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Kagan: Cable Company Wireless Is Designed to Trap You in a Bundle, Not Compete in Wireless Business

Comcast and Charter Communications have no real interest in competing head-to-head in wireless with AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, or Sprint. Instead, the two cable companies hope to trap you in a bundled package of services too inconvenient to cancel.

Jeff Kagan, a longstanding telecommunications analyst specializing in the cable industry, believes Comcast, Charter, and other cable operators entering the wireless business have no intention of being a serious competitor to the country’s four largest mobile companies.

“The goal of XFINITY Mobile [from Comcast] is to offer their customers another service and to create a sticky bundle,” Kagan said. “It’s not to lead the wireless wars. It’s not to increase their market share for traditional reasons. It is simply to create a sticky bundle to stabilize and grow their customer base.”

Kagan

XFINITY Mobile and Spectrum Mobile (from Charter), both require customers to be signed up for their respective internet services. If a customer cancels internet service, they will lose their mobile service. That could prove to be a major hassle for wireless customers, because they will have to properly port out their existing phone number(s) to another provider before dropping broadband.

Kagan believes cable operators will use mobile service to further strengthen their bundle by tying discounts to the number of services each customer takes through the cable company.

“Customers who use one service find it easy to switch away to a competitor,” Kagan said. “However, when they use multiple services and get a discount for the bundle, they become sticky and generally stay put. And the more services a customer uses, the larger the discount, the stickier they get and the less likely they are to wander.”

That is also likely to be true with Altice, which operates Optimum (Cablevision) and SuddenLink and has partnered with Sprint to offer cell service.

Sprint and T-Mobile, which are planning to merge, have repeatedly argued cable operators will be aggressive new players in the mobile business, giving the potentially combined carrier fierce new competitors. But Kagan doubts that will prove true.

“The problem is, the sticky bundle is not a low-cost solution,” Kagan offered. “With that said, the higher cost to the cable television companies is less than that of losing their customer base. So, the cost makes sense as simply a cost of doing business.”

The challenge cable operators face is that none plan to own and operate their own traditional cellular network. Comcast and Charter have partnered with Verizon Wireless to resell access to its 4G LTE network and Altice will rely on Sprint. Leasing access on an ongoing basis is likely to be more expensive that relying on your own network, but beyond offering Wi-Fi calling and experimental access to future 5G-type services in the emerging CBRS band, cable operators will remain almost completely dependent on their wireless provider partners, limiting their effective ability to compete.

Kagan believes the goals of the two industries are different. Wireless operators are trying to monetize their networks through usage, while cable operators are trying to find new services that will keep customers loyal and are willing to ignore monetizing their wireless side businesses to achieve that goal.

Epix, Dropped from Some Cable Company Bundles, Launches Direct-to-Consumer Package

Phillip Dampier February 13, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Epix, the newest premium movie channel on the block, is giving up on exclusive pay television distribution and has launched a new $5.99/mo direct-to-consumer subscription service, beating anticipated services from AT&T WarnerMedia and Disney.

Epix Now streaming subscribers will have access to “thousands of movies” and original series, with full download availability and a growing catalog of titles available for 4K/Ultra HD streaming.

Epix, now wholly owned by MGM, has struggled to attract subscribers from its traditional cable and satellite TV partners, as consumers ditch premium channels to reduce their bill or drop cable TV service altogether. Charter Communications recently dropped Epix from Spectrum’s bundled pay television tier, now requiring customers to buy the network a-la-carte, likely resulting in a dramatic loss of subscribers.

Epix Now is currently available with a 7-day free trial on Apple TV, as well as iOS and Android phones and tablets, and is expected to arrive soon for Roku and Amazon Fire TV owners. The service is also sold through The Roku Channel, but will shortly be transitioned to a standalone app on that platform.

Launched in October 2009, Epix began as a partnership between MGM, Lionsgate, and Viacom. It was known for airing movies more quickly after leaving theaters than its competitors. But the network has been limited by a lack of exclusivity to first-run content from larger studios. Lionsgate largely lost interest in Epix after acquiring competing premium movie service Starz in mid-2016. A year later, Viacom made it known it wanted to exit the venture to concentrate on Showtime, its primary pay television network, and use the sale proceeds to pay down Viacom’s high debt load.

Stop the Cap! Files FOIL Request to Force Charter to Disclose Customer Complaint Statistics

Stop the Cap! today appealed to New York’s Freedom of Information Law Officer to force Charter Spectrum to unredact customer complaint statistics on Charter Communication’s performance in New York since its 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable.

“Charter Spectrum’s merger with Time Warner Cable was only approved in New York after the company agreed to certain conditions that would allow the merger to be considered in the public interest,” said Stop the Cap! president and founder Phillip Dampier. “An annual review and at least a 17.5% reduction in the company’s video services complaint rate was part of that deal, but Charter won’t publicly state exactly how much of a reduction the company has achieved, claiming that information is ‘confidential’ and ‘secret.'”

