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Internet Only Customers: Average Usage: 395.7 GB; 1 TB+ “Power Users” Double in One Year

Phillip Dampier May 23, 2019 Consumer News, Data Caps, Online Video No Comments

Online video-driven broadband usage has reached an all-time high, increasing 27% in just one year, with internet-only customers now consuming an average of 395.7 GB — almost double the average 209.5 GB consumed by households that still have traditional cable television.

The OpenVault Broadband Industry Report, issued quarterly, reports that significant differences in usage between households with a traditional cable TV package and those that have cord-cut make it clear online video is driving much of the increased usage.

“Cord cutting behavior is impacting bundling and bandwidth consumption,” OpenVault explained. “Service providers rode a significant wave over the past ten years with triple and double-play bundling of services. There is evidence to suggest that wave has crested, as more consumers opt for internet-only packages.”

The results suggest the one effective tool providers still have to curtail heavy video streaming is mandatory data caps or consumption-based billing. An internet provider with a low data cap deters online video streaming, protecting traditional cable television revenue.

In the last year, the number of “power users” (those using 1 TB per month) doubled to 4.2% of all subscribers, with “power users of the future” (2+ TB of usage a month) more than doubling from 0.16% last year to 0.38% this year. “Power users” of 1 TB or more account for 6.5% of all internet-only households vs. 2.2% in homes still subscribing to a bundle of TV and internet service.

The clearest evidence of how data caps deter usage is found among “power users” that use 1 TB or more of data each month. With several large providers enforcing a 1 TB data allowance, OpenVault found dramatic differences in usage patterns between uncapped and capped customers. As customers become wary of exceeding their 1 TB cap, many “power users” ration usage out of fear of incurring overlimit fees, especially towards the end of a billing cycle.

Subscribers treat an assigned “data allowance” more like a hard data cap. OpenVault found that with flat-rate/unlimited plans, the percentage of power users is 32% greater than those with usage-based billing, and the percentage of subscribers using over 2 TB is 76% greater on unlimited plans where customers don’t have to fear using up their allowance.

DoJ Staffers Recommend Blocking the T-Mobile/Sprint Merger

Staffers working for the antitrust division of the Department of Justice have recommended the agency sue to block the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, arguing it will reduce competition and raise prices for consumers.

Two sources familiar with the matter told CNBC staffers have been skeptical of the merger and recommended blocking it on antitrust grounds. But the final decision will rest with President Donald Trump’s political appointees, notably Makan Delrahim, who heads the antitrust division. Delrahim can agree, modify, or reject the staffers’ recommendations.

The disclosure hammered Sprint shares earlier this morning in pre-market trading. Wall Street analysts are likely experiencing significant headaches trying to predict where the deal will ultimately end up. Earlier this week, the FCC’s Republican majority signaled they were prepared to approve the merger, based on concessions including the spinoff of prepaid Boost Mobile, which resells Sprint service.

A final decision from the Justice Department is likely to be announced in June.

Maine Considers New Law Forcing Cable Companies to Sell TV Channels A-La-Carte

Charter Spectrum serves a significant part of the state of Maine.

The Maine state government is reviewing a measure that would require all cable operators in the state to offer customers the chance to buy individual cable channels instead of being forced into a large and costly package of dozens, if not hundreds of unwanted TV channels.

“The senior citizens in my area want to watch the Boston Red Sox,” says Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship. “The package that Spectrum is offering in Maine that includes the Red Sox costs about a hundred bucks. These people are making $800 bucks a month on Social Security. They’re bemoaning to me at the doors, you know, ‘I can’t afford television anymore Jeff.’ And they grew up in an era when television was free.”

Maine Public Radio reports Evangelos’ solution is an insertion of a single sentence into the state franchising law:

A cable system operator shall offer subscribers the option of purchasing access to cable channels, or programs on cable channels, individually.

The proposed change won support from a state legislative committee, but scorn from cable industry lobbyists that claim the proposed measure violates federal law.

