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Verizon Suspends Planned $10 Extra Charge for 5G Service

Verizon Communications has indefinitely suspended plans to charge customers an extra $10 a month for access to Verizon’s extremely spotty and uneven 5G service, which launched earlier this month in Chicago and Minneapolis.

Early adopters were told Verizon would waive the extra $10 fee for the first three months of service. But after receiving mixed reviews about Verizon’s 5G performance and very limited coverage area after launch, Verizon decided to withdraw the charge until further notice.

“This is some of the blowback you get from being first” in offering smartphone 5G service, John Hodulik, an analyst at UBS Group AG, told the Wall Street Journal. “It didn’t make sense to charge people extra money for a service that they’re rarely going to use.”

AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson sent signals to shareholders AT&T was also considering charging a premium rate for customers upgrading to 5G technology in the next two or three years.

Charter Spectrum Finally Shows $11.99 “Broadcast TV Fee” in Price Estimates for Service

For the last several years, cable subscribers have lamented that the advertised price of service falls short of the real “out-the-door” cost shown on one’s monthly bill.

Charter Spectrum is one of the worst offenders, having avoided to mention in its advertising the spiraling-upwards “Broadcast TV Fee,” applied without exception to cable television customers’ bills.

The “Broadcast TV Fee,” (recently increased to $11.99 a month) is compulsory for cable TV customers and subject to change, regardless if you have a “rate guarantee” with Spectrum or not. The fee is the same for new and old customers, regardless of any promotion, and it has not been well-disclosed in Spectrum’s print and online advertising. Only customers subscribing to one of Spectrum’s new streaming TV packages will get a break. One of Spectrum’s most advertised stream-only packages applies a $5/mo Broadcast TV Fee, less than half of what Spectrum charges traditional cable TV customers for the same local stations.

As of this month, Spectrum.com now includes the fee on its price quote system for customers looking for an estimated cost of service. It adds enough to put the monthly cost of cable TV above $60 for new customers (including the rental cost of one, now-mandatory, HD-set top box), despite the fact Spectrum advertises a rate of $44.99/mo for the first year of service. This reality might further aggravate cord-cutting or “cable-TV nevers” from considering bundling television service with Spectrum.

For its part, Spectrum explains the fee represents “a fee by the owners of local broadcast ‘network-affiliated’ TV stations (affiliates of CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and so on). This fee enables Spectrum to continue to offer these channels for our customers.”

But in fact, it is just another cost of doing business. Cable programmers also charge similar fees, and some — notably ESPN — charge more than many local stations do for cable carriage. Cable operators are trying to make a political statement about the high cost of cable carriage of local TV stations that viewers can watch for free over-the-air. But they are also trying to hide the true cost of cable television, sensitive to the fact many customers are reaching their limit on bloated TV packages of hundreds of expensive channels that mostly go unwatched. Sticker shock can only worsen cord-cutting and cause more to rule out new subscriptions to cable television, especially as cable operators continue to raise the price of broadband internet service at the same time.

Philo Moving to One-Size-Fits-All $20 Package Effective May 6

Phillip Dampier April 24, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Philo TV No Comments

Philo is the latest streaming alternative to cable television consolidating its package offerings, ditching a 45-channel skinny bundle sold for $16 in favor of a single 58 channel package Philo will continue to sell for $20 a month.

Until May 6, customers can still subscribe and keep the ultra-slim $16 package, which includes:

Philo’s Discontinued 45 Channel Package $16/mo (still available for sign-up until 5/6/2019)

  • A&E
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • AXS TV
  • BBC America
  • BBC World News
  • BET
  • Cheddar
  • Cheddar Big News
  • Cleo
  • CMT
  • Comedy Central
  • Discovery Channel
  • DIY Network
  • Food Network
  • FYI
  • Game Show Network
  • Hallmark Channel
  • Hallmark Drama
  • Hallmark Movies & Mysteries
  • HGTV
  • History
  • IFC
  • Investigation Discovery
  • Lifetime
  • Lifetime Movies
  • MotorTrend
  • MTV
  • MTV Classic
  • MTV2
  • Nick Jr.
  • Nickelodeon
  • Oprah Winfrey Network
  • Paramount Network
  • PeopleTV
  • Science Channel
  • Sundance TV
  • Tastemade
  • TeenNick
  • TLC
  • Travel Channel
  • TV Land
  • VH1
  • Viceland
  • WE tv