“But Charter had no problem sharing its damage control explanation for why it is still dealing with a lot of angry customers annoyed about the increasing cost of doing business with Spectrum as a result of withdrawing promotions, forcing customers to rent expensive equipment, and deal with pricing and package changes that deliver fewer channels for more money,” Dampier added.

An example of the redactions (for public viewing) in Charter’s Feb. 4, 2019 letter to the NY State Department of Public Service (DPS).

Stop the Cap! argues the public has a right to know how well Charter is meeting its public interest commitments, especially after the state regulator voted last summer to kick the company out of New York (a decision that has been effectively stalled as Charter and DPS staff continue ongoing private settlement discussions.)

“Keeping complaint rates secret is an incentive for Charter to not invest adequately to deliver service improvements and its claim competitors will be able to exploit that information is laughable, as many New Yorkers have no other choice for high-speed internet service. It isn’t as if other cable companies are forcing their way into the state to offer customers another choice,” Dampier argued. “Charter is almost exclusively responsible for its complaint rate, based on how it chooses to conduct business. Had the company adopted more customer-friendly packages, services, and pricing, their complaint rate would have dropped like a rock.”

The letter in full:

February 6, 2019

Records Access Officer
Department of Public Service
Three Empire State Plaza
Albany, New York 12223

To Whom It May Concern:

We are requesting the release of an unredacted version of Charter’s 2018 PSC Video Complaint Data Report (three page letter dated 2/4/2019). Charter’s claim that this “sensitive” and “proprietary” information is useful to competitors is unproven and specious. Complaint rates are effectively modulated by a company’s choice of how it conducts its business, with or without the presence of an effective competitor. In this case, Charter admits its own business decisions, not competition, played a key role in the complaint rate, as shown below.

More importantly, this information was required to be submitted as part of the DPS Merger Approval Order granting Charter’s request to merge with Time Warner Cable. That merger was approved only after Charter agreed to certain obligations that would deliver sufficient pro-consumer benefits to meet the state’s requirement that the merger was in the public interest. A periodic review of Charter’s compliance is part of that process.

Charter is asking to keep such compliance information confidential, unreviewable, and unavailable to third party scrutiny. It also prevents organizations like ours, a party in the proceedings, from reviewing the data and submitting informed views to DPS commissioners and staff about the performance of Charter Communications under the Merger Approval Order.

Further, there is no demonstrable causal link shown between competitive injury and disclosure of video customer complaint rates that are the direct result of poor service experiences with Charter Communications. Charter is effectively asking the DPS to prohibit the public’s access to data that is part of a public interest test.

Allowing Charter to suppress public disclosure of raw data while leaving unredacted its damage control explanations for customer complaints also gives Charter an unfair advantage to explain away those complaints.¹

Requiring Charter to disclose customer dissatisfaction numbers is in the public interest and provides a strong incentive for Charter to provide better, more customer-responsive service to customers in New York, likely reducing the number of complaints from unhappy customers in the first place.

Therefore, we appeal to the FOIL Officer to release an unredacted version of the three-page compliance letter.

¹ “As the Commission is aware, changes—including improvements—can sometimes trigger complaints as customers adjust to new service options, promotions, and packages. Despite the increased level of activity and customer interaction related to integration and product advancement, Charter is pleased to report that both initial and escalated complaints have declined significantly compared to 2014 complaint numbers….” — 2018 PSC Video Complaint Data Submission, Charter Communications, 2/4/2019

Very truly yours,

Phillip M. Dampier
President and Founder

Streaming and Cord Cutting Take Toll on European TV Networks, License Fees

European broadcasters are frightened at the prospect of seeing viewers and crucial mandatory TV license fees erode away as an invasion of American on-demand streaming from Netflix and Amazon takes its toll on traditional television.

Netflix’s almost limitless budget for original local/in-country productions is threatening to outspend traditional European broadcasters and giving viewers a new reason to stop paying compulsory TV license fees, which do not apply to foreign-owned streaming services.

Unlike in the United States, where non-commercial public broadcaster PBS receives most of its financial support from corporate underwriting and voluntary contributions from viewers and listeners, many European countries finance their national, over-the-air public broadcasting services with a mandatory annual license fee.

In the United Kingdom, for example, a household must pay $200 a year if their home has color TV sets or $68 a year for black and white-only TV sets if they watch the BBC. These fees cover the costs of the BBC’s extensive commercial-free radio and TV service and keep it independent of the British government. That fee is a bargain compared to Denmark, Norway, and Austria where TV license fees exceed $300 US annually.

