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Cox Preparing to Launch Cloud DVR Service Through Contour (X1) Platform

Phillip Dampier March 27, 2019 Consumer News, Cox No Comments

Cox Contour TV

Cox Communications is planning to launch a new cloud DVR service targeting the 25% of customers who use the company’s Contour set-top box, which is powered by Comcast/Xfinity’s X1.

The new service will launch later this year, according to Light Reading, but exact pricing and storage options are not yet known.

Assuming Cox follows other licensees of the X1 platform, which include Rogers and Shaw Communications, the new service will likely  bundle a cloud storage option for its current DVR set-top box customers. Comcast offers its current DVR customers 60 hours of free cloud storage, which is less than the 150 hours of local storage usually available on Comcast’s set-top DVR boxes. Rogers’ “Ignite TV” offers 200 hours of HD or 4K storage with a maximum recording storage time of one year, and Shaw’s BlueSky TV will launch its own cloud DVR add-on service later this year under a similar licensing agreement with Comcast.

The biggest benefit of cloud storage is remote access to DVR recordings on portable devices when streaming away from home, a major advantage available to streaming cable TV customers subscribed to DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Hulu, and others. Because of copyright considerations, cable companies follow a more complicated path to provide subscribers with remote access to their DVR recordings. Comcast customers “check out” recorded shows to downloaded for mobile viewing much the same way Amazon.com allows customers to offer friends the chance to “borrow” a Kindle book. The customer accesses a recorded show, chooses the option to download for remote viewing, and then watches on the go. When finished, a customer “returns” the show, allowing it to be seen on the set-top DVR once again.

Ironically, Charter Spectrum customers are likely to be among the last to see cloud DVR service, despite the fact Charter’s current CEO, Thomas Rutledge, was instrumental in helping clear the way for U.S. cable operators to offer cloud DVR service. In 2006, Cablevision sought to introduce a remote storage DVR and immediately ran into lawsuits, coordinated by Time Warner (Entertainment)’s Turner Broadcasting. Two years later in 2008, Cablevision won a key appeals court victory allowing cloud storage DVRs to be introduced. Charter Spectrum customers may have access to cloud DVR service late this year, or sometime in 2020.

Comcast Gives Up on Rescuing Cord Cutting TV Customers; No More Deals

Phillip Dampier March 12, 2019 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News 3 Comments

Watson

Unhappy about your cable TV bill? Don’t bother complaining to Comcast, because the cable company is ready to tell you to take your business elsewhere.

New competition usually means those already in the business freshen their game, get creative, cut prices, or out-compete the competition with a better product. But Comcast plans to lose its restless cable television customers if they complain about the company’s prices for cable TV.

Dave Watson, president and CEO of Comcast Cable, told investors at the Deutsche Bank 2019 Media, Internet & Telecom Conference in Palm Beach the company is done handing out retention deals with cut-rate pricing to keep cable TV customers from leaving.

“[Comcast is] simply not going to chase unprofitable video relationships,” Watson said, noting with the growing number of new streaming video competitors, more and more customers are calling looking for better deals and threatening to cut the cord. Watson says Comcast is prepared to let them.

“Because of consumer choice, because of all this competition, we’re just not going to chase video [customers],” Watson repeated.

Comcast’s new “we don’t negotiate” attitude with its customers isn’t groundbreaking in the industry. Satellite providers and some cable companies like Charter/Spectrum have largely stopped negotiating with customers as well.

Some cable operators have intentionally avoided significant video price hikes in recent years, already sensitive to the cord-cutting calls that increase after each rate hike announcement. Others hide rate increases in surcharges, often for local TV stations or regional sports channels. For some companies, giving customers a better deal may even make their video pricing unprofitable.

To compensate for tightening margins on cable television, most providers have been significantly increasing broadband pricing in recent years, knowing broadband is one service customers are least likely to drop as a result of rate increases.

Spectrum Strikers Launch Website to Teach Consumers How to Cut Cable’s Cord

Phillip Dampier December 10, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Video 2 Comments

A new union-sponsored website promises consumers they can find a better deal with a different video provider.

(Courtesy: Cut the Cord on Spectrum)

Many of the more than 1,800 Charter/Spectrum workers in the New York City area, on strike since early 2017, have teamed up in a new campaign to encourage customers to cut cable’s cord and disconnect service.

“We all know a typical cable/internet bill with Spectrum runs about $164 – 194 (can’t forget those equipment rental fees, DVR fees & random bill increases!),” the Cut the Cord on Spectrum website says. “By cutting the cord on Spectrum and signing up for streaming services – many of which offer Live TV options including all your favorite cable network and sports channels – you can cut your bill down to as low as $57.99/month!”

