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AT&T TV Launches In 10 Cities; New Streaming Service Resembles DirecTV

Phillip Dampier August 19, 2019 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps, Online Video No Comments

AT&T TV launched today in 10 U.S. cities — all within AT&T’s U-verse/fiber service areas, providing a comparable TV lineup to the DirecTV satellite service with discounts for bundling internet access.

Customers can begin signing up today for the service in Orange and Riverside, Calif., West Palm Peach, Fla., Topeka and Wichita, Kan., Springfield and St. Louis, Mo., and Corpus Christi, El Paso, and Odessa, Tex.

The service’s television lineup is closely comparable to the DirecTV satellite lineup, and AT&T intends its new streaming TV service to offer an alternative to those who do not want to install a satellite dish or deal with AT&T’s own U-verse TV. The biggest bundle discounts go to consumers who bundle internet and television service together. Video packages start at $59.99 and include a much larger lineup than AT&T’s streaming-only service targeting cord cutters — AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now).

These plans bundle television and internet from AT&T.

Customers bundling internet and TV service will find a deeply discounted 300 Mbps internet plan for $40 a month for the first year ($70 for gigabit service) and AT&T will include unlimited internet in any package bundling TV service (a $30/mo value). Installation fees are waived, but there is a $19.95 activation fee and an early termination fee of $15/mo for TV and $15/mo for internet for each month remaining on a two-year contract. AT&T TV requires a set-top box for each television and the first one is free. Each additional box is $120, payable up front or in 12 equal monthly installments of $10. The box is powered by Android TV and supports various apps and comes with a voice remote control.

Features include a 500-hour cloud DVR package, with recordings stored up to 90 days. You can record as many channels as you want at the same time, but we suspect premium movie channels may be excluded. The full lineup is available for streaming outside of your home and includes local major network affiliates in most markets. AT&T TV supports 4K streaming as well, and since AT&T is waiving its data cap for TV and broadband customers, you will not have to worry about any data caps. Up to three people can stream your TV lineup simultaneously. Keep in mind each television represents one stream.

AT&T makes life complicated for would-be customers with a panoply of confusing discounts, rebates, and savings that often expire after one year into a two-year contract. Customers should pay careful attention to the breakdown of the charges AT&T provides and mark your calendar so you are not surprised by the gradually rising bill.

Stop the Cap! put together a package to give you an idea of what to expect. We selected the “Ultimate” TV package, which includes just about every English language channel on the lineup. Mysteriously, the biggest exception is Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. Like AT&T TV Now, this channel is only available on the cheapest package, which makes no sense to us.

Let’s start with the TV package:

Note that the TV package is discounted significantly, but only for the first 12 months of your 24 month commitment. Also note the “Regional Sports Fee” which varies depending on the city. In this case, we chose Topeka, Kan. to build this package.

Premium movie channels are provided free for the first 90 days. The prices shown represent à la carte pricing. If you want these channels going forward, ask if a package price is available and bundle them for additional savings.

AT&T’s mini set-top box has been tested by DirecTV Now customers for almost a year. It earned mixed reviews and can be cumbersome. Keep in mind the first box is free, but each additional box costs $120, payable up front or in installments.

AT&T’s pricing for the first three months is very low, then higher prices kick in for the next 12 months unless you cancel those four premium movie channels, with still higher pricing during the second year of the two-year contract. AT&T makes things needlessly complicated and this explains the subscriber confusion about billing issues that is common with AT&T. But AT&T cannot be accused of not letting you know what to expect. In 2020, you could be paying $188.37 just for your TV lineup:

Next up is the internet portion of our order:

Note you get a $20 discount, but only during the first year. The fact you seem to owe nothing when placing the order does not mean the first month is free. AT&T is not sure what they will charge you because: “The monthly total on your bill may vary depending on your billing date and prorated monthly fees, based on the date of installation, that are applied to your account. Quoted prices don’t include taxes, fees, surcharges, shipping, or other charges including city video cost-recovery and Universal Services Fund fees, where applicable.” AT&T wouldn’t tell us exactly what those charges were.

Finally, AT&T includes some additional savings from various promotions, including an odd double gift card promotion awarding a total of $100 in Visa gift cards for signing up online:

The gift card promotion ends September 15, 2019 but will likely reappear. Customers have to submit their rebate request soon after service is ordered and spend the gift card(s) within six months to avoid forfeiture.

AT&T plans to roll out AT&T TV nationwide during 2020. But the company seems to be favoring markets where it already offers broadband service. It is not known if or when AT&T will introduce this streaming alternative to DirecTV in areas where other phone companies dominate. Customers do not have to use AT&T for internet access to subscribe.

CBS and AT&T Reach Carriage Agreement, CBS Sports Net and Smithsonian Channel Part of Deal

Phillip Dampier August 8, 2019 AT&T, Consumer News, DirecTV, DirecTV Now, Online Video No Comments

CBS and AT&T have agreed to end the blackout of 26 CBS owned and operated TV stations in 17 markets including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Tampa, Seattle, Detroit, Minneapolis, Miami, Denver, Sacramento, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. CBS local stations in these areas will return to AT&T U-verse, DirecTV, and DirecTV Now lineups sometime today.

The renewed retransmission consent contract covers carriage of these stations and CBS-owned CBS Sports Network and Smithsonian Channel for the next several years and could broaden carriage of the two CBS cable networks to additional AT&T platforms in the coming months.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but analysts suggest AT&T is now paying several dollars a month per subscriber for each over the air station. AT&T had earlier claimed CBS was being unreasonable in requesting a substantial hike in rates to continue carrying stations that viewers can get over the air for free.

