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Bless Their Hearts: Frontier Fiddles While Rome, Ga. is Stuck in the Slow Lane

Phillip Dampier November 23, 2016 Editorial & Site News, Frontier, Video 1 Comment

Next time you are on hold or waiting for the service technician to show up to diagnose your interminably slow DSL, here is what the folks at Frontier might be doing instead of taking your call or delivering anything close to the FCC’s 25Mbps standard to qualify as real broadband.

OMG. I just can’t even describe this. From the folks at Frontier Communications Exposed. (4:37)

Let This New Bot Negotiate With Online Chat Reps for a Lower Comcast Bill

Phillip Dampier November 16, 2016 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Video 1 Comment

trimIf you’re tired of robotic responses from Comcast’s customer service department, Trim has introduced a great new way to retaliate with a free automated bot tool to deal with Comcast while you do something else.

The Chrome browser extension interacts with Comcast’s online chat support to negotiate a lower bill for you when your internet service slows to a crawl, there is a service outage, or if you just need a better deal.

“Our bot is best for checking for discounts and seeing if you can get a customer service credit,” Thomas Smyth, co-founder & CEO of Trim tells Stop the Cap!

That means if you have a long story to share about how Comcast botched your install or their usage meter cannot possibly have measured 30GB of usage while you were on that Caribbean cruise, it is still better to tell the story yourself (or take your complaint straight to the FCC). But when you suffer a multi-hour outage or think you’re paying too much for service and dread the thought of talking to some customer service representative in the Philippines, you can give Trim a try.

Smyth says an average interaction with the Trim bot gets customers an average $10 service credit, perhaps if only to get you (or the bot) off their backs.

Considering how much customers loathe the thought of dealing with Comcast’s customer service, one wonders how we survived without it.

“We couldn’t believe that in a world of email and chatbots, you still had to pick up the phone and call Comcast in order to lower your bill,” Smyth says.

Tackling the biggest of the bully boys appears to be the reason Comcast is getting the bot treatment first, but there are plenty more where they come from.

“We’d love to expand to other cable/phone companies soon,” Smyth tells us. “User-supervised chatbots are the future of customer service.”

And why not, considering how many offshore online agents already rely on cut and paste responses to customer inquiries. Turnabout is fair play.

Comcast, meet the Trim Bot, the latest way to get service credits and a lower bill without actually having to do much of anything. (30 seconds)

AT&T-Time Warner Deal Could Hinge on Data Usage Caps/Zero Rating

AT&T’s rivals are likely to cry foul over the company’s practice of “zero rating,” in which it exempts its own video services from data-cap usage. The Wall Street Journal’s Shalini Ramachandran explains how this could impact the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger. (2:44)

AT&T Launching 100+ Channel Cable-TV Streaming Alternative: DirecTV Now ($35/Mo)

att directvAT&T will launch its anticipated DirecTV Now all-streaming cable television alternative next month at an unprecedented price of $35 a month for more than 100 channels, viewable for free without counting against your AT&T smartphone or tablet usage allowance.

Targeting cord-cutters, the new service will not require a satellite dish or expensive equipment — just a reasonably fast internet connection.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson used the announcement at a Wall Street Journal-sponsored event to claim the new service was an example of how AT&T won’t increase prices as a result of its proposed merger with Time Warner, Inc.

“That’s not a medium for raising prices,” Stephenson said, referring to AT&T’s new service. “Anybody who characterizes this as a means to raise prices is ignoring the basic premise of what we’re trying to do here.”

AT&T and Time Warner’s respective CEOs appeared together at the event as part of a week-long press blitz to promote their $85.4 billion merger deal, which is getting considerable blowback from politicians, consumer groups, and Wall Street.

Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes claim they are re-inventing the cable television business model and forcing innovation.

“If there was ever an environment that was begging for innovation, it was this environment,” Stephenson said. Bewkes added: “We would say and we’ve been saying it since 1995, every channel in the country should look like HBO or Netflix—there’s no reason we can’t.”

AT&T defends its $35 price point, which is half the price many cable companies charge for cable television, claiming it can afford to charge those prices by doing away with service calls, equipment, satellites, and infrastructure that traditional cable operators have to cover. DirecTV Now will rely on smartphone and desktop apps, and presumably third-party set-top boxes like Roku and Apple TV to provide its lineup.

AT&T hasn’t announced an official channel list for the service, but AT&T has been in serious negotiations with most of the major content conglomerates, so the lineup is likely to cover all the major cable networks, presumably local stations, and include an on-demand library. Customers may not get some of the secondary cable networks most cable systems bury on three or four digit channel numbers in Channel Siberia, but few viewers are expected to miss channels that attract fewer than 50,000 viewers nationwide.

Stephenson promised that future programming cost increases would be offset by developing “new ad models” that will cover most of the price increases.

One impediment to AT&T and Time Warner’s grand plan is the pervasive issue of data caps and usage-based billing, which could prove a lethal deterrent to customers ditching traditional cable TV in favor of online alternatives. AT&T itself imposes data caps on its DSL service, and has an unenforced cap on U-verse. Comcast continues to charge overlimit fees for customers exceeding 1TB of usage per month and smaller cable operators often include even smaller usage allowances.