Philo’s 58 Channel Package $20/mo (only package available to new customers starting 5/6/2019)

  • All networks included in the 45 channel package, plus…
  • American Heroes Channel
  • Aspire
  • BET Her
  • Cooking Channel
  • Destination America
  • Discovery Family
  • Discovery Life
  • Law & Crime Trial Network
  • Logo
  • MTV Live
  • Nick Toons
  • Revolt
  • UP TV

Philo CEO Andrew McCollum explained the changes:

“Starting May 6, we will move to only offering our $20 package — the 58 channel package — to new subscribers. For those who are already subscribed and anyone who subscribes before that date, nothing will change — you’ll continue to have the same package and same price options you have today.

At Philo, we care deeply about creating the best TV experience possible at an affordable price. Since we launched 18 months ago, most of the other companies in our space have raised their prices, in some cases multiple times. We didn’t want to do that. Still, when we looked at all of the costs of operating Philo — which increase over time — consolidating into a single $20 package was the best way for us to maintain the same offering we have today without raising prices or having to cut back in places we strive to excel, like our customer support.

Again, nothing is changing for anyone who has already subscribed by May 6 — you’ll keep the package you have and will continue to be able to switch between our two existing packages.”

McCollum also shed light on why services like Philo are moving away from a-la-carte or “theme pack” business models:

“There are a bunch of complicating factors, though. It’s tricky to do with the major network groups because the deals don’t generally allow it. There’s also an issue with making things more complicated.

Canada generally has something like this model (along with a mandated a la carte channel model, but nobody does it), and it’s actually super overwhelming. Some providers have 80+ different packages, and it’s impossible to just figure how to get what you want.

In general, I think choice is good, but I also think that bundling is good when the bundles make sense and are focused. The big issue is keeping things that some people want a lot, and that cost a lot, but other people don’t care about (e.g., sports) from driving up the cost for everyone. Trust me when I say that even if we could break things up more, the economics would probably net out where most people pay about the same but get fewer channels.

We are actually looking at making more content available through add-ons. I think it makes sense in a lot of cases, especially for premium/niche content.

It’s actually super overwhelming. Some providers have 80+ different packages, and it’s impossible to just figure how to get what you want.”

Verizon’s Rush to Mobile 5G Was Mostly About Bragging Rights and Beating South Korea

Verizon’s not-quite-ready-for-prime-time mobile 5G network hurriedly held a public launch event April 3rd using a small network of 5G millimeter wave small cells installed in downtown Chicago and Minneapolis, despite employee admissions there were significant issues with the network’s reliability, coverage, and stability.

Driving Verizon was a chance to win bragging rights by claiming ownership of the world’s first, publicly available, mobile 5G network. In a company-produced video intended for employees, it quickly becomes apparent Verizon was preoccupied by South Korea’s own race to launch mobile 5G, and daily meetings at Verizon’s offices in New Jersey hinted at pressure to announce Verizon’s own 5G launch day as soon as possible.

It was also clearly a priority for Verizon’s new CEO, Hans Vestberg.

“Since I came into Verizon, this is the first thing I wanted to do,” Vestberg said. “I want to be first on 5G in the world.”

But was the network ready for launch and fit for purpose? As of April 1, there were still coverage, latency, and speed issues. Garima Garg, from Verizon’s Network Performance, said the 5G network was “very unstable” early in the first week of April. Attempts to test every smart cell in Chicago were unsuccessful. Garg said the team couldn’t connect to several of them.

