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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.

Cable One: A Regime of High Prices and Data Caps

Cable One has the highest average revenue per customer of any publicly traded cable company in the United States, with the average customer paying Cable One $70.80 a month, mostly for internet access.

The company’s first quarter earnings growth of 5.5% reflect the company’s recent price increases and regime of low-allowance data caps, which have pushed 10 percent of its customers to pay an extra $40 a month to bring back unlimited access. Others are upgrading to costlier, faster tiers with more generous usage allowances.

“During the first quarter, we saw roughly 50% of our new customers choose our 200 Mbps or higher speed service and nearly 10% of our new customers opted to purchase our unlimited data plan,” said Julia Laulis, Cable One CEO.

Laulis

Cable One’s 200 Mbps plan (with a 600 GB data cap) costs $65 a month after promotions expire. A DOCSIS 3.0 modem lease fee of $10.50 applies. A $2.75 monthly internet service surcharge may apply. If a customer wants unlimited access to avoid overlimit fees, there is an additional charge of $40 a month (a 5 TB cap applies to the “unlimited plan”). Customers choosing a 200 Mbps broadband-only package with unlimited data will pay up to $118.25 a month.

Cable One’s broadband customers are concerned about staying within the data caps to avoid overlimit fees. While Comcast and Charter Spectrum customers consume over 300-400 GB of data per month (Comcast has a 1 TB cap, Spectrum only sells unlimited service), Cable One customers use an average of 290 GB, with usage growing at a 30-35% annual rate. Many Cable One customers have little choice either. Laulis noted that Cable One’s DSL competition is not very relevant when customers want to watch streaming video. Speeds are often so slow, customers do not have a good experience streaming HD video over DSL.

 

Cable One is also shedding its video customers in record numbers, with just 305,000 of its cable TV customers left. More than 29,000 departed year over year, and that number continues to rise as consumers rebel against the company’s high prices and unwillingness to negotiate.

MoffettNathanson warned that Cable One’s high pricing may eventually price itself out of broadband growth, as consumers elect to sign up with telephone companies instead. But many of its service areas are still served by low-speed DSL, and despite Cable One’s high cost, the company added 10,600 new internet customers in the last quarter.

In addition to raising prices, the company also plans to spend between $9-11 million to change its name from Cable One to Sparklight over the next two years.

Cable ONE Acquires Fidelity Communications in $525.9 Million Cash Deal

Cable ONE today announced it has acquired family owned cable operator Fidelity Communications, in a $525.9 million cash deal.

Fidelity serves 134,000 residential and business customers in smaller communities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. Cable ONE showed interest in Fidelity because many of its small cable systems are not too far away from existing Cable ONE systems that also target smaller communities.

Fidelity systems typically sell broadband at speeds of 50 Mbps ($64.99) and 100 Mbps ($89.99).

Fidelity does not usage cap its customers, Cable ONE does.

Cable ONE has also been criticized for charging the highest price residential broadband service in the country.

Fidelity currently serves customers in:

Arkansas
Alexander
Bauxite
Beebe
Benton
Bryant
Cherokee Village
Hardy
Haskell
Hensley
Highland
Little Rock
Mabelvale
Mammoth Springs
Maumelle
North Little Rock
Pulaski
Shannon Hills

Louisiana
Erwinville
Glynn
Jarreau
Lakeland
Morganza
New Roads
Oscar
Rougon
Ventress

Missouri
Adrian
Buffalo
El Dorado Springs
Gerald
Harrisonville
Lebanon
Nevada
New Haven
Owensville
Rolla
Salem
Sullivan
Thayer
West Plains

Oklahoma
Lawton

Texas
Atlanta
Carthage
Hallsville
Jefferson
Marshall
Queen City

Cable One Changing Name to Sparklight in the Summer of 2019 to Refocus on Broadband

Phillip Dampier December 12, 2018 Broadband Speed, Cable One, Consumer News, Data Caps 7 Comments

Cable One will rebrand itself Sparklight starting in the summer of 2019, reflecting a refocus on selling broadband service.

“We are very excited for this evolution to our new brand and the next chapter in our story,” Cable One CEO Julie Laulis said in a statement. “Over the past several years we have evolved and our new brand will better convey who we are and what we stand for – a company committed to providing our communities with connectivity that enriches their world.”

The corporate name will remain Cable One, but like Charter’s Spectrum or Comcast’s XFINITY, customers will primarily know the company under its new brand.

Cable One provides service in these areas.

Cable One has just over 800,000 customers in 21 states nationwide, primarily in the South. The company’s decision to hold the line on the wholesale cost of its cable television package resulted in the company dropping Viacom-owned cable networks, which caused a significant number of customers to cancel service. Today, nearly 60% of its customers are broadband-only.

The cable company has also been criticized for dramatically raising the price of its internet service and for its regime of data caps, which limits most of its customers to 300 GB of usage a month. Customers who exceed their usage allowance three times during a calendar year “may be required to upgrade to an appropriate plan for data usage.”

