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SiriusXM Hiking Rates Nov. 13; Satellite Radio Monopoly Makes Rate Increases Easy

Phillip Dampier October 24, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, SiriusXM 4 Comments

The satellite and app-based radio service SiriusXM has announced a broad-based rate increase for its customers that will take effect Nov. 13, 2019. Most customers will see a rate hike of $1 per month.

The company made the announcement with little fanfare, announcing the rate changes in private e-mails sent to customers.

Sirius and XM Radio used to be separate, competing satellite radio services. But in the waning days of the George W. Bush Administration, regulators approved a merger between the two entities after a 57-week review process, establishing a satellite radio monopoly.

The Bush Justice Department approved the Sirius and XM Radio merger on March 24, 2008, after being persuaded that satellite radio faced significant competition from traditional AM and FM radio, online streaming services, and the growing use of MP3 players. The FCC under Chairman Kevin Martin followed with a 3-2 approval on a party-line vote favoring the Republican commissioners. Martin said the internet delivered all the competition a combined SiriusXM could handle.

“The merger is in the public interest and will provide consumers with greater flexibility and choices,” Martin said of the merger at the time.

Martin’s predictions turned out to be largely untrue, as the combined company quickly merged into a single satellite radio service, began a series of rate increases, and faced the wrath of state attorneys general for its poor customer service and difficulty processing subscriber cancellations. For years as competing providers, Sirius and XM charged $12.99 a month, with substantial discounts for customers agreeing to multiple-month subscriptions. Lifetime subscriptions were also available. As of November 11th, the most popular subscription options — XM Select will cost $16.99/mo and XM All Access will cost $21.99/mo.

SiriusXM also now charges a range of fees customers may face:

  • Activation Fee: For each radio on your account, SiriusXM may charge a fee to activate, reactivate, upgrade or modify your subscription package.
  • U.S. Music Royalty Fee: Package pricing does not include the U.S. Music Royalty Fee, now 21.4% of the price of most audio packages which include music channels.
  • Invoice Administration Fee: If you request to receive a paper invoice, SiriusXM will charge you an invoice administration fee on each paper invoice rendered, except where prohibited.
  • Late Fee: If payment is not received in a timely manner, a late fee may apply.
  • Returned Payment Fee: If any financial institution or credit card refuses to honor your payment, a fee may be charged.
  • A La Carte Channel Change Fee: If you have an “A La Carte” Package, for each subsequent transaction to change your initial channel selections, you may be charged a fee.
  • Transfer Fee: If you transfer a Subscription from one radio to another you may be charged a transfer fee.
  • Cancellation Fee: Cancellation fees may be applied to Subscriptions activated in combination with a device purchased directly from SiriusXM.

SiriusXM customers can always get a much lower rate by threatening to cancel service. To cancel, call 1-866-635-2349 Monday through Friday 8:00 AM through 10:00 PM, ET, Saturday and Sunday 8:00 AM through 8:00 PM, ET. Tell the representative you are canceling because the service costs too much. You should be offered a retention rate of $30-35 for the next 5-6 months of service or around $60-100 a year (the lower end for Select, the higher end for All-Access). Just set a calendar reminder to repeat the cancellation threat a week or two before your retention rate is scheduled to expire and you can usually get that offer renewed. Note that the Music Royalty Fee will continue to be charged separately. A credit card is often required to get retention pricing, and service will automatically rebill at the prevailing rate after the promotional rate expires.

November 13, 2019 SiriusXM Subscription Rate Change

When will the subscription rates change? 

For packages that are impacted by the rate adjustment, the new subscription rates will be effective November 13, 2019. The new rates will apply to subscription purchases made on and after that date, or renewals of existing subscriptions that are processed on and after that date.

Which packages will be impacted by the rate change on November 13, 2019?

The standard monthly rates for Select, Select Family Friendly, All Access, All Access Family Friendly, Premier, Premier Family Friendly packages will increase. The standard monthly rates for A La Carte, A La Carte + Howard, A La Carte + Sports, A La Carte + Howard + Sports, and A La Carte Gold packages will increase.

The standard monthly rates for additional radios that are eligible for the Family Discount for these same packages will also increase.

By how much will the rates change?

The standard monthly rates for Select, Select Family Friendly, All Access, All Access Family Friendly, Premier, Premier Family Friendly packages, and A La Carte packages for a primary radio will increase by $1 per month. The standard rates for additional radios that are eligible for the Family Discount will also increase by $1 per month.

