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The Magic of Broadband Competition: Sparklight Without Competition vs. Sparklight With Competition

America’s most costly large cable internet service provider is Sparklight, formerly known as Cable One. Its internet plans are usually data-capped and it barely offers new customers a pricing break before high regular prices apply. Sparklight primarily services small cities and towns, many income-challenged, in the middle of the country. Customers do not have much to rave about, because Sparklight puts its own profits far ahead of its customers. The cable operator was among the first to slap on data caps and was the nation’s most aggressive at getting rid of costly cable television channels.

About the only thing that does move Sparklight’s pricing is the presence of a formidable competitor. In Meridian and Garden City, Ida., TDS Fiber (formerly TDS Telecom) has been bringing gigabit fiber to the home service to area residents at prices low enough to motivate Sparklight customers to abandon the cable company. That motivated Sparklight to improve their plans and lower prices.

First, let’s examine the internet rate card for ordinary Sparklight customers typically stuck choosing either the cable company or DSL from Frontier, AT&T, or Windstream:

Sparklight regular pricing nationwide

Notice the entry-level internet plan (100/10 Mbps) costs $55 a month, does not mention the $10.50/mo modem rental fee (required if you choose the company’s Wi-Fi service), an internet service surcharge of $2.75/mo (not charged in all areas), and a stingy data cap of just 350 GB, which is at least 100 GB less than what the average U.S. broadband household now consumes each month. Internet overlimit fees are $10 for each additional block of 100GB of data in excess of your allowance, up to a maximum of $50 a month. Unlimited service costs an extra $40 a month.

When you add it all up: for an unlimited (100/10 Mbps) internet service plan with in-home Wi-Fi, Sparklight charges $108.25 a month.

If you happen to live in a competitive service area, such as Meridian and Garden City, Ida., speeds are faster, prices are lower, and data caps are nowhere to be found:

Pricing for Sparklight in Meridian and Garden City, Ida.

Customers still face a $10.50/mo charge to lease a cable modem, and that $2.75/mo internet surcharge fee might also apply.

The prospect of competition could cut dramatically into company profits, which is one reason telecom companies are fiercely lobbying the Biden Administration not to fund municipal broadband projects or supply funds to a new competitor as part of the 2021 Infrastructure Plan.

A Tale of Two Homes in Spectrum Territory: What Competition Does to Pricing

Phillip Dampier May 26, 2021 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 6 Comments

Competition is a wonderful thing. A case in point is the enormous difference Charter Spectrum charges new customers in areas where competition exists, and where it does not.

Charter’s offers are address sensitive. The cable company knows its competition and almost exactly where those competitors offer service. That is why the company asks for your service address before it quotes you pricing.

Stop the Cap! compared promotional new customer offers in the metro Rochester, N.Y. market where Spectrum faces token competition from Frontier’s slow speed DSL service. Then we checked pricing in neighborhoods where a fiber to the home overbuilder called Greenlight also offers service.

In neighborhoods where Spectrum enjoys a broadband monopoly, here are the offers for internet-only service available to new customers. Notice they expire after 12 months:

Spectrum promotional prices in non-competitive service areas.

Just one street away, where Greenlight offers customers the option of gigabit speed over a fiber to the home network, Spectrum’s promotional prices are quite different. Notice these offers last 24 months, twice as long as in non-competitive neighborhoods:

Spectrum promotional prices in some areas where customers can choose a competitor offering fiber to the home service.

Spectrum does not even bother offering new customers its entry-level 200 Mbps plan in areas where it has significant fiber competition. For $20 less per month, you get double that speed. Gigabit service is $20 less in competitive areas, too.

Spectrum charges a hefty $199.99 compulsory installation fee for gigabit service in non-competitive neighborhoods. Where fiber competition exists, sometimes just a street away, that installation fee plummets to just $49.99.

Note similar pricing variability exists in Spectrum service areas around the country, with the most aggressively priced offers reserved for addresses also served by a fiber to the home provider or multiple competitors (e.g. cable company, phone company, Google Fiber or other overbuilder). Current customers typically have to cancel existing service and sign up as a new customer to get these prices.

Greenlight Networks has four internet plans that range from $50-200 a month. They do not offer promotional prices, instead marketing “what you see is exactly what you will pay” pricing. As a relatively new company, they charge an installation fee that helps recoup the investments they are making to dig and string fiber cables in neighborhoods across Rochester (and Buffalo as well, where they are expanding). Spectrum (and its predecessors) use pre-existing cable lines that have been there for decades.

