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Wall Street: The Time is Right for a Comcast-Verizon Mega-Merger

(Image courtesy: FCC.com)

(Image courtesy: FCC.com)

Many of President-elect Donald Trump’s choices for America’s newest regulators have track records of being so “hands-off,” it is hard to find their fingerprints.

Wall Street expects the Trump Administration and the Republican majority in Congress to eliminate vast swaths of regulatory oversight, perhaps enough to put the federal government’s involvement in commerce at a level not seen since before the Great Depression. UBS analyst John Hodulik believes the Trump Administration will look the other way as an unprecedented frenzy of corporate mergers and acquisitions begins — mergers that would never have passed an antitrust review during prior administrations.

Hodulik might as well suggest the next four years could represent The Great Convergence, as cable and wireless operators merge, potentially leaving the majority of Americans with just one choice for telecommunications services.

“We have long believed that secular changes in technology and usage would lead to the convergence of the cable and wireless industries,” Hodulik said. “The transformation of the internet into a mobile-first platform combined with the rapid migration of video from proprietary networks to digital and the rise in competitive pressure this entails increases the value of an integrated fixed and wireless service to cable providers. Densification of wireless networks required to meet the needs of video-centric subscribers increases synergies of cable-wireless combinations and provides the springboard for 5G-based services. A roll-back of Title II re-classification could further increase incentives for cable.”

Hodulik envisions that a wave of mergers during the first term of the Trump Administration could look like this:

  • Comcast <-> Verizon: Conquering the northeast and mid-Atlantic states, a supersized Comcast would likely be the only telecommunications company offering broadband service in states like New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland with Verizon FiOS just another flavor of Comcast’s coaxial and fiber network. The only remaining competitors of significance would be Frontier Communications in Connecticut and upstate New York and FairPoint Communications in northern New England. Charter Communications would also still provide cable service in New York, Massachusetts, and parts of the Carolinas. Hodulik called the effective monopoly a win-win for shareholders of Comcast and Verizon. Customers are likely to hold a different view.
  • Charter <-> T-Mobile/Sprint or Dish Networks: As the number two player, Charter already envisions offering wireless phone service through an arrangement it has with Verizon. But in a “converged” world, why rent someone else’s network when you can buy your own. Deutsche Telekom has been a motivated seller since AT&T tried and failed to buy T-Mobile USA and Sprint’s largely uninspiring performance may make it an easy sell for Japan’s Softbank. The wildcard: Dish Networks. Charter might want Dish’s huge number of video subscribers to win itself better volume discounts for cable programming.
  • Never forget about Altice, laying the foundation for another wave of buyouts starting in 2017. So far, Altice seems interested in the handful of remaining independent cable companies — Cox, Cable One, Mediacom, and the few others increasingly becoming anomalies in the consolidated cable marketplace. Cox and Mediacom may have to be coaxed to sell much the same way Cablevision was — by overpaying.

Hodulik also believes some side mergers may also turn up, especially a Dish/T-Mobile deal that would bring Dish’s large wireless spectrum holdings into T-Mobile’s network. T-Mobile could also sell Dish programming by streaming it over the internet and/or mobile devices.

Charter/Spectrum Relocating Northeast Regional HQ to Rochester, N.Y.

Artist rendition of Charter's new regional headquarters in Rochester, N.Y.

Artist rendition of Charter’s new regional headquarters in Rochester, N.Y.

The northeast region of Charter/Spectrum, encompassing six states, will soon be managed from a new regional headquarters office to be opened in Rochester, N.Y.

Elected officials across western New York joined Gov. Andrew Cuomo to congratulate Charter Communications for its decision to locate its new headquarters in suburban Rochester, where the cable company is expected to add 228 new full-time jobs.

Gov. Cuomo announced Charter will invest more than $2.9 million to renovate its existing offices on Mount Hope Avenue in downtown Rochester and its new 46,000 square-foot facility in Henrietta, which will house regional executives, call center workers, and technicians. New York taxpayers will cover $2.5 million of those costs through the Empire State Development Corporation, a public-benefit corporation that offers tax credits in return for job creation commitments.

