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Comcast Invades: New Hampshire Cities Latest to Get Cable Competition

Comzilla

Comcast is increasingly invading the territories of neighboring small cable operators, a rare move that could eventually trigger price wars and threaten the informal “gentlemen’s agreement” that has kept cable companies from directly competing with each other for decades.

In New Hampshire, residents of Laconia and Rochester will have a choice between incumbent Atlantic Broadband or newcomer Comcast. 

Comcast is already the dominant cable operator in the state, providing service in 104 communities. The cable company recently filed its draft franchise proposal with Laconia city officials to extend Comcast service into areas already serviced by Atlantic Broadband, an independent cable operator owned by Montréal based Cogeco.

“We believe Laconia offers attractive opportunities for Xfinity and Comcast business products in an area close to Comcast’s existing footprint and part of the same designated market area we already serve,” said Comcast regional spokesman Marc Goodman. “We offer internet speeds of up to two gigabytes per second and 100 gigabytes for businesses. We have an award-winning video platform with voice remote.”

It is the second time Comcast announced it would directly compete with Atlantic in New Hampshire. Comcast is already overbuilding Atlantic’s service area in Rochester and is scheduled to finish sometime next year.

In response, Atlantic has introduced very competitive service and pricing plans to fend off Comcast.

Atlantic Broadband is trying to lock in their customers with two-year rate guarantees and lower introductory prices.

Consumers are thrilled.

“After years of MetroCast’s dark ages of bad service, Atlantic Broadband bought them up, raised some internet speeds, and raised our bill even more,” said Charlie Saunders. “It is real easy to pay a $200 cable bill around here, so I am glad Comcast is giving us a choice.”

Atlantic Broadband, at least in public, seems unfazed about Comcast’s entry. Ed Merrill, Atlantic Broadband’s regional general manager for New Hampshire and Maine stressed his company’s innovations, such as bringing gigabit internet speed to the region and using TiVo set top boxes. 

“Our plans are based not on what other providers are doing, but by anticipating customer needs and preferences, then developing and delivering the kinds of products and services that will make customer lives better, whether they’re residential customers or business clients with customers of their own,” Merrill said in a statement.

Comcast Invasion: Communities Where Consumers Can Also Choose Comcast as Their Cable Company

  • Dec. 2017: Rochester, N.H. (Atlantic Broadband vs. Comcast)
  • May 2018: Waterford and New London, Conn. (Atlantic Broadband vs. Comcast)
  • Summer 2018: Warwick Township, Warwick Borough, Ephratah Township, Ephratah Borough and Lititz, Penn. (Blue Ridge Communications vs. Comcast)
  • Nov. 2018: Laconia, N.H. (Atlantic Broadband vs. Comcast)

Grove

Comcast said it is only responding to the public’s demand for more choice and better service, which explains why it is expanding into territories already served by another operator. But so far, Comcast has only chosen to expand in areas adjacent to its current territory, and only in places served by smaller, independent cable companies. In short, Comcast is in no hurry to run cable lines into areas served by Charter/Spectrum or Cox.

A Multichannel News article on the subject suggests Comcast’s real interest is reaching lucrative commercial/business customers just out of reach of their existing service areas. 

“I can tell you that our primary focus is on business service expansion where from time-to-time we explore new opportunities, based on a case-by-case analysis, to bring our state-of-the-art products and services to more businesses,” Bob Grove, vice president of communications for Comcast told the trade magazine. “Some of our existing customers in the contiguous footprint and shared DMA have operations in this area, which is why it made sense for us to expand our commercial network here. We’re also exploring limited residential opportunities, but that’s in the very preliminary stages as well.”

“My heart and wallet skipped a beat,” Lennart Swenson, Jr., told The Laconia Daily Sun. “When we had Comcast, at our last home, they provided superior service and more options for less money than Atlantic Broadband. Comcast was also easier to contact and provided quicker service than has been our experience with Atlantic.”

