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N.Y. Congressman Introduces Bill Forcing Cable Companies to Reveal Real Internet Speeds, Pricing

Brindisi, as he appeared in an ad slamming Charter Spectrum in the summer of 2018.

Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) today introduced a bill in Congress to force cable operators fined by a state telecommunications regulator to publicly reveal the actual performance of their internet services, subscriber counts, and a complete price listing including all fees and surcharges.

The Transparency for Cable Consumers Act comes in response to New York’s experiences with Charter Communications, which was fined for failing to meet its commitments under a 2016 merger agreement allowing Charter to acquire Time Warner Cable. Brindisi made the cable company’s performance a core issue in his 2018 campaign, brazenly buying commercial time on Spectrum cable systems for 30-second ads slamming the cable company.

“I’ve heard from thousands of Upstate New Yorkers who are sick and tired of dealing with frequent rate hikes, poor customer service, and failed promises,” said Brindisi. “This is more than just an inconvenience. For families on fixed incomes, an unexpected rate hike could wreck their budget. And for people in rural communities, crawling internet speeds can take away their connection to jobs, health care, information, and important online services. When a company enters into an agreement, it should be required to hold up its part of the bargain.  We can’t keep giving these companies a free pass. If we don’t hold them accountable, nothing will change.”

Brindisi has bristled over the New York State Public Service Commission’s decision to repeatedly extend the deadline given to Charter to file an orderly exit plan winding down its cable operations in the state. The most recent extension was approved on Wednesday, now giving Charter Communications until April 5, 2019 to appeal the Commission’s decision and until May 9, 2019 to file its six-month exit plan.

Brindisi complains Spectrum is being allowed to linger even as consumers continue to contact his office with complaints about frequent rate hikes, slow internet speeds, and poor customer service. His December 2018 letter to the PSC asking the Commission to stop giving Charter additional time extensions has gone unanswered, according to Brindisi.

Brindisi’s bill attempts to walk a fine line around the federal government’s wholesale deregulation of the cable industry. Various deregulation measures stripped federal, state, and local officials of most of their powers to oversee the internet and Voice over IP telephone service. Cable television remains subject to some local oversight and regulation, but not in all areas. Many states also have so-called “state franchise” laws in place, which gives blanket authority for cable operators to offer cable television in the state without seeking a separate agreement with each community.

The Transparency for Cable Consumers Act, would require a cable or internet company to disclose information about its operations if it is fined by a state regulator:

  • The number of cable and broadband internet customers in each county;
  • The average cable bill and broadband internet bill amounts in each county;
  • A full accounting of all fees charged customers in each county; and
  • The average broadband internet speeds delivered in each county.

Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) appeared on the House floor this afternoon to introduce the Transparency for Cable Consumers Act. (1:18)

Customers Buried in Unwanted Spectrum Junk Mail: Here’s How to Opt Out

Phillip Dampier February 18, 2019 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News 1 Comment

Spectrum Junk Mail (image courtesy of: Cube Computer Channel)

Spectrum customers who thought Time Warner Cable sent out too much junk mail now regret criticizing their old cable company.

“I have really come accept the truth,” writes Stop the Cap! reader Dustin Hedges. “There are worst cable companies than Time Warner Cable and Charter Spectrum is one of them.”

Hedges is tired of the relentless junk mail he receives every week from the cable company, primarily to advertise cable television.

“I cut the cord with them for a reason: they cost too damn much and considering all of the mailers they are sending me, I can now see where some of my cable dollar used to go,” Hedges tells us. “Some of them look like urgent notices about a late bill or claims to contain ‘important information’ about my account, which could mean another damn rate increase, but no — it is just another advertisement for their TV service I quit last year.”

Hedged ditched cable television after Spectrum converted to an all-digital format, requiring customers to start leasing cable boxes on their extra televisions.

“I tried the Roku route and didn’t like it because it took too long to change channels and it often buffered or ran 2-3 minutes late, meaning other things I might want to watch I would miss the start of because the Roku app made me late,” Hedges complains. “What really ticked me off is that they keep raising the cost of the box rental and the boxes they are giving out now are cheap garbage. They don’t even have a clock on the front anymore. My bill would have gone up $35 a month. I cancelled.”

Today, Hedges is a Spectrum internet-only customer, and thinks Spectrum does not appreciate the business he still gives to them.

“I pay these crooks $65 a month for internet service, when I used to pay Time Warner Cable less than $50, and they are still not happy about it,” Hedges complained. “They constantly send me TV offers for 10 channels, 25 channels, or to go right back to regular cable TV where I can fall for the same trap of low prices to start and boom stick to it you with regular pricing later on. I don’t watch it, I tell them I don’t want it, and that they can save everyone’s money by not sending me this junk mail. They tell me they won’t stop the mailers.”