“This expansion of one of the nation’s leading cable providers in the Finger Lakes is a clear signal that our economic strategy is driving innovation and transforming the local economy,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Cutting-edge companies are betting on this region like never before and are growing their businesses and creating-good paying jobs in the process. By incentivizing private sector growth, we are generating momentum and strengthening the economy in Monroe County and beyond.”

Cuomo

Cuomo

“By early next year, this beautifully restored facility will allow us to bring together our field operations leadership and vital support functions under one roof,” said Charter executive vice president of field operations Tom Adams. “Through our partnership with the New York State Economic Development Corporation, the Rochester area benefits from an influx of high-paying technical jobs, while our customers across Upstate New York and throughout New England benefit from improved communication, collaboration and efficiency in our operations.”

Time Warner Cable employed 460 workers at its existing office in downtown Rochester. Charter’s new regional headquarters will add 230 workers.

Gov. Cuomo has heavily promoted New York as a new corporate-friendly state to create jobs and grow businesses. The “Finger Lakes Forward” initiative has already spent $3.4 billion in the region since 2012 to invest in and attract key industries like photonics, agriculture/food production, and advanced manufacturing. The plan has seen some success for the key regions of Rochester (photonics), Batavia (milk/yogurt production), and Canandaigua (mixed manufacturing), but has not been as successful keeping jobs when businesses have downsizing on their mind.

For Rochester, Charter’s announcement will still result in a net job loss of more than 300 jobs in the telecommunications sector because of Verizon Wireless’ announced closure of its Rochester call center, which will eliminate 645 jobs in the area when the facility closes Jan. 27, 2017. The governor’s office called Verizon’s job cuts “an egregious example of corporate abuse.”

Three More Frustrated Frontier Employees Speak Out: Our Customers Deserve Better

lilyFrustration at Frontier Communications doesn’t stop with customers. Employees are also speaking out about the company’s inability to manage their growing acquisitions and offer good service to customers. Others are confused about major company priorities and initiatives that suddenly get dropped, and customer service representatives feel like they are cheating customers selling them products and services that are better in name only.

Three employees this month provided unsolicited letters asking Stop the Cap! to publicize the problems at Frontier because their managers are not listening and they want corporate management to step in and make necessary changes.

“Sally” (we have chosen pseudonyms to protect the authors’ identities) is a customer service representative at a major Frontier call center in Florida. She is saddened by the company’s “Wells Fargo” culture — pushing customers to buy products and services they don’t need just to make their sales numbers.

“Frontier has been pushing us hard to sell customers on our Frontier Secure suite of products, which adds anything from $5 to $25 to your bill and is supposed to protect you from identity theft, damaged devices, viruses, and provide technical support for your electronics,” Sally tells Stop the Cap! “Unfortunately, it sounds much better than it actually is because there are so many exclusions and restrictions. I’ve heard complaints from customers who bought into the program thinking it would protect their home computer, but then after a lightning strike did its damage, it turns out Frontier doesn’t cover “home-made” computers which means anything other than a computer you buy in a store and never upgrade.”

Sally recounts stories about her managers pushing Frontier Secure at every opportunity, because the profits that come from providing services many customers will never use are astounding.

Frontier has a plain jane blog.

Frontier has a plain jane blog.

“They even push us to sell virus protection on tablets and smartphones like the iPhone, which is generally ridiculous,” Sally wrote. “What is horrifying to me is that the people most likely to say yes to our sales pitches are our elderly customers who have simple landlines and we’re not even sure they have a computer to protect. But they like the identity protection, which is supposed to monitor your credit and cancel your credit cards if your identity is stolen. What we don’t tell you is you can do most of that yourself for free and if you call a bank to report identify theft, they can notify every bank to either put a hold on your credit or reissue new cards. It costs nothing.”

Sally says Frontier’s “Premium Technical Support” often relies on employees Googling for instruction manuals and then reading them back to customers. That service starts at $12.99 a month.

“Instead of selling people better internet access or more reliable phone service, we’ve gone into gimmicks and it’s embarrassing,” reports Sally.

