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The Downside to Modem Fees: Customers Hold On to Legacy Owned Modems Forever

Arris/Motorola’s SB6121 SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem used to be considered “eXtreme,” but now most cable companies consider it obsolete.

The legacy of the hated modem rental fee is coming back to bite providers that charge $10 a month or more for a device that likely cost the company well under $100.

To opt out of the fee, a growing percentage of customers buy their own equipment, but now many of those modems are becoming functionally obsolete and customers are wary of efforts by providers to convince them to accept a newer, company-supplied modem.

With the arrival of DOCSIS 3.1 and faster speeds, the problem is only getting worse for companies like Comcast, Charter Spectrum, and Cox. With an installed base of hundreds of thousands of obsolete modems, customers frequently can no longer get the internet speed they pay for, and the equipment’s limitations can cause congestion on cable broadband networks, because older modems cannot take advantage of the exponential increase in available “channels” that help share the load on the neighborhood network.

“Some customers have cable modems that are incompatible (such as DOCSIS 2.0 and DOCSIS 3.0 4×4 modems) with the current class of service or internet speed that they’re receiving. As a result, these customers may not be experiencing the full range of available bandwidth that they’re paying for,” Comcast informs their customers. “If a device is no longer supported by Comcast or has reached its end-of-life (EOL), this essentially means that we will no longer install the device, either as a new or replacement device. In addition, we will no longer recommend that customers purchase the device, whether new or used.”

But many Comcast customers do not realize their equipment is effectively obsolete until they visit mydeviceinfo.xfinity.com and sign in to their account or enter a device make and model in the search bar on the homepage or hear directly from the company. Comcast will send online alerts to customers verified to still be using outdated equipment and occasionally send notifications through the mail. Customers can order new equipment online or swap out old equipment in a cable store. Comcast prefers its customers rent its Xfinity xFi Wireless Gateway ($13/mo) or xFi Advanced Gateway ($15/mo). As an incentive, Comcast is testing offering free unlimited data in some central U.S. markets to those choosing its more costly Advanced Gateway.

Charter Spectrum sold its merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks partly on its argument that modem fees would no longer be charged. Despite that, many former Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers still use their own modems, which has been a problem for a company that raised the standard internet speed available to residential customers from 15 Mbps to 100 Mbps (200 Mbps in some markets, mostly those also served by AT&T). Older modems often cannot achieve those speeds. Spectrum notifies affected customers in periodic campaigns, offering to replace their obsolete equipment, but many customers suspect hidden fees may be lurking in such offers and discard them.

“Some modems that were issued years ago have become outdated. If you have a modem that was issued by us and hasn’t been swapped in the last six years, it might need to be replaced,” Spectrum tells customers. “To get a replacement modem, contact us or visit a Spectrum store. Please recycle your old modem or bring it to a Spectrum store for proper disposal. If you do a modem swap with us, you’ll receive a mail return label in your package, which can be used to return your old modem.”

Cox is also in a similar predicament. It runs seasonal checks on its network to identify customers using older DOCSIS modems, often DOCSIS 3.0 4×4 modems, which can only support four download channels. When it finds customers eligible for an upgrade, it mails postcards offering a “free modem upgrade,” usually supplying a SB6183 or SB8200 modem that can arrive in 24-48 hours. But many Cox customers suspect trickery from Cox as well, or run into poorly trained customer service representatives that reject the postcards, claiming the customer is ineligible.

“DOCSIS 3.0 8×4 or higher (or a DOCSIS 3.1) devices are required for all new Cox High Speed Internet customers,” Cox tells their internet customers. “Current Cox customers should ensure they have a minimum of a DOCSIS 3.0 device in order to consistently receive optimal speeds. Additionally, Ultimate customers are required to have a minimum of a DOCSIS 3.0 device with a minimum of 16×4 or higher channel bonding to achieve package speeds.”

In fact, most modem upgrade offers from your provider are likely genuine, but customers need to pay attention to any fine print.