Greenlight Networks pricing

Charter’s promotion strategy is designed to undercut the competition on price, believing customers will choose 400/20 Mbps service for $29.99 a month over Greenlight’s 500/50 Mbps service for $50 a month. Of course, after two years Spectrum’s regular prices can kick in, more than tripling the cost to around $94.99 a month, although customers usually get a less attractive secondary promotion after the original one expires, usually offering around $10 off per month.

Spectrum Upgrades Standard Speed Plan to 200/10 Mbps in Central Florida and South Texas

Spectrum internet customers in parts of Central Florida and South Texas are getting twice the download speed they used to receive thanks to a series of quiet service upgrades still in progress.

Customers in parts of suburban Orlando, including Seminole County, first noticed the speed upgrade in April in towns like Lake Mary. Parts of Kissimmee saw a service upgrade earlier this month. Some neighborhoods in Orlando also began reporting speed upgrades as of mid-May. Some parts of Pasco County, north of Tampa, also received a 200 Mbps upgrade, particularly in planned communities.

Charter Communications is gradually upgrading capacity in the area, formerly served by Bright House Networks. Spectrum traditionally does not announce speed upgrades until an entire service area is complete, which will likely happen in parts of Florida and Texas by early this summer.

In South Texas, San Benito is one of the communities between Brownsville and McAllen seeing Spectrum’s usual download speed doubled from 100 to 200 Mbps.

The speed upgrades come without any additional charges and usually appear automatically. Spectrum has been slowly upgrading its national service footprint to offer the new, higher-speed 200 Mbps Standard service tier. For more than two years, customers in many AT&T landline areas in the midwest and south have had 200/10 Mbps service, designed to help keep the cable company competitive with AT&T’s fiber offering. But service remains stubbornly fixed at 100/10 Mbps in just under half of Spectrum’s service area, particularly in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and West regions.

Stop the Cap! expects Spectrum to upgrade all of its service areas to provide 200/10 Mbps service. It remains uncertain exactly when that will happen, however.

Updated: Spectrum Charges Customer $75 in Fees for Using a Lost Credit Card

Phillip Dampier May 13, 2020 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News 2 Comments

A Spectrum customer faces $75 in fees for leaving an old credit card on his Spectrum account.

Reddit reader “u/round-diskreported that credit card ‘lost’ in April. That is where the trouble started.

“At some point between when my old number stopped working and my new card arrived, Spectrum tried to do an Auto Pay charge. It failed,” the reader reports. “I received a voicemail about it, and a few days later I got my new card and updated the payment info. All is well, or so I thought.”

When Spectrum’s May bill arrived, the cable company charged the reader $59.99 for the next month of service, and just under $75 in fees for last month’s payment mishap. A $49.99 fee for “Credit Card Payment Rejection or Denial” and a $25 charge for a “Return Item Fee” turned a $60 cable bill into $134.98.

Normally, companies are not penalized for declined credit card transactions, but Spectrum is ready to charge you plenty for their inconvenience.

“I have paid my bill on time and in full every single month for over four years. This is what I get?” the reader asks. “Spectrum is literally any without exaggeration the only company I have ever personally dealt with who has ever presented a fee of any kind on a failed credit card charge.”

Attempts to reach customer service meant at least 40-minute hold times, so the matter remains unresolved, at least for now.

Both the NY City Public Advocate and the state’s Attorney General’s office are investigating.

Updated 5/14 (2:45pm EDT): Updated to reflect investigations by authorities in New York.

CableLabs Introduces DOCSIS 4.0 — Up to 10/6 Gbps Over Cable Broadband

Phillip Dampier March 26, 2020 Broadband Speed, Consumer News 1 Comment

CableLabs unveiled the final DOCSIS 4.0 specification today, dramatically improving upload speeds and offering the potential of much faster internet service from cable operators in the next few years.

DOCSIS 4.0 will support downstream speeds as fast as 10,000 Mbps and upload speed as fast as 6,000 Mbps, finally bringing faster upstream speed to cable company-provided internet. The new standard raises maximum speeds by opening up “extended spectrum” on the coaxial cable coming into your home. By dedicating additional frequencies for data services, cable companies can raise both speed and capacity.

Consumers have been asking for faster upload speeds to support streaming live video, cloud backup services, and a growing number of in-home devices sharing a single internet connection. For years, cable providers have only been able to provide a small fraction of upstream speed in comparison to download speed. That distinction will largely be erased as DOCSIS 4.0 gets deployed over the next few years. Providers are likely to raise upload speeds on existing speed tiers and offer consumers symmetrical download and upload speed for gigabit connections. The increased speed will also likely make cable broadband more attractive to business customers.

The new standard will also decrease network latency, crucial for some online applications. It will also feature more robust security and higher reliability by identifying potential network problems before they become apparent to customers.

Consumers may see DOCSIS 4.0 modems and service available within the next two years.

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