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Windstream Tells Its DSL Customer in South Carolina to Consider Satellite Internet Instead

Phillip Dampier July 22, 2015 Broadband "Shortage", Broadband Speed, Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband, Windstream, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Windstream Tells Its DSL Customer in South Carolina to Consider Satellite Internet Instead
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On the outside looking in.

Windstream’s DSL service in parts of Inman, S.C. is so bad, the company has recommended some DSL customers consider signing up for a competitor’s satellite-based Internet service instead.

In a remarkable response to a complaint filed with the Federal Communications Commission by a Windstream customer, Mollie Chewning, an executive customer relations representative for Windstream, suggested no broadband upgrades were likely before 2016 and beyond a $10 monthly discount for a year, customers in Inman will just have to live with DSL speeds that are often less than 1Mbps or consider switching to satellite-delivered Internet from another company.

“Windstream acknowledges some Iman [sic], SC have been experiencing high-speed Internet issues,” Chewning wrote Sharon Bowers, the department division chief of the FCC’s Consumer Information Bureau. “This is a result of the tremendous growth in Internet usage over the past few years as well as the challenging economics of serving rural and remote areas with broadband. Unfortunately, our records indicate Mr. [redacted] service address will likely not benefit from any of our scheduled upgrades in 2015. It is possible some upgrades may be explored in 2016 could assist some customers in Inman via Connect America funding, but Windstream is still finalizing upgrade plans for next year.”

Speed test results

Speed test results

James Corley, the victim of Windstream’s poor-performing DSL, launched a blog to get Windstream moving on upgrades or entice area cable operator Charter Communications to wire his neighborhood for service.

Inman, S.C.

Inman, S.C.

“I am a resident of a small subdivision […] and for nearly a decade, we have been forced to rely on Windstream Communications’ disgraceful DSL internet and telephone services,” Corley writes. “The company’s representatives have been promising us for years that we would be upgraded to faster speeds but the promised upgrades have repeatedly failed to materialize and even though I cannot say for sure where Windstream’s priorities lie, it certainly isn’t with their customers.”

Corley is not asking for much. He’s subscribed to a basic 3Mbps service plan. Windstream does not come close to delivering even those speeds, however, with speed test results showing performance ranging usually below 1Mbps all the way down to 40kbps — less than dial-up.

“Given existing high-speed Internet issues, Mr. [redacted] will receive a $10 discount, which will appear on his account monthly through July 2016,” Chewning wrote. “If Mr. [redacted] finds this information unacceptable, he may want to explore alternate service options such as Internet via satellite.”

Corley has elected to pursue Charter Communications instead. It can offer considerably faster speeds than Windstream or satellite providers at a much lower cost. But Charter has thus far refused to wire Corley’s neighborhood for free. Charter wants at least $7,000 to extend service to the subdivision, after which it will start construction and deliver service within 45 days. Charter has no problem spending $55 billion to acquire Time Warner Cable but is unwilling to spend $7,000 to attract most, if not all 16 residents on the customer’s street.

Windstream appears to be more interested waiting for telephone ratepayers across the country to subsidize incremental improvements in its slow speed DSL service through the Connect America Fund, which has a poor record subsidizing cable operators to bring far superior broadband service to customers like those in Inman.

Until the Windstream customer and his neighbors manage to scrape together $7,000, or Charter extends service at no charge in the name of good public relations, residents of Inman (and beyond) are stuck with Windstream broadband that does not come close to broadband.windstream-fcc-response-1

Windstream’s Kinetic TV Barely Competes With Time Warner Cable in Nebraska

kinetic logoIf Windstream was hoping to make a splash with its new Kinetic IPTV service, Time Warner Cable certainly isn’t reaching for a towel.

Kinetic debuted in April in Lincoln, Neb., the first community to get Windstream’s fiber to the neighborhood TV service. Three months after being introduced, it’s available in about half of the city. But it is not proving much of a threat to incumbent Time Warner Cable because Windstream set rates roughly the same or higher than what the cable company charges.

In fact, a Stop the Cap! reader contemplating a trial run of Kinetic was quickly dissuaded when he learned Windstream charged $10 more than what he already paid Time Warner Cable.

“Windstream either does not understand Time Warner’s pricing or is artificially trying to limit demand for the moment,” our reader tells us. “I have to believe it is one or the other because the alternative is they don’t know what they are doing and are creating an experiment built to fail. When I told Time Warner I was toying with the idea of trying Kinetic, they cut my bill another $30 a month and Kinetic is now dead to me.”

Time Warner Cable’s customer retention department is well positioned to keep customers because it can sell faster Internet speeds at a lower price than Windstream has offered so far. The phone company obviously has no interest in starting a price war in Lincoln:

  • Windstream Kinetic offers packages ranging from $39.99-$129.98/mo;
  • Time Warner Cable offers packages ranging from $19.99-$129.99/mo.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports other customers have had similar experiences.

lincolnRyan Pryor said he inquired about Kinetic, but the price quoted was slightly more than what he now pays for a similar bundle with Time Warner and would have offered a slower Internet speed. So he chose to stick with what he has.

Where Windstream has had some success is attracting current satellite customers. Jason Smith was tired of losing satellite service during storms and since he was already a Windstream DSL customer, upgrading to Kinetic made sense.

“The picture quality has been very impressive,” Smith told the newspaper. “The one thing I noticed was how much better the picture looked than on DirecTV with the same HDMI connection to my TV.”

Smith is also happy with a more capable whole house DVR and the fact Windstream offers wireless set-top boxes.

But Smith also admitted he wasn’t sure if we would stick with the service long-term. A significant disadvantage of Kinetic is its reliance on copper wiring part of the way between Smith’s home and Windstream’s central office. All fiber to the neighborhood projects have bandwidth limitations that would not exist with a straight fiber to the home upgrade. Kinetic’s limits become clear when trying to watch three HD signals at once while being on the Internet. He can’t. Kinetic limits customers to two HD video streams at a time, compared with DirecTV’s five. Broadband speeds slow if other members of the household are also accessing telephone and television services.

With competition like that, Time Warner Cable has done little to strengthen its position, with no immediate plans to upgrade service in the city. All that has changed recently is a channel realignment that groups like-channels together starting at channel 100. Time Warner began that nationwide channel realignment in Syracuse, N.Y., in the spring of 2013. More than two years later, that change is only now reaching Lincoln.

Bryan Brooks, the Windstream vice president of business development, did not offer the newspaper many specifics about how Kinetic was performing, except to say demand has met expectations.

“Since launch, we have consistently met our daily target numbers for installations and anticipate the number of residents interested in signing up for Kinetic to continue to grow,” Brooks said in an emailed statement. “We are very pleased with how Kinetic has been received in Lincoln.”

Windstream Introduces Kinetic IPTV Triple Play in Lincoln, Neb.; Includes Wireless Set-Top Boxes, Whole House DVR

kinetic logoWindstream this week introduced its fiber to the neighborhood service Kinetic – its attempt to bring a competitive triple-play package of broadband, home phone, and television service to about 50,000 homes initially in Lincoln, Neb.

“We’re extremely excited to launch Kinetic in Lincoln,” said David Redmond, president of small business and consumer at Windstream. “Over the last year, we have heard loudly and clearly that this community is excited and eager for an alternative TV service. Windstream is confident that residents that sign up for Kinetic will find a highly interactive experience and a smarter way to watch TV than cable or satellite.”

The project in Lincoln will test consumer reaction and help the company plan if or how it plans to expand the service across many of its other service areas across the country.

Powered by the Ericsson Mediaroom platform, Kinetic is Windstream’s effort to squeeze about as much use of its existing copper wire infrastructure as possible. Like AT&T U-verse, Kinetic requires a fiber connection part of the way to customers, but continues to rely on existing copper telephone wiring already in the subscriber’s neighborhood. In effect, it’s an enhanced DSL platform that will split available bandwidth between television, Internet access and home phone service.

One unique aspect of Kinetic is its use of a next generation, compact whole home DVR that can record four shows at the same time, supplemented with wireless set-top boxes ($7/mo each), that allow subscribers to take the service to any television in the home without wiring. A subscriber can even move a television out into the yard and not lose service.

Remarkably, Windstream — an independent telephone company — completely de-emphasizes its own phone service in its up front promotions. Unless customers dig deeper into the Kinetic website, they will find prominently featured double play packages of television and Internet service starting at $59.98 a month. Telephone service is offered (and priced) almost as an afterthought, bundled into various packages for $5 extra a month. Phone customers get unlimited nationwide local and long distance calling.

[flv]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Windstream Kinetic TV 4-2015.flv[/flv]

Windstream produced this introductory video to its new Kinetic TV service, offered initially to 50,000 homes in Lincoln, Neb. (1:20)

kinetic

We added the pricing details for Home Phone service.

The biggest limitation Windstream faces marketing the service is its legacy network of copper wires. Customers can only qualify for the service if the connection between their home and Windstream’s central office is good enough to sustain the speeds required to handle all three services at the same time. The company is focusing Kinetic squarely on customers looking for a cable television alternative to Lincoln’s only other provider — Time Warner Cable. That may be because Kinetic remains disadvantaged in the broadband department.

The highest Internet speed a Kinetic customer can buy is 15Mbps, which is the speed Time Warner Cable offers in its “Standard” package. Time Warner currently sells up to 50/5Mbps in Lincoln — more than three times faster than Windstream’s Kinetic. Many Windstream DSL customers have complained they don’t come close to the speeds they are paying for, particularly during peak usage periods. A Facebook group with over 500 customers exists to discuss exactly that issue. Whether it will be different for Kinetic customers is not yet known, but the company’s lawyers are prepared for that possibility.

Windstream's Whole House DVR is only about the length of its remote control.

Windstream’s Whole House DVR is only about the length of its remote control.

“Windstream cannot guarantee speeds or uninterrupted, error-free service,” the company says in its terms and conditions. “Internet speed claims represent maximum network service capability speeds.  Actual customer speeds may vary based on factors including simultaneous use of multiple devices, use of other Windstream services, customer device capabilities, Internet and Network congestion, website traffic, content provider service capacity, customer location, network conditions, and bandwidth devoted to carriage or protocol and network information.”

At least there are no usage caps.

Kinetic subscribers are also warned that just like DSL broadband, line quality will impact the kind of television service received.

“Kinetic TV includes digital channels (including local channels), one receiver and up to four standard direct video streams to the customer residence,” Windstream notes. “Of the four standard direct video streams per residence, customer’s location will determine both high definition (“HD”) availability and the maximum number of HD video streams (between one and four) a customer can view and record in HD at any one time, regardless of the number of receivers in the residence.  The remaining streams will be standard definition.”

Kinetic’s channel lineup is comparable to that of Time Warner Cable, with some minor exceptions. Time Warner imports some regional over the air channels from adjacent cities, Windstream does not. Certain channels like Turner Classic Movies are available on Kinetic, but only for customers subscribing to the most expensive tier. Time Warner offers that channel on its less expensive Standard tier.

Limited bandwidth may limit your broadband speeds and the number of HD channels you can watch at any one time.

Limited bandwidth may limit your broadband speeds and the number of HD channels you can watch at any one time.

Time Warner Cable spokesman Mike Hogan took indirect shots at both the City of Lincoln and Windstream in response to the introduction of Kinetic.

“Lincoln residents can count on the fact that Time Warner Cable will offer the best choices for TV, Internet, home phone and home security to the entire city — in sharp contrast to competitors who only serve select areas, or won’t even say where they will or won’t serve,” Hogan said in an email to the Journal-Star.