“Jim” is a former Verizon senior technician who is now working for Frontier Communications in Texas. He says he spends several hours a day navigating confusion between Verizon’s long-standing processes for managing network issues and his new supervisors who are dealing with Frontier’s completely different corporate culture.

frontier new logo“If you ever wondered why it takes so long to get something done with Frontier, I can tell you — it’s the bureaucracy and a culture clash between the two companies,” writes Jim. “Working for Verizon’s wireline division was already stressful over the years because they were not investing very much in wired services and we’d learn to manage that by hoarding things and trying to keep issues as local as possible, but Frontier is a giant headache. When a customer needs something from us, often we cannot give the customer a good estimate of when he or she will get what they need because we don’t know ourselves. But we are told to ‘be optimistic’ or ‘be vague’ which is why there are a lot of broken deadlines or disappointments. They never tell us to lie, but we cannot level with customers either because many will bolt to Time Warner Cable or Charter if we told them the God honest truth. We have business and residential customers promised certain broadband performance by sales that we cannot give them because they are not FiOS-enabled. If you were promised 75Mbps and got 6Mbps, you’d start shopping around, too.”

Jim writes the cutover between Verizon and Frontier would have gone much smoother if the company culture of “not in my job description” was not so pervasive.

Who cares if the fine print is in English.

Who cares if the fine print is in English.

“Frontier was given old data from Verizon because we haven’t spent serious money on certifying the accuracy of our databases in years and nobody bothered to verify it before acting on it, and that is why a lot of customers lost their service,” writes Jim. “Verizon is at fault here too because when you work at a giant company like this you learn the company culture is to know your job responsibilities and don’t exceed them. Frontier people seem to be more flexible to a point, but they are also real good at avoiding getting caught holding the bag when something goes wrong, so important tasks or ongoing problems can be neglected because nobody wants to get the blame or feel like they are exposed when management shows up wondering why things aren’t working right.”

“It can be a career and promotion death sentence to be someone willing to stick their neck out and solve problems if your manager or their manager doesn’t like what you’ve done, actually helped create the problem you are trying to solve, or if you are perceived as ‘too negative.'”

Paul, a Frontier Communications employee in the mid-Atlantic region, echoes Jim’s concerns that managers don’t really appreciate hearing criticism. Paul is one of the many workers tasked with keeping Frontier’s website and e-commerce functions up and running. A former Verizon worker, Paul has been shocked by the ineptness of management that has resulted in some serious embarrassments at Frontier.

Frontier’s website is unique among significantly sized telecom companies because one cannot actually place an online order for service or even provide accurate speed and pricing information because the company gave up on trying to make sure those features were reliable. Paul reports managers were warned about the functionality problems but refused to listen.

“[They tell] employees to take ownership of issues, yet when we try to do that very thing we are overruled and our opinions are discounted at every turn,” writes Paul. “Prior to the very first rollout of [Frontier’s redesigned] website I informed [management] that the site had severe performance issues, but was told […] I needed to keep my opinions to myself and the vice president decided to launch the site anyway.”

As a result, Frontier’s website crashed and remained offline and/or disabled for a week, reports Paul.

Another satisfied customer in Texas?

Another satisfied customer in Texas?

Out of the blue “priorities” also suddenly arise that require workers to scramble, with less than excellent results. One day, managers told the software team there was an urgent need to launch Spanish language functionality for the website. But because of the rush, employees not well-versed in the language produced a Spanish-language website that has been derided by customers for its frequent use of “Spanglish” and lack of professionalism.

“They pushed Spanish language very hard and told us that it HAD to be in production before the April 1st cutover with Verizon because of the high frequency of Verizon customers that were used to this feature,” writes Paul. “Once we put it out there, every time there is an issue with Spanish on our site they tell us that it’s only one percent of traffic so they aren’t all the that concerned with it. Then when there is an issue with it they ask us why we didn’t test it. But they refused to give us the needed time to test it because they just wanted to push it out the door and move on to the next project.”

Paul also echoes what Sally in Florida is concerned about — a lack of integrity in Frontier’s marketing department.

“I have never worked for a more unethical company and I used to work for Verizon so that is saying something,” writes Paul. “[Frontier charges] customers for ‘Digital Phone Service,’ but it’s really just copper facilities. They call it “Digital” because it is working out of a digital switch. They change verbiage to make something sound better than what it really is. They say we have a 100% U.S.-based company but then hire IT folks overseas to do some of the work. They spend more money on sponsoring football teams than they do upgrading equipment and infrastructure.”