The website offers basic advice on alternative providers that stream video programming over the internet, including general pricing and included features. The website implies choosing any other provider is probably better than sticking with Spectrum.

“Spectrum customers – along with the N.Y. Attorney General’s office – have a long list of gripes with Spectrum Cable,” the site claims. “With an income over $490 million and CEO Tom Rutledge earning a salary of $98.5 million, it’s clear that Spectrum Cable is fleecing its customers, overcharging for horrible service while raking in huge profits.”

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 is behind the latest digital effort to make life difficult for Charter Communications. The union plans to spend “tens of thousands of dollars” on online ads targeting zip codes where Spectrum provides cable service, according to union officials.

The union is getting significant support from politicians downstate, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who blasted Charter at a well-attended union rally in front of Charter’s headquarters on Wednesday in Manhattan.

“[Spectrum’s] CEO in 2016 made $100 million. The COO of Charter Spectrum, $50 million. The company made $15 billion,” Cuomo told the audience. “How dare you abuse the hardworking men and women that built that company and put the money in your pocket?”

The governor also continued his ongoing attack on NY1 – Spectrum News, a company-owned 24-hour news channel. Many union-supporting politicians have refused to appear on NY1, accusing the channel of bias.

“You want to know what’s interesting about their news organization? It has a very selective memory, their news organization,” Cuomo said. “You know what their news organization never covered? The fact that the state of New York is trying to take away their franchise and kick them out of New York. You know what their news organization failed to cover? The fact that 2,000 Local 3 members were kicked to the street and they’re rallying for two years for fairness and decency.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasted Charter Spectrum at a rally held Wednesday in front of Spectrum’s corporate headquarters in New York City. (15:19)

 

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.

Negotiations… Interrupted: Charter Spectrum Panics As Time Runs Out to File N.Y. Exit Plan

Charter Communications ‘productive negotiations’ with New York’s Public Service Commission have deteriorated.

On Monday, Charter Communications filed a Motion for Stay to block the regulator’s July order revoking Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable and requiring the cable company to file an orderly exit plan with the state no later than Dec. 24.

“Discussions have, so far, not resulted in a settlement,” the company admitted in the legal filing.

Get Out of New York

Calling the order “draconian” and against the public interest, Charter all but accused the Commission of being petty for throwing the country’s second largest cable company out of the state over what it called “the Commission’s revisionist interpretation” of the agreement to expand cable broadband service to unserved parts of the state. It called the Commission unreasonable for not giving the company due process, setting an unreasonable deadline to formulate an exit from the state, and violating the company’s 1st Amendment rights.

“The Revocation Order imposes a draconian penalty on Charter’s New York operations, commanding Charter to undo a significant portion of a multi-billion dollar merger the Commission approved over two-and-a-half years ago and purporting to evict Charter from the State where Charter serves 3.1 million customers and has more than 11,000 employees,” the company’s lawyers argued. “To top it off, the Order, as extended, gives Charter only until December 24 to formulate an exit plan, and six months thereafter to accomplish the exit, timing that would (as the Commission knows) effectively insulate the Commission’s actions from any judicial review. The Commission’s actions reflect not reasoned decision-making directed to the public interest, but rather retaliation against Charter because Charter challenged the Commission by advocating for its good-faith reading of the expansion condition.”

“The Revocation Order is unprecedented in its scale and represents a unique and extremely unusual penalty that, to Charter’s knowledge, no other major cable or telecommunications provider has ever faced in New York,” the company added. “Merely developing an exit plan to meet the December 24, 2018 deadline would force Charter to divert significant resources from its business operations in order to explore what an exit plan might look like, if it is feasible at all. Already, business executives in various departments of Charter have had to take time away from overseeing the business in order to explain the impacts of the Revocation Order and expected impacts of any exit plan. Continuing to divert resources to such an effort, including the time of Charter’s management teams, will necessarily impact Charter’s ability to focus on its core operations.”

The 25-page attack on the Public Service Commission suggest negotiations have strained between the company and regulators, despite several deadline extensions and often-repeated claims from both sides that “productive negotiations” were underway. In a footnote, Charter attempts not to burn all of its bridges with the Commission, noting, “Charter is filing this petition to preserve its substantial and compelling legal rights. Nothing in this application is intended to foreclose the possibility of further discussions with the Commission to resolve this dispute without the need for judicial review.”

The company wants the Commission to stop the clock it imposed on Charter to get its affairs in order in preparation of leaving New York. It is requesting a stay that will drop the deadlines until the courts wrangle over what Charter is calling an “unprecedented and unlawful action.”

