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Charter Guilty of Sending “Untrue and Improper” Letters Inferring Windstream’s Days Were Numbered

The federal judge handling Windstream’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization has found Charter Communications culpable for mailing “untrue and improper” advertisements to Windstream customers implying the company was going out of business and abandoning its customers.

Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain ruled in favor of a preliminary injunction forbidding Charter from sending any further letters of this type and requiring Charter to pay Windstream to mail clarification letters to all Windstream customers who received the false advertisements from Spectrum.

Judge Drain also ruled:

  • Charter must pay all costs to restore Windstream service for former customers who switched to Spectrum based on their understanding that Windstream was discontinuing service.
  • Charter may not imply Windstream is going out of business in any future solicitations, or suggest that its current financial difficulties will have any negative impact on service.
  • Charter is forbidden from using advertising messages including “Goodbye, Windstream, Hello Spectrum,” or “Windstream Customer, Don’t Risk Losing your TV and Internet Service” in either direct mail or door-to-door marketing campaigns.

Windstream complained to the bankruptcy court about Charter’s mailings, which it claimed were designed to mislead customers into thinking Windstream’s days were numbered.

Rogers Announces “Infinite” Data Plans That Are Finite and Throttle You

Canadians, living under a regime of three national wireless carriers (Bell, Rogers, and Telus) pay some of the highest wireless prices in the world. A new plan announced today from Rogers Communications is unlikely to change that.

“Introducing Rogers Infinite – Unlimited Data plans for Infinite Possibilities,” or so claims Rogers’ website.

Canadians’ initial enthusiasm and excitement for Rogers’ new “unlimited data plans” was quickly tempered by the accompanying fine print that makes it clear the plans may be free of overlimit fees, but very much limit their usability once the data allowance runs out. Customers can pool data with family and friends, but Rogers did not mention exactly how.

Rogers Infinite oddly offers three different price tiers, based on… usage, which is strange for an “unlimited” plan:

  • Infinite +10 offers 10 GB of data at traditional 4G LTE speed, bundled with unlimited calling and texting for $75 a month.
  • Infinite +20 offers 20 GB of data at traditional 4G LTE speed, bundled with unlimited calling and texting for $95 a month.
  • Infinite +50 offers 50 GB of data at traditional 4G LTE speed, bundled with unlimited calling and texting for $125 a month.

Those prices are steep by American standards, but Rogers also incorporates fine print that few carriers south of the border would attempt. First, Mobile Syrup reports included calls and texts must be from a Canadian number to a Canadian number. Extra fees may apply if you contact your friends in America and beyond. The “infinite” runs out when your allowance does. After that, it may take an infinitely long time to use your device because Rogers will throttle upload and download speeds to a maximum of 256 kbps for the rest of the billing cycle. American carriers, in contrast, typically only throttle customers on busy cell towers after exceeding an average of 20-50 GB of usage, although some mandate a throttle based entirely on usage. If customers want more high-speed data, they can purchase a Rogers Speed Pass for $15 and receive an extra 3 GB of high-speed data. In contrast, T-Mobile offers U.S. customers an unlimited line for $60 with no speed throttle until usage exceeds 50 GB a month. That is less than half the cost of Rogers’ Infinite +50 plan for an equal amount of high-speed data.

More fine print:

Rogers Infinite data plans include 10 GB, 20 GB or 50 GB of data at max speed on the Rogers network, extended coverage areas within Canada, and Roam Like Home destinations (see rogers.com/roamlikehome). You will continue to have access to data services with no overage beyond the max speed allotment at a reduced speed of up to 256 kilobits per second (for both upload and download) until the end of your current billing cycle. Applications such as email, web browsing, apps, and audio/video streaming will continue to function at a reduced speed which will likely impact your experience. We will send you a text message notifying you when you have used 90% and 100% of the max speed allotment included in your plan with the option to purchase a Speed Pass to add more max speed data to your plan. In all cases, usage is subject to the Rogers Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policy.

Frontier Wrestles Worst ISP in America Award Away from Mediacom

“Frontier offers a level of suckage that cannot be proportionally compared with any other company in America. Stabbing yourself with knitting needles is less painful than their snail slow internet service and dealing with customer service agents that formerly served as prison guards at a Syrian detention camp.” — A deeply dissatisfied Frontier DSL customer in Ohio

Frontier Communications has achieved a new low in customer satisfaction, wrestling away the award for America’s worst ISP from perennial favorite Mediacom, in a newly released American Customer Satisfaction Index.

No internet service provider did particularly well in customer satisfaction, but Frontier managed to alienate more of their customers than any other this year, ranking poorly in speed, reliability, and customer service. Customers also complained about being given inaccurate information, inaccurate billing, and surprise charges on their bill.

