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Charter Spectrum Raising the Price for Internet Service to $75 a Month

Phillip Dampier November 2, 2020 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News 52 Comments

Charter Spectrum is raising the price of its internet service by $5 a month starting in December, making most internet-only customers pay $74.99 a month for service starting at 100 Mbps.

An internal customer service document obtained by Stop the Cap! shows the company plans to raise the base internet price for all customers except those still subscribed to a package bundle containing traditional cable television. However, if you subscribe to a streaming TV package like Spectrum Choice, Essentials, or Stream, the rate hike will apply.

Customers subscribed to higher speed tiers (Ultra, Gig) or have a grandfathered Time Warner Cable internet package without cable TV can also expect a $5 increase.

Customers will be notified about the rate hike on their November bill, with new pricing taking effect from Dec. 2, 2020.

 

 

Spectrum Puts DOCSIS 4 Speed Upgrades on Hold Until 2022; “There’s No Rush”

Facing no significant new competitive pressure, Charter Communications has put DOCSIS 4, capable of bringing dramatically faster internet service to Spectrum customers, on hold until 2022.

Speaking at today’s Bank of America 2020 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference, Charter chief financial officer Chris Winfrey reassured Wall Street Charter had no plans to surprise shareholders with unplanned increased investment in its broadband service and is in no hurry to deliver DOCSIS 4’s faster internet to its customers.

“We’ll continue to develop the path for DOCSIS 4.0, but […] there’s no rush,” Winfrey said. “There’s still a lot to be excited about DOCSIS 3.1. It’s relatively untapped in terms of the throughout it can give us.”

Charter’s last significant upgrade effort was rolling out DOCSIS 3.1, a project that ended in 2018. Since that time, Charter has done little to raise internet speeds for all of its customers. Spectrum residential customers in some areas of the country receive 100/10 Mbps service while others receive 200/10 Mbps for the same price. Spectrum has dragged its feet on upgrading the remaining half of its footprint to 200 Mbps service, and there is no sign if or when it will upgrade the rest.

At the same time, Charter is petitioning the FCC to end important pro-consumer deal conditions that were required as part of the FCC’s approval of the 2016 merger between Charter and Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. The company is seeking to end a prohibition on implementing data caps. 

Although the company denies it has any immediate plans to implement compulsory data caps, Charter’s announcement it has no plans to announce any new material spending on DOCSIS 4 for the next two years might leave customers with stagnant internet speed and the eventual introduction of data caps.

Winfrey assured investors the company does not have to rush investment on DOCSIS 4.0 upgrades.

“We’ll make sure [upgrades occur on] a normal cycle as opposed to a big bang upgrade,” Winfrey said. “I don’t think it will dramatically change our capital intensity profile.”

AT&T, one of Charter’s largest competitors, has concluded its fiber expansion project, which means Charter’s only new, near-future competitive threat will come from a handful of independent fiber overbuilders that offer gigabit internet speed in some cities at competitive pricing. But most overbuilders are capital constrained, limiting the pace of their expansion. That may explain why Charter does not feel any pressure to upgrade service, especially when the only alternative is slow speed DSL service from the phone company.

Spectrum Rolls Out $29.99 K-12 Student Internet 50/5 Mbps Plan

Phillip Dampier September 1, 2020 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News No Comments

Charter Spectrum has introduced a new budget-priced internet plan for households with students, offering a 50/5 Mbps internet connection for $29.99 a month.

Spectrum’s unusual discounted internet plan bypasses the usual paperwork verification that low-cost internet options usually require by contracting directly with area schools that would offer the plan to their existing students. The service is managed by Spectrum Enterprise, a commercial services division at Charter Spectrum.

Connie Lack, a Charter representative who briefed members (sub. req’d.) of Cleveland City Council’s Finance Committee this week about the plan, explained that at least 50 connections per school would be required to offer “Stay Connected K-12” to students. The plan is available to students, teachers, and staff of public, charter and parochial schools.

The plan includes free Wi-Fi service and equipment and offers unlimited access with no data caps or speed throttling. Anyone can access the service, but there must be at least one qualified student in the home to keep the plan.

The plan appears to be Charter’s answer to students that lack quality internet connections at home to take advantage of in-home schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic. But unlike other plans, Spectrum closely partners with educational institutions to market, manage, and maintain the service.

