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AT&T’s End Run Around Costly Local TV: Donate $500k to Locast and Add It to Lineup

Phillip Dampier June 27, 2019 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Locast, Online Video No Comments

AT&T today announced it was donating $500,000 to the non-profit group behind Locast, the online streaming service offering free access to local TV stations in more than a dozen U.S. cities.

AT&T’s altruism is a thumb in the eye of high-cost retransmission consent agreements with the corporate owners of local free over the air television stations. AT&T added Locast’s app to U-verse and DirecTV receivers at the end of May, giving subscribers a quick and easy way to access over the air stations if one or more are “blacked out” over a contract renewal dispute. AT&T also continues to offer antennas to customers that integrate with both services’ electronic program guides so subscribers can quickly access their favorite channels.

The Sports Fan Coalition, the group behind Locast, will use the money to further expand its service into other cities. At present, Locast is available to almost one-third of American TV homes, amounting to more than 32 million potential viewers. But the service has a very long way to go to stream local stations from all 210 U.S. TV markets.

AT&T will likely use Locast as a leveraging tool when negotiations become heated, letting TV station owners know they can simply point customers to Locast to continue watching stations. AT&T cannot legally redistribute Locast TV streams to customers without running afoul of copyright law, but it can provide customers with access to the independent Locast app and the internet connectivity that allows that app to function. AT&T does not currently plan to drop local stations already on the lineup in favor of pointing customers to Locast. But it will let customers know that blacked out stations are still available to customers through the Locast app.

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.

WarnerMedia’s Streaming Service Will Cost $16-17 and Bundle HBO/Cinemax

Phillip Dampier June 6, 2019 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, HBO Max, Online Video No Comments

WarnerMedia’s forthcoming streaming service will showcase HBO and Cinemax at the heart of a one-size-fits-all streaming package priced at $16-17 a month, featuring premium movies and Warner Bros. vast movie and TV show collection.

AT&T plans to begin beta testing of the service later this year, with plans to sell the service to consumers as early as March 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal.

John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications, signaled AT&T’s “radical reshape” of television on a Credit Suisse Communications conference call event on Wednesday.

“The streaming strategy, whether you call it an OTT or IPTV or thin client, we’re going to transform our product,” Donovan said. “It is the consumer product I am most excited about since the iPhone. It radically reshapes what your concept of television is.”

The “new concept” is a radical departure from AT&T’s earlier plan to offer “good,” “better,” and “best” price points, varying the amount of content depending on how much subscribers were willing to pay. Instead, Donovan proposes one price point for every subscriber, with access to an unprecedented amount of content produced by one of the country’s largest Hollywood studios. Warner Bros. has produced thousands of movies and series since the early days of television in the 1950s and the advent of commercial filmmaking in the early 20th century.

Donovan

“The idea of three tiers never made much sense and is too complicated to fly in the marketplace,” analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson told the newspaper.

Despite the potential of an enormous library of streamed content, consumers may balk at WarnerMedia’s asking price, especially if they have no interest in HBO or Cinemax. Netflix’s most popular two-stream plan costs $12.99 a month and second place Hulu is available for $5.99 a month with ads or $11.99 a month without. Most niche streaming services like MHz Choice, CBS All Access, Acorn Media, BritBox, and other similar services are all under $10 a month. AT&T proposes to set its price higher than traditional premium movie network services like HBO, which usually costs $14.99, to protect the relationships and revenue it earns from cable, satellite, and telco TV providers. But AT&T’s new service may be a tough sell, especially considering forthcoming streaming services like Disney+ plans to launch Nov. 12 at $6.99 a month, and Viacom’s Pluto TV and Sinclair’s STIRR are ad-supported and free. In fact, most of the newly announced streaming services yet to launch are targeting much lower price points, fearing consumers may be nearing their budget limits for more content.

AT&T warns it may adjust pricing before the service launches next year, and there may eventually be a cheaper, ad-supported version, making the service comparable to Hulu. AT&T has also not disclosed how much original made-for-streaming programming it plans to include in the venture, which may be an important consideration to attract price-sensitive customers not interested in watching repeats and movies they can watch elsewhere. Consumers may also be overwhelmed and fatigued by the amount of content already available to watch through established players like Netflix and Hulu, so WarnerMedia may find their streaming service a difficult sell, especially as cord-cutters find prices for streaming live TV services already rising as fast as their old cable TV subscriptions.

