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T-Mobile CEO John Legere Stepping Down in 2020; Fate of “Uncarrier” Strategy Unknown

Phillip Dampier November 18, 2019 Consumer News, T-Mobile, Wireless Broadband No Comments

Legere

(Reuters) – T-Mobile US Inc Chief Executive Officer John Legere will step down next year, the company said on Monday, less than three weeks before it goes to trial to determine the fate of its planned $26.5 billion merger with smaller rival Sprint Corp.

The third-largest U.S. wireless carrier will go to trial on Dec. 9 to fight a state attorneys general lawsuit that alleges the merger would be harmful to consumers.

T-Mobile said Legere will remain CEO until April 30, and will be succeeded by President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert. Legere will continue to be a member of T-Mobile’s board.

Legere, the outspoken architect of the marketing and business strategy that helped T-Mobile become known as an innovator in the wireless industry, said the succession plan had long been in the works.

“A CEO with a board that doesn’t have a good succession plan, fails,” Legere said on a conference call with analysts. “It’s Mike’s time. He’s ready.”

T-Mobile remains focused on closing the merger with Sprint, Legere said.

“I feel quite good that we have the basis for settling this deal, and I feel equally good, if not better, about winning this trial,” he added.

T-Mobile has also been in talks with Sprint to extend their merger agreement, which had expired Nov. 1. A reduced price for Sprint could potentially be part of the negotiations.

Legere said Monday the company’s shareholders were working on a new agreement, but said he could not provide a timeframe.

Legere also said he had never been in discussions to run WeWork, saying the news reports had created an “awkward period of time” for T-Mobile. Japan’s Softbank Group Corp is the controlling shareholder for both Sprint and WeWork.

Sievert, also a member of T-Mobile’s board, has worked alongside Legere for the last seven years.

“It has been widely expected for some time that John would exit next year, so this won’t come as a shock to anyone,” said Craig Moffett, an analyst at MoffettNathanson. “And Mike has always been extremely highly regarded by the investment community. I expect they’ll make the transition without missing a beat.”

Shares of T-Mobile were little changed at $78.23 in afternoon trading, while Sprint was up 1.03%.

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee, Sheila Dang, Munsif Vengattil and Diane Bartz; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Anil D’Silva and Dan Grebler

Proposed “Transparency for Cable Consumers Act” Gets Little Attention in Congress

Phillip Dampier November 14, 2019 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment
Rep. Brindisi

Rep. Brindisi

The House of Representatives is showing little love for freshman Rep. Anthony Brindisi’s “Transparency for Cable Consumers Act” (H.R. 1555), a bill that would strengthen consumer protection by targeting the cable industry’s business practices.

The Utica, N.Y. Democrat made Charter Spectrum a significant part of his 2018 campaign, criticizing the cable company in television election ads Spectrum initially refused to air and calling for New York regulators to punish or remove the cable company from the state after failing to meet its 2016 merger obligations.

Brindisi’s bill would increase regulatory oversight of cable operators nationwide, requiring the Federal Communications Commission, Department of Justice, and Federal Trade Commission to do more to protect cable internet subscribers. H.R. 1555 would:

  • Detail actions to protect consumers from predatory actions by cable and internet companies, which includes debt collection methods;
  • Asks the FCC to propose appropriate regulatory consequences for cable or internet companies fined by a state public utility commission, like Charter Communications was in New York;
  • Establishes a working group among the three federal agencies to investigate rising cable internet rates.

Brindisi considers America’s cable industry “predatory” and abusive to its customers. He cites constituent complaints about Spectrum’s debt collection practices as a primary example of that abuse in action.

“Constituents have reported to me Spectrum’s ties to a debt collection company called Credit Management, LP. Spectrum allegedly uses the Plano, Texas, company — whose leadership team is tethered to the cable industry — to collect debts often unrelated to standard non-payment, and instead tied to Spectrum ‘equipment,’ Brindisi alleges. “I urge anyone being harassed by Credit Management, LP, on behalf of Spectrum, to call my office.”

Brindisi is also attacking the recent policy change by Spectrum to stop providing pro-rated refunds when customers cancel service in the middle of a billing cycle.

“Well, Spectrum just raised our rates again, adding insult to injury. And let me tell you something, they are laughing all the way to the bank. Quite literally,” Brindisi added. “Wall Street shares of Charter Communications climbed about 14 percent higher last month thanks, in part, to a ‘boost from higher prices.'”

Brindisi claims lobbyists prowling the halls of Congress have labeled him “The Cable Guy” because of his focus on the cable industry.

“Look, it’s no secret. Spectrum Charter hates me. But what’s more offending, really, is that they think I’ll be quiet,” Brindisi said. “The legislative branch, of which I am included, is one partner in the fight but we need the administration to empower its agencies and regulators to come down hard on Spectrum when they take advantage of us. Right now, I do not see it happening. Instead, I see industry smiling ear-to-ear while it courts — and ‘pays’ — members of Congress to do its bidding.”

Brindisi’s bill has only a slim chance of passage as a standalone measure, so he is attempting to attach it as an amendment to the federal budget, a popular tactic among lawmakers that struggle to get their bills to the floor for individual consideration. Opponents are likely to claim that the measure is unnecessary, redundant, and in conflict with the current administration’s deregulation policies. The bill will need a stronger publicity push to attract constituent support that will be noticed by House lawmakers. Brindisi’s bill has only a single co-sponsor, Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (D-N.J.)

But Brindisi says he is not giving up.

“Well, let me be the first to reiterate: this ‘cable guy’ will not quit until Spectrum blinks, and takes its hand out of your pocket.”

Frontier Communications Warns It May Declare Bankruptcy In Early 2020

Phillip Dampier November 13, 2019 Consumer News, Frontier 116 Comments

After years of customer losses and a stifling debt of $17.5 billion, Frontier Communications was warned investors it may be forced to declare bankruptcy reorganization to protect its assets from creditors that are growing impatient with the phone company.

Analysts suggest Frontier is considering a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing as early as the first quarter of 2020 as part of a sweeping reorganization of the company that will also include replacing its top management.

Bloomberg News reports corporate advisers have already begun looking for a replacement of CEO Dan McCarthy, a long term Frontier executive that began a career at Rochester Telephone Corporation before it was acquired by Frontier. McCarthy replaced former Frontier CEO Maggie Wilderotter in 2015. Since Wilderotter’s departure, Frontier’s share price has spiraled downwards and customers are leaving in droves.

McCarthy

Over 71,000 Frontier customers disconnected service in the third quarter of 2019 alone, the biggest percentage of customer losses of any major residential telecom company in the United States.

Frontier executives have repeatedly blamed the ongoing disconnection of traditional landline service for its declining results, but other phone companies have curtailed losses by upgrading their networks to attract new broadband customers. Frontier has only grudgingly invested in network upgrades over the last decade, particularly in its legacy copper service areas. The company’s fiber assets were primarily acquired from service territories formerly owned by Verizon and AT&T. Frontier, like CenturyLink and Windstream, attracted shareholders a decade ago by paying out a significant amount of revenue in shareholder dividends. After Frontier made further acquisitions of former Verizon landline territories putting itself deeper into debt, the company suspended its dividend in 2018.

Frontier’s reluctance to invest adequately in its network has been noticed by many of its customers. So have the company’s ongoing billing and service problems. Frontier has been under investigation over its service performance in several states and has left some customers out of service for weeks.

A possible bankruptcy filing would allow the company to renegotiate its debts and labor agreements. Layoffs and restructuring cost cutting would likely follow. Frontier recently sold off its properties in the Pacific Northwest in an effort to raise cash to reduce its debts. Further asset sales could be forthcoming.

Disney+ Launch Marred by Glitches as Demand Overwhelms

Phillip Dampier November 12, 2019 Consumer News, Disney+, Online Video, Reuters No Comments

(Reuters) – Walt Disney Co said demand for its much-anticipated streaming service, Disney+, was well above its expectations in a launch on Tuesday marred by complaints from users about glitches and connection problems.

Disney+ is relying on its extensive library of movies and TV shows as well as a new slate of content to take on market leader Netflix Inc and Apple TV+, Apple Inc’s newly launched streaming service.

Disney shares were up about 2%, while Netflix was down 1%.

