Recent Articles:

Windstream Relying on Government Funding to Double 100 Mbps Availability in 2019

Windstream is relying on the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund to double the areas where it will offer 100 Mbps broadband service, expected to reach 30% of the company’s 18-state local service area by the end of the first quarter of 2019.

“Windstream understands that premium internet speeds are critical to families and businesses in rural America, and we are systematically enhancing our network to meet that urgent demand,” said Jeff Small, president of consumer and small and medium-sized business services. “Network upgrades are expensive, especially in rural areas where there are relatively few customers, so Windstream is using a combination of its own capital and crucial support from the FCC’s Connect America Fund to make faster speeds more widely available. Without support from the Connect America Fund, many of these projects simply would not be economically feasible.”

Thomas told attendees at the Citi 2019 TMT West Conference Windstream’s legacy copper wire telephone network is not up to the job of handling the kinds of internet speeds more modern technologies can manage.

In urban and larger service areas, Windstream is most likely to deploy fiber to the home service in new housing developments and select gentrified neighborhoods where a business case exists to invest in fiber upgrades. The company also typically replaces its copper wireline infrastructure with fiber where road construction projects or damage forces the company to replace or relocate its lines. Suburban and more densely populated rural areas are likely to receive an upgraded version of Windstream’s DSL service that can manage up to 50 or 100 Mbps. In Windstream’s significant rural service area, the phone company is increasingly turning to fixed wireless technology, especially in flat midwestern states like Nebraska and Iowa where it plans to offer a combination of 3.5 GHz “CBRS” and 5G millimeter wave fixed wireless broadband capable of delivering up to 1,000 Mbps.

Windstream’s service area

“[We are deploying wireless internet] probably at a larger scale than a lot of the larger wireless companies,” Thomas said, especially in flatter areas where wireless signals go a long way.

Because most current broadband expansion fund programs require companies to commit to at least 25/3 Mbps service, simply expanding basic ADSL technology has proven inadequate to meet the government’s speed requirements. But wiring fiber to the home service to get faster speeds in rural areas does not meet the Return On Investment requirements Windstream’s shareholders demand. Windstream claims fixed wireless can solve both problems.

“You can get 100 Mbps out there very cost-effectively,” Thomas claimed. “You are really blowing away copper infrastructure and making it irrelevant because you’re embracing this 100 Mbps technology.”

As of early 2019, Windstream claims that 60% of its customers can get at least 25 Mbps service, 40% can receive at least 50 Mbps service. By the end of March, 30% will be able to receive 100 Mbps service.

 

A satisfied Windstream customer talks about his upgrade to 50/8 Mbps, which replaces his old 6 Mbps DSL service. (6:03)

Conservative Business Group Sues to Toss Pro-Consumer Time Warner/Charter Merger Conditions

A corporate-funded business advocacy group backed by the telecom industry and the Koch Brothers is pursuing a lawsuit asking the D.C. Court of Appeals to toss pro-consumer deal conditions imposed by the Federal Communications Commission in return for granting its 2016 approval of the acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks by Charter Communications.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute filed an initial petition with the FCC asking the agency to rescind its own deal conditions shortly after the merger was completed. CEI argued the agency imposed “harmful merger conditions on Charter that had nothing to do with the merger itself,” and that the FCC did not have the authority to put corporate merger deal conditions in place.

CEI specifically targeted its objections to the FCC’s seven-year ban on Charter Spectrum data caps and consumption billing, arguing the ban raised broadband pricing for all Spectrum customers and prevented the cable company from offering discounts to low usage customers. It also claimed that Charter had to increase pricing for all customers because the FCC required Spectrum to raise broadband speeds, introduce a discounted internet program for low-income customers, and expand service to at least two million new households not presently served by Spectrum.

The FCC ultimately rejected CEI’s petition in 2018, claiming the group had no standing to challenge the merger transaction or deal conditions. The group called the FCC’s decision wrong, claiming consumers will “have to foot the bill for an overreaching federal agency” and that “the FCC has no authority to micromanage the internet at the public’s expense.”