Besides beating South Korea, Verizon’s goal was to launch 5G with speeds better than its 4G LTE network and AT&T’s enhanced 4G LTE service it calls “5Ge.” To test network performance, Verizon employees ran countless speed tests, often just across the street from light pole-mounted smart cells around 100 feet away. Just a day or so from launch, Verizon testers were still trying to address network problems, including packet loss and delayed acknowledgments on the TCP side of the uplink, which ‘really hurt speed.’ Verizon claims it resolved some of these problems in the final hours before launch with a custom software build.

Verizon’s efforts almost came to naught, because SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest wireless operator, suddenly surprised the public with a star-studded “5G Launching Showcase” the morning of the 3rd. SK Telecom technically beat Verizon’s attempt to be first to launch, but Verizon pointed out only a handful of celebrities, social media influencers and so-called “brand promoters” were given smartphones capable of connecting to SK Telecom’s 5G network. Verizon’s spin was that South Korea’s launch was effectively a publicity stunt, as no consumer could walk into a store and buy 5G capable devices on that date. Verizon’s launch, however, would be different. Any customer could immediately walk into a Verizon store in the two launch cities and walk out with a smartphone capable of connecting to 5G on the first day the network was switched on. Just in case SK Telecom had any other surprises planned, Verizon decided to move up its official launch date.

Garg (Image courtesy of: Verizon)

On the morning of April 3, Vestberg appeared in a friendly and exclusive CNBC interview announcing the launch of Verizon’s 5G mobile network. By the following day, tech reporters in Chicago gave the network its first thorough test, and found many of the same issues that had concerned Verizon engineers earlier that week. Not only was Verizon’s 5G service area miniscule, several small cells appeared not to be working at all (or at least were not available for connections), and after a day using Verizon’s 5G network, the service was deemed “unreliable” by PC.

Reporters used Moto Z3 phones with the new 5G Moto Mod back panel, which snaps on the back of the phone and delivers 5G connectivity to the Z3. The Mod concept is neither an elegant or inexpensive solution, turning the Z3 into a bulky and heavy handset. The Moto Mod also has its own battery, and not a high-capacity one at that. Testers reported it was dead after five hours of significant use. It cannot be recharged by the phone either. At some locations, reporters were able to verify Verizon’s 5G network did deliver a significant improvement in speed — up to 600 Mbps peaks on small cells that likely had few, if any other customers connected at the time. But the densest parts of Chicago’s downtown were already well-served by Verizon’s 4G LTE network, which capably peaked at 400 Mbps.

Verizon’s mobile 5G network relies on millimeter wave frequencies, which are very short-range and sensitive to solid objects, which can block or degrade the signal. Despite Verizon’s earlier claim that it saw better than anticipated range and performance from the company’s millimeter wave fixed wireless service running in a few other cities, real world testing showed the effective range of Verizon’s smart cells was less than expected for mobile users. Verizon claimed up to 800 feet of range from each 5G small cell, but testing found that claim wildly optimistic.

“I saw more like 300 feet of effective range, with speeds dropping below LTE levels beyond that, even though my 5G indicator would dutifully flicker on until about 450 feet,” reported PC’s
Sascha Segan. “The Mod seems unable to judge when a 4G connection would be better than a 5G one, so it hangs on to 5G for dear life even if it’s just eking out a few megabits. A phone should probably prefer a good lower-gen connection over a poor higher-gen one.”

Real world testing also revealed the expected shortcomings of mobile 5G — it can be downright terrible indoors.

“Stand under the cell site, you get 600 Mbps down. Go into the Starbucks, through glass, and that’s cut to 218 Mbps,” Segan wrote. “Go around the corner and duck into the lobby of a stone building that doesn’t face onto the site, and you’re down to 41.5 Mbps. Lower frequency bands do not have this behavior.”

Of course, it is early days for Verizon’s 5G and network and software improvements are likely to significantly improve service. But Verizon’s experience strengthens the theory that small cells are likely to thrive only in dense population areas where there is already a high traffic demand. It seems unlikely that Verizon’s 5G network will make economic sense to deploy in outer suburbs and rural areas. It may not even play well in the suburbs.