Scrambled Eggs

Charter argues the Commission has no right to insist on much of anything, because much of its business operation is unregulated and attempts to interfere with it would cause the company “clear and substantial irreparable harm,” and violate the company’s constitutional rights.

The harm from Charter’s actual departure from New York roughly seven months from now would itself be massive and irreparable, as there would be no way for Charter to restore its position by “re-entering” the State in a commercially reasonable way if Charter later prevailed on judicial review. The eggs here are scrambled—the merged companies’ national operations are fully integrated, and there is no obvious way to separate them. Any obligation to do so would require a massive commitment of time and resources—starting immediately—to navigate the complex business, legal, and regulatory requirements needed to implement the Commission’s order to unscramble the eggs. Moreover, the preparation of an exit plan would itself negatively impact Charter’s reputation with employees, customers, and suppliers in highly competitive markets and require Charter to expend substantial effort, resources, and money that could not be recovered if Charter ultimately prevails in challenging the Revocation Order.

The filing does not acknowledge that Charter was informed of the Commission’s decision in late July and that multiple deadlines have already been extended on the company’s behalf by regulators. Charter also does not mention there is a long history of cable companies separating, spinning off, selling, or trading parts of the business to other cable operators when business or regulatory conditions warrant. Several cable industry mergers have required spinoffs of certain cable properties which have been accomplished with little protest from the cable companies involved.

Charter also argues that the very idea New York’s PSC would demand the company leave the state is irreparably harming the company’s good reputation with its customers — a contention long in dispute with many of those customers and customer satisfaction surveys which have rated the company among the worst in the country. But that did not stop Charter’s attorneys from trying:

[…] The Revocation Order has negatively affected Charter’s reputation and goodwill, and will continue to do so unless stayed. The Revocation Order unfairly paints Charter as an irredeemable bad actor, and the Revocation Order’s unwarranted requirement that Charter exit the State within a matter of months has damaged Charter in the general public’s eye. Indeed, Charter’s goodwill was already harmed by the initial media attention the Revocation Order received, and this harm is likely to be exacerbated by the filing of an exit plan that will spur a second round of news stories and public speculation regarding the dispute.

Bad Faith

Charter claims the Commission changed the terms of the Merger Order after it was approved. In Charter’s view, the company’s expansion effort to reach unserved parts of New York State should include New York City, one of the most wired metropolitan areas in the United States. That the Commission took offense to Charter’s interpretation of the Merger Order should not mean the company should face the ultimate consequence — being asked to leave the state.

“The unprecedented revocation of the Commission’s approval of a merger that closed over two years ago is grossly disproportionate to any conduct at issue here,” Charter argues. “Although the parties dispute the meaning of the expansion condition in the merger order, the revocation of the merger approval serves no legitimate Commission interest when other remedies are available and when the Commission has no reason to doubt Charter’s readiness to comply with any authoritative judicial construction. Nor can the Commission’s unprecedented action be justified by any finding of “bad faith.” What the Commission inappropriately labels bad faith is simply Charter’s reasonable effort to challenge the Commission’s new interpretation, exhaust administrative remedies, and prepare its case for judicial review. There is no reasonable justification for the punishment the Commission imposed.”

Charter also takes issue with the way the Commission met and voted to throw the company out of New York, calling it “the paragon of procedural irregularity.”

“The Commission issued the ‘revocation’ penalty […] at a rump session of the Commission, without providing Charter with an opportunity to comment or present any argument on the availability of the remedy itself, or upon most of the grounds on which the penalty was predicated,” the company argued. “The Commission also denied the public—including Charter’s customer base, who would be required to switch to a new provider, and the local governments that are parties to Charter’s franchise agreements that the Order purports to vacate—an opportunity to comment on the unprecedented proposal to force Charter to exit New York.”

Charter Sets Its Own Deadline – Nov. 26

Charter expects the PSC to rule on its motion within a week of filing it, demanding a stay before the start of business on Monday, Nov. 26. If the company does not get what it wants, it will seek a stay from the Supreme Court in Albany County instead.

But the company also suggests the PSC is bluffing.

“The Commission is currently pursuing an action to enforce its interpretation of the Expansion Condition in the Supreme Court, suggesting that the Commission itself intends for the condition to remain in effect rather than for Charter to actually discontinue operations and leave the State,” the attorneys wrote. “And even if the Commission truly intended to revoke Charter’s merger approval and require it to leave New York, there is no reason the Commission needs Charter to do so—and to submit a plan to that effect—immediately, before Charter has had an opportunity to seek rehearing and obtain judicial review.”

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