Take It Or Leave It Pricing: No, You May Not Have a Better Deal!

GIVE us more money and TAKE what we offer you.

Bloomberg News is reporting what many of you already know — it is getting tougher to get a better deal from your cable or phone company.

As Stop the Cap! has documented since the completion of the Time Warner Cable/Bright House/Charter Spectrum merger in 2016, companies are pulling back on promotions, taking advantage of a lack of competition and offering best pricing only to new customers.

Charter Spectrum and Cable One (soon to be Sparklight) are the most notorious for implementing “take it or leave it” pricing. In fact, one of Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge’s chief complaints about Time Warner Cable was its “Turkish Bazaar” mentality about pricing. Rutledge claimed Time Warner Cable had as many as 90,000 different promotions running at the same time, typically targeted on what other companies were theoretically providing service and how serious the representative felt you were about canceling service. Time Warner Cable had basic retention plans available for regular representatives to offer, better plans for retention specialists to pitch, and the best plans of all to customers complaining on the “executive customer service” line or after filing complaints with the Better Business Bureau. There were plans for complaining over the phone and different plans for complaining at the cable store. Rutledge was horrified, because customers were now well-trained on how to extract a better deal every year when promotions ran out.

Last month, Rutledge said he was indifferent about cash-strapped consumers that cannot afford a runaway cable TV bill on a retired/fixed income or the urban poor who can’t imagine paying $65 a month for basic broadband service. To those customers, pointing to the exit is now perfectly acceptable. In fact, companies make more profit than ever when you drop cable television service and upgrade your broadband connection to a faster speed. That is because there is up to a 90% margin on internet service — provisioned over a network paid off decades ago and designed for much less space efficient analog television. Charging you $20 more for faster internet service is nearly 100% profit and costs most companies next to nothing to offer, and Time Warner Cable executives once laughed off the financial impact of so-called “heavy users,” calling data transport costs mere “rounding errors.” 

Even with a much tougher attitude about discounting service, Charter and Comcast are still adding new broadband customers every month, usually at the expense of phone companies still peddling DSL. So if you cancel, there are probably two new customers ready to replace you, at least for now.

Cable One redefines rapacious pricing. The company specializes in markets where the incumbent phone company is likely to offer low-speed DSL, if anything at all. As a result, they have a comfortable monopoly in many areas and price their service accordingly. Cable One’s basic 200 Mbps plan, with a 600 GB data cap, costs $65 a month, not including the $10.50/mo modem fee, and $2.75 monthly internet service surcharge. To ditch the cap, you will pay another $40 a month — $118.25 total for unlimited internet.

In fact, Cable One charges so much money for internet, they even have Wall Street concerned they are overcharging!

When Joshua May tried calling Spectrum to deal with the 29% more it wanted (around $40 a month) after his promotion expired, the customer service representative told him to go pound salt.

“I expected they’d at least offer free HBO or Showtime,” May, 34, of Springfield, Ohio, told Bloomberg News. “They did nothing.”

He did something. He cut the cord. The representative could have cared less.

The product mix cable and phone companies offer has not really changed, but the era of shoving a triple play bundle of internet, TV, and phone service sure has. Charter and Comcast now treat cable television as a nice extra, not the start of a bundle offer. Broadband is the key item, and the most profitable element, of today’s cable package. Beleaguered phone service gets no respect either. Time Warner Cable used to sell its triple play bundle including a phone line for less money than their double play bundle that omitted it. Today, it’s a simple $9.99/mo extra, given as much attention as a menu offering premium movie channels.

Comcast differs from Charter by offering a plethora of options to their customers. If you don’t want to spend a lot for high speed internet, spend a little less for low speed internet. Their television packages also vary in price and channel selection, often maddeningly including a “must-have” channel in a higher-priced package. Like Spectrum, their phone line is now an afterthought.