That’s a reference to Windstream’s refusal to specify exactly where in Lincoln Kinetic is available.

Stop the Cap! surveyed more than 100 Lincoln-area addresses this morning and found Kinetic available primarily in wealthy and newer neighborhoods south and southeast of the city center, including zip codes such as 68516. A review of real estate transactions across the city of Lincoln showed home prices in this area are well above other parts of the city. That suggests Windstream is targeting the service to higher-income neighborhoods during its initial rollout, which plans to reach up to 45 percent of city households.

Although Windstream officials expect to bring Kinetic to about 80% of Lincoln, the city has given the company 15 years to complete the project. Further expansion may also depend on how customers respond to Kinetic.

With plenty of time, Windstream may choose to turn its attention elsewhere, eventually introducing the service in other cities across its 18-state service area of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas, before it gets around to wiring urban poor neighborhoods in Lincoln.

Cable industry defenders believe Time Warner Cable and Windstream are being treated differently by city officials. Hogan notes the cable company is required to serve the entire metropolitan area, unlike Windstream that critics contend may be interested only in cherry-picking the low-hanging fruit.

Windstream’s announcement leaves just two significant independent telephone companies without IPTV offerings: FairPoint and Frontier Communications.

[flv]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KLKN Lincoln New television service in Lincoln 4-16-15.mp4[/flv]

KLKN in Lincoln covered the Windstream event introducing Kinetic TV to Lincoln and talked with company officials about what the new service offers Lincoln and how much it costs in comparison to Time Warner Cable, the area’s incumbent cable company. (2:29)

Windstream Teaches AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Others How to Avoid Federal Income Taxes

A gift from the American taxpayer, willing to make up the difference.

Another corporate tax cut

Wall Street rallied around big telecommunications company stocks this week as news spread that Windstream has found a way to avoid paying federal income tax by converting its copper and fiber networks and other property assets into a tax-exempt trust.

Windstream says it has already won Internal Revenue Service approval to convert all of its network assets into a publicly traded “real estate investment trust.” REIT’s pay no federal income taxes, and if other large telecom companies follow Windstream’s lead, taxpayers will have to make up the estimated $12 billion in lost tax revenue annually.

Investors are excited by the prospect of a major reduction in tax exposure for some of America’s richest telecommunications companies. Windstream was rewarded the most with a 12 percent boost in its share price – a two-year high for the largely rural phone company. But AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Cablevision also saw stock prices rising over the possibility of major increases in dividend payouts to shareholders from the proceeds of the tax savings.

REIT conversions are just the latest trick in the book corporations have used to cut, if not eliminate most of their tax liabilities. REITs are exempt from federal taxes as long as they distribute 90 percent of taxable earnings back to shareholders. Democrats in Congress have been busy fighting their Republican colleagues offer efforts to drop the practice of inversion — allowing companies to cut taxes by relocating offshore. Robert Williams, an independent corporate tax consultant, told Bloomberg News the Democrats have their hands full with that this year and are unlikely to be able to also devote resources to closing the REIT tax loophole.

“Management teams will surely look closely at emulating Windstream because the tax savings are potentially so significant,” said Craig Moffett, an analyst at MoffettNathanson LLC, in a note. “For a company like AT&T, where free cash flow has been under pressure and management has been willing to push hard to save on taxes, the appeal must surely be great.”

staxIf a high-profile phone or cable company moves to enact an REIT, that might be enough to provoke Congress to act, warned Moffett.

“The biggest hurdle in this process is getting the private letter ruling from the IRS, and we’ve got that,” David Avery, a spokesman for Windstream, told Bloomberg. The deal doesn’t need the consent of the Federal Communications Commission, Avery added.

Windstream’s tax savings will cut company debt by around $3.2 billion and produce about $115 million annually in free cash flow. Although Windstream chief financial officer Tony Thomas vaguely promised to use some of the money to invest in broadband upgrades, he was more specific about the benefits Windstream’s REIT will have on the company’s growth agenda. It can use the savings to “acquire other network assets to grow,” — business jargon meaning more merger and acquisition deals, this time fueled by Windstream’s slashed tax bill.