Cheapest Thing Verizon Wireless Employee Ever Sold: Your Private Customer Records

vzw-for-saleA Verizon Wireless employee is facing up to five years in prison for peddling customer phone records and location data to private investigators for as little at $50 a month.

The employee, Daniel Eugene Traeger, worked as a network technician for Verizon and agreed to supply a private investigator with private customer information for a pittance, making it perhaps the cheapest service ever offered with the Verizon Wireless name attached.

Traeger’s lawyer worked out a plea agreement with prosecutors that could substantially shorten his possible sentence for pleading guilty to a felony count prohibiting unauthorized access to a protected computer. The Consumerist obtained a copy of the plea agreement.

Traeger quickly adopted the Verizon Wireless way of doing business, substantially raising his snooping rate to as much as $750 a month by 2013.

In all, prosecutors claim he earned more than $10,000 selling customer data using network tools readily available to Verizon’s network technicians.

Comcast Getting Into the Wireless Mobile Business; Relies on Wi-Fi, Verizon Wireless

(Image courtesy: FCC.com)

(Image courtesy: FCC.com)

Comcast is getting into the wireless mobile business.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts made the surprise announcement at this morning’s Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference, telling attendees Comcast will offer service beginning in mid-2017.

Roberts added the service will depend heavily on Comcast’s installed base of 15 million Wi-Fi hotspots, mostly from cable modem/gateways already installed in customer homes. When away from a hotspot, Comcast’s cellular service will depend on Verizon Wireless.

The deal with Verizon Wireless was expected, because Comcast has maintained an agreement with Verizon since 2011 that allows both companies to sell each other’s services to consumers. The agreement allows Comcast to obtain service from Verizon Wireless at fixed wholesale prices.

That means Comcast can introduce its wireless service without having to build wireless infrastructure like cell towers.

“We believe there will be a big payback with reduced churn, more [customer] stickiness and better satisfaction,” Roberts said.

Comcast will continue the cable industry’s tradition of not directly competing with other cable operators and will not accept customers outside of an existing Comcast service area. Comcast will likely offer the service in a bundle with other services. This will result in a quad-play package for Comcast, bundling cable TV, internet, phone, and cellular service.

Roberts did not talk about pricing.

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  • John: Yes February late? was announced in August at a presser with the governor....
  • Joe V: Maybe the management at Consolidated will do a better job of delivering internet to customers than the people who were running Fairpoint under the dir...
  • Rob: With Time Warner issuing their "all-digital" notice to customers this week to all the Rochester, NY news outlets, does this mean we can expect the upg...
  • Ryan: Frontier needs to be sued for false advertising of fios. They ran commercials on TV and radio that fios is here but in reality its not. We wanted fios...
  • Jim Dudenhefer III: See previous. 5:21 AM Central Time. Kansas City, MO. Cell # 816-560-0537. Land Line # 816-523-2309....
  • Jim Dudenhefer III: I live with and assist my 88 year old mother and 92 year old father. Both don't drive. Dad's mind is going and Mom's getting very tired as the main ca...
  • Ty: well hey on top of all of this I am sure more cable companies will adopt data caps. WOW! (my current cable company that overbuilt TWC here and I left...
  • Kim: I am currently paying TWC $180 a month for tv, internet, and home phone. I recently tried calling to have my home phone removed, since both my daughte...
  • James R Curry: No guarantee at all. But, as there's no contract commitment, you can at least cancel if they gut the line-up....
  • Required: Much more expensive than Hulu or Netflix, doesn't let you time-shift (VOD) all the shows/movies,, and doesn't solve the local news/sports problem, rea...
  • JayS: Looks like the era of the CVNO (CableTv Virtual Network Operator) has arrived. MVNO's have been terrific for the Mobile-phone consumer. We now have nu...
  • Gregory Blajian: A quick analysis for my wife and my entertainment situation is below. Getting Starz and MLB Network plus the A&E and Viacom family of channels mig...

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