AT&T and Verizon have their own approaches to deal with reluctant customers. Verizon FiOS customers face steep price hikes when their promotions expire, but the opportunity to score a better deal is still there, if Verizon is in the mood that quarter. Verizon remains sensitive about their subscriber numbers and growth, so when a quarter looks like it will be difficult, the promotions turn up. AT&T prefers to play a shell game with their customers. Most recently, the company has given a cold shoulder to its U-verse product, treating it like yesterday’s news and best forgotten. AT&T literally markets its own customers to abandon U-verse in favor of AT&T Fiber. Verizon and AT&T treat their DSL customers like they are doing them a favor just by offering any service. All the best deals go to their fiber customers.

AT&T Randall Stephenson is a recent convert to the “who cares about video customers” movement. Services like DirecTV Now were originally channel-rich bargains, but now they are a place for rate hikes and channel deletions. Over a half-million streaming customers have already canceled after the most recent price hikes, but Stephenson claims he does not mind, because those bargain-chasers are low-quality customers worthy of purging. AT&T’s dream customer is one who appreciates whatever AT&T gives them and does not mind a parade of rate hikes.

Comcast’s chief financial officer Mike Cavanagh said it more succinctly: seeking subscribers that “really value video and our bundle despite the increases in prices,” and has “the wallet for a fuller video experience.”

Customers who decide to take their business to a streaming competitor are already learning the industry still has the last laugh. As package prices head north of $50/month, that is not too far off from the pricing offered by cable and phone companies for base video packages. In fact, Spectrum has begun undercutting most streaming providers, offering $15-25 packages of local and/or popular cable channels with a Cloud DVR option for around $5 more a month.

New Way to Get Unlimited Home Broadband Back from AT&T (If You Act by June 30)

Phillip Dampier June 4, 2019 AT&T, Consumer News, Data Caps No Comments

AT&T is offering a permanent way out of its 1 TB data cap.

Customers who buy and activate two AT&T Smart Wi-Fi Extenders ($99.98 for two) by June 30, 2019 can get a permanent bill credit worth $30 a month for ongoing unlimited internet access as long as their internet account remains active and in good standing.

Here is how:

  • New or existing residential AT&T Internet customers who buy and activate two (2) AT&T Wi-Fi Extenders will receive a $30 bill credit for unlimited internet data allowance plan.
  • You must have a Pace 5268, NVG599, or BGW210 gateway. Existing AT&T Internet customers without compatible gateways will need to first be upgraded to a compatible gateway.
  • Offer does not apply to DSL or fixed wireless customers.
  • Credit starts within 3 bills.
  • Internet service account must be active and in good standing for continued receipt of bill credits.
  • Offer available with internet plans 768 kbps–1,000 Mbps.
  • Employees and retirees not eligible.

Sales tax applies, but AT&T is offering free ground shipping. The fine print:

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Recent Comments:

  • Willie C Branagan: iI am continually repulsed by the fact that (WEAK) New York State's Attorney General keeps providing Spectrum with extensions. They are not going to ...
  • Damien Thomas: I disagree...I recently moved back here to Rochester (my hometown) from portland Oregon- my first time out west- and they have comcast which has Xfini...
  • Nona: I would like to lodge a complaint against Spectrum Assist in North Carolina. I called on July 1, 2019 and had my sister approved based on a flier th...
  • Charles Nemitz: I ordered spectrum internet online and was given a price. My first bill had a 9.99 one time charge for self install. I pay you to self install? Somebo...
  • Paul Houle: Funny but I noticed that FTR was doing some work on the lines between my house and the CO. When I took a closer look I saw that they ran a fiber opti...
  • Phillip Dampier: I would definitely suggest people who do not like this change call, complain, and threaten to cancel Comcast unless they offer you a better deal. This...
  • Amy: It's such a scam. According to Comcast data we were using 1.5TB month, Even though we have unlimited phones through Verizon. I refused to pay and now...
  • Renee Myers: Grandfathereing people out of Cinemax is not right at all. Reduce my bill, dont give me a garbage channel that has anything worth watching!...
  • Lauren: Why is it that I got cable/internet through frontier for $90/month, and it ends up being over $180-200 a month. When I finally called they said they w...
  • David: Has anyone looked into filing a class action lawsuit since we contracted for Cinemax and they’ve taken it away without any financial adjustment....
  • Rickon Stark: Hitz is a glorified Encore. We are getting screwed because Comcast it's in a pissing contest with ATT...
  • Bruce: With the speeds they are "purposing" most kids will be out of data in an hour. Are they upping data limits to match the new speeds? I haven't heard a...

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