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House Democrats Blast Telecom Companies for Data Caps, Rate Hikes

House Energy & Commerce Committee

Democrats serving on the House Energy & Commerce Committee today blasted the nation’s largest internet service providers for price increases and data caps placed on consumer broadband services at the height of a global pandemic, questioning the industry’s commitment to keeping Americans connected.

“Over the last ten months, internet service became even more essential as many Americans were forced to transition to remote work and online school. Broadband networks seem to have largely withstood these massive shifts in usage,” wrote Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr (N.J.), Mike Doyle (Penn.) and Jerry McNerney (Calif.). “Unfortunately, what cannot be overlooked or underestimated is the extent to which families without home internet service — particularly those with school-aged children at home — have been left out and left behind.”

Pallone

The congressmen questioned nine providers after reading media coverage of rate hikes and the implementation of data caps by Comcast and the potential for Charter Spectrum to impose data caps as early as May 2021.

“This is an egregious action at a time when households and small businesses across the country need high-speed, reliable broadband more than ever but are struggling to make ends meet,” the three Democrats wrote.

In March 2020, many cable and phone companies relaxed a number of restrictions on customers in response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. Many volunteered to suspend data cap overlimit fees, provide affordable broadband options to the economically disadvantaged, offer free months of service, open restricted Wi-Fi hotspots, and discontinue collection efforts or service disconnects on customers falling behind on bills.

Despite the pledge, consumers filed a significant number of complaints with the Federal Communications Commission alleging the companies broke their promises, by far most often for not following through on free service offers or continuing aggressive collections of past due bills and shutting off service.

Consumer complaints filed with the FCC regarding the “Keep America Connected” pledge, received from March-November 2020. (Source: FCC)

The Energy and Commerce Committee has now sent letters to the CEOs of many providers, seeking answers to these questions as part of ongoing oversight of the industry:

  • Did the company participate in the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge?
  • Has the company increased prices for fixed or mobile consumer internet and fixed or phone service since the start of the pandemic, or do they plan to raise prices on such plans within the next six months?
  • Prior to March 2020, did any of the company’s service plans impose a maximum data consumption threshold on its subscribers?
  • Since March 2020, has the company modified or imposed any new maximum data consumption thresholds on service plans, or do they plan to do so within the next six months?
  • Did the company stop disconnecting customers’ internet or telephone service due to their inability to pay during the pandemic?
  • Does the company offer a plan designed for low-income households, or a plan established in March or later to help students and families with connectivity during the pandemic?
  • Beyond service offerings for low-income customers, what steps is the company currently taking to assist individuals and families facing financial hardship due to circumstances related to COVID-19?

The full letters are available below:

Altice USA

AT&T

CenturyLink/Lumen

Charter Communications

Comcast Cable Communications

Cox Communications

Frontier Communications

T-Mobile US

Verizon Communications

T-Mobile Expands Wireless 4G Home Internet Service in MI, MN, NY, ND, OH, PA, SD, WV and WI

T-Mobile is widening its wireless home broadband pilot program to cover more than 20 million additional underserved and unserved households in 130 communities in parts of nine states.

“Home broadband has been broken for far too long, especially for those in rural areas, and it’s time that cable and telco ISPs have some competition,” said Dow Draper, T-Mobile executive vice president of Emerging Products. “We’ve already brought T-Mobile Home Internet access to millions of customers who have been underserved by the competition. But we’re just getting started. As we’ve seen in our first few months together with Sprint, our combined network will continue to unlock benefits for our customers, laying the groundwork to bring 5G to Home Internet soon.”

T-Mobile Home Internet customers currently pay $50 a month for unlimited wireless internet for their home or business, using T-Mobile’s existing 4G LTE network. To prevent cell tower saturation, T-Mobile is making the service available on a first-come, first-served basis, where coverage is eligible, based on equipment inventory and local network capacity. T-Mobile is also protecting its high-value mobile customer base by prioritizing mobile network traffic, so speeds may slow for home internet customers during times of peak cell tower usage.

The company adds that its 4G service will soon be joined by a 5G home internet service, which should increase speeds and capacity. The company claims:

  • The service is self-installed, so no installation visits or charges.
  • Taxes and fees included.
  • No annual service contracts.
  • No “introductory” price offers.
  • No hardware rental or sign-up fees.
  • No data caps, but network prioritization may affect speed during peak usage periods, and video streaming resolution may be limited based on available speed in your location.