“‘Stay Connected K-12’ allows schools to offer high-speed, cable broadband Internet access direct to students, educators and staff in their homes so learning, teaching and working are uninterrupted,” a brochure about the service explains. “It offers schools and districts flexibility to add locations where access is needed and remove locations when it is no longer required. Schools and districts can simply provide the details of residences in need of access and Spectrum Enterprise takes care of the rest.”

Signing up for service must be handled through a participating school, not Charter Spectrum. Once signed up, Spectrum will send a self-install kit with all necessary equipment and instructions. If your school is currently not enrolled in this program and needs more information, you can share this phone number with school officials so they can get more information: (866) 850-5136.

Stop the Cap Requests FCC Time Extension or Postponement of Charter’s Data Cap Petition

August 20, 2020

Ms. Marlene H. Dortch
Office of the Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554

Regarding Docket: WC 16-197

Dear Ms. Dortch,

We are writing to express concern about the FCC’s apparent rush to judgment over Charter’s petition to sunset two important conditions the company agreed to in return for approval of a highly profitable merger deal involving Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. The accelerated pace of this proceeding is very odd, considering Charter has claimed in the press it has no plans to implement data caps and cannot act on the Commission’s decision before the spring of 2021.[1]

This docket is full of comments from consumers that are overwhelmingly opposed to Charter being allowed to impose data caps. Despite assertions from some cable companies that data caps are “popular” with consumers, the comments in this docket speak for themselves. Few, if any consumers support data caps and they are not popular and never have been.[2] Consumers do not express support for data caps by choosing providers that impose them. In most cases, they have no other reasonable choice. Mediacom’s comments on data caps do not reflect consumer sentiment anymore than Charter’s comments did, and the fact is its 60 GB allowance tier is an anomaly in the broadband marketplace.[3] We also note Mediacom did not disclose what we suspect is an extremely low percentage of customers finding that plan adequate for their needs. Again, we point the Commission to comments in this docket filed by actual consumers to get an understanding of how much they dislike data caps.

Also appropriate for consideration are the candid conclusions reached by former Time Warner Cable executives admitting that consumers overwhelmingly rejected the company’s “budget” data allowance plans, and to such an extent the company discontinued them several years ago.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet and Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Fla., in March 2014, Time Warner Cable Inc. Chairman and CEO Rob Marcus said very few broadband subscribers opted for its internet plan that caps data use at 30 gigabytes per month. In fact, the number of subscribers taking the use-based service tier is running only “in the thousands” — a very tiny slice of the MSO’s roughly 11 million US broadband customers.[4]

Many of the groups that have supported Charter’s petition are also recipients of donations from the cable company and their views must be considered in that context. Many were specifically invited by Charter to participate in this proceeding. At least one, the Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club, remarkably and publicly repudiated its own initial support for Charter’s petition after we publicly asked why the organization took a stand on an issue that seems far afield from its mission.

As a Buffalo TV newscast noted:

“After a quick whirlwind of events, the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls club went from supporting a measure after receiving a donation from Charter to then distancing themselves entirely.

But if this wasn’t enough of a Nancy Drew novel for you, we have this update:

Charter is apologizing to the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club.

[…] The reality of the situation is there’s nothing illegal here. What stands out is that the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club has only submitted one FCC comment, as far as WGRZ can determine. The comment came after they received a donation from Charter Communications, and the letter was in support of an initiative that Charter Communications wants regulators to approve.

This situation, and others that WGRZ has also discovered, raises serious questions about the position non-profits are put in after they receive a donation from a large company.”[5]

At the same time, consumers with no financial interest in Charter beyond being customers are continuing to share their views with the Commission to this day. They are overwhelmingly hostile to the idea of Charter being given an early sunset to the very modest deal conditions imposed by the FCC. We believe consumers should have the benefit of a much longer comment window to express their concerns. The current 14-day extension is wholly inadequate.

Additionally, with the presidential election less than 80 days away and the recent decision by the president to withdraw the nomination of Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to serve a second term, we feel this petition should be addressed by the Commission during the next Administration and after his replacement is confirmed and seated, which would still allow for a decision prior to the fifth anniversary of the merger order, the earliest the imposed deal conditions can sunset.

