, warehoused spectrum, it has tried to sell the excess off to third parties.

“We have A band [unused spectrum] in our pocket today that we put for auction a year and a half ago and we did not get what we thought it was worth,” Shammo said yesterday. “We brought it back into the portfolio. But we can use that as a trade for some different spectrum. We put it up for auction so obviously it was on the block [and was] never taken off the block. But obviously it is not for fire sale. If a transaction makes sense then we will execute the transaction. If it doesn’t, then we will deploy it.”

In the short-term, Shammo promised customers the congestion issues were already being dealt with by “lighting up” acquired AWS spectrum formerly owned by cable operators, and adding data systems and small cell-type antennas in high congestion areas.

Shammo added that since Verizon was finished expanding its wireless network out to new, unserved areas, future investments would be directed at improving service within current coverage areas.

“I think by year-end you’re going to see us [concentrate] all of our CapEx around densification and then you will start to see us talk about things like VoLTE (Voice over LTE) and multicast (video) and some of these LTE advanced technologies that will come in the next year,” said Shammo.

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