Some customers also complain Atlantic lures people with temporary teaser rates that exponentially increase after introductory pricing expires. Others report it is difficult to get a representative on the phone.

Competition is “tiresome” for the cable industry

Comcast’s growing interest in expanding service into already-cabled areas means the company will have to convince customers to switch cable providers, something that runs contrary to traditional cable industry economics, where companies carefully avoid direct competition with each other.

“When I started in this business, we all helped each other,” former Buford Media CEO Ben Hooks told Multichannel News. Buford retired in 2018 after a 50-year career in the cable industry. “You don’t see that, especially with Comcast. As far as they’re concerned, there’s them and there’s the rest of the industry.”

Hooks remembers the 1970s and 1980s when cable companies did attempt to expand into each other’s territory.

“In most cases overbuilds were a disaster,” Hooks said. “Neither party won very much, both were fighting for the same customer, cutting prices and neither company was doing well. It was just a tiresome battle.”

But as costs plummet to less than $500 per home to extend fiber to the home service, and the costs to provide internet service continue to fall, cable companies like Comcast can afford the risk of upsetting smaller operators. 

“A company today like Comcast has so much more margin/size over a small company that if they want to expand into an adjacent territory, it is no contest,” Hooks told the trade publication. “Now, if they were to take on Charter, the competition would be a greater challenge. While Comcast still has the advantage, Charter is large enough that it would be ugly.”

America’s 25 Worst Connected Cities

Phillip Dampier December 11, 2018 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

Using data from the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS), released in September 2018 by the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance ranked all 191 U.S. cities with more than 50,000 households by the percentage of each city’s households that lack home Internet connections of any kind.

Note that this data is not an indication of the availability of home broadband service, but rather of the extent to which households are actually connected to it.

In general, affordability and familiarity are the two biggest impediments that stop someone from signing up for internet access. With broadband providers boosting speeds, but also dropping affordable lower-speed plans, a digital divide based on dollars has worsened in many communities, despite the availability of discounted internet access plans for poor families with school age children or elderly users on disability. Kansas City, Kan. is a remarkable entry at 23rd worst in the country. It, along with its much larger counterpart across the Missouri border, was the first Google Fiber city.

  1. Laredo, Texas
  2. Brownsville, Texas
  3. Hialeah, Florida
  4. Detroit, Michigan
  5. Cleveland, Ohio
  6. Memphis, Tennessee
  7. Miami, Florida
  8. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  9. Newark, New Jersey
  10. Syracuse, New York
  11. Chattanooga, Tennessee
  12. Springfield, Massachusetts
  13. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  14. New Orleans, Louisiana
  15. Shreveport, Louisiana
  16. Birmingham, Alabama
  17. Mobile, Alabama
  18. Macon-Bibb County, Georgia
  19. Richmond, Virginia
  20. Dayton, Ohio
  21. Rochester, New York
  22. Topeka, Kansas
  23. Kansas City, Kansas
  24. Baltimore, Maryland
  25. Montgomery, Alabama

AT&T Still “Meh” on Fixed 5G Wireless; “We’re Focused on Mobility”

AT&T continues to gently discourage the media and investors from comparing its 5G strategy with that of its biggest competitor, Verizon, suggesting the two companies have different visions about where and how 5G and small cells will be deployed.

“We’ve done fixed wireless in our network on LTE as part of our Connect America Fund commitment from the government. We’ve been doing that for two years. And so we know the technology. We know it works, and it works for the purposes intended, which is real broadband,” said Scott Mair, president of operations at AT&T. “The challenge is the use case and the economics, right? So where does fixed wireless work? We’re focused on mobility.”

Mair echoes earlier sentiments from AT&T’s chief financial officer who has repeatedly told investors that AT&T sees fiber to the home service as a superior offering, and one economically within reach for the company in its urban and suburban service areas.