Which packages or plans are not impacted by the November 13, 2019 rate change?

The standard rate adjustment does not apply to the following packages: SiriusXM Premier Streaming, SiriusXM Essential Streaming, Mostly Music, News, Sports & Talk, Basic, Basic Plus, Español, Español Plus, MiRGE All-in-One, Traffic, and Travel Link, as well as Aviation weather packages.

My current subscription plan does not renew until November 13, 2019 or later. When will I be billed at the new rates?

You will be billed the new rate the next time your plan renews on and after November 13, 2019.

I have a plan for the Lifetime of my radio. Does the rate adjustment on November 13, 2019 impact the Lifetime plan?

No. Lifetime plans are not impacted by the rate adjustment.

Will the rate adjustment affect my trial subscription?

No. Trial subscriptions are not impacted by the rate adjustment.

I’m still on a trial subscription but I’ve already ordered a new subscription that will start when my trial subscription ends. Will you charge me the new rate?

If you have already purchased a Select, Select Family Friendly, All Access, All Access Family Friendly, Premier, Premier Family Friendly, or A La Carte package in a plan that will start when your trial ends (or if you purchase it before November 13, 2019), you will be charged the current rates for your first billing period, even if your trial does not end until after November 13, 2019. Then, whenever your plan bills again, you will be charged the new rates (or the rates in effect at that time) for those packages.

Examples:

If you chose a monthly billing plan to follow your trial, the first month will not be impacted by the adjustment. The new rates will apply to the second and subsequent months of your plan.
If you chose a quarterly billing plan to follow your trial, the first three months of your service will be at the current rates. You will not be billed at the new rate until your plan bills again (after the first three months).

Will the subscription rates for my ‘infotainment’ services from SiriusXM, such as traffic, Travel Link, Aviation, or Marine weather change on November 13, 2019?

The rates for traffic, Travel Link, and Aviation services will not change on November 13, 2019. The rates for Marine packages will change on November 13, 2019.

If I subscribe to one of the packages impacted by the rate adjustment, will you notify me before my subscription rate changes?

Yes, if we have valid contact information on your account, we sent or will send a notification to you by mail or email, before your plan bills or renews. This might be a good time to visit the Online Account Center to make sure your contact information is correct. If you have never before visited your online account, you will need to go through a short registration process before you can access your account.

When will the subscription rates for Marine weather change?

The new subscription rates will be effective November 13, 2019 for packages impacted by the rate adjustment. The new rates will apply to subscription purchases made on and after that date, or renewals of existing subscriptions that are processed on and after that date.

Which Marine weather packages will be impacted by the rate change on November 13, 2019?

The standard monthly subscription rates for all SiriusXM (Inland, Coastal, and Offshore), XM (Skywatch, Fisherman, Sailor, Master Mariner) and Sirius (Inland, Mariner, Charter) will increase.

How much will the rates change?

Effective November 13, 2019:

  • The standard rate for SiriusXM Marine Inland and Sirius Inland subscription packages will increase by $2 per month.
  • The standard rate for SiriusXM Marine Coastal and Offshore, XM Skywatch, Fisherman, and Sailor, and Sirius Marine and Charter subscription packages will increase by $5 per month.
  • The standard rate for XM Marine Master Mariner subscription packages will increase by $10 per month.
  • The standard rate for Sirius Marine Voyager subscription with Select, All Access, and Premier packages will increase by $1 per month.

My current Marine weather subscription plan does not renew until November 13, 2019 or later. When will I be billed at the new rates?

You will be billed the new rate the next time your plan renews on and after November 13, 2019.

Shocking Revelation: Big Telecom Companies Treating You Like Trash Turns Out to Be a Mistake

Jeff Kagan is a name familiar to anyone that follows the cable industry. For over 30 years, Kagan has been tracking consumer perceptions about the telecom industry and offering insight into the challenges these and other businesses were likely to face in the future.More recently, Kagan has been fretting about the growing trend of retail businesses paying more attention to cultivating their relationships with Wall Street while targeting their customers for abuse.

“I have been noticing how in recent years, retail is becoming increasingly unfriendly to the customer. This is a mistake,” Kagan offers in a new opinion piece on Equities.com. “New technologies and new ideas may be good for the bottom line in the short-term. They may solve problems like shoplifting, and that may make investors happy today. However, in the long-term, these customer unfriendly trends will take their toll as customers will shop where they feel appreciated, respected and wanted. Customers shop at stores they love. Love is an emotion. So, we must think of winning the customer with emotion. This is difficult for most businesspeople to understand.”