Verizon produced this video covering the challenges launching their mobile 5G network in Chicago and Minneapolis in early April. (12:34)

Stop the Cap! Analysis: Charter Spectrum and New York State Reach Tentative Deal

Charter Communications and the New York Department of Public Service announced a tentative settlement Friday that would allow Spectrum to continue providing cable TV, phone, and internet service in New York in return for a renewed commitment from the cable company to meet its 145,000 new passings rural broadband buildout agreement, commit to an expansion of that rural buildout, and in lieu of fines, pay $12 million in funds deposited in two escrow accounts to be used to help defray the costs of further broadband service extensions apart from Charter’s original commitments.

“Today the New York Department of Public Service jointly filed a proposed agreement with Charter Communications to resolve disputes over the network expansion conditions imposed by the Public Service Commission,” said Department of Public Service CEO John B. Rhodes in a statement issued Friday. “This proposed agreement will now be issued for a 60-day public comment period and remains subject to review and final action by the Public Service Commission.”

The agreement reinforces the state’s desire that Charter’s broadband expansion commitment be met by expanding service to homes and businesses in areas unlikely to get cable service otherwise, namely areas in Upstate New York. The state originally objected when Charter tried to count new passings in the highly populated New York City area as part of its expansion commitment. The new agreement requires the 145,000 homes and businesses newly passed be entirely Upstate, and completed no later than Sept. 30, 2021.

Only 64,827 new passings have been recognized by both parties as “completed” as of December, 2018

The proposed settlement gives insight into just how badly Charter failed to meet its original broadband expansion commitments, noting “Charter shall be deemed successfully to have completed 64,827 passings qualifying towards the Total Passings requirements of the Settlement Agreement and the 2019 Settlement Order, as of December 16, 2018.”

Charter’s record of failure on its rural expansion commitment is stark.

The original 2016 Merger Order required Charter to expand service to:

  • 36,250 premises by May 18, 2017
  • 72,500 by May 18, 2018
  • 108,750 by May 18, 2019
  • 145,000 by May 18, 2020

Charter did not even come close. Department Interim CEO Gregg C. Sayre said in 2017 that as of May 18 of that year, Charter had only extended its network to pass 15,164 of the 36,250 premises it was required to pass in just the first year after the merger.

In June 2017, New York fined Charter and required a $13 million ($12 million refundable to Charter if it complied) deposit be placed in escrow in an effort to get the company to comply with its buildout commitments. But Charter also failed to meet its commitments under that settlement as well:

  • 36,771 premises by Feb. 16, 2017
  • 58,417 by June 18, 2018
  • 80,063 by Dec. 16, 2018
  • 101,708 by May 18, 2019
  • 123,354 by Nov. 16, 2019
  • 145,000 by May 18, 2020

With just shy of 65,000 premises recognized as completed as of December, 2018 — almost three years after the merger — Charter was 15,236 premises short, based on the December 16, 2018 deadline. Within a few weeks from today, the company should have completed its 101,708th new passing. That seems extremely unlikely to actually happen.

Charter itself claimed in July, 2018, “Spectrum has extended the reach of our advanced broadband network to more than 86,000 New York homes and businesses since our merger agreement with the PSC.” That number is also suspect.

The company did not say if the expansion numbers it reported met the terms of the 2016 Merger Order, but Charter obviously thought those should be counted as legitimate new passings for the purpose of meeting its merger obligations. New York regulators clearly thought many of those expansions did not, and were infuriated when Charter began airing advertisements promoting its rural expansion in New York with what the state believed to be inflated numbers.

The Settlement

A review of the proposed legal settlement shows the Commission accepted many of the recommendations made by Stop the Cap! regarding the terms of any deal that would rescind last summer’s order revoking approval for the merger of Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications in New York State. We recommended the settlement focus on requiring an even greater expansion of rural broadband than originally envisioned, particularly in areas the state designated for HughesNet satellite internet access. We also recommended that any monetary fines be directed to further expansion of rural broadband, instead of being sent on to Albany to be added to the state’s general fund.