Other Details:

  • Pricing: $50/month with AutoPay (price includes sales tax and regulatory fees “for qualifying accounts” whatever that means, and if you don’t AutoPay, the price is $5 higher.)
  • Credit approval required.
  • T-Mobile will supply an LTE Wi-Fi Gateway with the service, for in-home use only at the address on the account. The gateway must be returned if you cancel service or pay $207.

List of New Cities & Towns:

Michigan

  • Adrian
  • Alma
  • Alpena
  • Ann Arbor
  • Battle Creek
  • Bay City
  • Big Rapids
  • Cadillac
  • Coldwater
  • Detroit-Warren-Dearborn
  • Flint
  • Grand Rapids-Kentwood
  • Hillsdale
  • Holland
  • Jackson
  • Kalamazoo-Portage
  • Lansing-East Lansing
  • Ludington
  • Midland
  • Monroe
  • Mount Pleasant
  • Muskegon
  • Niles
  • Saginaw
  • Sault Ste. Marie
  • South Bend-Mishawaka
  • Sturgis
  • Traverse City

Minnesota

  • Albert Lea
  • Alexandria
  • Austin
  • Bemidji
  • Brainerd
  • Duluth
  • Fairmont
  • Faribault-Northfield
  • Fergus Falls
  • Grand Rapids
  • Hutchinson
  • Mankato
  • Marshall
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington
  • New Ulm
  • Owatonna
  • Red Wing
  • Rochester
  • St. Cloud
  • Willmar
  • Winona
  • Worthington

New York

  • Binghamton
  • Corning

North Dakota

  • Bismarck
  • Dickinson
  • Jamestown
  • Minot
  • Williston
  • Fargo
  • Grand Forks
  • Wahpeton

Ohio

  • Akron
  • Ashland
  • Ashtabula
  • Bucyrus-Galion
  • Cambridge
  • Canton-Massillon
  • Cleveland-Elyria
  • Coshocton
  • Defiance
  • Findlay
  • Fremont
  • Lima
  • Mansfield
  • Marion
  • New Philadelphia-Dover
  • Norwalk
  • Salem
  • Sandusky
  • Tiffin
  • Toledo
  • Wooster
  • Youngstown-Warren-Boardman

Pennsylvania

  • Altoona
  • Bloomsburg-Berwick
  • Chambersburg-Waynesboro
  • DuBois
  • East Stroudsburg
  • Erie
  • Gettysburg
  • Harrisburg-Carlisle
  • Huntingdon
  • Indiana
  • Johnstown
  • Lancaster
  • Lebanon
  • Lewisburg
  • Lewistown
  • Lock Haven
  • Meadville
  • New Castle
  • Oil City
  • Pittsburgh
  • Pottsville
  • Reading
  • Sayre
  • Scranton–Wilkes-Barre
  • Selinsgrove
  • Somerset
  • St. Marys
  • State College
  • Sunbury
  • Williamsport
  • York-Hanover
  • Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton

South Dakota

  • Aberdeen
  • Brookings
  • Huron
  • Mitchell
  • Pierre
  • Rapid City
  • Sioux Falls
  • Watertown
  • Yankton

West Virginia

  • Clarksburg
  • Cumberland
  • Elkins
  • Morgantown
  • Weirton-Steubenville
  • Wheeling

Wisconsin

  • Eau Claire
  • La Crosse-Onalaska
  • Menomonie
  • Wisconsin Rapids-Marshfield

T-Mobile Home Internet: This company supplied video explains how the service works. (1:15)

T-Mobile Introduces New Suite of Cord-Cutter Streaming TV Options Starting at $10/Month

After months of testing, T-Mobile’s streaming TV service TVision will debut for some existing T-Mobile wireless customers on Nov. 1, with three packages starting at $10/month.

Although late to the already-competitive cord-cutting streaming TV marketplace, T-Mobile hopes to shake up the market with more choices and, in some cases, lower pricing.

“People sure love TV — but they sure don’t love their TV provider,” T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said during a livestream previewing the TVision service. Sievert claimed the cable and satellite TV customers are fed up being ‘held hostage’ by programming lineup choices made by everyone but the customer, leaving consumers with costly bundles containing “live news and sports with hundreds of other channels you don’t want. Get ready to un-cable, everybody.”

