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AT&T Charges Customers to Recoup Cost of Tax It Never Paid

Phillip Dampier October 14, 2019 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

AT&T customers in Portland, Ore. discovered their cell phone bills increased this summer because the wireless company decided to pass along the costs of Portland’s Clean Energy Tax to its customers. Except AT&T is exempt from paying the tax, but wants customers to pay to recoup costs the phone company is not paying.

Portland’s Revenue Bureau told Willamette Week it classifies cell phone providers as utilities, and they are exempt from the tax.

Scott Karter, a manager in the Revenue Bureau, said it was up to AT&T to decide if it will refund customers for the charges it has collected since August.

“The code does not specifically address amounts that might be over-collected from customers,” Karter said.

AT&T had no comment.

Comcast Moves Turner Classic Movies to High-Cost “Sports and Entertainment” $10 Add-On

Phillip Dampier October 14, 2019 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is now missing from Comcast TV subscribers’ basic package, moved to a high-cost add-on primarily known for its added sports channels.

Xfinity customers must now subscribe to a $9.99 “Sports Entertainment Package” to get the popular commercial-free classic movie channel back on their televisions, and many are howling in anger about the change.

“Comcast’s greed is unparalleled in modern history,” wrote Dennis Haefler. “Big oil, banks, and the railroads of the last century have nothing on Comcast.”

Customers on Comcast’s basic and economy television packages with the fewest channels will have to pay even more than $10 a month to get TCM back. Only customers signed up for at least Xfinity’s 140-channel “Starter” package and up can add the “Sports Entertainment Package” to their lineup. That could cost some as much as $30 more a month to get back a single channel. That add-on package is an odd place to put TCM, considering it is primarily a dumping ground for costly sports networks like NFL RedZone, CBS Sports Network, ESPN Goal Line & Bases Loaded, MLB, and other sports-related channels.

Comcast told the Atlanta Journal Constitution in a statement it moved TCM because most customers do not watch it:

“Every month, Comcast pays programmers like networks, local TV station owners and others, for the ability to bring their programming to you. We regularly review our programming and sometimes make changes to ensure we’re offering a wide variety of programming at the best value. We look at a variety of factors, including customer viewership and programming costs when making these decisions. Viewership of TCM is low, as over 90% of our customers watch less than two movies per month. Given this and contractual limitations on offering TCM a la carte, we decided to move TCM to the Sports Entertainment Package, which will help us manage programming costs that are passed on to our customers while continuing to make the channel available to those who want to watch it.”

TCM is making available a chart of alternative providers where subscribers can still get TCM without paying for a costly upgrade to get channels many do not want:

Nevada’s Attorney General Finds Frontier Internet Lacking, Wins Refunds and Upgrades

Frontier residential customers in Nevada could receive a refund and improved service after a court filing from the Nevada Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP) found Frontier’s internet services lacking.

Since 2017, BCP has collected scores of complaints about Frontier’s internet service and its performance, mostly regarding slow service, frequent outages, and ongoing billing problems.

The BCP found Frontier liable under NRS Chapter 598 which forbids providers from misleading consumers about internet speed and service performance in marketing and advertising. An Assurance of Discontinuance filed with the court allowed Frontier to settle while avoiding admitting any wrongdoing and agreeing to correct service deficiencies.

The state found Frontier repeatedly did not disclose limitations of broadband service availability and knowingly marketed its DSL service at speeds the company could not provide customers.

According to the court document:

  • Frontier is required to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose in its print and broadcast advertising the actual internet speeds available to customers in terms of minimum and maximum speed.
  • Customers that sign up for a high-speed plan that Frontier cannot provide may switch to a lower speed plan or discontinue service incurring no penalties or early cancellation fees.
  • Existing customers that do not receive at least 90% of the highest speed their current plan advertises will receive a service credit of 50% of the internet charge for each month Frontier did not provide such speed. Credits will begin in 2020 and end three years after the date the court accepts the Assurance.
  • Frontier has also agreed to invest at least $1 million to improve internet service in Elko County.

AT&T Ditches Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands to Raise Money to Cut Debt, Buy Back Its Own Stock

AT&T will sell its operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to John Malone’s Liberty Latin America, Ltd., setting up a virtual market monopoly for Liberty, which already owns cable operator Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico.

Liberty Latin America has agreed to pay $1.95 billion in cash to acquire 1.1 million AT&T cellular, landline, and internet customers in both U.S. territories.

AT&T intends to use the proceeds of the sale to reduce debt and allow the company to lay the foundation to buy back more of its own shares, pleasing investors. AT&T had originally sought up to $3 billion for the Caribbean networks, partly acquired from a 2009 acquisition of Centennial Communications, which cost AT&T less than $1 billion.

Analysts say the low selling price shows AT&T is feeling pressure from activist investor Elliott Management, which has been pushing AT&T to divest non-core assets. The selling price was also impacted by the distressed state of AT&T’s infrastructure and customer base, impacted by Hurricane Maria in 2017, which damaged both the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and displaced hundreds of thousands of residents.

Liberty already has a major presence in Puerto Rico through its cable system — Puerto Rico’s largest pay television and broadband provider. Cable tycoon John Malone will effectively control Puerto Rico’s largest wireless phone and cable company. Claro, Puerto Rico’s landline provider, will be its chief competitor.

The two companies said they expect the deal to close within six to nine months.

Verizon and T-Mobile: Poor Neighborhoods Won’t Get 5G

Verizon and T-Mobile are redlining their up and coming 5G wireless services to target wealthy neighborhoods and business districts while shunning the urban poor.

Dave Burstein examined the coverage maps of both carriers in cities like Manhattan and found a distinction in the service available in wealthy southern Manhattan and what upper Manhattan neighborhoods including Harlem and the mostly Latino Washington Heights are getting. For both companies, 5G is not much of a priority for Brooklyn either.

“I do not think T-Mobile specifically intended to exclude people of color, but that seems to be the practical effect,” Burstein wrote.

(Image: Dave Burstein)

Ronan Dunne, executive vice president & group CEO of Verizon Consumer confirmed that Verizon will be targeting 5G service to areas where it makes the most economic sense. He said that more than half of Verizon Wireless customers will continue to get 4G LTE-like speeds, with the rest eventually upgraded to 5G service.

“So we’ve taken a very clear view that we want to have both a coverage strategy and a capability strategy. And a very large majority of the volume of data that we carry on our networks goes to large, dense urban environments,” Dunne told investors recently. “So from a population point of view, it’ll be significantly less than half of the customers [getting 5G]. But from a data traffic point of view, it’s significantly more than half. So when it comes to the ability to use 5G as a significant capacity enhancement, there’s more of an opportunity to leverage that in the urban areas.”

In other words, Verizon plans to target population dense urban areas for 5G service the most, because that is where most of its data-loving customers live and where they network’s cost effectiveness may be the highest. Although the geographic coverage of 5G will seem relatively small, the population density of areas targeted for 5G service is not.

Dunne

Verizon has been touting its forthcoming nationwide 5G network, but Dunne has hinted to investors that the devil will be in the details. Not every customer will have access to Verizon’s super fast millimeter wave 5G service. In fact, at least half the country will be serviced by existing 4G LTE cell towers upgraded to provide 5G service on lower frequencies capable of reaching far beyond the coverage area offered by millimeter wave service. But that will also mean a much larger number of customers will share the same 5G network connection, potentially dramatically reducing speed and performance. Dunne said the performance of this type of 5G service “will approximate a good 4G service.”

Burstein notes in real terms, this will mean a significant difference in network speed. Verizon’s millimeter wave service will be capable of delivering 1-2 Gbps, while Verizon’s 5G upgrade of its existing 4G cell towers will deliver speeds in the low hundreds of megabits per second, potentially even slower on crowded cell sites.

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