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Another Cable Company Drops Cable TV

Phillip Dampier January 23, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Another independent cable company is dropping cable television service.

Rainbow Communications of Everest, which serves customers in northeastern Kansas, has set a “TV End” date for customers of June 30, 2020, after which it will only sell broadband and phone service:

As your local communications provider, we strive to bring innovative solutions for both entertainment and business purposes. Now a high-quality and less-expensive technology exists for watching TV by using an internet connection. In fact, most of our customers have chosen this route because watching video now accounts for 80% of our internet network traffic. Therefore, we have decided to focus our efforts on delivering the best internet experience possible, and end our TV service offering.

Rainbow TV service will end on June 30, 2020.

Rainbow, like many smaller cable operators, faces spiraling costs for video programming without the benefit of the volume discounts large national cable companies routinely receive. As streaming live TV video providers expand, they can now out-compete many independent cable companies by delivering a lower cost lineup of video channels. As a result, a growing number of small cable companies are deciding to exit the video business, concentrating on selling broadband and, to a lesser extent, phone service to their customers.

Rainbow claims customers will save up to $600 a year dropping its cable TV service in favor of a streaming video package from providers like YouTube TV or Sling. As large streaming providers continue to add local over the air channels to their lineups, many consumers can get the same or better lineup from a streaming provider at a lower cost.

The move will also allow Rainbow to dedicate all of its cable bandwidth towards data services, including digital phone service. That could allow the company to boost broadband speeds.

Spectrum Telemarketer: “Are You Busy?” Answer “Yes” and You Are Signed Up for Service

Residents in upstate New York are finding Spectrum bills in their mailbox for services they didn’t order and don’t want, after telling Spectrum telemarketers they were too busy to talk.

Three residents in Tupper Lake have been in touch with the village mayor, complaining they were enrolled in a $30-per-month Spectrum streaming TV service without their knowledge or consent.

Mayor Paul Maroun says recent robocalls from the cable operator were responsible for the surprise bills.

“It was a robocall that said, ‘Are you busy at the moment?'” Maroun said. “Once you said ‘yes,’ they record the ‘yes’ and they bill it.”

Maroun said he believes one or more Spectrum telemarketers are ordering new services for consumers using recorded customer responses to a different question as consent to start service. Within a month, bills start arriving in the mailboxes of consumers. Even worse, some consumers do not immediately realize they are being billed for new services they did not authorize because they chose electronic billing and autopay, which automatically pays the bill without customer intervention each month.

The problem was serious enough to be a topic of discussion by the village board, reports the Adirondack Daily Enterprise:

One alleged victim of the call is retired village electric department superintendent Marc Staves, who returned to the village board for a meeting on Wednesday as a civilian to tell the board about his experience and to warn others.

Staves said he caught the additional charge on the first month it landed on his bill. He said he is not sure how it happened because he does not remember taking a call. Staves said Spectrum told him a robocall was placed, but he said his phone records show he never answered it.

“That’s kind of underhanded,” Staves said when he learned how the call works at the village board meeting.

He has automatic payments set up on his account, but still checks the amount.

“It’s always good to keep track of your automatic deductions,” Staves said.

He was told the company would refund his money, but said after a week it still hadn’t. When he called again he said he was told the $30 charge would be taken off his next month’s bill.

“I was okay at that point until I hung up the phone and thought about it,” Staves said. “It’s really no different than me going into your wallet, taking $30 out of your wallet and telling you I’m going to work it off next month.”

He said he is “not satisfied” with the resolution Spectrum offered him, saying it is being done in a “roundabout way.”

Maroun told Staves he has received two other calls from villagers about the same problem, both for $30-per-month charges. He said those people have gotten their money back.

Mayor Maroun

Spectrum spokesperson Lara Pritchard said this was the first time she heard of this complaint and suggested third party scammers might be “spoofing” customers.

“If an offer doesn’t sound right, customers can ask the representative on the phone to validate they are an employee by looking up their account number,” Pritchard wrote in an email. “Spectrum representatives will always have an account number. Then call Spectrum (at their customer service number on your bill) and ask if there is any such person working there.”

But since consumers are being billed for the unauthorized service(s) on their Spectrum bill, the telemarketers must have a business relationship with the cable operator. It could be a third party marketing company hired by Spectrum to sell service. A bonus or commission is likely payable for each successful sale, which could be an incentive for a dishonest employee to game the system.

Stop the Cap! recommends not answering Spectrum’s telemarketing calls or just hang up immediately. Be sure to verify your bill through the My Spectrum app or website and report any unauthorized charges immediately. Consumers can also file complaints with your state Attorney General’s office. Fabien Levy, a spokesman for New York’s Attorney General told the newspaper while the office has received a number of complaints about Spectrum, none were related to this issue. That could change if consumers report these kinds of scams.

