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FCC Approves Verizon’s Acquisition of TracFone

The Federal Communications Commission today approved Verizon’s acquisition of low-cost carrier TracFone Wireless, which will bring a familiar brand for prepaid wireless service under the wireless giant’s corporate umbrella.

Sources indicate there were enough votes in favor of the deal late last week for FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to distribute an approval order on Friday ahead of the formal vote.

The approval means Verizon will control the country’s largest wireless carrier for low income subscribers enrolled in the federal government’s Lifeline program, which offers substantial discounts on phones and service. About 1.7 million customers currently use TracFone under the Lifeline program, and Verizon committed to the FCC that it would continue participating in the program for at least the next seven years. The company also promised to maintain TracFone’s existing rate plans for at least three years and would continue to promote and educate consumers about Lifeline service.

A separate agreement with the California Public Utilities Commission commits Verizon to provide subsidized wireless service to low-income California residents for at least 20 years, and a free phone to qualified customers starting in late 2022.

“Verizon welcomes the FCC’s approval today of our TracFone acquisition,” said Kathy Grillo, Verizon SVP & DGC, public policy and government affairs, in a statement. The deal will provide customers with the best of both worlds: more choices, better services and new features thanks to Verizon’s investment and innovation. Customers will benefit with enhancements in devices, network performance and innovative products and services — as well as a continued commitment to Lifeline.”

TracFone was one of the country’s largest independent wireless brands. The company was formerly a unit of Mexico’s America Movil, controlled by billionaire Carlos Slim.

Hulu Live TV Raising Prices to $69.99/Mo, But Subscribers Will Get Disney+ and ESPN+ Included

Phillip Dampier November 19, 2021 Competition, Consumer News, Hulu, Online Video No Comments

Hulu’s live streaming TV service, known as Hulu Live, will get more expensive starting Dec. 21, with a stiff $5/month rate increase, bringing the cost of the 75+ channel ad-supported streaming and live TV package to $69.99 a month. Customers opting for ad-free Hulu streaming + Live TV will pay $75.99. The rate increase applies equally to new and existing customers.

The Disney-controlled service hopes to boost the perceived value of its streaming and live TV package by bundling in Disney-owned ESPN+ and Disney+, which will boost subscriber numbers for both services. Subscribers may balk, however, if they do not perceive much value from the two additional services they are now forced to pay for as part of an ongoing subscription. Subscribers might rebel and drop Hulu Live in favor of another streaming provider, while maintaining more affordable Hulu streaming-only plans ($6.99/mo for ad-supported, $12.99 for commercial-free).

Current Hulu Live subscribers that also have active subscriptions directly with Disney+ and ESPN+ can convert those paid subscriptions to credit towards the new Hulu Live bundle package. Your e-mail address must be the same for both services. If not, you can contact customer service for assistance.

Although cord-cutting continues to accelerate, the potential savings from switching to less-costly online packages of live channels has diminished as service providers boost prices. Hulu last raised its Live TV pricing by $10 a month in December 2020. YouTube TV has also seen steep rate increases, although both providers would argue their growing packages of channels offer better value to subscribers. Some cable and satellite operators have used these rate increases to their advantage, offering “win-back” discount promotions to former subscribers to return, with limited success. Spectrum has seen some growth offering streaming cable TV packages that bundle local channels and popular cable networks over wireless devices, smart TVs, and Roku for about $30-35 a month.

Spectrum Drops Gigabit Install Fee to $19.99, Was $50-200

Phillip Dampier November 17, 2021 Broadband Speed, Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 1 Comment

New customers in competitive service areas can pay less for gigabit service, but anyone can get the higher speed tier for a $19.99 “activation fee.”

Charter Communications has slashed its arbitrary installation and activation fee for Spectrum’s gigabit broadband service to $19.99 for new and upgrading customers.

For years, customers paid fees ranging from $49.99 to $199.99 just to sign up for gigabit internet speed. Ongoing service pricing ranges from a promotional price of $89.99 a month in competitive service areas to $134.99 a month for broadband-only service where competition is lacking or non-existent.

Real world speed tests show Spectrum Internet Gig performing at around 940 Mbps for downloads and just shy of 40 Mbps for uploads.

