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Tennessee Electric Co-Op Threatens to Rip Comcast’s Wires Off Its Poles Next Week

If Comcast doesn’t send a check for $176,000 to cover the last three years of pole attachment fees owed to the Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation (STEMC), the electric co-op is prepared to rip Comcast’s lines right off its poles.

Comcast, under a license agreement with the utility, pays a small fee to the utility to place its infrastructure on its utility poles. Comcast has not paid since June 2014, and if the cable giant doesn’t send a check by June 28, STEMC will remove Comcast’s attachments from their poles, knocking out cable service for thousands of customers.

“We’ve been going back and forth with them for going on three years now trying to get payment out of them,” said STEMC chief financial officer Scott Sims.

A notice on STEMC’s website explains Comcast’s foot-dragging isn’t fair to the cooperative:

We regret that some customers may lose their Comcast service.  However, the full cost and maintenance of these utility poles are borne by all members of STEMC, and we cannot allow STEMC members to subsidize Comcast’s services.  We are hopeful that Comcast will make payment prior to the deadline and avoid the need to remove their cable attachments.

Many residents are taking the side of the utility, pointing out Comcast would have shut off their cable service long before Comcast’s three years of non-payment.

A Comcast representative told WREG-TV that STEMC started billing Comcast double what they used to, claiming to have discovered previously unbilled pole attachments. Comcast wanted evidence of these attachments from STEMC, despite the fact they were capable of counting their own cable subscribers in the area, and refused to make a payment until this information was provided. Comcast claims it finally got evidence this month.

“Since receiving that information, we have completed our own audit and are taking the appropriate next steps to arrange for payment in the correct amount,” Comcast said in a released statement. “We look forward to working with STEMC to resolve this issue quickly and ensure that our mutual customers’ services are not disrupted.”

Wall Street Hissyfit: Raise Broadband Prices to $90/Month Immediately! (Or Else)

If the average customer isn’t paying $90 a month for broadband service, they are paying too little and that needs to stop.

That is the view of persistent rate hike advocate Jonathan Chaplin, a Wall Street analyst with New Street Research, who has advocated for sweeping broadband rate increases for years.

“We have argued that broadband is underpriced, given that pricing has barely increased over the past decade while broadband utility has exploded,” Chaplin wrote in a note to investors. “Our analysis suggested a ‘utility-adjusted’ ARPU target of ~$90. Comcast recently increased standalone broadband to $90 with a modem, paving the way for faster ARPU growth as the mix shifts in favor of broadband-only households. Charter will likely follow, once they are through the integration of Time Warner Cable.”

Companies that fail to raise prices risk being downgraded by analysts with views like these, which can have a direct impact on a stock’s share price and the executive compensation and bonus packages that are often tied to the company’s performance.

But there is a dilemma and disagreement between some cable industry analysts about how much companies can charge their customers. Companies like Cable ONE have been aggressively raising broadband prices to unprecedented levels in some of the poorest communities in the country, which worries fellow Wall Street analyst Craig Moffett from MoffettNathanson LLC.

“Never mind that the per capita income in Cable ONE’s footprint is the lowest (by far) of the companies we [Moffett’s firm] cover, or that the percentage of customers living below the poverty line is the highest (also by far),” Moffett told his investor subscribers. “What matters is that there is very little competition in Cable ONE’s footprint. If you want high-speed broadband, where else are you going to go? The unspoken fear among their larger peers is that over-reliance on broadband pricing invites regulatory intervention, not just for Cable ONE, but for everyone.”

Chaplin thinks the risk from gouging broadband customers is next to zero. With cable TV becoming less profitable every day, all the big profits that can be made will be made from broadband, where cable operators often enjoy a monopoly on high-speed service.

According to Chaplin, if customers value internet access, they will pay the higher prices cable companies charge. So what are companies waiting for? Raise those prices!

Comcast’s Solutions for Being Loathed: We Changed Our Name, Made More Promises

Phillip Dampier June 21, 2017 Issues 2 Comments

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts understands the company he runs is less popular than an IRS tax audit, but he can always promise to do better later, as he always has done before.

Roberts sat for an interview on Bloomberg’s The David Rubenstein Show and was gently maneuvered into the uncomfortable position of explaining why almost every human being on Earth that has encountered Comcast was left worse from the experience.

“Television used to be free and now most Americans are paying a lot of money for it and every year it can get more expensive, and that is the sum total of sports and the cost of actors and the cost of many more channels, and high definition, and technical capabilities,” Roberts said. “And if we are passing all of those increases along that we’ve experienced, no one remembers that, so that’s partly why I think it’s an industry issue.”

But even Roberts didn’t accept his own supersized Whopper, and quickly added, “It’s not a good answer.”

But it is the answer Comcast has given its customers for years and embarrassment or not, Roberts seemed willing to accept what many Comcast subscribers realized years ago: Comcast customer service sucked before, still sucks, and probably always will suck as long as a profound lack of competition exists in the marketplace.

“There’s a culture I believe we have improved massively, but we have ways to go,” Roberts said. Yes, roughly comparable to the distance between your home and the sun.

Roberts has been the victim of Comcast’s foul-ups himself, but admitted when the cable company sends a repair crew to his house, it’s a different experience from what other Comcast customers probably get. Roberts called Comcast’s long learning curve a “virtuous cycle” of repair and improvement. They screwed up your first service call and commit to screwing up less on the second, assuming they show up.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts (left) talks with David Rubenstein on his Bloomberg TV show. (Image: Bloomberg)

Roberts seemed unfazed that Comcast could be so much more — more like customer-focused Apple or Amazon, yet it is not and shows absolutely no signs of attracting the kinds of fanboys (and girls) the big “A”-list companies attract. And why is that? Because Comcast treats customers like pickpockets treat an easy mark. As long as that continues, it’s better to change the subject.

Roberts believes “strengthening products,” not kindness to customers, is the ticket to being better-liked. At Comcast, being popular has always been a two steps-forward, three back kind of affair. The company is correct saying it is among the most aggressive in the United States for increasing broadband speeds for its customers. But then it slapped the usage caps on and charges highway robbery prices. Comcast is a pioneer offering state-of-the-art equipment like its X1 cable box, but charged early adopters a premium to get one. Comcast promotes the fact it was among the first to aggressively rollout the TV Everywhere project, letting customers watch online video on the go, and then bloated its on-demand offerings with relentless, unwatchable and repetitive advertising customers can’t escape.

As we told New York regulators when Comcast attempted to buy Time Warner Cable (before Charter got it), the unfortunate truth is that Comcast’s awful reputation precedes it. It didn’t earn “Most Hated Company in America” again this year by mistake.

Roberts needs to sit up and do a reality check. His company isn’t just unpopular, it’s a menace. Offshore call centers staffed by agents that don’t listen and don’t care, an arrogant executive style that would make President Trump blush, and a litany of good ideas gone bad because of corporate greed run wild.

Perhaps blinded by his massive executive compensation package and surrounded by out of touch yes-minions, Roberts just doesn’t seem to get why his “solutions” have done nothing to make Comcast anything less than despised by a lot of its customers. His proposed solutions underwhelm:

  1. “We changed the name of the company to Xfinity.” This was Roberts’ first go-to answer for making life better for customers. Too bad Enron and Wells Fargo didn’t think of that.
  2. “We came up with a product called X1 [that] took about 10 years in development.” Wow, 10 years to develop a new cable box. Think about other technology products you were using back in 2007 and what you are using today. Is Comcast a revolutionary force or a glacier moving at real-time speed.
  3. “We’re building a technology center here in Philadelphia.” Who is paying for that?
  4. “We’re trying to pivot the whole company to have a rapid deployment of new products that delight and surprise you all the time.” When is the last time you were “delighted” by Comcast?

When a multi-billion dollar cable company spends over a decade making commitments for sweeping improvements in customer service and still cannot deliver, the problem isn’t the employees. It’s the management, which has paid lip service to fixing the customer relationship damage it has inflicted for years.