Frontier’s worst performance is delivered in legacy DSL service areas, where its aging copper wire network is often incapable of delivering 21st century broadband speeds. In many areas, speeds drop well below 10 Mbps during peak usage. Even worse, company officials signaled that the company had few plans to improve its wireline network or service experience in 2019. As a result, many customers switched providers, if one was available. If Frontier is the only option, customers often have no options.

“For several years we have had no internet options except for Frontier. We receive 10 to 20% of the service we pay for time and time again,” wrote one customer in a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. “The service has even diminished over time, [and] whenever my work demands me to log online, I often have to leave my home at different times of the day or night to a location where I can get free Wi-Fi or drive 24 miles to my job. This is totally unacceptable. Every single weekend and every night my internet shuts off. I mean every night. Nothing has been done from a customer’s view to improve service.”

What seems to have driven Mediacom out of last place was not so much an improvement in their network or service.

“Mediacom has the second-lowest score among subscription TV services at 56, but has one of the highest-rated mobile apps, both in terms of quality and reliability,” the ACSI found.

Frontier has an improved website, but still offers many potential subscribers a severe disappointment when shopping for internet plans, and finding only one:

N.Y. and California Head 10-State Lawsuit to Block T-Mobile/Sprint Merger

 James

New York Attorney General Letitia James and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today filed an unusual multi-state lawsuit, along with eight other State Attorneys General to halt the proposed merger of telecom giants T-Mobile and Sprint, deciding not to wait for a decision from the Department of Justice, which is also reviewing the merger. The complaint, filed in the federal Southern District of New York court in coordination with Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Virginia, and Wisconsin alleges that the merger of two of the four largest national mobile network operators would deprive consumers of the benefits of competition and drive up prices for cellphone services.

“When it comes to corporate power, bigger isn’t always better,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “The T-Mobile and Sprint merger would not only cause irreparable harm to mobile subscribers nationwide by cutting access to affordable, reliable wireless service for millions of Americans, but would particularly affect lower-income and minority communities here in New York and in urban areas across the country. That’s why we are going to court to stop this merger and protect our consumers, because this is exactly the sort of consumer-harming, job-killing megamerger our antitrust laws were designed to prevent.”

“Although T-Mobile and Sprint may be promising faster, better, and cheaper service with this merger, the evidence weighs against it,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “This merger would hurt the most vulnerable Californians and result in a compressed market with fewer choices and higher prices. Today, along with New York and eight other partner states, we’ve filed a lawsuit to block this merger and protect the residents of our state.”

The states departed from traditional courtesies in the case, deciding to launch a pre-emptive legal challenge to the transaction without providing Justice Department officials advance notice of their decision to sue. That decision may have come after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gave his full support for the merger, with indications the Republican majority on the FCC would also vote in favor of approving the deal. Staffers in the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department object to the merger, and are recommending it be rejected. But the Justice Department’s unpredictability, and its poor track record trying to block the AT&T-Time Warner (Entertainment) merger in court may have pushed the state attorneys general to also act on their own.

T-Mobile USA and Sprint are the third and fourth largest mobile wireless networks in the U.S., and are the lower-cost carriers among the “Big Four” — with market leaders Verizon Wireless and AT&T controlling the larest share of the wireless market. Intense competition, spurred in particular by T-Mobile and Sprint, has delivered declining prices, increased coverage, and better quality for all mobile phone subscribers. According to the Labor Department, the average cost of mobile service has fallen by roughly 28 percent over the last decade, while mobile data consumption has grown rapidly. The merger, however, would put an end to that fierce competition, argue the attorneys general, which has delivered a great number of benefits to consumers.

States with large urban poor communities are particularly sensitive to the merger, because both T-Mobile and Sprint focus their coverage on urban areas. With the average U.S. household spending $1,100 annually on wireless phone service, even small rate increases can dramatically increase service suspensions or disconnections due to late or non-payment.

“Low-and moderate-income (LMI) New Yorkers put a greater share of their household income toward their phone bill, and when you are looking at a budget that is already stretched thin, every dollar counts,” said Mae Grote, CEO of the Financial Clinic. “Cellphones now not only give us the ability to communicate with friends and family, here and abroad, but are increasingly the way we engage with many critical services. Our customers use cellphone apps to access public information, send and receive money, manage their SNAP benefits, look for a job, and even communicate with their doctors, and maintaining competition in the market for this critical service ensures LMI consumers have the same access to quality, affordable service as the more financially secure. The Clinic is proud to advocate on behalf of the communities we serve to protect their inclusion in the modern economy.”

