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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.

Charter Demands Crackdown on Streaming Service Password Sharing

Phillip Dampier December 20, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, HissyFitWatch, Online Video 3 Comments

Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge is fed up with customers sharing their passwords to unlock television streaming services for non-subscribing friends and family and promises to lead an industry-wide crackdown on the practice in 2018.

“There’s lots of extra streams, there’s lots of extra passwords, there’s lots of people who could get free service,” Rutledge said at an industry conference this month.

Password sharing used to be limited to services like Netflix, HBO, Showtime and Hulu, but since the cable industry opened up its “authenticated” TV Everywhere services to viewing outside of the home, unauthorized viewing by non-subscribers has allegedly exploded.

Three typical tweets exemplify the problem for Rutledge. One sought to trade for a Spectrum user ID and password, another thanked a friend for sharing their Spectrum TV user credentials to unlock a channel showing the World Series. A third delighted in the fact he managed to hack his parent’s Spectrum account password and now watches cable television for free.

Rutledge complained that password sharing is now so rampant, one unnamed network authorized 30,000 simultaneous streams using a single customer’s login credentials.

Rutledge believes many non-paying customers are now enjoying Spectrum TV and other services as a result of the practice. Shareholders and Wall Street analysts are also concerned, particularly as cord-cutting continues to take a toll on cable TV subscriber numbers and revenue.

Rutledge

Bloomberg News reports there is divergent thinking about password sharing and how serious it actually is. Top executives at Time Warner, Inc., which owns HBO and Turner Broadcasting, have shrugged about password sharing in the past, believing it is a good way to introduce potential customers to their services and eventually become paying subscribers.

Password sharing “is still relatively small and we are seeing no economic impact on our business,” said Jeff Cusson, a spokesman for HBO.

But anecdotal evidence at networks like ESPN, owned by Walt Disney Co., suggests millennials have no moral dilemma routinely sharing their passwords, even with strangers. At one focus group targeting younger sports fans, all 50 participants raised their hands when asked if they shared passwords, according to a fuming Justin Connolly, executive vice president for affiliate sales and marketing at ESPN.

“It’s piracy,” Connolly said. “It’s people consuming something they haven’t paid for. The more the practice is viewed with a shrug, the more it creates a dynamic where people believe it’s acceptable. And it’s not.”

The TV Everywhere “authenticated subscriber” concept has traditionally required pay television customers to re-enter their username and password for each authorized device at least once each year, although some cable operators require subscribers to re-enter their credentials monthly, and actively discontinue access as quickly as possible when a customer downgrades or cancels their cable television service.

Many cable providers offer their own live streaming apps and on-demand streaming service showcasing the cable TV lineup for in-home and out of home viewing on desktops, tablets, and portable devices. Some limit the number of channels that can be viewed outside of the home and do not allow multiple users to concurrently stream programming. But most cable TV networks that support authentication do not limit concurrent streams or offer generous limits on how many services can be streamed at the same time over a single account.

(Source: Consumer Reports)

Charter is now taking the lead on demanding cable TV network owners tighten up their apps and online viewing to limit password sharing. Some of the toughest negotiations took place this past fall between Charter and Viacom, owner of Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon. Viacom pushed hard for Charter to restore its basic cable networks to Spectrum’s entry-level “Select” cable television package. In 2016, many Viacom networks were pushed to the much more expensive Gold package, which meant significant losses in audience as Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers switched to Spectrum’s TV plans. Time Warner Cable included Viacom-owned networks in all the company’s popular TV tiers, but most customers lost access to those networks when they switched to a Spectrum TV plan.

Viacom successfully negotiated the transition of its networks back to the Select TV plan beginning in late January, 2018. But those networks’ online viewing platforms and apps will now include stream limitations to keep simultaneous viewing and password sharing to a minimum.

ESPN, which has been dropped from the lineup in a number of slimmed-down cable TV packages, has also experienced plenty of password sharing, and has begun limiting the number of simultaneous streams allowed per customer. Originally, one account could launch 10 concurrent streams. That number has now been cut in half to five and the sports network is currently considering further reducing the stream limit to three simultaneous sessions.

One research group, Park Associates, estimates almost one-third of internet-only customers are streaming cable television networks and programming using someone else’s subscriber credentials. They estimate the cable TV industry will lose $3.5 billion from unauthorized viewing this year, rising to $9.9 billion by 2021.

Companies like Adobe Systems have begun selling services to cable TV providers that track the use of usernames and passwords and the location of those accessing online streams. They suggest cord-cutting is fueling unauthorized viewing as customers seek access to cable programming for free.