Chris Hodgdon, a Comcast lobbyist, pointed to the specific statute forbidding states from telling cable operators how to conduct business: “No state shall regulate the products, rates, services of a cable provider.”

Charter Spectrum’s regional lobbyist Melinda Kinney warned any such law would likely face immediate court challenges. Kinney complained the measure was unfair because it targets cable operators while excluding satellite and streaming providers. But consumer advocates argue that the law could actually help the cable industry as cord-cutting becomes a national phenomenon. Subscribers agree.

“I’d sign back up for cable TV in a minute if I could pick my own channels and pay a reasonable price,” said Jack Winters, 71, a former Comcast customer near Brunswick. “Comcast makes you take all or nothing so I took nothing. I miss not getting Fox News Channel, Turner Classic Movies, and Hallmark, but my bank account doesn’t.”

Sen. Angus King, the independent senator from Maine, has done his part to investigate whether such a state law would violate federal deregulation measures. He took the proposal to the FCC.

Patrick Webre, chief of the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau responded that no state has passed such a law before, so he couldn’t say much:

“In your letter you asked whether a state mandate that a cable operator provide a-la-carte services would be pre-empted by federal law. This poses a question of first impression, and we could not locate any specific Commission rules that addresses your exact issue. Thus we are not in a position to express an opinion on the question you raise.”

Under the Trump Administration, however, the Republican majority controlling the FCC would likely oppose the measure because it would introduce new regulations on the industry, something that has historically been anathema to Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr, formerly a lawyer for Wiley Rein, which represents the interests of several large telecom companies, would likely also oppose the measure.

The bill now moves to the full Legislature on a tri-partisan vote of 8-2 and will be debated first in the House.

A proposed new law would require cable operators in Maine to sell individual cable channels to customers. (4:08)

Comcast Working on New Device to Track Your Health; It Knows How Often You Use the Bathroom

Phillip Dampier May 21, 2019 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News 1 Comment

Comcast wants to keep track of your health with a new device, similar to Google Home or Amazon Echo, that it plans to beta test starting later this year.

The yet-to-be-named home health monitor will use “ambient sensors” to monitor activity in your home, and will first be targeted for at-risk, stay-at-home seniors and others with special needs. The device can keep track of bathroom and sleep habits, detect falls, and offer a voice-activated alert system allowing owners to contact family members or emergency personnel, if needed.

Because many seniors may not report or share evidence of deteriorating health, the new Comcast device will be able to intelligently track any potential warning signs, such as staying in bed for increasing periods of time. It could also remind users to take their medication.

If the beta test is successful, Comcast will market the medical monitoring device to older seniors, those just out of hospital, and individuals with disabilities. The device will use a voice-activated response system, but will not offer support for intelligent home devices like lights or security alarms.

CNBC notes the move would bring Comcast into competition with a number of technology companies. Google is looking at using its Nest and Google Home devices in senior living facilities, Apple added fall detection and heart health tracking to its smartwatch, and Amazon has been exploring opportunities in tech for the growing aging population for several years.

BREAKING: Department of Justice Leaning Against T-Mobile/Sprint Merger

Bloomberg News is reporting this afternoon that the Justice Department is leaning against the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, because the proposed concessions offered by the two companies this morning do not resolve antitrust concerns, according to a person familiar with the review.

News of the reported opposition leaked out on the same day FCC Chairman Ajit Pai offered his support of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, sparking media speculation Pai would not have issued his unqualified support unless the Justice Department was likely to follow suit.

If Bloomberg’s source is correct, the opposition on antitrust and competition grounds would be a major setback for the merger. Bloomberg reports that the fate of the deal now likely rests with Makan Delrahim, the head of the antitrust division of the Justice Department. Delrahim must weigh whether the merger would hurt competition and raise prices. If it would, he would likely seek to block the $26.5 billion deal.

The news has stemmed the telecom rally on Wall Street. Sprint was still trading up 14% at $7.08 at 2:44 p.m. in New York, but gave up half of its earlier gains. T-Mobile also has slowed and was up 2.9% to $77.52.

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