The attorneys general investigation laid bare many of the alleged merger benefits offered by T-Mobile and Sprint to win approval of the merger. The group found many of the claimed benefits were completely unverifiable and were likely to be delivered years into the future, if ever. But within weeks of approving such a merger, the companies would have an immediate incentive to raise prices and reduce service quality. Sprint’s network, in particular, was scheduled to be largely mothballed as a result of the merger, even though Sprint provides coverage in some areas that T-Mobile does not. Although the two companies could identify several self-serving deal efficiencies that would reduce their costs and staffing needs, there is no evidence the merger would deliver consumers lower prices and were outweighed by the merger’s immediate harm to competition and consumers.

Additionally, the merger would harm thousands of hard-working mobile wireless independent dealers in New York and across the nation. The ten states are concerned that further consolidation at the carrier level would lead to a substantial loss of retail jobs, as well as lower pay for these workers in the near future.

Becerra

“CWA applauds the Attorneys General and especially General Letitia James’ leadership in taking decisive action today to prevent T-Mobile and Sprint from gaining anti-competitive power at the expense of workers, customers, and communities,” added Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). “Reducing the number of national wireless carriers from four to three would mean higher prices for consumers, job loss for retail wireless workers, and downward pressure on all wireless workers’ wages. The states’ action today is a welcome development for American workers and consumers, and a reminder that regulators must take labor market concerns seriously when evaluating mergers.”

Before filing suit, the states gave significant consideration to T-Mobile and Sprint’s claims of increased coverage in rural areas. However, T-Mobile has yet to provide plans to build any new cell sites in areas that would not otherwise be served by either T-Mobile or Sprint. As stated in the complaint, the U.S. previously won the “race to LTE” as a direct result of vigorous competition among wireless carriers. Finally, continued competition, not concentration, is most likely to spur rapid development of a nationwide 5G network and other innovations.

“This merger is bad for competition, and it is bad for consumers, especially those living in or traveling through rural areas, who will experience fewer choices, price increases, and substandard service,” stated Carri Bennet, general counsel for the Rural Wireless Association. “We are pleased that the New York Attorney General, along with nine states have filed their lawsuit to block the merger. The process at the FCC has not been transparent and the FCC appears to be blindly accepting New T-Mobile’s words as truth.”

The complaint was filed under seal, because it contains unredacted confidential information, in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.  A redacted copy of the lawsuit is likely to be made available later.

T-Mobile currently has more than 79 million subscribers, and is a majority-owned subsidiary of Germany’s Deutsche Telekom AG. Sprint Corp. currently has more than 54 million subscribers, and is a majority-owned subsidiary of Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp.

AT&T Warning Tower Owners to Cut Prices or They Will Relocate

AT&T claims it is willing to play hardball to force cell tower owners to reduce the cost of leasing space for AT&T’s wireless services. If tower owners won’t lower their prices, AT&T is threatening to find someone else willing to build a new, cheaper tower nearby.

AT&T is closely coordinating its tower strategy with its biggest competitor, Verizon Wireless. Together, the two companies are looking to force costs down by seeking opportunities with newer tower companies Tillman, CitySwitch, and Uniti Towers that are willing to build new towers next to old ones, while offering “much cheaper” pricing than industry leaders American Tower, Crown Castle, and SBA Communications.

Light Reading notes AT&T would like to pay roughly half the current rent for its wireless infrastructure. But it is running into a roadblock because 65% of American cell towers have no competition within a half-mile radius. Getting zoning approval to construct new towers, especially in suburban and residential areas, can be difficult and costly. But the three upstart tower companies AT&T and Verizon are working with claim they will commit to tower construction when there are signed contracts in hand. AT&T is using this fact to leverage existing companies to lower prices or lose AT&T’s business.

But Wall Street analysts suggest AT&T is bluffing. Research of FCC public records between January 2017 and April 2019 found 1,000 new tower applications, but only 500 had been built. Only 40% of those applications were to build new towers near existing ones. When one considers there are about 110,000 cell towers in the U.S., fewer than 0.5% of cell sites are likely to face competition based on the applications already filed.

The wireless industry prefers to co-locate infrastructure on existing towers, which means Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint could all theoretically be leasing space on the same tower. This was originally both a cost-saving measure and a bow to reality because new tower applications often take years to approve and often face local opposition. Most wireless companies sign 10-year contracts with tower companies, so any organized effort to force competition will probably take years.

AT&T complains it is the victim of a lack of competition and is fed up with the “vicious model” of monopoly tower companies charging excessively high prices and raising fees anytime AT&T changes their contract. Many of their customers can relate.

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