Much of the password sharing seems to be occurring among friends and relatives, especially children away from home. For now, most cable TV executives are fine with in-family sharing. What concerns most is when those passwords are further shared with friends or sold to strangers. It is uncertain if customers are always aware that their user credentials are being sold or traded by third parties. When an account that saw no streaming activity before suddenly generates 50 simultaneous streams in multiple states, hacking by an unknown party is usually suspected.

The cable industry remains undecided about exactly how many concurrent streams are appropriate for consumers. Netflix allows between one and four streams, depending on the plan chosen. HBO permits three simultaneous streams, DirecTV Now allows two while DirecTV’s satellite customers get up to five streams.

Hissyfit Between Google, Amazon Exploited by Anti-Net Neutrality Forces

News that Google is dropping support for YouTube on Amazon-branded set-top boxes, personal assistants, and set-top boxes is being used by anti-Net Neutrality forces to claim those two companies are a much bigger problems for Net Neutrality than cable and phone companies.

Google will make YouTube unavailable to Amazon device owners on Jan. 1, 2018, with the suggestion the company might change its mind if Amazon agrees to carry Chromecast and Google Home devices on its website and support casting Prime Video.

The last straw may have been Amazon’s decision to drop some of Nest’s newest products last month. Nest is owned by Google.

“Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and FireTV,” said a Google spokesperson to Multichannel News. “We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.”

“Echo Show and Fire TV now display a standard web view of YouTube.com and point customers directly to YouTube’s existing website,” Amazon responded in a statement. “Google is setting a disappointing precedent by selectively blocking customer access to an open website. We hope to resolve this with Google as soon as possible.”

The dispute was welcomed by anti Net Neutrality forces, who proclaimed consumers were the victims of Amazon.com and Google, not AT&T, Comcast, and other large telecom companies.

USTelecom, a group sponsored by the nation’s biggest telephone companies, also pounced on the dispute. CEO Jonathan Spalter:

“Broadband ISPs are committed to providing an open internet for their customers, including protections like no content blocking or throttling,” he said. “Seems like some of the biggest internet companies can’t say the same. Ironic, isn’t it?”

(Headline corrected. Thanks to Morgan Wick.)

Rep. Hoitenga Locked and Blocked Her Twitter Channel Because of “Death Threats”

Hoitenga

Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Mich.), blocked Stop the Cap! and a handful of other reporters and locked down her Twitter account from being publicly accessible after claiming to receive death threats after being questioned about her bill to block community broadband projects in her state.

“[I] had to capture profiles who were threatening me and my family and the horrific vulgarity being used,” Hoitenga claimed on her Facebook page. “I’ll have a statement in a bit. The safety of me and my family comes first.”

Hoitenga is the author of House Bill 5099, which would completely ban municipal broadband in Michigan if it becomes law.

Stop the Cap! was blocked within hours of sending her four tweets in an effort to engage her in a discussion about her bill. For the record, at no time were we either threatening or vulgar. (Some of her constituents are unhappy about the bill, however, based on responses on her Facebook page.)

It was the first time Stop the Cap! was blocked by any Twitter user, and we were surprised it was a public official.

Irma Survivors Direct Wrath at Charter/Spectrum for Non-Answers

Phillip Dampier September 18, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, HissyFitWatch 3 Comments

The Orlando Sentinel got more than it asked for when it requested readers share their experiences with utility service outages in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which pounded Florida last week.

Readers reserved the most wrath for Charter Communications, which has evidently been less than forthcoming about service restoration.

“Give me something other than ‘we depend on somebody else and we have no idea about anything.’ […] That’s not an appropriate answer,” shared one Winter Park customer.

Charter’s spokespeople have blamed most of the outages on “the massive loss of commercial power that the state suffered.”

Customers seemed to buy that explanation until early this week, days after getting their power back.

“As I read their answer, it’s basically a lot of nothing,” opined the customer. “My experience with calling them is their answer is so vague [….] They could probably be a little more reassuring explaining ‘in this area the power comes from this place, and that place has an ETA of this, therefore some days later they expect this will be online.’”

“Our power was restored in the Crown Pt. Springs subdivision in Winter Garden on Monday afternoon, which we were very thankful for,” another reader said in an email. “I sure wish I could say the same thing about our Spectrum services (cable, internet and phone). As of right now, there is still no restoration.”

Still another: “Spectrum should be able to give their customers an estimated restoration time, like the power companies have. I haven’t seen one Spectrum truck in the Winter Garden or Ocoee area … not one!!! My husband drives a tractor-trailer for Coke and has seen one on the road this week. We are sick of them blaming the power companies for the reason that they can’t get into areas.”

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  • EJ: I hope they are ready to do this all over again when Charter does basically nothing again. Hopefully they will use this extension to come up with a Pl...
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