This week, it filed an opening brief appealing the FCC’s decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which oversees the legality of the FCC’s regulatory decisions.

The 101-page filing maintains the FCC overreached by imposing any deal conditions on the 2016 multi-billion dollar merger deal, especially those that might require the merged company to spend money to improve service to customers. CEI argued such conditions were “arbitrary and capricious” and had no place as part of approving a business merger transaction.

The group submitted evidence from four individuals who attested to their belief that the deal conditions “probably contributed” to price increases after customers abandoned their legacy Bright House and Time Warner Cable plans in favor of Spectrum plans and pricing. The customers reported rate hikes ranging from $4 a month to $20 a month “for the same services,” but did not attach copies of their bills allowing a court to ascertain whether those rate increases involved cable television or broadband service or both.

No evidence was provided to prove CEI’s assertion that rate increases were directly tied to merger conditions other than a declaration from Robert W. Crandall, an economist and nonresident senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Crandall argued any deal conditions requiring a cable company to spend money to expand, improve, or discount services would likely impact subscriber rates.

No disclosure was made regarding any fees paid to Crandall to conduct research on behalf of CEI. The Technology Policy Institute is financially backed almost entirely by the Koch Brothers and corporate interests including AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast, and Verizon.

CEI’s legal brief depends on assertions made by then-minority Republican members of the FCC, notably then-Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, who objected to the FCC’s merger conditions. CEI ignored the views of the then-Democratic majority on the Commission, who voted to approve the merger with deal conditions. Then Chairman Thomas Wheeler and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel were not mentioned anywhere in CEI’s brief. Today the Commission has a Republican majority, with Pai now serving as chairman.

The FCC in 2016 (from left to right): Commissioners Ajit Pai, Mignon Clyburn, Chairman Tom Wheeler, and Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Michael O’Rielly

CEI’s argument follows a similar pattern to arguments made against net neutrality — namely, the FCC has no authority to regulate broadband services or the pricing and policies of the companies providing it. Charter Communications has occasionally argued the same point with the New York State Public Service Commission, which imposed deal conditions of its own in return for approval of the merger.

Charter has consistently reserved the right to object to deal conditions requiring it to build out service to rural areas, as well as any deal conditions that go beyond the authority of state regulators to oversee broadband service. In Charter’s view, state regulators have no such authority. In the state’s view, the PSC has the right to consider a myriad of factors because its regulatory mandate  requires approving or rejecting a merger based on the public interest. Its 2016 merger order found the transaction was not in the public interest unless the parties agreed to certain deal conditions, which closely resembled those required by the FCC. When Charter allegedly failed to meet the conditions it agreed to, the New York regulator could not directly compel Charter Spectrum into compliance, but it could and did decertify the merger itself.

Should the D.C. Court of Appeals find in favor of CEI, the deal conditions imposed by the FCC would be revoked, although Charter could continue to honor those conditions voluntarily. Separate legal cases would have to be brought in state courts to invalidate deal conditions imposed by state regulators.

Netflix Announces Biggest Price Hike Ever: Most Will Pay $12.99 a Month

Phillip Dampier January 15, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Like cable companies, streaming services are not immune to raising rates, and the country’s biggest and most popular streaming service — Netflix — this morning announced its largest rate hike ever.

Most Netflix subscribers will see their monthly rate increase by $2 a month.

Netflix’s rate card effective January 15, 2019 (for new subscribers).

The rate hike will raise at least $100 million a month in revenue and will apply first to new subscribers, and will gradually apply to all 58 million current U.S. subscribers over the next three months, as well as those in Latin America where subscriptions are paid in U.S. dollars (except in Mexico and Brazil, where rates remain unchanged). Rates for the 78 million Netflix subscribers outside of the U.S. are not expected to change immediately, partly due to ongoing promotional spending and marketing efforts to boost subscriber numbers overseas.