Cable One currently offers four broadband options:

  • Starter Plan (100/3 Mbps) $55/mo with up to 300 GB of usage
  • Family Plan (150/5 Mbps) $80/mo with up to 600 GB of usage
  • Streamer and Gamer Plan (200/10 Mbps) $105/mo with up to 900 GB of usage
  • GigaONE (1000/50 Mbps) $175/mo with up to 1,500 GB of usage

Under the rebrand, the company will “streamline” its residential broadband options and pricing, which will likely push customers towards a more expensive, higher-speed tier. Sparklight will also offer unlimited data on any of its revamped tiers for an additional monthly fee. Both measures are likely to boost revenue, and customer bills.

“As consumer data consumption continues to increase, multi-device households become the norm, and businesses expect a broad suite of services, Sparklight will continue to evolve with our customers by offering innovative options to fit their needs, while providing helpful, proactive and personal local service,” Laulis said.

Cable One Raking It In With Rate Hikes: 47% Margin Highest in the Cable Industry

Cable One, the Phoenix-based mid-sized cable operator serving some of the poorest communities in the country is charging some of the nation’s highest prices for broadband service, raking in an unprecedented 47% margin in the fourth quarter of 2017, the highest in the cable industry.

That growth has come courtesy of CEO Julie Laulis, who has doubled down on data caps — automatically enrolling customers in higher priced plans if they exceed data caps three times in any 12-month period, raised prices, and ended most new customer and customer retention promotions in favor of ‘take it or leave it‘ pricing, especially on broadband service. Laulis has also decided to devote most of Cable One’s marketing efforts on selling broadband service, while de-emphasizing cable television. As a result, customers dissatisfied with Cable One’s lineup are encouraged to leave quietly.

Because video programming is costly to provide and broadband is relatively cheap to offer, the more the company can extract from its internet customers, the higher the profits earned. In 2011, cable television represented 49.1% of Cable One’s $779 million in revenue, with residential and commercial broadband comprising 34%. Today, 57% of Cable One’s $960 million in revenue comes from selling internet service. Cable One not only de-emphasized its video business, it also raised prices on internet service to further enhance earnings.

New customers coming to Cable One can subscribe to an entry-level broadband plan of 100 Mbps with a 300 GB monthly data cap for $55 a month. There are no discounts or promotions on this plan. But Cable One also requires customers to lease ($10.50/mo.) or buy an added-cost cable modem, raising the price higher. To prevent customers from taking advantage of promotions on higher speed products, Cable One requires customers to disconnect from service for a full year before being considered a new customer once again.

Laulis

Cable One has been able to raise prices and attach stingy usage caps to customers primarily because there are no good alternatives in the rural markets it prefers. One analyst said 77% of Cable One’s customers are in largely rural areas of Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma. But prices are clearly getting too high for some, because the company lost more video and phone customers that it gained in new broadband subscriptions during the fourth quarter of 2017.

The fact Cable One broadband is now considered by many subscribers to be “too expensive” is also reflected by the extremely anemic broadband growth at Cable One. In 2017, the company added just 1.5% to its residential broadband customer base, despite very limited competition from phone companies.

MoffettNathanson’s Craig Moffett has complained all winter that Cable One is sacrificing broadband subscriber growth in favor of profits from price increases.

“[Cable One has] the most limited broadband competition of any publicly traded operator, and they have the lowest starting penetration,” Moffett told his investors. “Should they not be growing broadband the fastest of anyone? If price elasticity is greater than anyone thinks, how long is the runway, not just for Cable One, but for any operator choosing a strategy of price increases rather than unit growth?”

Cable One is also squeezing its newest customers at its latest acquisition – NewWave, which now features pricing very similar to Cable One. It recently started to turn over past due NewWave customers to collections after going 40 days past due. Previously, it was 90 days before account holders were threatened with cancellation and collections.

For now, NewWave’s introductory offer remains: 100 Mbps High-Speed Internet is $39 for the first three months before these rates kick in:

100Mbps 150Mbps 200Mpbs 200Mpbs 200Mpbs
Monthly Price* $55 $80 $105 $130 $155
Download Speed Up To 100 150 200 200 200
Upload Speed Up To 3 5 10 10 10
Best for # of Household Devices 5 8 10 10 10
Data Plan 300GB 600GB 900GB 1200GB 1500GB
Household Needs Download files/music
Power surfing
Occasional gaming
Mulitple surfers
Serious gaming
Mulitple devices & users
Serious gaming
Mulitple devices & users
Serious gaming
Mulitple devices & users
Home Wifi Included* Included* Included* Included* Included*
Streaming Video HD Video Multiple HD Video Multiple HD Video Multiple HD Video
iTunes Downloads of 45 minute show 15.6 seconds 10.8 seconds 7.8 seconds 7.8 seconds 7.8 seconds

*Plans & pricing for new customers. Rates do not include optional modem fees of $10.50 per month. Rates subject to change. Taxes and fees not included.

 

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  • Patricia Garcia: What gets me is that despite the state aid for and requirement to expand, they have refused to expand to our home or the rest of the road which has 15...
  • Doug: Time to walk away.. The cable operators know that customers like to buy by price, not necessarily amount. There is a reason why a "one pound" coffee...
  • Tim: Comcast needs to drop the $11.99 from my contract since I am no longer getting Cinemax. Hitz is garbage. I watch the original programming on Cinemax w...
  • Dona Pruitt: I am appalled at Comcast for doing this to it's customers, especially all of the older customers. I have been with Comcast since 2005. All of you are ...
  • 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!...

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