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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 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.

N.Y. Gives Charter Spectrum Another Extension

New York’s Department of Public Service (DPS) has granted Charter Communications an unprecedented additional 18-day extension to file its threatened appeal of the Commission’s decision to boot the cable company from the state and its six-month exit plan.

“Charter and DPS Staff state in their request for a limited 18-day extension of time that discussions are ongoing, that Charter and DPS Staff have established a framework for how a settlement agreement might be structured, and that any final agreement would necessarily address: issues relating to the inclusion of certain categories of addresses and whether they are valid ‘passings’ under the Merger Approval Order; penalty actions and amounts under dispute in Supreme Court; and a schedule for compliance (including enforcement mechanisms) going forward,” the order granting the extension reads.

Despite last week’s filing from Charter’s attorneys excoriating the Public Service Commission for its decision to remove Spectrum from the state, the DPS claimed this week that because of Charter’s “continued obligations to comply with the Public Service Law and regulations, good cause exists […] to allow for further discussions while both sides reserve their respective legal rights.”

But some consumer groups, including Stop the Cap!, are wondering exactly when patience will run thin at the Commission.

“When the latest deadline arrives in January 2019, it will be nearly six months since the Commission voted to strip approval of Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable,” said Phillip M. Dampier, founder of Stop the Cap! “While we can appreciate the benefits of negotiation and dialogue, these conversations are taking place behind closed doors with no public input and no formal ability for groups like ours to intervene and offer our own views.”

Stop the Cap! has advocated that Charter Communications be allowed to remain in business in New York, but only with their agreement to meet some additional terms and conditions:

  1. Further extend Spectrum service to additional customers in rural New York scheduled to receive satellite internet service;
  2. Increase entry-level broadband speed to at least 200 Mbps immediately and further extend availability of Everyday Low Price Internet service ($14.99/mo);
  3. Settle the ongoing labor dispute with striking Spectrum workers in downstate New York.

“At present, it appears the DPS/PSC is only negotiating to get Spectrum back in compliance with the original terms of the Merger Order they have been ignoring, which is hardly a concession,” Dampier said. “Charter’s arrogance and blatant disrespect for the terms of the merger deal and its flippant adherence to those terms should cost the company more than just a monetary fine lost in the state’s coffers. Visible benefits to New York consumers must be part of the equation.”

Dampier

The state seems mostly focused on keeping Charter in compliance with the agreement while the lawyers talk.

“As the Commission noted in prior extensions, however, this limited extension should not be viewed as an indefinite grant of time for discussions to continue between DPS Staff and the Company,” DPS officials wrote. “Many Upstate New Yorkers living in Charter’s franchise areas are understandably frustrated by the lack of modern communications infrastructure. The Compliance and Revocation Orders were designed to deal with very serious consumer issues presented by Charter’s conduct related to the company’s network expansion. As such, the processes envisioned therein must continue in the absence of an agreement.”

The current extension resets the deadlines to file an appeal to Dec. 14, 2018 and the six-month exit plan to Jan. 11, 2019. Both are just the latest in a series of extensions.

Important Dates:

  • July 27, 2018: The PSC votes to rescind approval of the Charter/Time Warner Cable merger in New York, effectively disallowing the company to continue to do business in the state.
  • August 17, 2018: Charter files a 60-day extension request, which is granted on Aug. 20.
  • September 7, 2018: Charter files a 30-day extension request, which is granted on Sept. 10.
  • October 9, 2018: Charter files a 60-day extension request. The DPS grants a 45-day extension instead on Oct. 10.
  • November 21, 2018: Department of Public Service (DPS) Staff and Charter filed a joint letter stating that they had not yet been able to reach a fully executed settlement agreement, but that they had established a framework for how a settlement agreement might be structured and that discussions remain ongoing. A limited 18-day extension is granted.
  • December 14, 2018: Deadline for Charter to file its appeal with the Commission.
  • January 11, 2019: Deadline for Charter to file a six-month exit plan showing the Commission how the company intends to orderly transfer its Spectrum cable operation to another provider.

Spectrum Complains Competitors Taking Advantage of Its Troubles in New York

“Charter Spectrum has been kicked out of the state of New York and has a 60 day transition period to allow those customers time to find a new provider,” a sales representative told a Charter customer in New York recently. “[She] would love to be the first to put together a proposal.”

That sales pitch was part of two exhibits offered by Charter Communications to back its claims it is being treated unfairly in New York because regulators have asked the company to make preparations to leave the state and competitors are taking full advantage.

“Although highly sophisticated entities familiar with regulatory litigation may understand that there will be legal proceedings regarding the Revocation Order and that it may ultimately never take effect, the potential for confusion among other current and prospective customers who lack such experience with the legal and regulatory process is significant,” company officials argued. “Charter’s competitors have already attempted to take advantage of the Revocation Order. For example, Verizon has already begun reaching out to several of Charter’s significant customers, including residential management companies in New York City. Verizon representatives have asserted that Charter will no longer be permitted to operate in New York State as a result of the Revocation Order, and have offered Verizon’s services as a substitute.”

Charter also claimed Verizon representatives were suggesting Charter was leaving the New York market and that customers had to (falsely) disconnect their Charter service.

“Such exploitation by Charter’s competitors is likely to increase and be amplified if Charter is required to file a public wind-down plan for exiting the state,” the company added.

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Recent Comments:

  • Dylan: Look at their prices. Absolutely ludicrous compared to many companies, especially Charter Spectrum. I pay $60 a month for 100/10 with unlimited data. ...
  • Paul Houle: For a long time communities have been frustrated in that they don't have any power to negotiate with cable companies. This town refused to enter into...
  • Ian S Littman: To be fair, you aren't wrong. Spectrum likely knows it won't have any competition for years in Lamar, so they'll quickly get take rates of >70% (re...
  • Ian S Littman: Are you in an area that can even get Spectrum service? Because in areas where they actually have to compete, they're actually pretty decent now. Yes,...
  • Ian S Littman: A more odd entry in that list is Chattanooga. The entire area has FTTH via EPB. Yet apparently folks can't swing the $57/mo starting price for 100 Mbp...
  • Ian S Littman: The issue here is that the NY PSC's threats have no teeth because, well, who will take over the cable systems if Spectrum is forced to sell? Either Al...
  • Bill Callahan: Phil, National Digital Inclusion Alliance just published interactive Census tract maps for the entire US based on the same ACS data. Two datapoints a...
  • Carl Moore: The idiots that run the cable companies must be also using drugs...a lot of people are cutting their cable services because of the higher rate and inc...
  • EJ: This will require a New Deal approach. Municipals need the ability to either be granted money or loaned money for broadband expansion. Until this is d...
  • Bob: I also got $1 increase for my 100/10 internet from Spectrum. A rep said it's for the speed increase that's coming in 2019. I complained that I was pro...
  • EJ: It makes sense to focus on wireless considering the government contract they have. The strange thing is they referenced fixed wireless in this article...
  • nick: Interesting how they conveniently leave out (Spectrum TV Choice) streaming service which is also $30/mo ($25/mo for the first 2 years)....

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