Customers are highly skeptical of DirecTV Now because AT&T is involved. David Hill shared his prediction:

Undoubtedly you will get a $35 rate… for 6 months.  Then because you have been a good, paying customer, they will raise it to $75 a month.  But of course, new customers, can still get the $35 deal plus a $400 Amazon gift card.

When you call customer support (if you can actually get through to a living person) and ask for the same $35 rate the new guys get, why you will be told that you cannot get that rate because, well, you already ARE a customer.  So eat dirt.

Then when you work your way via the endless menu items to cancel the service about 2 weeks later and for years after you will be flooded with endless postcards and letters BEGGING you to come back.  You were a GREAT customer and WE want YOU BACK.  Right now!

Is this a stupid marketing policy or not?  In my MBA classes we were somehow mislead into believing exiting customers were your top A, number one priority.  Yet these internet companies cannot be bothered with keeping you.  Jerks, plain and simple.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the company’s deal with Time Warner will result in a new TV service that will offer more than 100 premium channels for $35 per month. He sat down with Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes and WSJ’s Rebecca Blumenstein at the WSJDLive conference in Laguna Beach, Calif. (5:05)

Watching HDTV Over-the-Air? Your TV Set Will Be Obsolete Sooner Than You Think

atsc-3-0If you cut the cord and are watching all of your HD programming over-the-air, we have some bad news. Your current television set will soon be obsolete.

TV stations across the country are making plans to switch to the next generation of digital television — ATSC 3.0, and it isn’t compatible with millions of television sets and adapter boxes still in daily use across the United States.

The other night I talked with a station engineer who reminded me that consumers are going to have a nasty surprise when local stations start disappearing from existing sets starting a few years from now. Consumer electronics stores will continue to slash prices to clear current television inventory without telling buyers they will eventually need an adapter or rely on cable or satellite television to keep that set working after ATSC 3.0 is fully implemented.

Broadcasters have already started to budget for replacement equipment, necessary to support the new standard. For them, it opens the door to significant new revenue streams and a better quality TV picture. For you, it could mean a bill for a new set, an adapter, or a paid subscription to keep your favorite shows.

At present, over-the-air digital stations in the United States use ATSC 1.0, developed more than 20 years ago. Despite the standard, it took until February 2009 for most television stations to discontinue their analog television broadcasts. To ease the transition, Congress mandated a DTV Converter Box Coupon Program, which subsidized the cost of digital adapters for every household in the country still using an analog-only television set. No such luck this time around. Consumers relying on over-the-air broadcasts will either have to replace their current sets or purchase adapters or dongles out-of-pocket to keep watching.

atsc-glueTo avoid a firestorm from the public, some station owners are thinking about a stop-gap measure that would launch a “digital bouquet” of participating local stations using lower bit rate Standard Definition on a single legacy ATSC 1.0 transmitter for at least a year or two until consumers upgrade their existing equipment. Then, one by one, existing HD stations would switch to ATSC 3.0 and effectively disappear from the dial of sets made before 2016. The good news is you would still have access to free television. The bad news is the picture will be significantly degraded.

Television stations are highly motivated to push for ATSC 3.0 as quickly as possible because it allows them to further monetize the spectrum the FCC allows them to use for free. For the first time, local stations will also be able to charge consumers directly to access broadcast television channels on portable devices like tablets and smartphones. ATSC 3.0 is based on Internet Protocol, allowing stations to blend broadcast and internet content. One of the unique changes ATSC 3.0 will allow is geographical or viewer-targeted commercials. A viewer in the suburbs could theoretically get a different commercial than another living in the city while watching the same station.

Television shows, transmitted in much higher-quality 4K, will also be accompanied by improved high quality audio and will integrate with online content that will run along with the show a viewer is watching. Theoretically, a viewer can lose over the air reception and have their internet connection seamlessly continue to stream the station in fringe reception areas. But viewers will likely be charged for that privilege.

ATSC 3.0 is also considerably more efficient than the current standard, which allows stations to add more digital sub-channels to their lineup, and deliver them in higher quality. That is a very important consideration as the FCC auctions away much of the current UHF television dial to mobile phone companies looking for boost wireless data capacity. ATSC 3.0 likely won’t be on the scene in a major way until after the FCC repacks current UHF stations closer together on the reduced number of UHF channels still left.

Some stations are expected to lease sub-channel space to third parties, which could start another avalanche of religious and home shopping channels, which often pay for coverage. If you have an Ion TV affiliate in your area, you already have an idea of what that looks like. In addition to a primary Ion TV channel, the broadcaster multiplexes 6 sub-channels – Qubo, Ion Life, The Worship Network, Ion Shop, QVC, and Home Shopping Network.

Currently, many major commercial stations support one or two sub-channels, often used for networks like Bounce, Antenna TV, MeTV, local weather and news, and shopping. But with an abundance of extra bandwidth, stations could add ethnic channels, time-shifted network shows, and a plethora of additional channels. That’s good news for cord-cutters looking for more over-the-air entertainment, but it will require an investment in a new set or an adapter to participate.

An introduction to ATSC 3.0 produced by the committee working on the standard. It doesn’t mention you will need a new television or adapter to watch. (3:15)

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