Enforcement officers using TV detector vans drive through neighborhoods looking for unlicensed TV homes by detecting signals emitting from a switched-on television. Warning letters and a visit from an enforcement officer quickly follow. But as streaming services take hold, it is becoming more difficult for licensing officers to determine if a resident is using their television to watch the BBC, which requires a license, or on-demand content from a streaming service like Netflix, which does not require a license.

It’s a growing issue in the United Kingdom, where TV license cancellations are now rising for the first time in five years, particularly as younger viewers move away from traditional linear-live TV programming. According to the Financial Times, by 2022 Netflix, Amazon, Facebook and Apple could outspend traditional UK networks by a factor of four. Independent of the BBC, Britain’s commercial ITV network is also reporting increasing viewer defections, especially among younger audiences. Traditional pay television, usually delivered by Sky satellite or Virgin’s cable system, is also experiencing dish/cord-cutting as viewers start to abandon traditional TV packages.

(Image courtesy: Financial Times)

UK networks are planning to respond to the threat by building on their current streaming successes, particularly BritBox, a joint venture of BBC Studios and ITV targeting North American audiences with on-demand British television series and original productions. BritBox has attracted a loyal following in the U.S. and Canada willing to pay around $7 a month, effortlessly raising almost half of the amount of a traditional UK TV license from North Americans without the expenses of traditional broadcasting, staffing, and collections. In the UK, a TV license grants viewers automatic access to iPlayer from the BBC, which offers live streams and short-term access to on-demand programming. Both UK broadcasters believe a service like BritBox, offering a more extensive library of older programming and full seasons of TV shows may interest UK audiences more — perhaps enough to pay another $7 a month for access, in addition to their TV license fee.

Other European broadcasters are dabbling in streaming ventures, but currently see less threat from the English-language dominant catalog of content from services like Netflix. In fact, many of those European broadcasters, particularly in Scandinavia, Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Belgium are earning extra revenue by licensing their native language content, subtitled for English language audiences, to streaming services like Netflix, MHz Choice, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

Frontier Launches ‘Reliable Copper Internet’ Ad Campaign to Sell Slow Speed DSL

Frontier Communications is taking its lemon-of-a-legacy-copper-network and attempting to squeeze some lemonade with a new national radio advertising campaign promoting the company’s legacy DSL internet service with a $100 gift card and “free” Amazon Echo Dot.

Get Frontier Copper is Frontier’s latest promotion for customers who do not live in its fiber-to-the-home service areas. Much of Frontier’s legacy network that predates its acquisitions of former Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse customers in Indiana, the Pacific Northwest, California, Texas, Florida, and Connecticut is still dependent on copper wiring that may have been on utility poles since the Johnson Administration.

The new promotion is among the first created under the leadership of Robert Curtis, Frontier’s latest senior vice president and chief marketing officer. Curtis is abandoning Frontier’s old marketing policies that eliminated a lot of fine print, sneaky fees/surcharges, and term contracts. The two-year contract with $120 early cancellation fee is the hallmark of Curtis’ commitment to reduce Frontier’s substantial customer churn, as customers abandon Frontier for competitors. A $120 sting in a customer’s wallet may convince many not to switch providers.

Frontier’s latest surcharges are also designed to extract more revenue from customers. A $10 per month compulsory equipment rental fee and recently increased “Internet Infrastructure Surcharge” will be applied to all customers in the future. Frontier previously allowed some customers to avoid the $10 monthly equipment rental fee by buying equipment outright from Frontier for $200. That option may be going away as Frontier gets serious about collecting $14 a month in surcharges from their internet customers.

Most legacy copper customers will be pitched up to three speed tiers ranging from 1, 6, and 12 Mbps, but not all customers will qualify for 6 or 12 Mbps plans if wiring in the neighborhood cannot support those speeds. There are Frontier service areas in metro areas that cannot achieve better than 3 Mbps, and plenty more in rural areas that top out at 1-3 Mbps. Those slower speed customers may not qualify for some promotions now available.

If you try to order faster internet speed not available in your neighborhood, you will likely see this error message.

Current promotions claim to offer up to 12 Mbps internet service for $12 a month for two years when bundled with voice service and/or a choice of packages that bundle internet and DISH satellite TV for $88 a month or a triple play of internet, voice, and satellite TV for $102 a month. Customers ordering online can get a $100 prepaid Visa card. But there are plenty of price-changing fees found in the terms and conditions, including an extra $14 a month in fees for that $12 a month internet offer. Customers that cancel any service in a promotional package automatically forfeit all promotional pricing and will be a charged an early termination fee up to $120.

