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Happy Holidays from Comcast: Your Bill is Going Up!

Phillip Dampier November 27, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 2 Comments

Comcast’s Cyber Monday promotions failed to include in its advertised prices up to $31.25 in monthly surcharges.

Comcast will use two mandatory surcharges to hike cable TV customers’ rates on Jan. 1, including those on promotional or fixed contract pricing, while also raising the optional modem rental fee to a record $13 a month — a new industry high.

  • Broadcast TV Surcharge (varies per market) will increase to $10.00 a month.
  • Regional Sports Network Fee (varies per market) will increase to $8.25 a month.
  • Most customers will see an increase of about $3.75 a month for cable television.
  • The modem rental fee, shown on the bill as “Internet/Voice Equipment Rental” will increase $2, to $13 a month.

Cord Cutters News first reported the rate increases. Ars Technica noted Comcast raised the broadcast TV fee from $6.50 to $8 and the sports fee from $4.50 to $6.50 about one year ago, making these two mandatory surcharges a lucrative source for extra revenue. Comcast does not waive these fees (or future increases) for its cable TV customers, even those on new customer promotions. The company boosted modem rental fees $1 a month in 2017. Now it wants an extra $2, but customers can easily avoid that fee by buying their own cable modem, which will quickly pay for itself.

Comcast typically raises rates in different cities over the course of a year, so only some customers will experience the rate increase on Jan. 1, but by the end of 2019, all Comcast customers will see a higher bill.

The use of surcharges to implement hidden rate increases is controversial. Comcast and other cable companies can and do advertise their services without including increasingly steep surcharges and fees, which can dramatically raise the bill far beyond what companies advertise.

A typical Comcast customer offered a 2018 Cyber Monday bundle of television and internet, advertised for as little as $49.99 a month, would pay an additional $31.25 a month in surcharges, not including an additional outlet service fee if a customer wants to watch on one more than television set.

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

Phillip Dampier November 15, 2018 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News 2 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.

VIDEO: How Big Telecom Isolates Rural America

From the producers of Dividing Lines:

Across the country, state legislatures have created barriers to community involvement in expanding internet access.

In Tennessee, lobbyists from AT&T, Charter, and Comcast spread huge campaign contributions around the state legislature. AT&T’s influence is felt in the governor’s own broadband expansion legislation, which was tailor-written to allow the phone company to collect huge taxpayer subsidies to expand inferior DSL into rural parts of Tennessee.

Meanwhile, some local communities seeking to build state-of-the-art fiber to the home networks capable of delivering 10 gigabit service found that doing so would be illegal under state law.

Think about that for a moment.

A multi-billion dollar telecom company is allowed to expand its slow speed DSL network with taxpayer-funded grants while your local community is forbidden to bring fiber optic service to your home even if your community votes to support such a project. Exactly who is the governor and state legislature working for when it comes to resolving Tennessee’s rural broadband nightmare?

In part two of this series, watch State Senator Janice Bowling describe how much influence AT&T has over the Tennessee state legislature. (5:31)

VIDEO: Dividing Lines – Dialed Back to Dial-Up in Rural America

From the producers of Dividing Lines:

The online world is no longer a distinct world. It is an extension of our social, economic, and political lives. Internet access, however, is still a luxury good. Millions of Americans have been priced out of, or entirely excluded from, the reach of modern internet networks. Maria Smith, an affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and Harvard Law School, created Dividing Lines to highlight these stark divides, uncover the complex web of political and economic forces behind them, and challenge audiences to imagine a future in which quality internet access is as ubiquitous as electricity.

This is the first part of a series being deployed by organizations and community leaders across the country, from San Francisco to Nashville to Washington, D.C., in an effort to educate stakeholders and catalyze policymaking that elevates the interests of the people over the interests of a handful of corporations.

The fight for rural broadband in Tennessee pits a publicly owned electric utility against Comcast and AT&T and their allies in the state legislature. (5:25)

Say Hello to America’s Least-Taxed Corporation: Charter/Spectrum’s 2017 U.S. Tax Rate Was -883.95%

Phillip Dampier November 8, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

(Source: Wallethub)

When Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge met with President Donald Trump in early 2017, he probably did not realize just how much the Trump Administration was prepared to reward America’s second largest cable company.

After collecting a $98 million dollar compensation package for himself by successfully pulling off acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, Rutledge today presides over America’s least taxed corporation. In fact, the American people owe Charter a significant ‘refund’ after the company achieved a negative overall U.S. tax rate of -883.95%.

WalletHub analyzed annual reports for the S&P 100 — the largest and most established companies on the stock market — in order to determine the federal, state and international tax rates they paid in 2017.

Charter’s tax accountants took full advantage of the Trump Administration’s permanent corporate tax cuts, which lowered corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%. But Republicans who supported the corporate tax cuts left intact most of the generous corporate deductions, offsets, and other credits that ensured few of America’s top corporations ever paid anything close to 35%. As a result, the lowered tax rate combined with what critics call “corporate welfare and giveaways” allow a growing number of companies to not pay a penny in taxes. In fact, many will be in the enviable position of avoiding taxes and still getting an effective ‘refund’ worth billions.

Companies that are required to regularly invest in their businesses and buy equipment, hardware, and other tangibles as part of the cost of doing business are often the most generously rewarded. Tax deductions originally intended to inspire corporate spending during tougher economic times are great news for companies that have significant capital investments. Most of these companies planned on making those investments with or without a tax break, but all are welcome to the idea of using those investments to reduce their effective tax rate to zero. Charter’s acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House came with the understanding both systems needed substantial upgrades — spending Charter is using to offset taxes not just this year, but several years in the future.

The next least-taxed company was Kraft Heinz, which was taxed at -98.7%. Other big winners are AT&T (-98.36%), Comcast (-55.59%), and Verizon (-51.36%). AT&T and Verizon are frequent winners of an effective tax rate of 0.00% because of the substantial deductions available to both as a result of continually upgrading their highly profitable cellular networks.

Source: WalletHub

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  • 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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