Wall Street had been increasingly pessimistic about Netflix’s revenue and profit projections because of ongoing increases in spending to finance an avalanche of original Netflix productions. The company’s stock price dropped by 21 percent, from a peak of $423.21 last June to $332.94 just before the market opened this morning. Netflix’s chief content officer told the media last spring about 85% of the company’s estimated $8 billion in content spending for 2018 was for original TV shows, movies, and other productions. By summer, Netflix had $12 billion in debt before borrowing another $2 billion in October. But that debt never changed Netflix’s plans to premiere 1,000 new movies and TV series in 2018, with an even larger number of productions scheduled for 2019.

Netflix has been pushed towards producing its own content as movie studios and studio-owned television production companies raise contract renewal prices on Netflix or end those contracts altogether, bringing content back to those studios as they prepare to launch paid streaming services of their own. WarnerMedia, Disney, and NBCUniversal are all planning launches over the next 24 months, while other existing services like CBS All Access and Hulu continue to beef up their own viewing menus, often with shows that were formerly found on Netflix.

Netflix is also depending on a growing international audience for its offerings, and has expanded original productions in many languages to find that global audience. Netflix usually benefits from much lower production costs for shows filmed overseas, and English language subscribers have surprisingly embraced dubbed and/or subtitled content at levels beyond Netflix’s expectations. Back in North America, the massive increase in demand for original content by Netflix and its competitors has made it possible for production companies, directors, writers, and talent to command dramatically higher salaries, raising Netflix’s expenses.

Investors cheered today’s price increase, causing its stock price to rise at least 6% in early trading. Wall Street believes Netflix is now nearly immune to cancellations over its price, which is still below the monthly retail price of HBO. But this morning’s announcement does represent the largest rate increase ever for the 12-year old streaming service.

Netflix will also use some of the additional revenue from the rate hike to pay down its substantial debt. Few expect any backlash reminiscent of Netflix’s 2011 decision to raise prices and unbundle its DVD-rental-by-mail service from video streaming, which resulted in a 60 percent rate increase for customers seeking both streaming and mail rental options. Netflix lost 600,000 subscribers after that announcement, initially making the company more cautious about future rate increases.

Comcast-NBC Announces Direct to Consumer Streaming Service for 2020

Comcast-owned NBCUniversal today announced a 2020 launch of a new, advertiser-supported streaming service, relying on content libraries and distribution platforms from America’s NBCUniversal and Europe’s Sky.

In a press release about the new venture, NBCUniversal claims the service will reach over 90 million U.S. households and will include “some of the world’s most popular television and film franchises, including homegrown original programming as well as content from outside partners.”

The new service is a rare reminder that the cable industry’s “TV Everywhere” project — offering streamed and on-demand content to “authenticated pay television customers” is still alive and kicking. NBCUniversal plans to offer the service to consumers for free, as long as they can prove they have an active cable or satellite TV subscription. Comcast and Sky will be the first to debut the service to their combined 52 million subscribers, with other providers likely to offer the service sometime later. Cord cutters will be able to purchase a subscription to the service, and a paid, ad-free option will also be available.

TV Everywhere, the cable industry’s effort to make on-demand content available for little or no charge, as long as you are an “authenticated pay-TV customer.”

NBCUniversal also announced an executive shuffle to reposition itself for the streaming venture. With Comcast’s 2018 acquisition of Sky, Europe’s largest satellite television provider, the yet-to-be-named streaming venture will draw talent from both sides of the Atlantic. Programming is expected to rely heavily on both NBCUniversal-owned content and a growing library of original shows and movies produced by Sky. European audiences will see more American programming and Americans will have greater access to popular Sky content, particularly from the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The new streaming service represents an acknowledgment that traditional live, linear television is becoming less important as viewers increasingly shift towards on-demand viewing. NBCUniversal itself has recognized a trend away from live niche programming, and has closed down some of its lower-rated cable networks, including Cloo and Esquire. Original content on some lesser-known basic cable networks often amounts to little more than an hour or two a day, with the rest of the schedule populated with program length commercials or reruns of older network shows. Since NBCUniversal has a deep library of both original and older programming, it can offer viewers on-demand access to new shows and old favorites, attracting younger audiences.