The service will initially be available Nov. 1, but only to T-Mobile postpaid wireless customers. By the end of November, Sprint postpaid customers will also be invited to sign up. Prepaid T-Mobile and Sprint customers are expected to have access to the service sometime in 2021, along with those who do not have a T-Mobile or Sprint account. Non-customers will pay an undetermined surcharge.

TVision’s Android TV device, with remote control.

Details:

TVision will be available for streaming through apps on iOS, Android/Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV. It is currently not available on the Roku platform. Customers can also purchase a TVision Hub, a $50 Android TV device that plugs into an HDMI port on the back of your television to bring the streaming service to traditional television sets, along with a platform to use over 8,000 apps that already work with Android TV, including competing streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and CBS All Access.

Special Offer:

New customers who sign up for Live TV Plus or Live Zone by Dec. 31, 2020 will receive 12 months of free Apple TV Plus service and an $80 rebate offer for the Apple TV 4K set-top box (retails at $179, but will cost $99 after rebate).

Available Packages:

T-Mobile’s philosophy is that customers want to choose between packages containing general entertainment fare, news and sports, local TV, and premium channels. The more categories you want, the higher the price. If you want all four, you are likely going to pay pricing rivaling what you already pay your current provider. True, a-la-carte packages allowing customers to select specific channels is not available. T-Mobile currently has no agreement with CBS, so this means CBS network programming and local affiliates are not accessible on TVision at this time. The three higher priced Live packages include 100 hours of DVR cloud-based recording.

TVision Vibe (general entertainment) ($10/mo for 30 channels, up to 2 concurrent streams): AMC, Animal Planet, BBC America, BBC World News, BET, BET Her, CMT, Comedy Central, Discovery, DIY, Food Network, HGTV, Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Hallmark Drama, IFC, ID, MotorTrend, MTV, MTV Classic, MTV2, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Nicktoons, OWN, Paramount Network, Sundance, Teen Nick, TLC, Travel Channel, TV Land, WEtv

TVision Live (emphasizing live news and local stations) ($40/mo for 30+ channels, up to 3 concurrent streams) Does not include networks from the Vibe package, which has to be purchased separately): ABC*, ABC News Live, Bravo, CNBC, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, CNN, Cozi TV, Disney Channel, Disney Jr., Disney XD, E!, ESPN, ESPN2, Fox*, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, Freeform, FS1, FS2, FX, FXX, HLN, MSNBC, National Geographic, NBC*, NBC News Now, NBC Sports Network, Oxygen, Syfy, TBS, Telemundo*, TNT, truTV, USA

TVision Live Plus (enhances live sports options) ($50/mo for 40+ channels, up to 3 concurrent streams): Includes all channels from TVision Live package plus ACC Network, Big Ten Network, ESPNews, ESPNU, ESPN College Extra, FXM, Longhorn Network*, NatGeo Wild, NBC regional sports networks*, NECN*, NFL Network, Olympic Channel, SEC Network, SNY*, TCM, Golf Channel

TVision Live Zone (brings even more live sports and Spanish language networks) ($60/mo for 50+ channels, up to 3 concurrent streams): Includes all channels from TVision Live Plus package plus Boomerang, CNBC World, ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes, NFL RedZone, Universal Kids, Universo, MavTV

A-la-carte premium channels:

  • Starz ($8.99 per month): 28 channels
  • Showtime ($10.99 per month): 16 channels
  • Epix ($5.99 per month): 4 channels

(*-may not be available in all TV markets. For exact TV lineup in your area, visit here.)

T-Mobile’s CEO Mike Sievert announces TVision, the company’s new streaming TV service. (3:19)

Internet Providers Get Ready To Cut Off Past Due Customers Unless They Agree to Payment Plans

Internet providers are preparing to cut off late-paying and non-paying customers as early as June 30, as the Federal Communications Commission’s “Keep America Connected” pledge expires next week.

In March, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai invited providers to agree to waive late fees and put off disconnections and usage overlimit charges for several months as a result of the sudden economic shutdown due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. As the pledge expires, Pai is asking providers not to immediately disconnect customers who are past due, if they agree to enroll in payment plans to pay off accrued balances. But Pai ultimately stood on the side of the nation’s multi-billion dollar phone and cable companies as he expressed his understanding why some customers will be cut off anyway and turned over to collection agencies as early as next week.

“Broadband and telephone companies, especially small ones, cannot continue to provide service without being paid for an indefinite period of time; no business in any sector of our economy could,” Pai said in a statement.

