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Cable War: Ohio Man Allegedly Cuts AT&T Lines That Cross His Property

Phillip Dampier April 11, 2019 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video No Comments

The phone line was allegedly cut by a neighbor. (Image: WEWS-TV)

A suburban Cleveland, Ohio man allegedly cut an AT&T line that crossed his property and refused to allow repair crews to repair the damage, claiming they were disrespectful and “didn’t have no class.”

The cable cut left Newburgh Heights resident and AT&T customer Willie Griffin without phone, internet, or cable service for over a week, and set the stage for a neighborhood dispute that eventually brought police to the scene.

A reporter from WEWS-TV in Cleveland achieved a breakthrough after calm negotiations with Ron Quinones, who eventually allowed AT&T crews to restore phone and internet service.

“I never ever, ever experienced anything like this, I just can’t believe that this happening,” Griffin told News 5. “He told the AT&T guy, that yes he cut the line, and that he’s going to cut my neighbor’s line, and any line that’s running though his yard.”

A police report claimed Quinones admitted to officers he intentionally caused the damage, and told police he was advised to do it by an unidentified utility worker.

“[Quinones] said that he complained to another worker about the [leaning utility pole] and all the wires coming off of it and hanging too low to the ground,” the police report states. “The utility worker said that the fastest way to get it fixed would be if [Quinones] cut them because then they would have to come fix them.”

When AT&T crews initially arrived to repair the lines instead of replacing the utility pole, Quinones would not allow them on his property, claiming he feared for their safety and the safety of his garage. The utility pole owner, FirstEnergy, later conducted a full inspection and denied the pole was unsafe.

The cut cable was located at Griffin’s home where AT&T’s network interface box connected the overhead line with the home’s inside wiring. AT&T crews sought to replace the overhead drop line from the utility pole to Griffin’s home, which initially caused Quinones to object because the utility pole serving her home is behind his. After the dispute attracted coverage from Cleveland’s ABC affiliate, Quinones relented.

“If the cable goes through and he can get it up there without damaging my property, I don’t have a problem with it,” Quinones told the station.

No charges appeared to be filed and the only formal rebuke seems to be a warning from both Newburgh Heights police and FirstEnergy advising residents that tampering with utility lines was unsafe and could result in criminal charges.

WEWS in Cleveland found itself mediating a neighborhood dispute over a cut AT&T line. (1:52)

YouTube TV Follows Others, Raises Subscription Price to $49.99 a Month

Phillip Dampier April 10, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, YouTube TV 3 Comments

YouTube TV is raising rates 25-43%, depending on your existing package.

Effective today, the company is raising the price of its YouTube TV package to $49.99 a month and is notifying customers it is ending grandfathered pricing arrangements that allowed some customers to pay as low as $35 a month for service.

The price change comes at a time when many of YouTube TV’s competitors have announced or implemented rate increases to cover the rising costs of programming. To reduce the sting, YouTube TV will coincide its rate hike with the addition of eight new channels from Discovery: Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, ID, MotorTrend, TLC, and the Travel Channel beginning today.

All existing customers will be billed at the new $49.99 rate beginning May 13. New signups will be billed the higher rate immediately. Customers billed by Apple will be penalized the most, with a new rate of $54.99/mo.

The company argues its new package price is still a good value because it now includes more than 70 channels, including robust carriage of local stations in more than 90% of the country. YouTube TV also offers unlimited cloud DVR service and up the three simultaneous streams.

Windstream Sues Charter Over Lookalike Mailers Questioning Phone Company’s Future

Windstream Holdings filed a suit against Charter Communications (d/b/a Spectrum) on Friday, claiming the cable company is trying to poach its customers with a “despicable” false advertising campaigned designed to make people believe the phone company’s days are numbered.

“Shortly after Windstream filed for Chapter 11 protection, Charter commenced a false and misleading advertising campaign designed to cause irreparable injury and damage to Windstream’s reputation and business,” the lawsuit filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York states. “Charter targeted Windstream customers in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Nebraska, and North Carolina, which are several of Windstream’s top performing states.”

“On the envelopes for the advertisement, Charter intentionally utilized Windstream’s trademark and signature color pattern to mislead Windstream customers into believing that the advertisement came directly from Windstream. Indeed, Charter’s advertisement stated that it was ‘Important Information Enclosed for Windstream Customers.’”

Inside the envelope was an ad for Charter Spectrum:

Windstream Customers,

Don’t Risk Losing Your Internet and TV Services.

Windstream has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which means uncertainty. Will they be able to provide the Internet and TV services you rely on in the future? To ensure you are not left without vital Internet and TV services, switch to Spectrum.

With a network built for the future, Spectrum is here for the long haul.

Goodbye, Windstream.
Hello, Spectrum.

Windstream’s future is unknown, but Spectrum is here to stay—delivering internet and TV services you can count on. . . .