Customers can also purchase their own upgraded modem if they want to avoid Comcast’s Gateway fee. Cox does not charge customers for modems sent as part of a free upgrade offer, but watch for erroneous charges on your bill and report them at once if they do appear. Charter Spectrum has recently introduced a $9.99 modem activation fee, applicable to new customer-owned or company-supplied cable modems. We do not know if that fee would apply in cases of an obsolete modem upgrade. Be sure to ask, and if the answer is no, make a note of the representative’s name in case a dispute arises later on.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s Claims Aren’t Worth the Mug He Drinks From

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai drinking from his oversized mug.

Last fall, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai trumpeted claims that as a result of his successful efforts to rid the United States of net neutrality, the days of reduced investment from the nation’s cable and phone companies were over.

“Since my first day on the job, this agency has been focused on cutting through the regulatory red tape and increasing broadband investment, most importantly in rural America where the digital divide remains all too real,” Pai said in October 2018. “Today’s report confirms that the FCC’s policies to promote broadband deployment are working. After internet service providers reduced new investments in 2015 and 2016 under the prior Administration’s regulatory approach [ie. net neutrality], broadband investment increased in 2017 by $1.5 billion over the previous year. That’s real progress for American consumers, and another step toward better, faster, and cheaper broadband for all Americans.”

Of course, his claims were false last fall. Top executives at the nation’s largest telecom companies have repeatedly admitted that net neutrality had little, if any bearing on their spending plans. Much of the increased spending was, in fact, attributable to:

  • AT&T’s required expansion of its fiber to the home network to meet its obligations from the acquisition of DirecTV.
  • Charter Communications’ committed upgrades as part of its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, including switching off analog video and deploying DOCSIS 3.1.
  • Comcast’s increased spending on DOCSIS 3.1 and pushing fiber optics deeper into its hybrid fiber-coax network.
  • Wireless carrier investment in further 4G LTE deployments and network densification.

In the past six months, many of these companies have signaled investors the days of big spending are over, despite the fact the so-called regulatory shackles of net neutrality and other reform measures have been abolished under the Republican-led FCC.

Today, Comcast delivered the ultimate truth blow to Pai’s worthless promises, showing the lowest investment intensity in years. In fact, Comcast reported a huge 19.4% drop in capital expenditures, while achieving a 40.1% EBITDA margin — a signal the company is earning even bigger profits than ever, while at the same time literally slashing investment. One thing that did not decrease was Comcast’s total free cash flow, which rose to $4.592 billion dollars in the last quarter.

Charter Communications Slashing Investments in Its Cable Systems by $1.9 Billion in 2019

Spending less, charging more in 2019.

Despite repeated claims from some in Washington that eliminating net neutrality would stimulate U.S. telecommunications companies to invest more in their networks, Charter Communications has announced a dramatic $1.9 billion cut in capital expenditures (CapEx) spending on its Spectrum cable systems for 2019.

Charter posted 2018 revenue of $43.6 billion (up 4.9 percent over 2017), with especially healthy returns for its internet service, which grew 7.1%. Charter earned $11.2 billion in revenue, up 5.9% in the fourth quarter of 2018 alone, partly from rate increases, reduced costs, and additional broadband customers.

Republican FCC commissioners have repeatedly argued that deregulating the internet by sweeping away net neutrality would stimulate companies to invest more in their networks. But it now appears the reverse is true. In 2017, Charter spent $8.7 billion on network investments; in 2018 the company spent $9.1 billion. But this year, with net neutrality no longer the law of the land, the cable company is planning to dramatically cut investments in 2019 to just $7 billion. The combined company, which now includes Time Warner Cable (TWC) and Bright House Networks (BH), has never spent this little on capital expenditures. The 2016 merger between Charter and TWC and BH forced a 189.4% spike in spending after the deal was completed, as Charter began a cable system overhaul and upgrade.

Charter is expecting it can distribute more of its revenue to shareholders, share buybacks, and debt payments as a result of the completion of its all-digital conversion project, which eliminated analog television signals from cable systems to make more room for revenue-enhancing internet service. The company also gets to lease more set-top boxes to customers seeking to view digital television signals on older analog TV sets.

Charter also reports it has successfully completed its DOCSIS 3.1 internet upgrade to more than 99% of its cable systems, allowing the introduction of premium-priced gigabit internet speed.