“People are watching premium content more than ever, but they want more flexibility and value,” said NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke. “NBCUniversal is perfectly positioned to offer a variety of choices, due to our deep relationships with advertisers and distribution partners, as well as our data-targeting capabilities. Advertising continues to be a major part of the entertainment ecosystem and we believe that a streaming service, with limited and personalized ads, will provide a great consumer experience.”

For now, Comcast/NBCUniversal will retain a 30% ownership in the Hulu venture.

New York Grants Charter Spectrum Yet Another Extension

For the sixth time, the New York State Public Service Commission has granted another extension to Charter Communications, allowing the company to continue doing business in the state, despite a July 2018 order revoking its merger agreement with Time Warner Cable.

“On January 12, 2019, Charter filed a letter requesting that the Commission grant further 30-day extensions by January 14, 2019,” the Commission wrote in its decision. “This order grants limited 21-day extensions.”

As a result, the newest deadlines for Charter to appeal the Commission’s decision to cancel Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable is Feb. 4 and to file a Six-Month Exit Plan for Spectrum, informing the Commission how Charter plans to transition service to a new provider, is March 4.

The Commission claims that private, ongoing discussions between Charter and the Commission’s staff are “productive” and the company has ceased airing what the Commission claimed to be misleading advertising about the state of its expansion effort in New York State.

Last fall, the Commission laid out the framework for a settlement agreement, requiring Charter Spectrum to address “issues relating to the inclusion of certain categories of addresses and whether they are valid ‘passings’ under the Merger Approval Order; penalty actions and amounts under dispute in Supreme Court; and a schedule for compliance (including enforcement mechanisms) going forward.”

The state telecommunications regulator has been involved in a two-year long dispute with Charter over expanding rural broadband options for New York residents. The original merger approval order required Charter to build out its service to areas the company had not serviced before.

Charter’s rural broadband expansion was important for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 Broadband for All program, which was supposed to expand broadband access to 2.42 million unserved or underserved rural households, making broadband available to 99.5% of the state by 2018. Governor Cuomo’s plan remains unfinished, in part, because of the ongoing dispute with Charter.

Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

  • EJ: Charter we appreciate your concern in this manner. We value your complaint and will review it. If need be we send this to arbitration to review the co...
  • Dylan: You could use their router which is an extra $5 a month (a great router usually) or I would recommend looking around either on Amazon or somewhere for...
  • Sean: It is hard to imagine a company with worse customer service than Directv.....as a caretaker for someone who has an account with them and has been a c...
  • Patrick: Thanks, Dylan. What kind of router do you use with that?...
  • Mel Toadvine: Your articles are correct. Nobody can advertise an antenna that will pick up cable and satellite channels because it is absolutely impossible. These a...
  • Dylan:  It’s $66 a month after all promotions are over with; flat rate, no taxes. Here is the rate card for all pricing and billing information. https://www...
  • Patrick: I am in Rochester NY. Does anyone know the cost of Spectrum 100mbps Internet service (no bundle, just internet) including taxes, after the first year...
  • Dylan: More hogwash once again. We all know data caps and usage based billing helps no one and does not “lower” bills for lower usage customers. That’s not h...
  • Proofread Please: Android Chrome, mobile view. It's a mess....
  • Bruce ranciglio: Can I pick any 10 channels plus locals.espn fox sports midwest nbc/sports and MLB channels and fox news with the spectrum streaming service, plus oth...
  • Wayne Martin: The New York State Public Service Commission should drop "Public" from their title as they are certainly not serving us. You can see all the communica...
  • Linda S Bortner: I was never notified about my free chrome book for signing up with Verizon Triple play 2 year agreement. I have been waiting patiently for informatio...

Your Account: