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YouTube TV Announces 30% Rate Hike: Now $64.99/mo for Streaming TV Package

Phillip Dampier June 30, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, YouTube TV No Comments

YouTube TV has announced the addition of eight new Viacom-owned networks to their lineup, but has also passed along word the price is going up 30%, from $49.99 to $64.99/mo effective from Tuesday for new customers, Aug. 1 for existing customers.

Google last raised the price of the service in April 2019 when a YouTube TV subscription increased by 25% to $49.99.

Today we are also adding more of ViacomCBS’s family of channels to YouTube TV, which includes 8 of your favorites: BET, CMT, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, TV Land, and VH1.

To continue delivering the best content and service possible, we’re also updating our price for new and existing members to $64.99/month. Existing members will see these changes reflected in their subsequent billing cycle after July 30, 2020.

YouTube TV was widely perceived to be the best value streaming service combined with the best interface and feature set, including unlimited DVR service and the ability to share the service with up to six family members (up to three watching concurrently). The service has benefited from unfettered price hikes by its streaming competitors, notably AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now). But social media channels show customers are not thrilled about a $15 rate increase, even with the addition of eight channels to the lineup:

Cox Returning to Usage Caps, But With a Bigger Data Allowance

Phillip Dampier June 29, 2020 Consumer News, Cox, Data Caps 1 Comment

Cox will return to data capping its broadband customers on Wednesday, July 1 but with a bigger usage allowance from now on.

Most Cox customers now face a data cap of 1 TB (1,000 GB) per month. Starting this week, Cox will raise the allowance 25% to 1.25 TB.

“Since the start of the pandemic we provided unlimited data to all customers because we did not know the impact that learn and work from home might have on our customers,” Cox said in an email to Light Reading. “After reviewing data consumption since the coronavirus crisis, we know that nearly 90 percent of customers would not have been charged for going over their 1 TB data plan.”

The other 10% of customers would find at least a $10 additional charge on their bill for an additional allotment of 50 GB of data usage, and another $10 for each additional block of 50 GB. Data caps and overlimit fees are arbitrary and do not reflect the actual cost an internet provider incurs for usage. But it can be a shock when customers open their bill.

 

China’s 5G Competition Brings Astonishing Discounts: 5G Plans Starting at $9.76 a Month

Chinese consumers are enjoying some of the lowest priced mobile plans in the world as several giant wireless companies compete to attract customers interested in 5G wireless service.

Prices have been coming down fast in the ongoing price war, with China Mobile now selling its entry level 5G package for just 69 yuan ($9.76 US) a month, 31% off the original price. A premium 5G package that originally was priced at 128 yuan ($18.08 US) now sells for 88 yuan ($12.43 US), if the customer signs a one-year contract.

China Unicom, another competitor, has responded with price cuts of its own, reducing some plan prices by 30 percent. A popular 5G package called “5G Refreshing Ice Cream” costs 90 yuan ($12.72 US) per month, not including a small prepaid service fee and a 12-month contract. A premium 5G package is priced at 103 yuan ($14.55 US) per month and comes with a 24-month contract.

Most of the cheapest 5G plans include unlimited texting, but have talk time limits (usually 200 minutes per month) and a data cap of 30 GB and a speed cap of 300 Mbps. Higher end plans include more talk time and much higher data caps of up to 300 GB and a speed cap of 500 Mbps or 1,000 Mbps, depending on the plan. Customers on budget plans may see traffic de-prioritized on busy cell towers during peak usage times in some cities, but data speeds will always exceed 4G service.

Fu Liang, a telecom industry analyst, told China Daily the competitive pricing was not about trying to force competitors out of business. Instead, operators are trying to attract Chinese consumers to upgrade to 5G-capable devices which will offload traffic from existing 4G networks to more efficient 5G networks, saving carriers money. Faster speed 5G plans are also expected to persuade businesses to create 5G applications and services.

Mobile handsets with built-in support for 5G are also getting cheaper every day, with prices starting at $210 US in China. Handset purchases are gradually growing as companies build out 5G capacity and coverage in their networks.

Some American operators are marketing 5G service as a premium product, with at least one (Verizon) charging some a $10 monthly surcharge for access to 5G service.

“When you deliver a differentiated service, you can get a differentiated price point,” Verizon CFO Matt Ellis explained during an investor event held this spring. Verizon temporarily rescinded the fee after customers complained about Verizon’s tiny 5G coverage areas, but the surcharge has since returned for some customers. Verizon waives the fee on its $80 Do More and Play More plan options and the $90 Get More plan, if you activate a 5G device on those plans. A cheaper $70 Start Unlimited plan is also available, but the $10 5G surcharge applies, making it cost as much as Verizon’s other $80 plans.

Ironically, Verizon’s $10 surcharge is more expensive than some Chinese carrier’s cheapest 5G mobile plans.

Chinese carriers are marketing a range of plans to attract an income diverse customer base, while in the United States, traditional postpaid plan carriers primarily sell much higher-cost plans that bundle “unlimited” talk, text, and data (up to 20-50 GB). Lower income customers are usually diverted to less credit-risky prepaid plans, often sold by independent resellers or specialty carrier-owned brands like Cricket, MetroPCS, or Boost Mobile (soon to be owned by Dish Networks).

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.

Charter Spectrum Asks FCC for Freedom to Usage Cap Its Internet Customers

Charter Communications is petitioning the Federal Communications Commission for permission to usage cap its internet customers two years before the FCC’s ban on the company imposing data caps runs out.

