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Telecom Industry Lobbyist Gets Friendly Reception on C-SPAN

The cable industry’s public affairs network — C-SPAN, gave a friendly reception to a top telecom industry lobbyist over the weekend, responding to soft ball questions about rural broadband and telecommunications public policy debates.

Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom appeared on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators” to answer questions about broadband service in the era of COVID-19. USTelecom’s members, primarily telephone companies, have been strong proponents for government funding of rural broadband expansion, are opposed to telecom industry regulation and net neutrality policies, and argues that the more oversight and regulation the industry deals with, the less investment Wall Street will direct towards broadband networks.

Spalter was asked about how American broadband networks handled the work/learn-from-home requirements during the coronavirus pandemic. Spalter said networks handled the increased traffic well, but noted many rural Americans still lack access to high-speed internet. Some Democrats have proposed regulating broadband service as a utility to deal with issues of access and affordability, an idea that Spalter rejects.

“To wrap it in the red tape of regulatory strictures, the overhang of bureaucracy that would be required if we were to make it a utility, would take us backward,” Spalter said, adding he prefers “light touch” regulation. But Spalter had no objection to spending taxpayer dollars to pay for-profit telephone companies to expand broadband service in high-cost rural areas. Spalter called estimates that it would cost $100 billion to bring high speed internet service to all Americans “adequate.”

Jonathan Spalter, USTelecom’s president and CEO, talked about the coronavirus’s impact on telecommunications, regulatory issues, and solving the problems of rural internet access. (28:52)

ATSC 3.0 (Or Why You Need a New TV Set If You Watch Over-the-Air TV) is Coming Sooner Than You Think

Phillip Dampier July 2, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

America’s next over the air broadcast TV standard is arriving this year and you will need to purchase a new television capable of receiving it or rely on a converter add-on box that is currently almost impossible to purchase to receive ATSC 3.0 broadcasts on your existing television sets.

ATSC 3.0 (dubbed “NextGen TV” by the marketing people), will be available to watch in over 60 cities this year, reaching up to 70% of all U.S. television households. The benefits of the new television standard include significantly improved pictures, better reception (especially in fringe areas away from the transmitter), a dramatically larger number of available “sub-channels” available to offer ancillary services like Me-TV, Grit, Retro TV, and dozens of others, and customized, targeted advertising based on your viewing habits.

A handful of stations are already up and running with NextGen TV, with many more signing on during the second half of 2020. Here is a complete list of cities where NextGen TV broadcasts will start this year:

Already on the air — These cities have NextGen TV stations already on the air:

Boise, Idaho
Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas
Las Vegas
Nashville, Tenn.
Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, Fla.
Phoenix
Pittsburgh
Portland, Ore.
Salt Lake City
Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Currently testing or preparing to launch in:

East Lansing, Mich.
Los Angeles

Planning to launch during the second half of 2020 in:

Albany-Schenectady-Troy, N.Y.
Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M.
Atlanta
Austin, Tex.
Baltimore
Boston
Buffalo, N.Y.
Burlington, Vt.-Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Charleston-Huntington, W.V.
Charleston, S.C.
Charlotte, N.C.
Chattanooga, Tenn.
Chicago
Cincinnati
Cleveland-Akron, Ohio
Columbus, Ohio
Davenport, Iowa-Rock Island-Moline, Ill.
Denver
Detroit
Flint-Saginaw-Bay City, Mich.
Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo, Mich.
Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson, S.C.
Asheville, N.C.
Hartford-New Haven, Conn.
Houston
Indianapolis
Kansas City, Kan.-Mo.
Little Rock-Pine Bluff, Ark.
Memphis, Tenn.
Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Milwaukee
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
Mobile, Ala.-Pensacola, Fla.
New York
Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, Va.
Oklahoma City
Omaha, Neb.
Providence, R.I.-New Bedford, Mass.
Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
Rochester, N.Y.
Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, Calif.
San Antonio
San Diego
San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Calif.
Seattle-Tacoma, Wash.
Springfield, Mo.
St. Louis
Syracuse, N.Y.
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota, Fla.
Washington, D.C.
West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, Fla.

Rumored: Spectrum Plans to Raise Rates; Broadcast TV Fee: $16.45/mo

Phillip Dampier July 2, 2020 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News No Comments

Several Spectrum employees have contacted Stop the Cap! to let us know a rate increase is planned for Spectrum services that will raise rates for cable television customers beginning as early as next month.