Vermonters Hostile to Comcast Takeover of Southern Vermont Cable Company

Residents of southern Vermont are upset about Comcast’s proposed acquisition of an independent cable company that has served the region for more than 30 years, fearing the cable giant will bring its reputation of high rates, poor service, and abusive customer relations to an area known for resisting large corporations.

The Southern Vermont Cable Company (SVCC) owns several small cable systems serving about 2,450 subscribers around Brattleboro, just a short distance from the Massachusetts and New York borders. SVCC launched service because larger cable companies including Comcast and what was formerly Time Warner Cable did not see a viable business opportunity serving southern Vermont. The independent operator successfully launched service on its own, but has faced business pressure from cord-cutting and a constant need to upgrade its cable plant to meet growing demands for fast and robust broadband service.

“For more than 30 years, SVCC has offered great local service to its customers and has made significant capital investments in its system throughout the years,” Daniel M. Glanville, vice president of government/regulatory affairs and community impact for Comcast’s western New England region, said in testimony before state regulators reviewing the sale. “However, there is a need for continued capital investment as technology continues to evolve and video competition continues to increase due to an ever-growing number of video service options.”

Instead of offering to sell the system to the communities it serves, SVCC executives elected to sell the system to Comcast.

“I am confident that an organization like Comcast will provide SVCC’s subscribers with quality customer service and will continue to invest in SVCC’s systems,” said Ernest Scialabba, president and owner of SVCC.

Customers have a much different view, according to the Brattleboro Refomer:

Steve West of Dummerston told regulators he has “only praise for the good folks at SVCable, and nothing but contempt for Comcast.”

“As a computer repair professional for 20 years, I’ve had many dealings with Comcast/Xfinity, nearly all of it bad,” he wrote. “Many of us in rural Vermont have few options. I view them as one of the most toxic companies in the U.S., and I’ve successfully avoided being a customer.”

Martha Ramsey of Brattleboro told the commission she is a Comcast customer and “can attest, along with all my neighbors, that Comcast has a long way to go to providing reliable cable service” to southern Vermont.

“Therefore, I can only assume that this sale would simply be a hostile buyout for the benefit not of customers but of shareholders, and so should not be permitted, in order to prevent any further erosion of decent utility services in Vermont,” she wrote. “My Comcast bill has already increased by an outrageous percentage in the last five years without any credible explanation, and I expect such increases to continue. Helping Comcast to become the only player in the market would be to accelerate this race to the bottom — that is, increasingly unaffordable and increasingly shoddy infrastructure and service — that at a scary pace is impoverishing all but the very wealthy.”

“Comcast will provide increased reliability and network capacity which will enable former SVCC customers to enjoy the full suite of Comcast’s Xfinity TV services, including the X1 platform, Xfinity on Demand (Comcast’s video on demand service), multiple high-definition offerings, sports programming and international programming,” said a Comcast representative. “Comcast will also introduce Comcast Business Services, which provides business-grade products and services for businesses of all sizes. Video customers will also be able to use the Xfinity Stream app on their tablet or smartphone to view live and Xfinity On Demand programming.”

But the idea a giant multinational company like Comcast, with more than 830,000 customers, will preserve a local touch to SVCC’s operations is absurd, according to local residents.

“Please don’t allow this to happen,” Kathleen Fleischmann wrote. “One of the reasons we chose to move to Vermont was that it wasn’t owned by the multinationals. Southern Vermont Cable is a great company, and our service would certainly be degraded by having to deal with Comcast. You must be aware that they are one of the most hated corporations in the country. Their lack of customer service is legendary.”

Eli K. Coughlin-Galbraith urged the commission not to “let this one go. We’re all being strangled by massive multinational corporations piece by piece. Fight it. Fight it any way you can.”

The Vermont Department of Public Service will hold a public hearing about the proposed sale from 4-8 p.m. on Feb. 3 at the O’Brien Auditorium in the East Academic Building at Landmark College in Putney.

Spectrum Salesperson Lies to Customers About the Competition: “We Bought Them”

Phillip Dampier January 21, 2020 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News, Video No Comments

This Spectrum door-to-door salesperson tells a Bath, N.Y. customer the cable company bought the competition.

A Spectrum door-to-door sales representative has a new trick up his sleeve to win back customers who switched to a competitor: lie and tell them Spectrum bought out the competition and sooner or later customers will once again be dealing with the cable company.

Spectrum Rep: “To get you guys back on board with our service, we’re going to lock your price in for two years.”

A Bath, N.Y., customer of Empire Access, a competing fiber to the home provider offering service in the Southern Tier of New York: “I’m not interested.”

Spectrum Rep: “We just bought Empire, you know, so sooner or later you’re going to be with us.”

Customer: “So you’re going to raise up your rates?”