Comcast’s problems are resolvable. Customers didn’t beg Google into their communities because of their dreamy search engine and creepy data mining for targeted online advertising. People saw a company willing to wire fiber to the home service offering gigabit speeds at a reasonable price with no data caps and they responded, “yes, please!” People don’t clamor for WOW! because the name is cool. That cable operator alternative offers faster speeds, better service, no data caps, and a cheaper rate and people responded. T-Mobile used to be derided as “ghetto cellular” because its coverage area outside of cities was awful, its stores were a joke, and its marketing alienated anyone over 30. Today, it has an entirely new reputation earned from delivering improved service, offering customers a better deal, and challenging the status quo.

Here are our ideas to help Comcast, because we couldn’t possibly do any worse than they have:

  1. Comcast is the country’s largest cable operator and could throw its weight around on someone other than customers. Challenge programmers to ditch contracts that bloat the cable lineup, don’t accept contracts that jack prices out of sight, and be willing to kick some networks off the lineup for good.
  2. Ask customers what cable packages they want and deliver.
  3. Dump usage caps. If Charter, Cablevision, and other cable operators can deliver cap-free internet, so can Comcast.
  4. Allow customers to purchase your gateways at a sensible price that is competitive with other cable modems on the market. Let them finance those purchases interest-free on their cable bill.
  5. Ditch the offshore customer call centers and bring those jobs home.
  6. Hire an outside company to redesign Comcast’s customer-facing employee manual and emphasize that employees must be empowered to satisfy customers no matter what it takes.

Unfortunately, so long as Comcast obsesses over its relationship with Wall Street while ignoring you, it is likely to continue alienating customers to meet short-term financial goals for shareholders. That means not spending a lot of money, charging customers more, and doing everything possible to protect a business model that takes full advantage of their duopoly market position.

Former FCC Commissioner: Ajit Pai & Co. Represent the Worst FCC Ever

Phillip Dampier June 20, 2017 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

Copps (Image: Peretz Partensky)

Former interim FCC chairman and commissioner Michael Copps has become so disillusioned with the agenda of the Trump Administration’s FCC, he’s ready to conclude its current leadership under Chairman Ajit Pai represents the worst FCC ever.

In an effort to erase the Obama Administration, President Trump has made it a priority to actively reverse the former administration’s policies. The FCC is no exception, and according to an article published by Moyers & Co., the Republican majority running the FCC these days are actively on board White House strategist Steve Bannon’s campaign to “deconstruct the administrative state.”

Author Michael Winship calls Pai an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump’s “doctrine of regulatory devastation,” and it appears Copps agrees as he comments on the current FCC agenda to dismantle set-top box competition, Net Neutrality, Lifeline internet service for the poor, restricting media consolidation, consumer’s privacy rights, and general oversight of the telecom industry.

Pai’s Garbage

“I think the April 26 speech that Ajit Pai gave at the Newseum, which was partially funded, I think, by conservative activist causes, was probably the worst speech I’ve ever heard a commissioner or a chairman of the FCC give,” Copps said. “It was replete with distorted history and a twisted interpretation of judicial decisions. And then, about two-thirds of the way through, it became intensely political and ideological, and he was spouting all this Ronald Reagan nonsense — if the government is big enough to do what you want, it’s big enough to take away everything you have, and all that garbage. It was awful. It’s maybe the worst FCC I’ve ever seen or read about.”

Today, Copps is special adviser for the Media and Democracy Reform Initiative at the nonpartisan grassroots organization Common Cause. He “just may be,” Bill Moyers once said, “the most knowledgeable fellow in Washington on how communications policy affects you and me.”

Ajit Pai at Newseum, Apr. 26, 2017 (Image: C-SPAN)

Under the Trump Administration, Copps believes we are watching a wholesale transfer of the most important tools in a democracy — real news, diversity of ideas, and access to an open internet into the hands of a handful of mega-corporations and special interests that have bankrolled the Republican party and the election of Donald Trump.