The rate increase is expected to gradually be introduced starting in August, but we are not aware of any specific schedule, nor have we been able to confirm the increase directly with Charter Communications. If our information is accurate, this specific rate increase will not apply to internet-only customers.

The Broadcast TV Fee surcharge will increase $2.95/month to an unprecedented $16.45/month. Spectrum claims this fee covers the retransmission costs local broadcasters charge the cable company to carry their channels on the cable system. Spectrum breaks this fee out of the monthly cost of cable TV and places it as a separate line item on your bill. This also conveniently allows the company to pass through rate increases even if you are on a price-locked promotional pricing package typically offered to new customers. If you do not subscribe to traditional cable television but have signed up for one of Spectrum’s streaming TV packages like TV Choice, the Broadcast TV Fee will also increase $2.95/month, raising that surcharge to $8.95/month.

Spectrum also plans to increase the cost of its cable TV packages. Spectrum’s most popular TV Select package is expected to increase $1.50/month to $73.99/month. Customers on a promotional pricing plan will not see this rate increase until their promotional pricing expires. Customers bundling multiple products should expect discounts to reduce that cost a bit.

In comparison, streaming TV providers like YouTube TV have also been increasing rates this summer, but should still be cheaper than cable television because of the various surcharges and equipment fees cable operators charge.

AT&T Leaves Data Caps and Overlimit Fees on Hold Until September 30

Phillip Dampier July 1, 2020 Consumer News, Data Caps No Comments

AT&T has announced it will continue offering unlimited internet to all wired residential customers, with no overlimit fees, through Sept. 30:

“You’ve got a lot of things on your mind right now, so we’re going to help carry the load by continuing to waive home internet data overage charges for AT&T Internet customers through September 30. That means new and existing AT&T Fiber and AT&T Internet customers can continue to video conference, binge shows and movies, play video games, etc., and won’t see overage charges on their home internet bill.”

AT&T had usage capped its wired home internet customers at different levels, depending on the grade of service:

These usage caps are on hold until Sept. 30. Customers will not incur overlimit fees until after that date.

How Generous: Comcast Slaps the Caps Back On, Ups Allowance to 1.2 TB a Month

Phillip Dampier July 1, 2020 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Data Caps No Comments

Comcast has switched back on its data caps and overlimit fees, but is upping allowances 20% — to 1.2 TB, after several years of a 1 TB allowance. Earlier this week, less stingy Cox boosted its caps by 25% to 1.25 TB.

But what Comcast giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other. Previously, customers that found themselves over the limit had two ‘get out of overlimit fees free’ cards per year, which meant overlimit fees did not apply. Now the company is reducing that to just one free pass per year. But be careful. If you exceed your allowance two or more times during a 12-month period starting with your first instance of going over your allowance, you will receive no more free passes, ever. If you have already exceeded your allowance during 2020, don’t worry, Comcast is resetting their counter to zero this one time.

Exceeding your allowance is costly. Comcast will bill you $10 for each 50 GB you exceed their cap, up to a maximum of $100 a month.

There are three ways to avoid Comcast’s data caps:

First, you can live in a state where Comcast does not cap internet usage. Most of those states are in the northeast. Unfortunately, most states are now data capped by Comcast: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Western Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, Utah, Southwest Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Note, data caps do not currently apply to Xfinity Internet customers on Gigabit Pro service, Business Internet customers, customers on non-upgradable Bulk Internet agreements (condos, apartments, etc.), or customers with Prepaid Internet.

Second, you can choose the xFi Complete option for a costly $25/month. It includes unlimited data, whole home Wi-Fi service, and a xFi Gateway, including “Advanced Security” to block certain malicious website activity. If you bought these separately, it would cost $44/month. If you already lease a xFi Gateway, you can upgrade to xFi complete for an additional $11/month.

Third, you can purchase Unlimited Data for $30/month if you own and use your own cable modem and router. Existing customers can upgrade to the Unlimited Data plan now by calling 1-800-Xfinity or clicking here.

Data caps, allowances, and overlimit fees are completely arbitrary and do not reflect the actual cost of usage. Comcast argues that heavier users should pay more, even though their cost is nearly the same regardless of usage.

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