Indeed, Charter Spectrum’s customer mailing policy indicates they do reserve the right to market existing customers additional products and services at any time. If a customer has a triple play package, they rarely receive anything from the cable company, at least until recently when Spectrum Mobile started a big marketing campaign. If one drops TV and/or phone service, the junk mail will soon grace your mailbox. By far, most mailers concern TV service. Spectrum markets cable cord-cutters and cord-nevers slimmed down packages delivered over their Spectrum internet connection. Occasionally, the company will also remind customer landline phone service is also still available, typically for around $10 a month. When Time Warner Cable pushed its Intelligent Home security service, those mailers were a common sight to many customers. Charter Communications has no interest in the security monitoring business, so although it maintains service for existing customers, it no longer markets Intelligent Home to attract new ones.

But we have good news for Mr. Hodges and other customers looking for a possible opt out path for junk mail, sales calls, and worst of all – door knocking sales teams. Charter Spectrum maintains an online privacy preferences form that should eventually stop marketing mailers for other products and services, including cable TV. Just click on the pertinent image(s) to be taken to their respective web pages, complete and submit the forms, and your mail volume should drop.

Legacy Time Warner Cable CPNI Opt-Out Form (only for use by customers still holding on to their old Time Warner Cable packages.)
Legacy TWC customers should also fill out the Privacy Preferences form:

Charter/Spectrum and Legacy Time Warner Cable/Bright House Customers
Privacy Preferences:

A YouTuber produced this rant about endless junk mail from Spectrum. (11:46)

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.”

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.

Cable Companies Expand Broadband Lead in U.S.; Subscriber Adds Up 35%

Phillip Dampier November 15, 2018 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News 3 Comments

Cable companies continue to dominate the U.S. broadband marketplace, and the gap between cable broadband and telephone company DSL continues to widen.

Leichtman Research Group reports the top seven cable companies together added 728,423 internet customers in the last three months, an increase of 35% over 2017. One of the biggest gainers was Comcast, which grew 363,000 subscribers during the third quarter. At the same time last year Comcast added 213,000 customers. Charter Spectrum grew by 308,000 customers in the third quarter, bolstered by speed upgrades in select areas and more aggressive promotions. At the same time in 2017, Spectrum added 285,000 customers.

Cable’s gains are phone company losses. AT&T, Frontier, CenturyLink, and Consolidated (formerly FairPoint) saw 159,974 customers disconnect service in the last three months. Phone company losses were buffered in part by government-funded rural broadband expansion campaigns, which typically introduce broadband service in rural areas for the first time. Where customers have a choice, they are increasingly choosing cable companies to supply internet service because speed and reliability are often better, especially compared to DSL service still prevalent in a lot of areas.

Broadband Providers Subscribers at end of 3Q 2018 Net Adds in 3Q 2018
Cable Companies
Comcast 26,872,000 363,000
Charter 24,930,000 308,000
Cox* 5,040,000 20,000
Altice 4,096,300 14,200
Mediacom 1,260,000 9,000
WOW (WideOpenWest) 755,100 7,300
Cable ONE 660,799 6,923
Total Top Cable 63,614,199 728,423
Phone Companies
AT&T 15,746,000 (26,000)
Verizon 6,958,000 2,000
CenturyLink^ 5,435,000 (71,000)
Frontier 3,802,000 (61,000)
Windstream 1,015,000 8,300
Consolidated^^ 781,912 (1,974)
Cincinnati Bell^^^ 310,700 200
Total Top Telco 34,048,612 (149,474)
Total Top Broadband 97,662,811 578,949

Sources: The Companies and Leichtman Research Group, Inc.

*LRG estimate
^CenturyLink only reported residential subscribers in 3Q 2018.  LRG estimate including non-residential subscribers
^^Consolidated includes a minor sale of a local exchange carrier
^^^Cincinnati Bell does not include the acquisition of Hawaiian Telecom
Company subscriber counts may not solely represent residential households. Top cable and telephone companies represent approximately 95% of all subscribers.

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  • Michelle D Loewy: No internet service at the home all day Tuesday and still none today. No reason given just that the Western North Carolina area is down. Has anything ...
  • william carter: got my spectrum bill yesterday. It went up $16 per month. I called CS and they said my 1 yr promotion is gone on my internet and i have to pay full ...
  • Dorairaj Isaac: I would like to return the products for a refund...
  • EJ: I hope they are ready to do this all over again when Charter does basically nothing again. Hopefully they will use this extension to come up with a Pl...
  • Phillip Dampier: Public Comments: http://documents.dps.ny.gov/public/Comments/PublicComments.aspx?MatterCaseNo=15-M-0388...
  • Phillip Dampier: The reason they are lumping the two together at this point is because there are not a lot of attractive territories left to bid on. Even when the stat...
  • Paul Houle: For me the $60,000 question is this: how do I submit comments to NYS about this plan? I went looking on the PSC web site and it wasn't clear at all....
  • Phillip Dampier: ELP is still being left intact by Spectrum, but they keep raising the price to discourage people from using it. Unfortunately, since the violations pe...
  • Wayne Martin: From the beginning I have disagreed with the lumping together the "underserved" with those of us who have nothing. The underserved already have speeds...
  • Doug: Any mention of extending the availability of ELP? It's getting close to that time......
  • Dylan: About time. Did anybody really think Charter would get kicked out? Even NY knows better than that....
  • fhall: "If Charter again fails to stay on schedule, it must pay $2,800 for each designated-as-missed passing address into an escrow fund." That should be "....

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