Windstream told the Bankruptcy Court the ads were evidently effective, based on call transcripts and messages sent from customers to Windstream’s customer service department. Windstream’s attorneys attached multiple examples:

“I got a letter in the mail saying that ya’ll were going bankrupt and for me to go with Spectrum so I have gone to Spectrum and I have just called to have the services of Windstream disconnected.”

“I’ve got Spectrum over here so they go everything hooked up and so they told me not to call you until they got everything going like it’s supposed to be but I got that letter in the mail from Windstream and told me to get with you guys – to get with Spectrum so that’s what I did.”

“Oh, well I was just going there because it says hello I mean goodbye Windstream and uh..to got to Spectrum.”

“Oh lord, well I’ve been [Inaudible] on ‘em honey. I thought the letter was from you cause it said Windstream Corporation.”

The lawsuit complains Windstream had to take 160 calls regarding the Charter mailers over a 10-day period.

The phone company is demanding compensation for a number of reasons, but in part because it was forced to offer inquiring customers a better deal in order to convince them to stay with Windstream.

“As a direct result of Charter’s advertising campaign, Windstream has been forced to expend substantial time, money, and resources to combat these false claims. When distressed customers have called in, Windstream has offered upgrades, which many customers have taken,” the lawsuit states. “Windstream has also incurred costs and resources to educate its customer care associates on how to provide a comprehensive response to Charter’s false claims, which includes an explanation of the true effects of the Chapter 11 proceedings. In addition, as a direct result of Charter’s advertising campaign, Windstream has undertaken an extensive mailing and advertising campaign, at significant cost and expense, to counter Charter’s false and misleading advertising campaign. Windstream’s Legal department has also expended extensive time and effort in researching and responding to this matter.”

Windstream also complained Charter somehow disconnected service to approximately 350 Windstream customers on March 14, 2019, without notice to the phone company. The phone company also alleges Charter has told customers that Spectrum is buying out Windstream.

“When Windstream customers contacted Charter to have their services reinstated, they were told by Charter that service was not being reinstated because of Windstream’s failure to pay certain amounts due to Charter,” the lawsuit claimed. “Windstream, however, is not currently authorized to make any payments to Charter on account of prepetition debt as a result of the Chapter 11 filing.”

Keith

Windstream sent two angry letters to Charter complaining about the mailers.

“This misconduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Windstream’s deputy general counsel Carol Keith wrote. “This goes beyond a mere marketing decision made in bad taste and is clearly an illegal targeting of Windstream’s services and/or business in the marketplace using ‘false and misleading’ representations. Furthermore, when given the opportunity, Spectrum employees have been directed to double down and outright lie to Windstream customers that Spectrum has a contract to buy Windstream out.”

When Windstream took their complaints straight to Charter, their claims were rebuffed.

“On March 26, 2019, Charter responded to Windstream’s letters, contending that its advertisements were not false or misleading, and that it was proper to describe Windstream’s bankruptcy as creating an ‘uncertainty.’ According to Charter, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing ‘creates ‘uncertainty’ regarding Windstream’s future until the bankruptcy is resolved.’”

Charter also told Windstream it believed the confusion over a “buyout” has to do with the cable company’s long-standing offer to pay up to $500 in contract termination fees for new customers switching to Spectrum.

ATSC 3.0 TV Standard Will Launch in Multiple Cities by End of 2020; You’ll Need a New TV or Converter to Watch

Phillip Dampier April 9, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 4 Comments

A new standard in over-the-air TV broadcasting could arrive as early as this year in more than 40 U.S. cities, bringing better reception and more TV channels and features to those willing to buy a new television or converter box to watch.

ATSC 3.0 comes just a decade after full power television stations in the United States ceased analog broadcasting. The ‘upgrade’ is a significant improvement over ATSC 1.0, the digital over-the-air television standard now in use in the U.S.

At the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, Sinclair, Fox Television Stations, Nexstar, and NBCUniversal (and a consortium group of stations owned by SpectrumCo and Pearl TV) this week announced 40 U.S. television markets would see ATSC 3.0 stations launched by the end of 2020, starting in these cities:

  • Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX
  • Houston, TX
  • San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA
  • Phoenix, AZ*
  • Seattle-Tacoma, WA
  • Detroit, MI
  • Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, FL
  • Portland, OR
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Raleigh-Durham, NC*
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Nashville, TN
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Kansas City, KS-MO
  • Columbus, OH
  • West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, FL
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Austin, TX

To help the transition, ATSC 3.0 stations in these cities will switch off their ATSC 1.0 channels and relocate programming to one or more other local stations’ digital subchannels, allowing viewers with older sets to continue watching until a 5-year transition period ends.

The second, and likely larger wave of stations to switch on ATSC 3.0 will come in these cities:

  • New York, NY
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Washington, DC
  • Boston, MA
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Tampa-St.Petersburg-Sarasota, FL
  • Minneapolis – St. Paul, MN
  • Miami – Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • Denver, CO
  • Cleveland-Akron, OH*
  • Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, CA
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • San Diego, CA
  • Hartford-New Haven, CT
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Greenville-Spartanburg, SC – Asheville, NC

The third wave of stations, still expected to complete a transition to ATSC 3.0 by the end of next year, are located in:

  • Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, VA
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Albuquerque – Santa Fe, NM
  • Grand Rapids – Kalamazoo, MI
  • Memphis, TN
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Providence – New Bedford, RI
  • Little Rock – Pine Bluff, AR
  • Mobile, AL – Pensacola, FL
  • Albany-Schenectady – Troy, NY
  • Flint-Saginaw – Bay City, MI
  • Omaha, NE
  • Charleston – Huntington, WV
  • Springfield, MO
  • Rochester, NY
  • Syracuse, NY
  • Chattanooga, TN
  • Charleston, SC
  • Burlington, VT – Plattsburgh, NY
  • Davenport, IA – Moline, IL
  • Santa Barbara – Santa Maria – San Luis Obispo, CA

*ATSC 3.0 is already running on one or more stations in these markets.

A faster transition to ATSC 3.0 may be possible in cities where station owners like Sinclair own more than one full power local station. It will make it easier for programming on one station to be temporarily shared on another, without complicated carriage contract negotiations. There is no forced transition to ATSC 3.0, so consumers can make their own choices about whether they want to invest in new televisions or converters. Broadcasters understand that, and many are planning to launch a host of new channels and networks that could benefit cord-cutters and convince them to upgrade.

Over the air viewers will need to get in the habit of remembering how to “rescan” their local channel lineup as stations occasionally disappear as they move to different channels as a result of an unrelated ongoing channel repack or from shifting around to accommodate ATSC 3.0. Some secondary networks like Retro TV, MeTV, Comet, and others may temporarily disappear in some markets if that channel space is temporarily needed for channel-sharing arrangements.

Cable, telco-TV, streaming and satellite customers should not notice a thing because any changes will be managed by your television provider. But those watching over-the-air will need to prepare for the transition either with a forthcoming TV converter or preparing to buy new television sets with ATSC 3.0 tuners. Details on both are sketchy, but free TV viewers may want to start saving money now for new equipment spending starting either late this year or more likely early next.

ATSC 3.0 promises better, more robust reception, with error correction and the capability of downgrading video quality in marginal reception areas to preserve a stable viewing experience. It also supports 4K Ultra-HD and better sound, mobile viewing on smartphones and other devices, and local features including hyper-local weather warnings, targeted advertising and some data applications.

Comcast: Rural Broadband Must Make Good Business Sense Or You Won’t Get It

If your home or business is more than 150 feet from the nearest Comcast cable, the company will think twice before providing you with service.

Pat Ulrich and her 50 neighbors in a rural subdivision in Arkansas have waited more than 15 years for Comcast or AT&T to extend broadband service to no avail, not unless they are willing to pay an installation fee of almost $50,000.

“When we evaluate prospective new build opportunities, we take into account such factors as distance from where our nearest network exists, costs associated with a proposed build-out, and number of homes and businesses that could be served. … This subdivision is many miles from our nearest plant.” Alex Horwitz, vice president of public relations for Comcast, told Arkansas Business. A nearby neighbor of Ulrich was quoted $46,000, mostly to install over 6,400 feet of fiber optic cable to connect the subdivision to Comcast’s network.

Pulaski County, Ark.

AT&T is no help either, because the homes are too far away from the phone company’s central switching office to deliver adequate internet service.

The FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF) and other broadband funding initiatives normally might offer Ulrich and her neighbors some help, except for the fact the FCC’s broadband availability maps falsely claim the subdivision is already getting broadband service, which disqualifies it from receiving broadband expansion subsidy funding.

“We built a house in 2004 and never imagined it would take this long to get reliable broadband service,” Ulrich said.

Comcast and other cable operators did, however. Unlike phone companies that are mandated to provide basic telephone service to any customer seeking it, cable companies are allowed to choose the areas they service, typically based on population density and the costs associated with providing service. For Comcast, service extensions must meet the company’s return on investment test, and Ulrich’s subdivision failed. Horowitz claimed extending service would require Comcast to route a fiber extension through an area that “is almost all rock.”

Comcast is investing in some buildouts in its service area, but mostly to serve business parks. For residential areas, the company wants to limit the amount of cable it must install to reach a prospective customer to under 150 feet. If service is not available on your street, chances are the company will quote an installation fee running into the thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately for Ulrich, even if she managed to have the FCC correct their broadband availability map, Horwitz said Comcast has not bid for any of the FCC’s CAF projects in Arkansas.

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