Charter, which does business as Spectrum, is seeking an early exit from some FCC-imposed deal conditions Charter agreed to as part of an approval of its 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Out of concern that Charter’s merger could harm emerging online video streaming competition, the FCC required the company to not charge fees to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu to carry video traffic to its customers and not impose data caps and usage based billing schemes that would limit online video consumption for seven years.

“New Charter’s increased broadband footprint and desire to protect its video profits will increase incentives to impose data caps and usage-based prices in order to make watching online video more expensive, and in particular more expensive than subscribing to a traditional pay-TV bundle,” the FCC concluded in its 2016 order approving the merger, with conditions. “For seven years, we prohibit New Charter from imposing data caps or charging usage-based pricing for its residential broadband service. This condition ensures that New Charter will continue Charter’s past pricing practices and protects subscribers from paying fees designed to make online video consumption more expensive leading subscribers to stick with a traditional pay-TV bundle.”

Charter last week argued that with cord-cutting at an all-time high and video streaming alternative cable and video packages flourishing, there is no reason to continue the seven-year ban on data caps, noting that many other large providers including AT&T, Cox, Altice, and Comcast are free to impose data caps of their own.

“They are able to do so because, unlike Charter, they are not subject to a condition that artificially and unilaterally restricts the packages available to their customers,” Charter argues in its filing. “The online video distribution marketplace is almost unrecognizable compared to what existed in 2016. […] Consumers have never had more online video choices.”

Charter said a sunset of the prohibition of data caps was now overdue.

“As data usage skyrockets, the [ban on data caps and usage-based billing] artificially hamstrings Charter’s ability to allocate the costs of maintaining its network in a way that is efficient and fair for all of its customers—above-average, average, and light users alike,” the company argued. “Charter should be afforded the same flexibility as other broadband providers to respond to developments in the market. In short, tremendous changes in the marketplace have rendered the [ban on data caps and usage-based billing] no longer necessary, and thus ending it in 2021 would be in the public interest.”

The FCC’s 2016 order approving the merger between Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks, with a 7-year prohibition on data caps, was not unanimous. Separate statements from Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly were highly critical of most of the deal conditions the then-Democratic majority favored. Four years later, Pai now presides as chairman over a Republican-majority FCC that could take a favorable view of Charter’s request to end deal conditions early.

In 2016, Pai’s spokesperson complained about the imposition of deal conditions in the Charter-Time Warner Cable-Bright House merger, telling The Hill, “The FCC’s merger review process is badly broken. [Then FCC] Chairman Wheeler’s order isn’t about competition, competition, competition; it’s about regulation, regulation, regulation. It’s about imposing conditions that have nothing to do with the merits of this transaction. It’s about the government micromanaging the internet economy.”

Charter’s June 2020 filing focuses almost exclusively on streaming video competition to argue there is no longer any need to ban the company from imposing data caps. The FCC in 2016 concluded that data caps were a powerful anti-competitive weapon that could be used to keep streaming video competition from harming cable television packages. Charter argues that consumers now have many choices for streaming video, including cable-TV alternatives, which proves they have not engaged in anti-competitive behavior.

But Charter ignored the FCC’s other chief concern about data caps and usage billing (UBP): the lack of choice of broadband competitors.

“[…] Subscribers will continue to have no (or limited) alternative cable or fiber […] options when faced with data caps and UBP designed to deter online video consumption,” the FCC concluded.

The FCC hoped that by 2023, consumers would have more options for home broadband service, likely driving usage caps out of the marketplace.

“Seven years may also provide the high-speed […] provider market sufficient time to develop further with additional investments in fiber from established wireline […] providers, Wireless 5G technology, use of smartgrid fiber for broadband, additional overbuilding, and other potential competitors to traditional wired […] providers,” the FCC wrote. “It is our expectation that these developments will foster competition in the market to make the anticompetitive use of data caps less tenable in the future.”

Unfortunately, broadband competition remains fleeting in many parts of the United States, where only one provider offers broadband service that meets the FCC’s standard of 25 Mbps for downloads.

Ironically, Charter executives were against imposing data caps on their customers when the company was seeking approval to acquire Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

FCC:

“Charter in particular emphasizes its aversion to data caps, stating that instead of enforcing usage limits it chooses to market the absence of data caps as a competitive advantage. Charter also argues there is a strong business case for not implementing caps. Specifically, Charter explains that it terminated its enforcement of the usage limits trial in the AUP in January 2012 because the benefits to customers of continuing the trial (minimizing bandwidth consumption to preserve a positive Internet experience) would not exceed the program’s costs. Charter also states that caps create marketing challenges because they complicate consumer purchasing decisions. Furthermore, Charter argues that data caps increase churn among subscribers. Finally, Charter states that it plans to distinguish itself from its competitors based largely on the quality and speed of its broadband offerings and that data caps undermine that marketing message.”

But the FCC remained unconvinced by Charter’s statements. In a review of confidential internal company documents, the FCC found multiple instances where Time Warner Cable had not completely abandoned the idea of data caps, despite multiple high-profile consumer backlashes against the idea.

“We also note that despite Time Warner Cable’s relative lack of success in implementing usage-based billing, its internal documents leave no doubt that it is also incentivized to use data caps to protect its [cable TV] business,” the FCC concluded.

Four years later, Charter is among many cable operators reporting staggering losses of video customers that have chosen to “cut the cord” on cable television and have switched to a streaming competitor. If an incentive to data cap customers to protect video revenue was there in 2016, it stands to be much stronger today in 2020.

The FCC is now seeking public comment on Charter’s proposal until July 22, 2020. Stop the Cap! plans to file extensive comments on the matter and will shortly publish a guide for readers offering sample letters that can be sent to the FCC on this issue.

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