‘My way or the highway’-type attitudes from retailers come from all sorts of businesses. Warehouse clubs make you pay for the honor of shopping there. Chains like Walmart are beefing up security teams and in some places now demand to see receipts from customers exiting the store. But nobody has abused customers better and longer than the telecom industry. Not even the cattle car-like airlines.

Kagan

After literally decades of almost bragging about their “don’t care” customer service while throwing attitude and intransigence at customers unhappy with service or pricing, the nation’s biggest cable and phone companies are now experiencing long-overdue customer revenge. Kagan notes that cord-cutting is not just about switching to a competitor for service. Many customers are literally thrilled to see the back end of their long hated provider.

Decades of monopoly service made abusing customers a risk-free and very profitable strategy for companies like Comcast, AT&T, Charter, Cox, Mediacom, and Verizon. In fact, someone turned the concept of the “cable guy” into a horror movie. Did you stay home from work to wait for a service call that never materialized? Tough luck. Don’t like yet another rate increase? Too bad.

“The reason they did this was, they had no competition in their market area. That meant the customer could not leave them,” Kagan noted.

After years of getting a bad reputation, only two things threatened to scare telecom companies straight — the fear of imminent regulation, such as what happened in 1992 when reregulation of cable companies turned out to be the only bill that year to be vetoed by President George H. W. Bush and overridden by the U.S. Senate to become law.

The other, much more scary fear is competition. In the mid-1990s, the nation’s biggest phone companies including what we now know as AT&T and Verizon were contemplating getting into the video business. This proved far more threatening than the much smaller home satellite dish business, which attracted around three million Americans at the time. The cable industry spent years taking shots at satellite competitors, including sticking dishowners with the cost of buying a $300 descrambler box up front, and charging as much (or even more) for programming than cable customers paid, despite the fact homeowners had to purchase and service their own dish, often 6-12 feet wide and not cheap to install.

The cable industry feared phone companies would charge ratepayers to subsidize their entry into the television business and sought protective legislation prohibiting the same cross-subsidization the cable industry would later rely on to introduce broadband and phone service.

More recently, after the country reached “peak cable” — the year the highest number of us subscribed to cable TV, the industry recognized it was likely all downhill from there. Comcast, in particular, specialized in empty lip service gestures to improve the customer service experience. For years, it promised to do better, only to do worse. The company even attempted to shed its bad reputation by changing the brand of its products from Comcast to “XFINITY.” Customers were not fooled, but that did not stop Charter from following Comcast’s lead, introducing the “Spectrum” brand to its products and almost burying its corporate name, which it barely references these days.

Kagan notes not following through on the customer service experience made cable companies ripe for stunning customer losses as new competitors for video service emerged. Comcast and Charter are among the biggest losers of cable TV customers, but their bad attitudes persist. Their latest ideas? Keep raising prices, rely on tricky Broadcast TV surcharges that are soaring in cost, end customer retention offers for dissatisfied video customers, and make up the difference in lost revenue by jacking up the price of broadband service, which is already nearly all-profit.

“The bottom line for any business is always focus on the customer. If they are happy, your business will remain strong and growing,” Kagan warned.

At some point, customers will get more choices for broadband service. Community owned broadband solutions have been very successful in communities that have experienced the worst abuse AT&T, Comcast, and Charter can deliver. In the future, fixed 5G wireless may provide perfectly respectable internet service if it is not data capped. Next generation satellite providers, interloping independent fiber to the home providers, and mesh wireless providers may offer consumers a number of options that can deliver suitable service and perhaps finally put cable and phone companies in their place.

U.S. Federal Appeals Court Deals Setback to FCC Push to Deregulate Media Ownership Rules

Phillip Dampier September 24, 2019 Competition, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters No Comments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Communications Commission suffered a setback on Monday in a long-running legal battle when a federal appeals court struck down its latest effort to loosen U.S. media ownership rules.

The Republican-led FCC in 2017 voted to eliminate the 42-year-old ban on cross-ownership of a newspaper and TV station in a major market. It also voted to make it easier for media companies to buy additional TV stations in the same market, and for local stations to jointly sell advertising time and for companies to buy additional radio stations in some markets.