Speaking on Barclays Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications Broker Conference Call, Mair did not rule out 5G residential fixed wireless service in certain expensive-to-reach areas, but it is clear AT&T’s priority will be to bolster its mobile network, not invade the home internet access marketplace. Mair noted AT&T will deploy small cells to power its 5G services, but primarily to resolve congestion issues in high wireless traffic areas.

“If we’re there, we build small cells primarily for capacity,” noted Mair, adding the company believes “the mobility use case is probably the right place to be spending our time and effort.”

AT&T plans to target its first fixed or short-range 5G services on its business customers.

“We see initially enterprise businesses as being the area where the entry will be first,” Mair said. “We’ve thought about partnering with a manufacturing firm, and I really believe that manufacturing is going to be a key capability. When you look at a factory floor, it’s real-time telemetry, real-time analytics. You have factories that now need to be more nimble than ever in terms of being able to reconfigure for product changes very quickly.”

AT&T is also continuing to aggressively expand its fiber footprint, including the prospect of constructing fiber networks outside of AT&T’s traditional landline service area. But the company stressed it is building fiber networks in new ways that will maximize the company’s Return On Investment.

Mair

“So with our fiber build-out, fiber underlies everything we do, whether it’s wireline or wireless. And so fiber matters,” Mair said. “By middle of next year, we’ll be at 14 million homes passed and because we also have a deep fiber footprint, we’ll have another eight million businesses that we pass. That gives us 22 million locations that we can sell fiber-based services.”

AT&T’s fiber network planning has become very sophisticated these days. The more customers sharing a fiber connection, the faster construction expenses will be paid off.

When a business client contacts AT&T to arrange for fiber service, the company used to run a dedicated fiber cable directly to the business. These days, AT&T attempts to maximize the potential use of that fiber cable by routing it through areas that have a high potential of generating additional business for the company or traffic on its network. For example, a fiber connection furnished for a business might also be used to serve multiple dwelling units, like apartment buildings or condos, or rerouted to also reach other businesses that can be sold fiber services.

“I’m passing two [AT&T] cell sites that I’m paying someone else transport and backhaul for, where I can now put it on my own network,” Mair offered as an example. “I know where I’m going to be building small cells in the future. We can plan out that. We know where we’re going to be. I can route that fiber. So now I’ve optimized the route.”

Charter Spectrum CEO Says Company Using Tax Breaks to Buy Back Its Own Stock

Rutledge

Charter Communications is using the benefits of the Republican-promoted tax cut to buy back its own stock, because the only other option under consideration was using the money to buy up other cable operators.

“From a [mergers and acquisitions] perspective, I think cable is a great business. If there were assets for sale that we could do more of, we would do that,” said Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge at this week’s UBS Global Media & Communications Conference. “We’ve been buying a lot of our own stock back. Why? Because we think the cable business is a great business and we haven’t been able to buy other cable assets.”

Charter is not using the company’s lower tax rate to benefit Spectrum customers with lower bills or more extravagant upgrades. Instead, it is accelerating efforts to please shareholders and executives with efforts to boost its share price — something key to top executives’ performance bonuses.

With digital and broadband upgrades nearly complete in areas formerly served by Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks — the cable companies Charter acquired in 2016 — Rutledge told investors he can initiate additional upgrades without spending huge sums on infrastructure buildouts.

Gigabit speed is now available in most markets, and the company has doubled its lowest internet download speeds in areas where it faces significant competition from AT&T from 100 to 200 Mbps, boosting sales of Spectrum broadband service, according to Rutledge.

Today, about 60% of Spectrum customers are offered 100 Mbps, while the other 40% — mostly in AT&T service areas — are getting 200 Mbps.

Rutledge told investors he does not see much threat from Verizon FiOS or its newly launched 5G offerings, and has no immediate plans to upgrade service in Verizon service areas because neither offering seems that compelling.

“I saw that Verizon had some passings that they could do 800 Mbps in,” Rutledge said. “We have 51 million passings that we can do 1 gigabit in and we can go to 10 gigabits relatively inexpensively and I think we will because I think the world will go to 10 gigabits.”

