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Charter Demands Crackdown on Streaming Service Password Sharing

Phillip Dampier December 20, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, HissyFitWatch, Online Video 2 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.”

Wall Street Grumbling About Estimated $130 Billion Needed for National 5G Fiber Buildout

Wall Street analysts are warning investors that mobile providers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint will have to spend $130-150 billion on fiber optic cables alone to make 5G wireless broadband a reality in the next 5-7 years.

A new Deloitte study found providers will have to spend a lot of money to deploy next generation wireless service across the United States, money that many may be unwilling to spend.

“5G relies heavily on fiber and will likely fall far short of its potential unless the United States significantly increases its deep fiber investments,” the study notes. “Increased speed and capacity from 5G will rely on higher radio frequencies and greater network densification (i.e., increasing the number and concentration of cell sites and access points).”

Unlike earlier cellular technology, which worked from centralized cell towers that covered several miles in all directions, 5G technology is expected to be deployed through “small cell” antennas attached to utility and light poles with coverage limited to just 300-500 feet. To reach city residents, providers will need countless thousands of new antenna installations and a massive fiber network to connect each antenna to the provider.

Telecom providers seeking financing for such networks will face the same criticism Verizon Communications took from Wall Street over the expense of its FiOS fiber-to-the-home upgrade as well as doubts about the viability of other fiber projects like Google Fiber.

Goldman Sachs told its investors back in 2012 that throwing money at Google Fiber or Verizon FiOS was not going to give them a good return on their investment. That year, Goldman was “Still Bullish on Cable, But Not Blind to the Risks.” That report, written by analyst Jason Armstrong, noted Google’s fiber upgrades would cost billions and only further dilute industry profits from increasing competition.

Goldman Sachs steered investors back to the cable industry, which gets significant praise from Wall Street for its ability to repurpose 20-year-old wired infrastructure for enhanced broadband without having to spend huge sums on a complete system rebuild.

In 2013, Alliance Bernstein continued to slam Google Fiber’s buildout as an unwise business investment:

We remain skeptical that Google will find a scalable and economically feasible model to extend its build out to a large portion of the US, as costs would be substantial, regulatory and competitive barriers material, and in the end the effort would have limited impact on the global trajectory of the business.

For example, making the far from trivial assumption that Google can identify 20 million homes in relatively contiguous areas with (on average) similar characteristics as Kansas City when it comes to the most important drivers of network deployment cost, homes per mile of plant and the mix of aerial, buried and underground infrastructure, and that Google decides to build out a fiber network to serve them over a period of five years, we estimate the [total capital expenditure] investment required to be in the order of $11 billion to pass the homes, before acquiring or connecting a single customer.

Some analysts are even questioning the relevance of 5G when providers investing in the massive fiber expansion required for 5G wireless could simply extend fiber cables directly into homes, assuring customers of more bandwidth and reliability. In many cases, fiber to the home technology is actually cheaper than 5G deployment will be.

VantagePoint released a report in February that called a lot of the excitement surrounding 5G “hype” and cautioned it will not be the ultimate broadband solution:

Undoubtedly, 5G wireless technologies will result in better broadband performance than 4G wireless technologies and will offer much promise as a mobile complement to fixed services, but they still will not be the right choice for delivering the rapidly increasing broadband demanded by thousands or millions of households and businesses across America.

Previous analysis of 4th generation (4G) wireless networks clearly demonstrated how these networks, even with generous capacity assumptions for the future, will have limited broadband capabilities, and inevitably will fail to carry the fixed broadband experience that has been and will be demanded by subscribers accustomed to their wireline counterparts. Although there is understandably much anticipation today about phenomenal possible speeds for 5G wireless networks tomorrow, they will continue to have technical shortcomings that will, like their predecessor wireless networks, render them very useful complements but poor substitutes for wireline broadband. These technical challenges include:

  • Spectral limitations: 5G networks will require massive amounts of spectrum to accomplish their target speeds. At the lower frequencies traditionally used for wide area coverage, there is not enough spectrum. At the very high frequencies proposed for 5G where there may be enough spectrum, the RF signal does not propagate far enough to be practical for any wide area coverage. This is particularly important in rural areas where customer concentration is far, far less than what can be expected in densely populated urban areas where 5G may offer greater promise.
  • Access Network Sharing: This is not a good solution for continuous-bit-rate traffic such as video, which will make up 82% of Internet traffic by 2020.
  • Economics: When compared to a 5G network that can deliver significant bandwidth using very high, very short-haul frequencies, FTTP is often less expensive and will have lower operational costs. This is particularly true when one consider how much fiber deployment will be needed very close to each user even just to enable 5G.
  • Reliability: Wireless inherently is less reliable than wireline, with significantly increased potential for impairments with the very high frequencies required by 5G.

In 2014, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP released a report urging telecom executives to shift their thinking about telecom capital spending away from one that focuses on upgrades to deal with increasing traffic and demand and move instead to a hardline view of only spending on projects that meet Return On Investment (ROI) objectives for investors.

“The predominant task of management is to take a considered view of the future, allocate capital towards strategies that maximize value for the providers of that capital, and manage the execution of those strategies through to the delivery of returns for those investors,” wrote PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “For too long, telecoms have been on auto-drive for much of their capex. Departments assume if they had the money last year, they are going to get it again this year, under the premise of increasing traffic. But rarely do telecoms truly analyze that spending for its ROI or ask whether the investment should be made at all.”

In short, if a project is not certain to quickly deliver significant ROI, serious questions should be asked about whether that investment is appropriate to undertake. That reluctance is at the heart of Deloitte’s new study.

Deloitte notes if providers cannot overcome Wall Street’s reluctance to support major spending on fiber infrastructure, lack of investment will be even more costly.

It predicts falling short on fiber deployment will cause a dwindling number of broadband provider choices for consumers. Today, fewer than 33% of U.S. homes have access to fiber broadband and only 39% have the option of choosing more than one provider capable of meeting the FCC’s minimal definition of broadband – 25Mbps. As competition declines, the need to further expand is reduced while prices can freely rise.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP also recommends cable and phone companies partner with content providers like Netflix or Google, and let those companies take an ownership interest in return for capital investments for fiber upgrades. Those type of solutions also protect Wall Street from a feared price war should alternative providers launch in markets that are barely competitive, if at all.

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