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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.

Bronx, Monroe Counties Among the Worst in New York for Urban Broadband Users

Broadband service is available to 99.1% of the Bronx and 99.8% of the Rochester and its suburbs, but just 38.5% of Bronx residents are using the internet at broadband speeds (at least 25/3 Mbps) and only 54% of Monroe County residents are receiving a true broadband experience.

These two New York communities, one in the dense New York City area, the other straddling the Finger Lakes region and Western New York, are examples of the FCC’s vast over-count of consumers getting suitable broadband service and speed, according to Microsoft. The problem is much worse in rural areas where DSL speeds predominate and providers like Verizon and Frontier are in no hurry to upgrade their rural networks.

“These significant discrepancies across nearly all counties in all 50 states indicates there is a problem with the accuracy of the access data reported by the FCC,” Microsoft said about its findings. “Additional data sources like ours, as well as work by others to examine data in a few states or regions, are important to understanding the problem.”

Microsoft’s performance data is not alone representative of a local cable company not delivering advertised speeds. For example, in the Bronx, affordability issues mean that more residents rely on their cell phones and mobile connectivity for internet access. In Rochester, where true broadband speeds usually cost $50-65 a month depending on the provider, affordability is also a factor. But there is also the presence of local telephone company Frontier Communications, which has saddled Rochester with inferior DSL service it has no concrete plans to upgrade. Frontier DSL usually offers substandard speed of 12 Mbps or much less, making its customers part of Microsoft’s estimation of those underserved.

Schumer

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) complained about the state of broadband in New York, claiming internet speeds are “horrible” in much of the state and broadband providers are not being honest about advertised speed.

“When there’s slow internet, it drives you crazy​.​ ​You just sit and wait and wait and wait. It’s horrible,” Schumer said at a news conference held Sunday in Manhattan. “There’s a new report out that says our internet here in New York may​ ​be moving more like molasses than like lightning.”

Schumer is taking direct aim at the recent positive report from the FCC that broadband has dramatically improved in the United States, a conclusion the Republicans serving at the FCC took credit for, explaining policies of deregulation and elimination of net neutrality spurred private investment and better internet service for all.

“But Microsoft did its own report, and it shows that over four and a half million New Yorkers and Long Islanders are not getting the speed on the internet that the carriers say they’re getting​, [and] that’s a real problem,” Schumer argued, adding that most consumers are not getting consistent access to at least 25/3 Mbps service. “It’s like paying for the speed of a car but getting the speed of a bicycle.”

Schumer wants the FCC to hold providers to account for their broadband speed and performance. But last week, the FCC had other ideas, delaying broadband performance testing requirements until 2020 for internet service providers receiving taxpayer or ratepayer funds to build out their networks.

“T​he FCC is falling down on the job,” Schumer said. “I don’t think it’s nefarious but the providers, to upgrade to the required speed​,​ would have to pay for more equipment. They should. We’re all paying big bills for that.”

 

RT and New York Times War Over 5G’s Possible Health Impacts

A war between RT, Russia’s external English language news channel and the New York Times over the health impact of 5G technology has given the telecom industry a new talking point: Claims that 5G signals are dangerous are nothing more than Russian fake news.

Generous news coverage about 5G deployment has brought out fringe critics claiming wireless mobile technology causes brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors and Alzheimer’s disease. In some cities in the western U.S., mysterious “Public Health Warning” signs have been placed on utility poles, showing the alleged locations of future 5G cell sites. No one has come forward to claim ownership of the signs, and they are not the work of local officials.

The Times instead blamed the Kremlin’s state-sponsored news outlet RT for stirring up opposition to 5G. Reporter William Broad claimed RT had largely ignored 5G until this year, when it suspiciously aired seven stories about its health risks:

RT’s assaults on 5G technology are rising in number and stridency as the American wireless industry begins to erect 5G systems. In March, Verizon said its service will soon reach 30 cities.

RT America aired its first program assailing 5G’s health impacts last May, its only one in 2018. Already this year, it has run seven. The most recent, on April 14, reported that children exposed to signals from 5G cellphone towers would suffer cancer, nosebleeds and learning disabilities.

[…] The network is now applying its playbook against 5G by selectively reporting the most sensational claims, and by giving a few marginal opponents of wireless technology a conspicuous new forum.

RT’s Rick Sanchez devoted a substantial amount of time on a recent show attempting to refute a New York Times article that claimed Russia was trying to interfere with America’s 5G expansion using fear-mongering. (19:32)

The “Balaclava EMF Shield” is designed to protect you from ambient radiofrequency energy.

One RT host, Rick Sanchez, devoted 20 minutes of a recent show critiquing the Times story and expressing disappointment over the caliber of its reporting. Sanchez suggested the New York Times report was virtually an advertisement for Verizon and narrowed in on an admission near the bottom of the piece that the phone company and the newspaper are now business partners:

Wireless high-speed communication could transform the news industry, sports, shopping, entertainment, transportation, health care, city management and many levels of government. In January, The Times announced a joint venture with Verizon to build a 5G journalism lab.

Sanchez also sought to tie the push for 5G as another example of corporate influence over Washington, noting FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was a former lawyer for Verizon. He also tied 5G into the assault on net neutrality, without explaining why. For its part, the Times suggests, with little evidence, that RT is running a propaganda campaign against 5G to slow down its deployment in the United States, allowing Russia to leap ahead:

Even as RT America has worked hard to damage 5G, the scientific establishment in Russia has embraced a contrary and questionable position: that the high frequencies of 5G communications are actually good for human health. It recommends their use for healing wounds, boosting the immune system and treating cancer. Millions of Russian patients are said to have undergone such high-frequency therapies.

Beauty clinics in Moscow use these high frequencies for skin regeneration, according to a scientific study. One company says the waves can remove wrinkles and fight hair loss.

The back-and-forth arguments have now attracted Washington’s attention, and some in Congress want to hold hearings about a reputed “disinformation campaign” run by Russia against 5G technology. Wireless carriers will welcome such hearings, allowing them to further argue for deregulation of cell placement rules and other zoning matters and claim the U.S. is falling behind in the global 5G race. It is also much easier to dismiss objections to 5G as Russian fake news than to finance a team of experts to counter those claims.

Lost in all of this is the original question about the risks of 5G technology. Much of the health an d safety opposition to wireless technology began long before the concept of 5G was unveiled. Some parents have opposed in-school Wi-Fi as medically harmful. Others fear traditional 3G or 4G radiofrequency energy, which some claim (without substantial evidence) causes cancer.

The health impacts of 5G have not been definitively proven, and it will be important to distinguish between different flavors of 5G to even consider the question. Millimeter wave 5G networks that depend on small cells those signs affixed to utility poles warn about operate at very high frequencies with very low power. No person will likely be within 10-15′ of a small cell because they will be erected on top of utility poles. They also emit a very short range signal unlikely to penetrate walls of buildings, much less your brain or vital organs. The other version of 5G will be placed on existing cell towers and will be no more harmful than 3G or 4G. If one fears radiofrequency energy, they are much more likely to get a large dose of it driving past (or living by) an AM, FM, or TV transmitter that operates at much higher power.

KOIN-TV in Portland, Ore. reported the sudden appearance of ‘Public Health Hazard’ signs warning of the risks of 5G. But are the signs for real? (2:31)

Verizon’s Leaky Power Blamed for Damaging Copper Water Pipes, Costing Homeowners Thousands

Some residents in eastern Queens, N.Y. have paid tens of thousands of dollars to replace copper water pipes, some damaged beyond repair just three months after being installed, after mysterious stray electric current traced back to Verizon caused the pipes to prematurely deteriorate.

In April, without admitting liability, Verizon reached out to homeowners on 188th Street in the Fresh Meadows area, offering to reimburse costs incurred dealing with leaking, corroded copper water pipes.

The problems began nearly four years ago, affecting residents of Jamaica Estates, Rosedale, Flushing, and other nearby neighborhoods. An epidemic of water leaks originating in copper pipes that connect homes to the municipal water supply resulted in waterlogged front lawns and small rivers of water running down streets with no rain in sight. Copper water pipes rated for 60 years of service began failing after as little as three months. Inspection found premature corrosion and leaks.

Joe Concannon on 188th Street in Queens demonstrates how quickly water lines in the neighborhood deteriorate as a result of corrosion. (2:00)

What caused the pipes to deteriorate so rapidly, forcing some homeowners to replace their feed lines four times over the course of a few years? An investigation conducted by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is responsible for supplying water service in the area, discovered the culprit was stray direct current electricity traveling underground. When DC voltage reaches copper pipes, electrolytic corrosion begins. True electrolysis is rare and had not been seen in most cities for decades, primarily because of the retirement of high amperage DC current-fed trolley cars our grandparents and great-grandparents once rode.

This copper pipe survived five months underground before deteriorating with a substantial corrosion hole. (Image courtesy: Joe Concannon)

As some homeowners continued to face thousands in repair bills, a classic game of finger-pointing ensued over where the excess leaking voltage was coming from. Con Ed was a natural suspect, except for the fact it supplies alternating current (AC) voltage, which was not responsible for the corrosion problem. Con Ed blamed Verizon, claiming the source of the stray electricity was coming from Verizon equipment on a pole in Rosedale. Verizon called Con Ed’s investigation flawed because that particular pole carried fiber optic FiOS cables. Besides, it was highly unlikely leaking voltage traced to a single overhead pole could cause the kind of damage being found in Queens.

In 2017, the DEP commissioned Corr-Tech, an independent consultant, to find the source of the stray voltage, and verify if city infrastructure was responsible. In a 2018 report, the consultant stated that the leaks were not caused by city infrastructure but rather by a private utility, namely Verizon.

Corr-Tech found that although Verizon had commissioned FiOS fiber optic service in Queens years earlier, its older network remained in service. Verizon’s copper infrastructure is powered by DC voltage and if allowed to fall into disrepair, could leak DC voltage from buried phone cables. In this part of Queens, Verizon used lead-sheathed communications cable in terracotta ducts in the immediate vicinity of the deteriorated copper piping. Terracotta is the same material used to make clay flower pots, and is relatively fragile and subject to cracking and breaking.

After the 2018 report was issued, Verizon announced some results of its own investigation, concluding “when homeowners disconnect traditional copper telephone wires, by either going to FiOS or removing phone service altogether, Verizon continues to emit a current through those lines.”

But Verizon did not accept direct responsibility, and for the rest of 2018 into 2019, copper pipe failures persisted. At least 32 private water service lines along the east side of 188th Street and between 73rd Avenue and the Grand Central Parkway have failed since 2017.

“We’re not talking about one or two or five or ten, were talking about dozens,” said City Councilmember Barry Grodenchik. “Let me do the math for you, one person having a broken water main into their house is bad luck on one block, two of them is a coincidence, 32 in such a short stretch of 188th Street is a statistical impossibility unless there is an intervening force.”

In January, fed up residents were joined by members of the City Council and New York Assembly at a press conference calling on Verizon and the DEP to resolve the situation and reimburse homeowners. Assemblyman David Weprin proposed a bill in the New York State legislature that would put the onus on DEP to replace damaged water pipes at their expense, and then chase Verizon for reimbursement.

“The homeowners should not be responsible,” Weprin said in January. “I will be introducing a bill tomorrow in Albany, hopefully with the support of my Assembly member colleagues, to not require the homeowners to lay out the money. DEP is in a better position to layout the money, in the thousands of dollars, and then go after the third-party, in this case Verizon, rather than the homeowners.”

Because Verizon may ultimately be found financially liable, the company is now disconnecting line voltage from unused landlines, but despite reducing stray DC current, it remains present underground. Verizon will likely have to decommission its copper landline network or replace it to fully eliminate the excess voltage. In the meantime, Verizon recently sent letters to all affected homeowners stating it hired Sedgwick Claim Management Services “to evaluate claims for reimbursement for monetary expenses incurred as a direct result of the leak of your corroded copper water pipes.”

In return for signing a release of all claims against Verizon for damage, the phone company says it will begin reimbursing valid claim holders. Some neighborhood activists have little trust in Verizon or its motives, and questioned whether that signed release would prevent future claims from being processed. Verizon denied that would be the case and said it would continue to reimburse impacted homeowners in the future. Many would prefer not having to cover the costly repairs out-of-pocket and then wait for reimbursement. Some have proposed a fund paid for by utility companies to cover replacement costs directly.

A few lawmakers wonder if Verizon’s deteriorating underground infrastructure could be a ticking time bomb waiting to go off in other neighborhoods and in other states.

“Homeowners have been affected, and yet again we’ve seen a huge corporation just shirk their responsibility for doing the right thing by each and every homeowner,” said Assemblywoman Nily Rozic. “It is incumbent upon the city it’s incumbent on the state the Public Service Commission, to make Verizon step up and really deliver for homeowners.”