AT&T is still engaged in weeks-long disputes with several Nexstar and Sinclair-managed local station, resulting in ongoing station blackouts in markets around the country.

5G Hype: Current 5G Networks Are Fast, But Coverage Is Awful (And Phones Get Really Hot)

Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile’s 5G launches are blazing fast, when you can find a signal, but your phone will also get blazing hot while using it.

The Wall Street Journal embarked on testing current 5G launches in several American cities and found speeds on 5G nearing 1,800 Mbps in some places, but the millimeter-wave frequencies most carriers are using for mobile 5G don’t travel far and are subject to disappear just by walking down the street, around the corner, or indoors.

Some devices with 5G support are also suffering from heat issues, sometimes causing phones to heat up to over 105° and drop 5G service in favor of less battery-intense 4G LTE. Network engineers admit they bring coolers filled with ice to cool down overheating 5G phones.

Only Sprint’s mid-band 5G network in Chicago offered a much larger coverage area that still worked after walking indoors, and devices remained cool to the touch while using it. But Sprint’s 5G service sacrifices performance for coverage, often topping out at around 200-300 Mbps.

The Wall Street Journal found a reporter, a tent, and some new 5G devices and sent them out to test some of America’s new 5G services. (5:39)

DirecTV Now Becomes AT&T TV Now, With AT&T TV Coming Later This Summer

Phillip Dampier July 30, 2019 AT&T, Consumer News, DirecTV, DirecTV Now, Online Video 1 Comment

DirecTV Now customers will soon be introduced to AT&T TV Now as the streaming service rebrands with new apps and prepares for the launch of WarnerMedia’s HBO Max streaming service early next year.

The streaming service, originally branded as part of the DirecTV platform, has suffered major subscriber losses (168,000 in the last three months alone) after reducing the size of its TV packages and raising prices twice in the last year. To date, more than 26% of DirecTV Now’s subscriber base has defected to other streaming services, with no end to those losses in sight. AT&T’s DirecTV satellite and U-verse TV have also turned in stunning reductions in the number of subscribers, losing at least two million customers in the last year, with 778,000 departing during the second quarter of 2019.

AT&T has stopped offering deep promotional discounts to most customers threatening to cancel over rate hikes, and subscribers are making good on their threats to leave. The company is also embroiled in two major retransmission consent disputes that have left customers in several cities facing a blackout of as many as three network affiliated local TV stations. With higher prices for fewer channels, and plenty of alternatives, customers are turning to other providers.

AT&T’s 2015 purchase of DirecTV, in retrospect, appears to have been a major business mistake, according to some Wall Street analysts. Originally intended to help AT&T manage the spiraling costs of video for its U-verse TV service by winning more generous volume discounts from programmers, the DirecTV acquisition came just before the phenomenon of cord-cutting took off, leaving all of AT&T’s video services vulnerable to customer losses. DirecTV Now initially benefited from cord-cutters attracted to its generous package of channels at a low price, but an executive decision to reduce the channel lineup while raising prices drove off what executives characterized as ‘undesirable customers only looking for deals.’

AT&T has also been experimenting with a separate streaming service that will likely eventually replace the satellite-based DirecTV. Beta testers have been providing feedback to AT&T about a new set top streaming box intended to work with this service, now to be called AT&T TV. AT&T is also reducing the number of apps required to access its myriad of video services. AT&T TV and AT&T TV Now customers will download the same app, only the channel lineups will be different. The company is targeting AT&T TV Now on cord-cutters looking for a cheaper and smaller video package, while AT&T TV will include a range of packages likely identical or very similar to DirecTV’s current satellite lineup.

If AT&T TV is successful, AT&T can cut costs incurred installing and maintaining satellite dishes and also eventually decommission DirecTV’s satellite fleet. Rural satellite TV customers without access to broadband may be in a difficult position if that happens, and the country has still not resolved the rural broadband challenge.

Even with these changes, AT&T customers are faced with a large menu of potentially confusing video options. AT&T sells traditional live cable TV services through AT&T TV, AT&T TV Now, DirecTV, and U-verse. It also offers a stripped down WatchTV package offering 35 channels for $15 a month or less. Premium customers still trying to tell the difference between HBO Go and HBO Now will soon also contend with HBO Max. Cinemax has its own similar offerings for cable TV customers and direct to consumer subscribers.

AT&T Exploring Exiting Puerto Rico With Sale of Its Internet, TV, Landline Services

Phillip Dampier July 22, 2019 AT&T, Consumer News 1 Comment

Reuters reports AT&T is exploring the possibility of leaving Puerto Rico, with a possible sale of its assets for around $3 billion.

AT&T is under pressure to reduce its large debt load after acquiring Time Warner (Entertainment) in 2018 for $85 billion, which left the telco with a total debt of $164 billion. CEO Randall Stephenson told shareholders he has made cutting debt at the company a major priority, resulting in job cuts, a sale of AT&T’s stake in Hulu for $1.43 billion, and letting go of WarnerMedia’s Hudson Yards offices in Manhattan for almost $2.2 billion.

AT&T has also indicated it is winding down its fiber broadband expansion program and is expecting to layoff additional workers as projects are finished around the country.

A complete exit from Puerto Rico would require a sale of AT&T’s wireless network, largely acquired after completing a buyout of Centennial Communications in 2009. AT&T has been earning about $300 million a year from its internet, TV, landline, and business service business on the island.

The company has hired a financial adviser to explore such a sale, but a source indicated AT&T may cancel its exit plans if it does not attract adequate bids. Potential acquirers include media companies and private equity firms. Buyers will face running the business in a compromised economy still recovering from 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

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