“The consumer demand for Disney+ has exceeded our highest expectations. …we are aware of the current user issues and are working to swiftly resolve them,” Disney said in a statement.

Some users who tried to access the service were greeted by an image of “Mickey Mouse” on a blue screen, with a message asking them to exit the app and try again. Many others had trouble finding the Disney+ app in Apple’s App Store.

It was not immediately clear how many users were affected by the outage.

“Not too surprised but @disneyplus looks like it’s already falling over. On FireTV Stick can’t load main page (Unable to connect to Disney+) and couldn’t play The Mandalorian (some account issue),” user @pmhesse here tweeted.

“The Mandalorian,” the latest in the “Star Wars” movie and TV franchise, is an eight-episode live-action series which stars “Game of Thrones” actor Pedro Pascal as a helmeted bounty hunter.

“While it’s easy to focus on the temporary problems, there’s no doubt that this also shows an enormous demand for Disney’s services,” said Clement Thibault, an analyst at financial markets platform Investing.com.

“Big launches often have their hiccups when consumers are fighting to be the first to have a given service.”

Users who accessed Disney+ were upbeat about content from the Marvel superhero universe, the “Star Wars” galaxy, “Toy Story” creator Pixar Animation and the National Geographic.

“Today is the perfect day to just stay home all day on my couch in my PJ’s binging all of my favorite Disney movies on #DisneyPlus,” tweeted @JulieDwoskin.

Reporting by Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Arun Koyyur

Cable One’s Costly Internet Service Helps Cable Company Achieve Record Profits

Phillip Dampier November 12, 2019 Cable One, Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps 1 Comment

Using a combination of lack of competition, high-priced service plans, and data caps, Cable One is once again the nation’s most profitable cable broadband provider, charging residential customers a record-breaking average of $72.09 a month.

Late last week, the country’s fifth largest cable company reported excellent results to its shareholders, as the company collected the proceeds from increasing rates on broadband service while shedding unprofitable cable television customers.

Cable One serves small and mid-sized cities, mostly in the mid-south, Rockies, New Mexico and Arizona. It has grown larger with the acquisition of NewWave and Fidelity Communications, and told investors on a quarterly results conference call the company would take some of its recent gains and move towards further acquisitions in the near future. NewWave customers will now face Cable One’s stiff data caps, rolling out across legacy NewWave service areas in November and December. NewWave customers have already found their cable television package pruned back to match the current Cable One package, which omits Viacom-owned networks. The same will hold true for Fidelity’s customers once the two companies merge systems.

 

Laulis

Revenues for the third quarter were $285 million compared to $268.3 million at the same time last year, representing a 6.2% increase. Even with the high cost of service, the number of Cable One internet customers is increasing, primarily because competing phone companies typically offer little beyond DSL. In the last quarter, Cable One added 7,400 new internet customers and boosted broadband revenue by 8.2%.

“Cable One still has one of the industry’s lowest broadband penetration of homes passed at just 32.2% and, with limited fiber-based competition, their ceiling is arguably one of the highest in the industry,” Moffett Nathanson analyst Craig Moffett told investors. “They are at last growing the broadband business at a rate fast enough to drive meaningfully higher penetration.”

Cable One makes no secret it now calls itself a broadband company and has been de-emphasizing cable television service over the last few years. In fact, customers who cut the cord are doing Cable One a favor because broadband-only customers boost their overall profit margins. Unlike cable television, where licensing expenses are growing, the cost to provide and support broadband service is dropping — even as Cable One raises internet pricing and constrains customer usage with industry-low data caps. That forces customers to upgrade to more costly, higher speed service plans to get a larger data allowance. Cable One also offers a $40/mo add-on that restores unlimited service, which is popular with their premium customers. Once a customer uses more than 5 TB, their speed is throttled.

“I think the interesting thing that I took note of is that the higher [the] speed that our consumer takes the higher the percentage of unlimited [plan] selling. So that is to say if you take our gig service the percentage of customers that take unlimited there is the highest of any consumer group,” noted Cable One CEO Julia M. Laulis.

Pricing is expected to rise further unless phone companies compete with fiber broadband, an unlikely scenario in the rural and exurban areas Cable One serves.

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