We noted that although Charter flagrantly violated the terms of the 2016 Merger Order, successfully removing the company from New York would likely result in years of litigation, and the likely entry of Comcast, which in our view is anti-consumer, and a much worse choice in terms of pricing and the quality of customer service. Comcast also imposes data caps in many of its service areas, a concept which Stop the Cap! obviously fiercely opposes. In our view, given a choice between Charter and Comcast, which would be the highly likely outcome, New York consumers would benefit (slightly) by keeping Spectrum service.

The terms

Reach 145,000 unserved/underserved New Yorkers with at least 100 Mbps internet access

  • Charter is recommitted to expand rural internet service to 145,000 New Yorkers qualified as unserved (download speeds less than 25 Mbps available) or underserved (download speeds of 25-99.9 Mbps) entirely within Upstate New York.

Schoharie, NY

To ensure Charter does not simply choose “low-hanging fruit” to wire, such as new housing starts or urban business parks, the agreement limits Charter expansions to no more than 9,500 addresses in the urban and suburban areas adjacent to Albany, Buffalo, Mt. Vernon, Rochester, Schenectady, and Syracuse.

Additionally, Charter is restricted from expanding service to no more than 9,400 addresses that are scheduled to get (or already have) access to another wired provider because of a grant from the New NY Broadband Program.

But Charter is allowed to expand service to reach not more than 30,000 customers stuck on New York’s list of addresses designated to get HughesNet satellite internet. Stop the Cap! strongly recommended the Commission do all it can to require or encourage Charter to reach as many satellite-designated New Yorkers as economically feasible. The proposed agreement takes our recommendation into account, but we will urge the Commission to strike the 30,000 cap and allow Charter to reach as many of these disadvantaged customers as possible, and have it count towards their broadband expansion commitment. Those addresses designated to receive satellite service are the least likely to be reached by any commercial provider because of the costs to reach them, and they are too scattered across the state to make a public broadband alternative feasible.

Charter gets to include some ‘already-in-progress new passings’ towards its 145,000 new passings commitment: 5,993 passings located within Upstate Cities Charter would likely have serviced anyway; 4,388 wired overlap passings (where an existing telco or cable provider already offers service), and 9,397 addresses where wireless or satellite service was the only option.

A new “milestones” schedule is included for new buildouts, which partly explains why so many rural New Yorkers expecting to receive service by now are complaining about delays:

  • 76,521 new premises by Sept. 30, 2019
  • 87,934 by Jan. 31, 2020
  • 99,347 by May 31, 2020
  • 110,760 by Sept. 30, 2020
  • 122,173 by Jan. 31, 2021
  • 133,586 by May 31, 2021
  • 145,000 by Sept. 30, 2021

If Charter again fails to stay on schedule, it must pay $2,800 for each designated-as-missed passing address into an escrow fund. If it chooses not to appeal that decision, or loses an appeal, those funds will be added to an Incremental Build Commitment fund described below.

Rural Broadband Expansion Fund #1 ($6 million) — Incremental Build Commitment

The first rural broadband expansion fund will contain $6 million dollars that Charter will pay into escrow and will be dedicated to defray Charter’s costs of constructing additional broadband passings above and beyond the 145,000 noted above. Charter itself or the state can designate the unserved addresses either want serviced, and Charter will be permitted to withdraw funds to pay for materials, construction, labor, licensing, and any permits required for these incremental expansion efforts. This money will be reserved for Charter to use for its own projects.