The court in a 2-1 decision Monday told the FCC to take up the issue again, saying the regulator “did not adequately consider the effect its sweeping rule changes will have on ownership of broadcast media by women and racial minorities.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that despite instructions from Congress to review media ownership regulations a majority of federal appeals court judges for 15 years “has taken that authority for themselves, blocking any attempt to modernize these regulations to match the obvious realities of the modern media marketplace.”

Pai added that “there is no evidence or reasoning — newspapers going out of business, broadcast radio struggling, broadcast TV facing stiffer competition than ever — that will persuade them to change their minds.”

The FCC plans to challenge the decision, he added.

Pai

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said “over my objection, the FCC has been busy dismantling the values embedded in its ownership policies.” She said the “court rightly sent the FCC’s handiwork back to the agency because the FCC’s analysis was so ‘insubstantial.’”

Judge Anthony Scirica, who dissented from the opinion, said “Rapid technological change had left the framework regulating media ownership ill-suited to the marketplace’s needs. The public interest analysis at the heart of the FCC’s ownership rules is as dynamic as the media landscape.”

Big media companies including Tegna Inc, CBS Corp and Nexstar Media Group Inc cited the 2017 rule change as motivation for considering expansion opportunities.

The FCC is weighing other changes to U.S. media ownership rules. In December, it sought comments on a rule that bars one company from owning two TV stations in the same market except under certain circumstances. The FCC asked if those rules continue “to serve the public interest and remains necessary.”

The FCC is also considering if existing rules that limit the number of local radio stations in a single market should be rescinded, asking if the rule “remains necessary to promote competition, localism, or viewpoint diversity.”

Free Press, an advocacy, group, said the ruling “marks the fourth time this court has rejected the relentless attempts from the FCC and the broadcast industry to weaken media-ownership limits.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown

Justice Dept. Ready to Approve T-Mobile/Sprint Merger

The Justice Department has helped engineer an approvable merger deal between T-Mobile and Sprint that will get antitrust regulators’ blessings as early as tomorrow, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The sticking point that held up merger approval for weeks was the divestiture of certain wireless assets to Dish Network, which claims it will temporarily use Sprint and T-Mobile’s wireless networks to offer a new nationwide “fourth option” for cell phone service. Dish’s new cell phone service will come from a $1.4 billion acquisition of prepaid carrier Boost Mobile, which currently relies on reselling Sprint’s 4G network. Dish would inherit Boost’s nine million customers. Dish will also be able to lease access to T-Mobile and Sprint’s existing wireless networks for up to seven years while it builds out its own network of cell towers. The deal also includes a guarantee that Dish can pay $3.6 billion to acquire 800 MHz wireless licenses held by Sprint.

The Justice Department claims that lower frequency spectrum will allow Dish to service rural communities, assuming Dish is willing to invest in cell tower construction in high cost, low return areas.

Regulators in the Trump Administration’s Justice Department claim shaving assets from a super-sized T-Mobile will preserve the competition that will be lost when Sprint becomes a part of T-Mobile. But Dish will emerge as a miniscule player with only a fraction of the 100+ million customers that AT&T and Verizon have, and at least 80 million customers signed with T-Mobile. One of the core arguments T-Mobile and Sprint made in favor of their merger was that each was too small to afford to deploy 5G service quickly and efficiently. Dish will have even less money to build out a basic 4G wireless network.

Another merger requirement for the combined T-Mobile and Sprint will be mandatory support for eSIM, which allows consumers to change wireless carriers quickly without investing in a physical SIM card. But that requirement will not impact AT&T or Verizon Wireless, which both continue to push physical SIM cards on the much larger customer bases.

If the Justice Department does publicly approve the merger, the last hurdle the wireless companies will have to overcome is a multi-state lawsuit filed by attorneys general that argue the merger will impact low-income customers and is anti competitive. That court case is unlikely to be heard until late fall at the earliest.

CNBC’s David Faber reports that T-Mobile and Sprint have settled with the Department of Justice to go through with their merger deal. (6:14)

What’s Eating Your Comcast Data Cap?

Comcast has put its proverbial finger to the wind to define an “appropriate” data cap it declares “generous,” regardless of how subjectively random that cap happens to be. Although 1,000 GB — a terabyte — usage allowance represents a lot of internet traffic, more and more customers are finding they are flirting with exceeding that cap, and Comcast has never been proactive about regularly adjusting it to reflect the reality of rapidly growing internet traffic. That means customers must protect themselves by checking their usage and take steps if they are nearing the 1 TB limit.