Charter executives signaled investors earlier this month Charter expects to post greater revenue and profits as a result of the spending reductions, but these new-found gains will have no effect on the company’s ongoing plans to continue mildly aggressive rate increases in 2019.

Charter has not disclosed how much it plans to spend on its new mobile business in 2019. The company is marketing its mobile phone service more aggressively this year as it prepares to accept customers bringing existing phones to its cellular service, powered by Charter’s in-home and in-business Wi-Fi and Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network.

Altice Launches Optimum Fiber on Long Island; Gigabit Service $79.99/Month

Phillip Dampier September 11, 2018 Altice USA, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News 2 Comments

Altice USA this week launched symmetrical gigabit broadband over its new fiber-to-the-home network in parts of Long Island.

The cable company, which acquired Cablevision a few years ago, is gradually mothballing its part-copper wire network and going all-fiber across its footprint in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The fiber buildout will allow Altice to increase internet speeds and have more flexibility providing television, broadband, and phone service.

Where the fiber network has been switched on, customers are being offered 940/940 Mbps (near-gigabit) internet-only service at a price of $79.99 a month. Stop the Cap! has confirmed with our readers that parts of Central Islip now have gigabit fiber service available.

“Altice USA is focused on offering the best network and connectivity experience, and the activation of our full-fiber network with smart Wi-Fi, the most advanced of its kind in the nation, demonstrates our commitment to creating converged customer experiences,” said Hakim Boubazine, Altice USA co-president and chief operating officer. “Delivering our symmetrical Altice Gigabit fiber service is just the start as we continue to scale our fiber network to bring our customers up to 10 gigabit internet speeds to support the explosive growth of data usage while laying the groundwork for the future of the connected universe.”

The company is keeping its precise fiber rollout schedule a closely guarded secret, as it competes with Verizon FiOS across much of its service area. Because the fiber upgrade project will take five years to complete, existing customers still served by Optimum’s older HFC network will not have to wait to get speed increases thanks to DOCSIS 3.0. The company is introducing 400 Mbps speeds this year with gigabit service anticipated in early 2019. Altice will not deploy DOCSIS 3.1, preferring fiber to the home service as a better choice.

Comcast Dumps Congestion Management System It Says Was Unused for a Year

Phillip Dampier June 12, 2018 Broadband "Shortage", Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Data Caps, Public Policy & Gov't Comments Off on Comcast Dumps Congestion Management System It Says Was Unused for a Year

Image courtesy: cobalt123Comcast has quietly dropped its internet congestion management system, designed to slow down its heaviest users, claiming it has gone unused for more than a year and was no longer needed.

Originally spotted by readers of DSL Reports, the announcement referenced the system that replaced Comcast’s speed throttle that intentionally degraded peer-to-peer network traffic after Comcast claimed it was unfairly impacting its other customers:

As reflected in a June 11, 2018 update to our XFINITY Internet Broadband Disclosures, the congestion management system that was initially deployed in 2008 has been deactivated. As our network technologies and usage of the network continue to evolve, we reserve the right to implement a new congestion management system if necessary in the performance of reasonable network management and in order to maintain a good broadband Internet access service experience for our customers, and will provide updates here as well as other locations if a new system is implemented.

Comcast’s “protocol-agnostic” network management technology, designed by Sandvine and introduced in 2008, measured customer traffic and singled out heavy users for speed reductions when Comcast’s network was saturated with traffic. Customers were unaware if they were deemed heavy users or if their traffic was targeted for temporary speed reductions. Comcast relied on the technology, along with the introduction of a 250 GB nationwide data cap, to control network traffic and stall the need for expensive node-split upgrades.

Comcast claims the introduction of DOCSIS 3.0 (starting in late 2008) and DOCSIS 3.1 (2017) gradually eliminated the need to maintain the congestion management system, because channel bonding vastly expanded available internet bandwidth. What remains in place in most Comcast service areas is Comcast’s controversial 1 TB usage cap. The company initially claimed its data caps were part of a network traffic management strategy, but more recently the company claims it collects more from heavy users to compensate for its broadband investments.

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