“This is not populism; this is a plutocracy,” Copps warned. “Trump has surrounded himself with millionaires and billionaires, plus some ideologues who believe in, basically, no government. And the Trump FCC already has been very successful in dismantling lots of things — not just the Net Neutrality that they’re after now, but privacy, and Lifeline, which is subsidized broadband for those who can’t afford it. And just all sorts of things up and down the line. The whole panoply of regulation and public interest oversight — if they could get rid of it all, they would; if they can, they will.”

In fact, Copps noted, there were several conservative advisers on Trump’s transition team that advocated abolishing the FCC outright, believing consolidated telecom companies and media empires can successfully regulate themselves.

“I don’t know if Donald Trump is good for the country. but he’s damn good for CBS.”

“[CBS CEO Les] Moonves said it best: ‘I don’t know if Donald Trump is good for the country. but he’s damn good for CBS,'” Copps said. “The election was just a glorified reality show and I do not think it was an aberration. Until we get that big picture straightened out and we get a civic dialogue that’s worthy of the American people and that actually advances citizens’ ability to practice the art of self-government — that informs citizens so they can cast intelligent votes and we stop making such damn-fool decisions — we’re in serious trouble.”

Copps complained the mainstream media isn’t even covering stories about digital democracy, instead preoccupied with 24/7 coverage of the circus in Washington, D.C.

“I don’t think right now that commercial media is going to fix itself or even that we can save it with any policy that’s likely in the near-term, so we have to start looking at other alternatives,” Copps advised. “We have to talk about public media — public media probably has to get its act together somewhat, too. It’s not everything that Lyndon Johnson had in mind back in 1967 [when the Public Broadcasting Act was signed], but it’s still the jewel of our media ecosystem. So I’m more worried than ever about the state of our media — not just fake news but the lack of real news.”

Exposing what is really going on in Washington these days requires reporting beyond the latest misstep or tweet from the president, says Copps. For him, it’s the pervasive influence of corporate cash that really matters.

“I think there is that right-wing, pro-business, invisible hand ideology, and then there’s just the unabashed and unprecedented and disgusting level of money in politics,” Copps said. “I don’t blame just the Republicans; the Democrats are just about as beholden to it, too.”

Pai is a True Believer

Copps believes Pai is a true believer of an ideology that regulations do more harm than good.

“He has this Weltanschauung [world view] or whatever you want to call it that is so out of step with modern politics and where we should be in the history of this country that it’s potentially extremely destructive,” Copps said. “And Michael O’Rielly, the other Republican commissioner, is about the same. He’s an ideologue, too.”

“The problem is that Republicans inside the Beltway are joined in lockstep opposition on almost all these issues, and the level of partisanship, lobbying, big money, and ideology have thus far been insurmountable obstacles,” said Copps. “But I believe if members of Congress spent more time at home, holding more town hall meetings, they would quickly learn that many, many of their constituents are on the pro-consumer, pro-citizen side of these issues.”

Copps is worried that prior mergers set precedents for even larger ones, and the ongoing consolidation of the media and telecom industry is only going to get worse under the Trump Administration.

“I don’t know how long you can let this go on. How long can you open the bazaar to all this consolidation, how much can you encourage all this commercialization, how much can you ignore public media until you get to the point of no return where you can’t really fix it anymore,” Copps asked. “And I also think that the national discourse on the future of the internet has really suffered while we play ping pong with Net Neutrality; one group comes in, does this, the other group, comes in and reverses it, boom, boom, boom. And Net Neutrality is not the salvation or the solution to all of the problems of the internet. As you know, it’s kind of the opening thing you have to have, it lays a foundation where we can build a truly open internet.”

“It’s all about the ideology, the world of big money, the access that the big guys have and continue to have,” Copps concluded. “It’s not that the FCC outright refuses to let public interest groups through the door or anything like that; it’s just the lack of resources citizens and public interest groups have compared to what the big guys have. The public interest groups don’t have much of a chance, but I think they’ve done a pretty good job given the lack of resources.”

What Should the Public Do?