Wall Street investment banks paid to advise on Windstream’s REIT conversion are promoting the concept to other telecom companies as easy to replicate and profoundly profitable. But who should share in the new found wealth?

“People are asking the question if these tax benefits should be passed on to the end user — you and I when we pay our phone or cable bill — versus going to the corporation,” said Phil Owens, vice president at Green Street Advisors, a real estate research firm in Newport Beach, California, that has counseled companies like Equinix on REIT conversions.

Don’t count on it.

Windstream Pays $600,000 to Settle False Broadband Speed Claims in Georgia

Phillip Dampier February 26, 2014 Video, Windstream 2 Comments
Windstream delivers turtle slow Internet speeds to customers paying for fast connections.

Windstream delivers turtle slow Internet speeds to customers paying for fast connections.

Windstream broadband customers in Georgia were not imagining their turtle-slow DSL Internet speeds after all. After a year-long investigation, the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection (GOCP) this week announced a $600,000 settlement with the rural telephone company over claims it was ripping off customers by falsely advertising broadband speeds it was in no position to deliver.

“This is essentially a truth in advertising case,” says John Sours, administrator of the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection.  “What consumers thought they were getting from a major company was significantly different from what they allegedly received. People need to be able to make informed choices about buying the services they need to communicate and do business. We are confident that this settlement will ensure that will now occur here.”

A GOCP investigation found substantial evidence Windstream routinely advertised and sold certain Internet speeds to customers it should have known it could not provide and/or guarantee, especially over its deteriorating copper landline network. Customers complained they should have been sold cheaper broadband packages with Internet speeds Windstream could actually deliver.

windstreamlogoCustomers who called to complain about the poor performance of their connection received empty promises from Windstream representatives that misrepresented the time frame within which broadband speeds would improve. In some cases, customers were not told their speed issues would likely never be resolved. In rural Georgia communities, DSL broadband is often the only available option.

The GOCP also found that some of Windstream’s “Lifetime Price Guarantee bundle” advertisements falsely implied that the advertised offer included high-speed Internet packages with speeds of “up to 12 Mbps”.

Windstream was also criticized for advertising a free 6-month “Hulu Plus” subscription but did not clearly disclose that consumers who failed to cancel the subscription at or before the 6-month period would be charged membership fees every month afterwards, until the membership was cancelled.

To resolve these allegations, Windstream will pay a total of $600,000, which includes a $175,000 civil penalty, $175,000 in administrative fees and expenses, and $250,000 in cy pres restitution to be used to buy new computer equipment for the Technical College System of Georgia. Customers will receive no compensation from the settlement, but Stop the Cap! strongly recommends that affected customers insist on compensation by appealing directly to Windstream for service credits and/or a penalty-free exit from any service commitments.

gocp“Windstream … has cooperated fully throughout the inquiry by the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection,” wrote a company spokesperson in a statement. “Windstream is pleased to resolve this inquiry by entering an assurance of voluntary compliance with all applicable advertising laws. That agreement includes no finding or admission of violation by the company.”

Windstream has represented to the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection that it is in the process of investing about $14 million to upgrade its fiber-supported areas in Georgia.  The company says that 90% or more of these upgrades were completed by the end of 2013, with the remaining upgrades slated for completion by mid-2014. The company expects the upgrades to address systemic download speed issues in the areas undergoing the upgrades. It is also seeking federal funding as well as exploring other options for upgrading the Internet service for consumers who are served by network equipment supported by copper-fed wires.

[flv]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WGCL Atlanta Windstream Settles False Advertising Suit 2-25-14.mp4[/flv]

WGCL in Atlanta reports Windstream has agreed to settle charges they falsely advertised broadband speeds customers could never receive. The state gets $600,000, customers get nothing. (1:56)

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