Frontier charges a number of hidden fees on internet service, which increases the advertised price by at least $14 a month:

  • Broadband router fee ($10/mo.) (Frontier used to allow customers to waive this fee by buying Frontier’s $200 equipment package up front.)
  • Internet Infrastructure Surcharge ($3.99/mo.) (the fee was $1.99 a month)
  • A $9.99 equipment delivery/handling fee.
  • A $9.99 broadband processing fee upon disconnection of service.
  • A $75 installation fee applies to broadband-only service, waived if a customer chooses to bundle another service with internet.

Frontier claims it offers the speeds “you need” on a “reliable” network.

But there is plenty more fine print to consider, the most important we’ve underlined below:

Visa Gift Card: Limit one VISA Reward Card per household. Customer must submit (2) paid bill statements and follow the redemption instructions to receive VISA Reward Card, subject to Frontier verification. Customer agrees to share billing information with Frontier’s fulfillment partners. Limited-time offer for new Internet residential customers. Must subscribe to a qualifying package of new High-Speed Internet. Visit internet.Frontier.com/terms.html for details. VISA Reward Card offer is provided by Internet.frontier.com and is not sponsored by Frontier.

“Free” Amazon Echo Dot: Requires a two-year agreement with $120 maximum early termination fee on new internet and qualifying voice services. Maximum $120 Frontier early termination fee associated with Amazon Echo Dot offer is in addition to DISH early termination fee described below. The Amazon Echo Dot is given away by Frontier Communications. Amazon is not a sponsor of this promotion.

$12 Internet offer: New residential Internet customers only. Must subscribe to a two-year agreement on new High-Speed Internet with maximum speed range of 6.1 Mbps to 12 Mbps download and qualifying Voice service. After 24-month promotional period, promotional discount will end and the then-current everyday monthly price will apply to Internet and voice services and equipment.

$88 Internet and DISH TV offer: Limited-time offer for new residential Internet and new TV customers. Must subscribe to a two-year agreement on new High-Speed Internet with maximum speed range of 6.1 Mbps to 12 Mbps download and new DISH® AT120 service. After 24-month promotional period, promotional discount will end and the then-current everyday monthly price will apply to Internet service and equipment. A $34.99 Frontier video setup fee applies.

Frontier’s new marketing chief is returning the company to gotcha fees, surcharges, and contracts.

$102 Internet, DISH TV and Voice offer: Limited-time offer for new TV, new Internet and new Voice customers. Must subscribe to a two-year agreement on new High-Speed Internet with maximum speed range of 6.1 Mbps to 12 Mbps download, new qualifying Voice service and new DISH® AT120 service. After 24-month promotional period, promotional discount will end and the then-current everyday monthly price will apply to Internet and voice services and equipment. A $34.99 Frontier video setup fee applies. Unlimited calling is based on normal residential, personal, noncommercial use. Calls to 411 incur an additional charge.

Important DISH Terms and Conditions. Qualification: Advertised price requires credit qualification and 24-month commitment. Upfront activation and/or receiver upgrade fees may apply based on credit qualification. Offer ends 7/10/19. Early termination fee of $20/mo. remaining applies if you cancel early. America’s Top 120 programming package, local channels, HD service fees, and Hopper Duo Smart DVR for 1 TV. Programming package upgrades ($79.99 for AT120+, $89.99 for AT200, $99.99 for AT250), monthly fees for upgraded or additional receivers ($5-$7 per additional TV, receivers with additional functionality may be $10-$15). Taxes & surcharges, add-on programming (including premium channels), DISH Protect, and transactional fees. 3 Mos. Free: After 3 mos., you will be billed $20/mo. for Showtime and DISH Movie Pack unless you call or go online to cancel. All packages, programming, features, and functionality and all prices and fees not included in price lock are subject to change without notice. After 6 mos., if selected, you will be billed $9.99/mo. for DISH Protect Silver unless you call to cancel. After 2 years, then-current everyday prices for all services apply.

All Offers: Offer not valid in select areas of CT, NC, SC, MN, IL, OH, NY. Check promotion availability for your address. Maximum service speed is not available to all locations and the maximum speed for service at your location may be lower than the maximum speed in this range. Service speed is not guaranteed and will depend on many factors. Your ability to stream may be limited by speeds available in your area. Cannot be combined with other promotional offers on the same services. Equipment, taxes, governmental surcharges, and fees including broadband router fee ($10/mo.), Internet Infrastructure Surcharge ($3.99/mo.), and other applicable charges extra, and subject to change during and after the promotional period. A $9.99 equipment delivery/handling fee applies. A $9.99 broadband processing fee upon disconnection of service applies. Service and promotion subject to availability. $75 Installation fee waived on new Frontier Double and Triple plays. Standard charges apply for jack installation, wiring and other additional services. Frontier reserves the right to withdraw this offer at any time. Other restrictions apply. Subject to Frontier’s fair use policy and terms of service.

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