Some customers have accumulated past due balances of over $1,000 in the past four months, when one combines wireless, cable-TV, internet, and landline charges. As a result, some large providers recognize the need for long-term repayment plans if they hope to preserve customer relationships. With unemployment over 13%, even their most loyal customers may find it difficult to keep up on bills that often exceed $100 a month, and are often much more.

Those customers that lose service for non-payment may forfeit future participation in low-cost internet programs for those on public assistance, and cannot restart service without coming to terms on past due balances. That could leave desperate customers at risk of losing access to job-seeking information, education, and news about the ongoing pandemic.

Some providers are gradually announcing new programs designed to keep service on, but only if customers contact providers and agree to commit to a repayment contract.

AT&T: The company disclosed 156,000 customers are currently enrolled in Keep America Connected-related programs. AT&T expects full payment of past due charges as early as June 30, or up to 90 days after the first past-due notice was issued, whichever is later. Customers can also keep service turned on by contacting AT&T and setting up an alternate payment arrangement.

Charter/Spectrum: The company has announced it will forgive a portion of past due balances and not require full repayment, if the customer or his/her job was directly impacted by the coronavirus. Spectrum’s offer of 60 days of free internet service introduced in March was accepted by at least 400,000 customers. But for most, the offer has since expired. Spectrum has worked to convert those at the end of the free offer into paid customers, but won’t disclose how much success they have had.

Comcast: Customers enrolled in the Xfinity Assistance Program are being given the option of repaying past due amounts in up to 12 equal monthly installments. After a repayment arrangement is made, some customers are persuaded to downgrade service to more affordable plans until past due amounts are repaid. Comcast’s offer of 60 days of free internet service has ended for most customers that enrolled shortly after it was introduced. Comcast has not announced a date when its 1,000 GB usage cap is scheduled to return in most service areas.

T-Mobile: For many, service will terminate if an account is well past due. Customers who want to keep their service must call T-Mobile to make payment arrangements, but T-Mobile did not disclose any formal repayment plans or payment forgiveness. It is imperative that customers call and discuss past due accounts before service is switched off.

Verizon: Verizon will continue service for “hundreds of thousands of customers” that enrolled in the Keep America Connected pledge program, as long as they agree to make regular payments as part of a special repayment plan that will be introduced for these customers in July. Customers will be billed a portion of their past due amounts along with current service charges until repayment has been made in full.

Of the country’s largest providers, only Charter/Spectrum has agreed to forgive some past due balances outright. Others will expect to be repaid and are likely to suspend service quickly if repayment plans also fall past due.

T-Sprint Promised 11,000 New Jobs to Regulators, Started Laying Off Sprint Employees Instead

Despite repeatedly promising the public and regulators that a merger of T-Mobile and Sprint would create thousands of new jobs, this week hundreds of Sprint employees are learning their old jobs are gone.

In a brief six minute conference call Monday hosted by T-Mobile vice president James Kirby, almost 400 people on the call learned their jobs with Sprint’s inside sales division were being eliminated and their last day of employment will be Aug. 17. It was just one of several conference calls announcing layoffs for Sprint’s sales teams, according to Techcrunch, notably those working on business and commercial sales. Other jobs targeted for cuts included national retail account executives, and indirect sales-affiliated account managers and executives.

So far, the pattern of layoffs is clearly favoring T-Mobile, with only a handful of top Sprint executives remaining with the company. In 2018, Sprint disclosed it had about 6,000 employees working in its headquarters city — Overland Park, Kan. T-Mobile has already made it clear it was slimming down Sprint’s operations there. A year ago, Sprint sold its headquarters campus to Wichita-based Occidental Management in a sale-leaseback deal, which freed up cash for Sprint, while allowing the company to continue renting the same office space. Consolidation is expected to reduce the number of buildings leased by the wireless carrier from 11 to just four.

According to employee messaging forum, thelayoff.com, many independent Sprint retailers are also being notified by T-Mobile their contracts to sell Sprint devices are being terminated in 120 days, which may result in store closures and additional job losses.

The job losses come despite repeated promises from former T-Mobile CEO John Legere to regulators and employees that the merger would result in job growth.

“In total, New T-Mobile will have more than 11,000 additional employees on our payroll by 2024 compared to what the combined standalone companies would have,” Legere claimed in an open letter last April.

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