Current customers might be able to order the speed upgrade online through Spectrum’s customer service portal. No service call is required.

Some customers might need a new modem to take advantage of gigabit speed. Spectrum can swap out existing modems at their cable store locations or by mail.

Biden Nominates Broadband-for-all Advocate Rosenworcel to Lead FCC

Phillip Dampier October 27, 2021 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters No Comments

Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Jessica Rosenworcel, a champion of broadband access for low-income American households, is President Joe Biden’s choice for permanent chair of the Federal Communications Commission, the White House confirmed on Tuesday.

A Democrat who already serves as acting FCC chairwoman under Biden, she is expected to win U.S. Senate approval for a new term on the five-member telecoms regulator. Biden announced he intends to nominate her for a new term and a White House official said Biden will tap her to become the first woman to serve as permanent FCC chief.

Biden has waited more than nine months to make nominations for the FCC, which has not been able to address some issues because it currently has one vacancy and is divided 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans.

For the open seat, the White House confirmed to nominate Gigi Sohn, a former senior aide to Tom Wheeler, who served as an FCC chairman under President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

Rosenworcel has overseen the FCC’s temporary $3.2 billion broadband subsidy program created by Congress in December that provides discounts on monthly internet service and on the purchase of laptops or tablet computers to more than 6 million lower-income American households or people afflicted by COVID-19.

She has said the lack of broadband access leads to a “homework gap” for lower-income Americans because most teachers assign homework that requires internet access.

The White House also confirmed Biden will nominate Alan Davidson, a senior adviser at Mozilla, as director of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the executive branch agency principally responsible for advising the White House on telecommunications and information policy issues. NTIA is also expected to oversee tens of billions of dollars in funding from Congress to expand internet access.

Last month, a group of 25 U.S. senators wrote to Biden in support of Rosenworcel, a former Senate staffer, for a new term and the chair role. They wrote “further delays will unnecessarily imperil our shared goal of achieving ubiquitous broadband connectivity.”

Rosenworcel and her staff did not respond late on Monday to requests for comment on the announcement expected as soon as Tuesday. Without being confirmed to a new term, Rosenworcel would need to leave the FCC at the end of the year.

She has said the FCC decision under then-Republican President Donald Trump in 2017 to overturn net neutrality rules had put the FCC “on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.”

The FCC under Obama, Trump’s predecessor, adopted the net neutrality rules in 2015 barring internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes.

Supporters of net neutrality say the protections ensure a free and open internet. Broadband and telecoms trade groups contend their legal basis from the pre-internet era was outdated and would discourage investment.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Howard Goller and David Gregorio

Spectrum Mobile Cuts Pricing on Multi-Line Unlimited Data Plans

Charter Communications this week reduced prices on multi-line unlimited data plans.

A customer with one line of unlimited data service will continue to pay $45 a month for the plan, but each additional line of unlimited data will now cost $29.99 a month — a $15 reduction from Spectrum’s old pricing.

Xfinity Mobile, Comcast’s similar wireless service, already cut multi-line unlimited pricing to $30 a month back in April 2021.

Rutledge

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge told investors last spring that he wanted to drive customer growth in Charter’s mobile phone offering by slashing mobile service pricing.

“Our goal is to do the same with mobile in our service area as we did with wireline voice, where we made Charter the predominant wireline phone carrier by reducing consumer telephone bills by over 70%, meaning Charter can grow for a long time because we remain under-penetrated and our growth will reduce customer costs,” Rutledge said.

For several years, Charter charged most bundled customers $10 a month for a flat-rate, unlimited long distance home phone line. The company raised prices $3 a month for landline service earlier this year, but claims it still delivers significant savings over traditional landline service.

Both Charter and Xfinity Mobile operate their wireless mobile services using a combination of Wi-Fi calling and roaming on Verizon’s 4G and 5G networks. Customers must agree to bundle home broadband service to get the lowest mobile pricing. If a customer drops internet service, mobile pricing increases $20/mo per line.

Charter’s new pricing undercuts T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon:

Service pricing for two-line unlimited data plans

  • Spectrum Mobile: $75/mo
  • T-Mobile: $105/mo
  • AT&T: $125/mo
  • Verizon: $130/mo

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