If you do exceed your allowance, Comcast will provide two “grace periods” that will protect you from overlimit fees, currently $10 for each extra 50 GB allotment of data you use. Another alternative Comcast will happily sell you is an insurance policy to prevent any risk of overlimit fees. For an extra $50 a month, they will take the cap off your internet plan allowing unlimited usage. But $50 a month is close to paying for your internet service twice and is indefensible considering how little Comcast pays for its customers’ internet traffic. It is just one more way Comcast can pick up extra revenue without doing much of anything.

Customers that do regularly break through the 1 TB data cap often have a guilt complex, believing they have no right to complain about data caps and should pay more because they must cost Comcast a lot more money to service. In fact, Time Warner Cable executives broadly considered internet traffic expenses as little more than a “rounding error” to their bottom line, according to internal emails obtained by the New York Attorney General’s office. Managing customers’ data usage is far less costly than network plant upkeep, the regularly increasing costs of video content, and expenses related to expanding service to new locations.

One VentureBeat reader investigated what chewed through Comcast’s data allowance the most, and it wasn’t easy:

Xfinity pretends to make this easier for you, but that’s a load of horsesh*t. Its X-Fi app claims to give you usage stats for your connected devices — only nothing appears up-to-date. The phone I was using to look at the X-Fi app doesn’t even appear on the connected-devices list. You also have to look at each device individually. I saw no way to sort a list of devices by data usage, which would obviously help a lot.

Some of the biggest data users are connected households, where multiple family members use a range of devices, often at the same time. Customers with multiple internet-connected computers, video game consoles, and streaming devices are most at risk of exceeding their cap.

Video Games Consoles/PCs

The biggest data consumption does not come from gameplay itself. It comes from frequent software updates, some exceeding 50 GB. If you play a number of games, updates can come frequently. In the case of the VentureBeat author, 17% of daily usage came from the home’s primary desktop PC. Another 12% was traced to the family’s Xbox One. An in-home media server that also runs Steam and auto-updates frequently was also suspect.

Streaming Devices

If you are not into video games and do not depend on cloud storage or large file transfers to move data back and forth, streaming set-top boxes and devices are almost certainly going to be the primary source of your biggest monthly data usage. Video resolution can make a difference in how much data is consumed. If you are regularly approaching or exceeding your monthly cap, consider locking down maximum video resolution for streaming on large televisions to 720p, and 480p for smartphones. Some streaming services offer customized resolution options in their settings menu.

Autoplay, also known as the ‘binge’ option can also consume a lot of video when a service automatically starts playback of the next episode in a series. Some people switch off their televisions without stopping video playback, which can mean you watched one episode but actually streamed six or more. Check the streaming software for an option to not autoplay videos.

Remember that cable TV replacements like DirecTV Now and YouTube TV will continue streaming live broadcasts until you stop them. Do not just switch off the television. Many live/linear TV apps will prompt you every few hours if you have not changed channels to make sure there is someone still watching. If you do not respond, streaming will stop automatically.

Cloud Storage Backups

When customers report staggering data usage during a month, cloud storage backup software is often the culprit. If you are new to cloud storage backup services like Dropbox or Carbonite, your PC may be uploading a significant part of your hard drive to create a full backup of your computer. This alone can consume terabytes of data. Fortunately, most backup services throttle uploads and do not automatically assume you need to backup your entire hard drive. Many offer options to limit upload speed, the total amount of data that can be uploaded each month, and options to selectively backup certain files and folders. 

Your Wi-Fi Network is Insecure

In areas where data caps are pervasive, those who want to use a lot more data and do not want to pay for it may quietly hop on your home Wi-Fi network and effectively bill that usage to you. This is most common in large multi-dwelling units where lots of neighbors are within range of your home Wi-Fi. The best way to reduce the risk of a Wi-Fi intrusion is to create a password that is exceptionally difficult to guess, using a mixture of special characters (!, ^, %, etc.) and mixed case random letters and numbers. Although this can be inconvenient for guests, it will probably keep intruders out and prevent them from running up your bill.

It is unfortunate customers have to jump through these kinds of hoops and compromise their online experience. But where cable and phone companies lack competition, they can charge a small fortune for internet access and still feel it is appropriate to cap usage and ask for even more money when customers “use too much.”

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