WABC-TV’s consumer reporter visited Queens to report on the sudden deterioration of copper water pipes in the neighborhood in July, 2018. Impacted homeowners endured flooded basements and thousands of dollars in unreimbursed expenses. (2:54)

FiOS Expansion is Still Dead: New Jersey’s Efforts to Win Over Verizon for Naught

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still, still, still, still, and still dead.

Despite the passage of favorable legislation deregulating the state’s largest telecom companies, Verizon has thumbed its nose at New Jersey’s efforts to convince the company to expand its fiber-to-the-home service.

“Verizon does not plan to expand its FiOS service footprint,” wrote Tanya Davis, a Verizon franchise service manager for FiOS in New Jersey and New York. “The company remains focused on continuing to meet its franchise obligations, and delivering competitive services, and enhanced consumer choices, where the services are available.”

More than a decade after passing the 2006 Cable TV Act in New Jersey, designed to convince telecom companies to compete more vigorously with each other, Verizon remains uninterested in further expanding its fiber network in New Jersey and beyond.

After successfully lobbying the state to adopt a statewide cable TV franchise policy, making life easier for Verizon by not requiring the company to negotiate a contract with each town serviced, Verizon suddenly stopped caring after announcing a pullback in further FiOS expansion in 2010. The change in heart appears to have started at the top. Then CEO Ivan Seidenberg, who approved FiOS, retired and was replaced by Lowell McAdam, who preferred Verizon invest mostly in its wireless networks.

Vergano

As a result, New Jersey has a telecom industry-friendly deregulatory policy in place with nothing to show for it.

“People want to see competition,” Wayne Mayor Christopher Vergano told the North Jersey Record, citing complaints his office has received about Altice USA’s Optimum service. “Over the years, they’ve seen their cable bills increase. We’re trying to give residents options.”

Wayne’s Township Council passed a resolution asking state lawmakers to review the 2006 Cable TV Act to find a way to coerce Verizon to do more fiber upgrades in the state. In 2006, then Gov. John Corzine got Verizon to commit to wiring 70 towns across New Jersey, and Wayne was not one of them.

Verizon agreed to expand its fiber network to all county seats, as well as areas with a population density in excess of 7,111 residents per square mile.

New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities (BPU) is still allowed to report on Verizon’s progress, but little else, thanks to deregulation. A BPU report stated deployment of FiOS slowed to a crawl between 2010-2013, when only three new towns were reached with fiber upgrades. What little interest Verizon still had in FiOS expansion ended after 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, after which Verizon ended expansion in urban areas of New Jersey as well.

“It’s solely Verizon’s discretion to add municipalities to its system-wide franchise,” a BPU spokesman told the newspaper.

Prior to deregulation, utility boards and regulators could compel companies to offer service instead of shrugging their shoulders and telling state lawmakers ‘it’s all up to Verizon.’

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  • Ian Littman: The Cox thing doesn't sound like LLD at all. It instead sounds like something similar to the WTFast service that Asus bundles with some of their route...
  • Suzanne: Jane, I did that same thing, so very fed up with Spectrum and their rates, and their (lack of any) customer service to keep a customer. It's going fi...
  • Alison: I just got offered 85 for choice for 12 months. Set up disconnect date. Hoping to get a better offer before then so I don’t have to switch to streamin...
  • Alison: When is/was your disconnect date? Did they ever call?...
  • Alison: Let me know how it goes when you call back...how long you wait. Just set up my disconnect date but will try calling one time before then!...
  • Jane: I'm now retired with Social Security as my income. I worked from home full-time and needed hi speed internet and phone service. I don't have cable tv ...
  • Larry Lee Moniz: More lLike Full Stream Ahead... I am dumping Comcast....
  • Debebe Gebeyehu: I am a senior retired with a very low monthly benefit. Thanks to the food stamp program which is very helpful. I hope the Internet Essential will ke...
  • Ian Littman: The spectrum Starry has won't really work for rural broadband; service only covers a couple miles from the access point. You need something < 6 GHz...
  • Ian Littman: Those are Canadian dollars. CAD 75/95/125 are $56.64/$71.74/$94.40. The more expensive plans are definitely pricier than, say, T-Mobile, but they aren...
  • Ian Littman: I doubt Charter or Comcast would buy Boost. They might pretend to look at it to get better rates from VZW, but that's about it. Altice or Amazon look...
  • Pissedoff: Ya, not investing in it's employees and at the same time he took away their pay raises. Shame shame!!...

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