Because the FCC did not invest any time and energy to defend the related court challenge of other Charter deal conditions before the D.C. Circuit, it is clear the FCC has much higher priorities under consideration at the moment. Therefore, it should move to delay further consideration of this matter, accept additional input from interested parties, and assure a decision will be forthcoming early next year, before the fifth anniversary of the merger order. This would not harm Charter and would clearly demonstrate the Commission was not rushing this petition through, which could give the perception the FCC was unfairly biased towards Charter to the detriment of consumer interests.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to severely impact the United States, the last thing consumers should face is a higher bill for internet access, either with the imposition of data caps or charging interconnection fees that could force video services to increase pricing. Americans are relying on the internet to stay entertained, informed, work, learn, and shop from home, and manage health care needs through tele-health video conferencing. Charter has told the Commission its network has been more than capable of handling the increased traffic from these activities.

There is no urgency here and no evidence a delay until early 2021 would harm Charter’s interests in any way.

Yours very truly,

Phillip M. Dampier
Founder and President

[1] “Charter Seeks FCC OK to Impose Data Caps and Charge Fees to Video Services” https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2020/06/charter-seeks-fcc-ok-to-impose-data-caps-and-charge-fees-to-video-services/

[2] “Reply of Charter Communications” https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/10806999321971/Charter%20Merger%20Conditions%20Sunset%20Petition%20Reply%20(8-6-20).pdf

[3] Mediacom ex-parte communication https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/108172969830849/Mediacom%20August%2017%2C%202020%20ex%20parte.pdf

[4] “TWC Subs Say No to Data Caps” (3/2014) Light Reading: https://www.lightreading.com/services-apps/broadband-services/twc-subs-say-no-to-data-caps/d/d-id/708194

[5] “Charter Regrets Misunderstanding With Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club.” (WGRZ-TV Buffalo) https://www.wgrz.com/article/news/local/charter-regrets-misunderstanding-with-niagara-falls-boys-girls-club/71-f50b6957-dd26-4560-bb0c-d6d5828c1cd1

Newsmax Media Fighting Hard Against Prospect of Charter Spectrum Data Caps

Newsmax, a conservative media operation, is worried about how data caps will impact its streaming video service.

Newsmax Media is going above and beyond to fight Charter Communications’ efforts to win back the right to impose data caps on Spectrum internet customers, questioning the FCC’s timing on how it is handling Charter’s petition and the company’s claims about why it wants the right to impose caps two years before the FCC’s requirement banning them expires.

The conservative media outlet depends heavily on the internet to distribute its video network — Newsmax TV, and claims Spectrum’s ability to impose data caps and charge video service providers interconnection fees could significantly harm Newsmax’s business.

Last week, Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy spoke directly with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat. An “ex parte” filing divulging the meeting quickly followed, with Ruddy arguing Charter’s petition was improperly filed too early and questioned why the FCC has hurried to put the matter on its calendar, presumably before the potential demise of the Trump Administration in the November elections.

In June, Charter asked the FCC to “sunset” — or end — the conditions Charter itself agreed to in return for approval of its merger deal with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. The most significant of those conditions required Charter not to impose data caps or usage based billing on its internet customers or charge fees to video streaming companies like Netflix and Hulu for seven years. A loophole in the final order approving the merger allowed Charter to request an early exit from those conditions two years early, if marketplace conditions warranted. Charter’s petition claimed broadband and video services are now subject to a dramatic increase in competition, making the conditions no longer necessary. But critics, including Stop the Cap!, argued against Charter’s petition claiming the broadband industry has remained concentrated and anti-competitive, and data caps are a symptom of that lack of competition.

Ruddy also noted that more recent comments from Charter in its effort to rebut its critics include an attempt to submit new information to the Commission, which should not be permitted because Commission procedure does not allow the public to comment or rebut Charter’s latest arguments.

One potential complication for Charter’s effort to push for a Commission vote is a recent spat between the president and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Earlier this month, O’Rielly publicly crossed the president by questioning the authority of the FCC to reinterpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That reinterpretation is at the heart of President Trump’s demand for a crackdown on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, which he claims have a conservative bias and are “illegally” critical of both the president and the administration. The president allegedly retaliated against O’Rielly by pulling back his earlier renomination of O’Rielly to serve an additional term at the FCC.

More recently, reports have surfaced in Washington that the president is prepared to nominate someone else, which traditionally would leave O’Rielly with little alternative but to recuse himself from Commission matters, or resign entirely. That would end the Republican majority on the Commission until the president’s nomination was approved by the Senate, which is highly unlikely to happen before the November election. That would leave the FCC evenly divided with two Democrats and two Republicans. Observers suspect Charter’s petition would end up in a tie vote, with the two remaining Republicans in favor of the cable company and the two Democrats opposed. That would stall the matter at least until January, when either President Trump begins his second term or Joe Biden begins his first.

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