“Figure out how you really make this a grass-roots effort — and not just people writing, in but people doing more than that,” Copps advised. “In July, we will have a day devoted to internet action, so stay tuned on that. In addition, as Bill Moyers says, ‘If you can sing, sing. If you can write a poem, write a poem.’ Different initiatives attract different audiences, so whatever you can do, do. John Oliver made a huge difference in getting us to Net Neutrality and now he’s helping again. If you went up to the Hill right after that first John Oliver show on Net Neutrality [in 2014], you saw immediately that it made a difference with the members and the staff. There’s no one silver bullet, no “do this” and it suddenly happens. You just have to do whatever you can do to get people excited and organized. It’s as simple as that.”

Charter Forced to Set Aside $13 Million for Failing to Meet Merger Commitments to New York State

The New York State Department of Public Service today announced it had reached a potential settlement with Charter Communications after the company failed to meet its rural broadband expansion obligation outlined in last year’s approval of its acquisition of Time Warner Cable.

“The [Public Service] Commission conditioned its approval of the merger on Charter’s agreement to undertake several types of investments and other activities,” said Department interim CEO Gregg C. Sayre. “While Charter is delivering on many of them, it failed to expand the reach of its network to un-served and under-served communities and commercial customers in the time allotted.”

While Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks won rubber-stamp approval in almost every state where it operates, New York regulators required the merger to directly benefit the state’s consumers. The company must upgrade customers to 100Mbps service by the end of 2018 and offer at least 300Mbps statewide by the end of 2019. But it must also expand its cable network to reach 145,000 unserved and underserved homes and businesses within the next four years. The merger approval agreement set a schedule to begin network expansion as quickly as possible.

Charter failed to achieve its obligations, only reaching 15,164 of the 36,250 customers it was required to reach one year after the merger deal was approved.

As a result, regulators have penalized Charter, requiring it to pay an extra $1 million in grants for computer equipment and internet access targeting low-income New York residents and set aside $12 million in escrow as a security pledge to meet all of its network expansion commitments going forward. The company now agrees it will complete its build out obligation in six increments of 21,646 customers through May 18, 2020. Charter will forfeit a portion of the $12 million each time it misses a deadline. The amount lost will depend on the percentage of the target missed and whether the company demonstrates it has completed necessary tasks to expand service. If the company manages to meet its deadlines going forward, it has the right to earn back some or all of its security pledge.

Charter has also agreed to develop a communications plan within 60 days of the settlement’s execution to inform New Yorkers whether they are part of the build-out plan.

The settlement offer will issued for public comment, and will require final Commission approval to take effect.

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Recent Comments:

  • Josh: Ugh. If I used Comcast for TV I'd be using it with my TiVo...never with their box. And I always figured the "Xfinity" thing was just to trick people...
  • Josh: LOL! Sounds like basically "we're a huge corporation, so you should do this for us for free". At least hopefully they'll pay now... Of course this ...
  • FredH: Like cable company CEOs need to be told to raise prices by some a-hole Wall Street analyst....
  • Roger W: Go ahead. Raise it to $90. I dare you. I guarantee you it will be the last day I subscribe to cable service. That'll be your loss....
  • FredH: Charter/Spectrum is rapidly catching Comcast in the "race to the bottom"....
  • Phillip Dampier: Yeah, because Charter is hurting so much it cannot afford to extend service itself so it wants welfare to do it. Keep in mind most techs have no clue...
  • Matthew H Mosher: Guaranteed. "BROADBAND FOR ALL (that matter)"...
  • Matthew H Mosher: I spoke with a Time Warner/Spectrum tech today, a very nice guy by the way. (Some background - I am the only house on my road without cable) I had s...
  • Matthew H Mosher: Give me a minute while I pick my jaw up off the floor....
  • JayS: Another of the Mentally Indigent self-identifies by spouting-off all of the tiresome Looney-Tunes, the sky-is-falling, end of the world, " the worst...
  • FredH: $13 Million is chump change - and they're not even being fined that amount (only $1M so far) - $12M is a "set-aside" in case they don't meet their fut...
  • Paul Houle: A Sprint/T-Mobile merger makes no sense to me. Sprint uses CDMA technology (like Verizon) and T-Mobil uses GSM technology (like AT&T) for voice. ...

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