Analysts are uncertain whether Rutledge’s comments are naïve or brave.

“We see 5G fixed wireless broadband [like that offered by Verizon] as the largest existential threat to broadband providers, by far,” wrote analysts at Cowen. Until now, most broadband competition for cable operators came from phone companies pitching DSL. Verizon retrenched on its FiOS offering several years ago. But AT&T has been more aggressive upgrading urban areas to fiber service, which has forced Charter to respond with higher speeds and better promotions.

Rutledge does not see Verizon’s 5G being a significant competitive threat for several years, and suspects Wall Street may once again punish Verizon for spending money on a wireless network less capable than what the cable industry offers today. Shareholders may also dislike watching Verizon distracted by the home broadband market when portable wireless revenues are much more important to the company.

Verizon officials claim about half of those signing up for its 5G service plan were not current Verizon customers. But the company would not say whether their new fixed wireless customers were coming largely from cable or DSL disconnects, which would prove marketplace disruption.

Charter Expanding Service Areas in South Carolina; Town of Lamar Getting Spectrum in 2019

Phillip Dampier November 28, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 3 Comments

Population growth in South Carolina has opened up new opportunities for Charter Communications to extend cable service into areas that were formerly too unprofitable to serve. On Tuesday, the company announced a $1 million construction project to bring Spectrum cable broadband service to the town of Lamar in Darlington County.

Urban sprawl around the city of Florence, to the east of Lamar, and Columbia to the west, has made connecting the town of around 1,000 more economical.

The cable company plans to break growing in late spring of 2019 to launch residential and commercial internet access. At present, Frontier Communications is the only internet option for the community.

“Internet is obviously a necessity, it’s not a luxury anymore,” said Ben Breazeale, senior director of government affairs for Charter Communications. “Rural communities all over our country are struggling to try to retain young people and internet is a must. Access to our communications systems is a must for our youth.”

As part of the announcement, the cable company donated three Apple iPads to the Lamar Library and presented a $5,000 check to the Lamar Rescue Squad.

Lamar is a community located a short distance away from both I-95 and I-20.

Charter promises to make additional announcements about future expansion in early 2019.

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Recent Comments:

  • EJ: Lack of competition equals high prices. If I had to guess they are in undeserved areas so they can of course do what they want. The map tells the stor...
  • Dylan: Yeah. No way Comcast is going to be competing with Charter Spectrum anytime soon. If it all. Tom Rutledge and Brian Roberts are good friends!...
  • Ian S Littman: Question is, when will C1 start doing DOCSIS 3.1, so they can afford to have higher tiers. They could double speeds on all but the top tier. Particula...
  • Milo: Comcast rep said "We offer internet speeds of up to two giga'bytes' per second and 100 giga'bytes' for businesses." Charter Spectrum in my area only ...
  • Ian S Littman: Good to know Comcast's rep still doesn't know the difference between gigabits and gigabytes. Wonder whether they'll do the overbuild via FTTH or coax...
  • Pat: My Internet bill was $14.99 in 2017 (33% increase) then $19.99 in 2018 (25% increase) and in November of 2018 (20% increase), it was raised to $24.99....
  • YC Wong: one of the reason I am using phone service is VoIP app... not this app is not longer available to us... what is the alternative solution!!!...
  • Debbie Hudson: Last month my bill was $55.09 this month is jumped up to $115. I called to ask for offers and they would only get my bill back down to $83 with a $100...
  • EvilCorp: Early Xmas 200 Mbps $1 increase from $69.99 to $70.99 use my own modem...
  • Abby: Did you find out why they wanted this information? I also got the same email and was just curious as to why they wanted it. Proof of residency? Credit...
  • Steve: As more people opt out of cable TV for Sling TV and the like (which requires internet), Spectrum will continue to raise their rates on the internet po...
  • Andy: They hiked the legacy ELP internet from 19.99 to 24.99 in november 2018. It used to be 14.99. The only reason these Charter spectrum effin ass holes a...

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