Rural Broadband Expansion Fund #2 ($6 million) — Incremental Broadband Fund

Although New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised broadband service for any New Yorker that wants it, his New NY Broadband Program left more than 80,000 New York homes and businesses behind because the program relied on private companies to bid to serve each unserved/underserved New York address. In especially rural areas, no company ultimately bid to reach those addresses because the subsidy funding offered by the state was too little to make the expansion investment worthwhile. In the end, those addresses were designated to be served by HughesNet, a satellite internet service provider. But HughesNet cannot guarantee its internet speeds, has draconian usage caps, and is very expensive. Customer satisfaction scores are also generally poor. For most, a wired internet solution is far preferable. To get one, New York would need to launch a new round of broadband funding, with a more generous subsidy to make construction costs to reach those unserved customers financially worthwhile.

The second $6 million rural expansion fund is more or less exactly that — an additional source of funds to try to reach those missed by earlier funding rounds. Most of the money in this fund would be awarded after a bidding process starting on or after Sept. 30, 2021. Any provider capable of offering customers at least 100 Mbps service will be qualified to participate in the first round of bidding to receive a portion of this money. The areas under consideration would be in existing Charter franchise areas or outside of a Charter-franchised area if both Charter and New York’s Broadband Program Office (BPO) agree. In most cases, for reasons of simplicity, we expect most this money will end up financing expansion projects just outside of Charter’s existing service area. So if you happened to live within a mile or two of an existing Charter customer, this money could be used by Charter to extend its network in your direction. Charter also enjoys the right of first refusal, an important advantage for the cable company. Charter could agree to service a designated address before it becomes open to a competitive bidding process.

The terms are generous to providers, who only have to agree to pay 20% of their own money to submit a cost-sharing bid. The fund would cover the remaining 80%, which would be particularly useful where the cost to extend a fiber connection to a rural neighborhood or development would run into the tens of thousands of dollars. The downside is that $6 million will not go very far in these high cost areas, where a single project could easily exhaust $50,000-100,000 just to reach a handful of homes and businesses. Assuming there are any funds left, the BPO will entertain bids in later rounds from wireless providers delivering at least 25 Mbps service, assuming no wired provider submits a bid. But it is just as likely the funds will be long gone before that happens. The state needs to choose the wording of its terms carefully. Charter could easily apply for funds to buildout new housing tracts or large development projects and business parks the company would have reached anyway. We recommend restricting these funds exclusively to projects that would otherwise fail a bidder’s own Return On Investment formula.

Stop the Cap! intends to be a participant in the comment round and we will share with readers our formal comments as they are submitted.

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Recent Comments:

  • Phillip Dampier: The business case that delights Wall Street was the extra $10 Verizon planned to charge customers who want to access 5G service. Now it's on hold. If ...
  • Phillip Dampier: From listening to Vestberg on the quarterly results conference call, he is, as he always is, excessively vague. I took from him that dynamic spectrum ...
  • Paul Houle: Nuts. Customers don't care if Verizon beats South Korea by a few days. I don't think it makes a difference in their earnings this quarter, or the n...
  • Matt Mosher: I'm in the 80,000 Hughes net crew as well. I had Hughes back in 2004-2008 so I am more than aware of their garbage and what a joke it was that this fi...
  • Ed: On the money that was just bragging rights. Later this year when 5G home equipment is released and in Q1 2020 when they roll out dynamic spectrum sha...
  • TJ: I called on 4/22/19 to cancel services because my bill was too high. They sent me to the cancellation department and the guy just said ok the service ...
  • Michelle D Loewy: No internet service at the home all day Tuesday and still none today. No reason given just that the Western North Carolina area is down. Has anything ...
  • william carter: got my spectrum bill yesterday. It went up $16 per month. I called CS and they said my 1 yr promotion is gone on my internet and i have to pay full ...
  • New Yorker: Sold a penny puppet-show to appease us (We The People) and then sold out for millions/billions. F**k this country already....
  • Dorairaj Isaac: I would like to return the products for a refund...
  • EJ: I hope they are ready to do this all over again when Charter does basically nothing again. Hopefully they will use this extension to come up with a Pl...
  • Phillip Dampier: Public Comments: http://documents.dps.ny.gov/public/Comments/PublicComments.aspx?MatterCaseNo=15-M-0388...

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