Spectrum Rep: “No, we’re just going to get everybody switched over, so whenever you’re ready. The official switchover is in March, so sooner or later you’ll be on board with us or you’ll be on satellite for internet. Right now we’re offering you a deal to get on board early.”

The “deal” was $50 a month for 100 Mbps internet, which is hardly a deal at all considering new Spectrum customers in competitive service areas can often sign up for 400 Mbps service for $29.99 a month for two years. More importantly, the salesperson openly lied to make a sale.

Empire Access marketing director Bob VanDelinder says Empire Access did not sell to Spectrum and has no plans to sell itself to anyone.

“Our company is locally owned and operated, and deeply rooted in the communities we serve,” VanDelinder said. “We can keep our customers based on our service, our price. We’re very competitive and play fair. We think that’s extremely important to play fair and keep it a level playing field and be honest to our customers.”

The customer captured most of the conversation on his Ring video doorbell and shared it with Empire Access. At least one other Empire Access customer said he experienced a similar encounter with the deceptive salesperson.

“The content of the video is not accurate and we’re investigating these apparent comments by the sales representative,” responds a Spectrum spokesperson.

Spectrum typically contracts out its door-to-door marketing to third party companies, with employees typically earning a commission or bonus based on each successful sign-up.

Empire Access is requesting customers who have experienced similar misleading claims to contact the company at: 1-800-338-3300.

Spectrum representative lies about the competition.

WENY-TV in Elmira, N.Y. reports on a Spectrum door-to-door salesperson using dirty tricks to try and fool customers to switch back to the cable operator. (2:32)

The Final Frontier: Phone Company Plans Bankruptcy Reorganization by March

Phillip Dampier January 20, 2020 Consumer News, Frontier 2 Comments

Frontier Communications will file Chapter 11 bankruptcy by March, according to a report by Bloomberg News citing unnamed sources, leading to a major reorganization of a struggling phone company that has been losing customers for years.

Bernie Han, Frontier’s new CEO, reportedly met with creditors and Wall Street advisors late last week to negotiate a bankruptcy filing and proposed turnaround plan to be unveiled before Frontier faces a repayment deadline of $356 million in debt on March 15.

If creditors agree, Frontier would continue operations after filing bankruptcy and renegotiate its debts, while potentially jettisoning retiree pension benefits, stiffing shareholders, and winning the freedom to exit certain long term contractual agreements related to its legacy properties and services.

Frontier serves around 3.5 million broadband customers in 29 states, providing service mostly to rural communities ignored by former Bell Operating Companies and in acquired service areas once controlled by Verizon or AT&T. Frontier’s acquisitions have contributed to the company’s $17+ billion in debt and have ultimately not met expectations. Many Frontier legacy customers have fled to other providers because of poor or inadequate service and a lack of network upgrades to offer acceptable internet service. Frontier has largely avoided undertaking major fiber optic upgrades in its legacy service territories, where the company still sells slow DSL service over a deteriorating copper wire network that is often decades old.

Most of Frontier’s fiber-to-the-home territories were acquired by the company, hoping such acquisitions would deliver a much-needed revenue boost. But some analysts say Frontier overpaid to acquire those service areas, and in several cases botched a conversion to Frontier’s billing and service platform, alienating customers.

The company’s stock has been in free fall for months, starting its steep decline after abandoning a popular dividend payout plan. As of this afternoon, shares are priced below 65 cents.

To stabilize the business, Frontier has entertained selling off portions of its network. In May 2019, Frontier announced it was selling 350,000 of its customers in the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho to raise $1.35 billion to pay down its debts, but that was not enough to appease investors. Many believe former CEO Dan McCarthy was forced out of the company late last year after failing to improve the business. Frontier’s newest CEO has apparently decided reorganization through bankruptcy is now the best last resort.

Such news pleases activist investment funds including Elliot Management, which have pushed for reorganization for nearly a year. Elliot has been very vocal, demanding better results from several large telecom companies, including AT&T and Windstream. Elliott Management and Franklin Resources now hold nearly 50 percent of Frontier’s bonds. Another group of creditors includes GoldenTree Asset Management. The activist investors have been primarily fighting over the $5.8 billion in high-coupon debt bonds Frontier issued to cover its acquisition of former Verizon customers in California, Texas, and Florida. Frontier met fierce investor objections after considering refinancing that costly debt, because bondholders feared that would put them last in line to recoup their investments if Frontier went bankrupt.

A bankruptcy would not immediately impact Frontier’s customers and operations would continue. But Frontier would likely stall upgrades and future spending until the company exits bankruptcy. Some customers may also have to wait for refunds, at least initially, subject to court approval. Retirees and employees may also eventually face changes to their benefits packages.

For Frontier to be successful, the company will have to shed debt and begin making much larger investments to modernize its network to compete for lucrative broadband customers. It will also have to improve its image with better customer and repair service and fewer “gotcha” billing policies and fine print.

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