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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.

New Family Friendly Streaming Option: $5.99 for 12 Channels Including Hallmark Networks

Phillip Dampier August 29, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Frndly TV, Online Video 2 Comments

Those looking for a bare bones basic streaming package of family-friendly TV channels may be happy to learn of Frndly TV, a new streaming service offering a dozen networks for as low as $5.99 a month.

Frndly TV offers 12 networks and their corresponding on demand shows available on their respective websites and is viewable on Roku, Roku TVs, Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, Chromecast, or on a mobile device or computer through most major web browsers as well as iOS or Android apps.

Frndly TV includes: Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Hallmark Drama, Game Show Network, PixL, Light TV, Baby First, QVC, The Weather Channel, Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel, and World Fishing Network

Pricing varies depending on what kind of recording capability and number of simultaneous streams you want. The basic plan costs $5.99/mo or $59.99 a year and includes SD-only streaming and a Look Back feature that allows on demand viewing of shows up to 72 hours after airing. If you also want DVR service and 720p HD resolution, Classic package pricing starts at $7.99/mo or $79.99 a year for unlimited storage and 30 day recording availability. For $9.99/mo or $99.99 a year, the Premium plan increases DVR storage time to 90 days and offers up to four concurrent streams.

A 7-day free trial is available through their website.

Charter Spectrum Planning Major Fall Rate Increase: $70 Internet, $94 Cable TV

Phillip Dampier August 26, 2019 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 31 Comments

Charter Spectrum TV customers will pay at least $94 a month for cable television starting this October, thanks to a sweeping rate increase that will hike the cost of TV packages, internet service, equipment, and fees. Internet customers will soon face a base price for internet service of just under $70 a month.

Cord Cutters News quotes an anonymous source that claims the rate increases will begin in October, and will impact just about every plan except phone service.

The most striking increase is the Broadcast TV Fee, charged to recover the costs imposed by local TV channels. After increasing the price by $2 earlier this year to $11.99, Spectrum customers will now be required to pay $13.50 a month — almost $1.50 more. The Broadcast TV Fee alone will soon amount to $162 a year, just to watch TV stations you can receive over the air for free. Just a year ago, the average Spectrum customer paid a Broadcast TV Fee of $8.75 a month.

A Spectrum receiver is considered required by most customers, and starting this fall, it will cost $7.99 a month to lease one (up about $0.50 a month).

Cable TV packages are also getting more expensive:

  • Spectrum TV Select: $72.49 a month (was $64.99 a month)
  • Spectrum TV Silver: $92.49 (was $84.99)
  • Spectrum TV Gold: $112.49 (was $104.99)

Internet customers will not escape Charter’s rate hikes either. The entry-level package — Spectrum Standard Internet (100 or 200 Mbps in some areas), will increase $4 a month to $69.99. If you use Spectrum’s equipment for Wi-Fi service, your price is increasing $5 a month to $75.99.

Although the rate increases are significant, they are not outlandish when compared with the regular internet-only prices charged by other cable providers:

  • Comcast: 150 Mbps (a 1 TB cap applied in most areas) costs $80 plus $13 gateway rental fee = $93/mo
  • Cox:  150 Mbps (a 1 TB cap applies in most areas) is priced at $84 a month plus $11 modem rental fee = $95/mo
  • Mediacom: 100 Mbps (a 1 TB cap applies) costs $95 a month plus $11.50 modem rental fee = $106.50/mo

Note: Gateway/Modem Rental Fee can be waived if you purchase your own equipment. Prices are lower when bundling, and you may get a better deal threatening to cancel or agreeing to a term plan.

One Wall Street analyst, New Street’s Jonathan Chaplin, predicted in 2017 that the cable industry would use its market power to nearly double rates consumers paid just a few years ago, which for most would mean an internet bill of at least $100 a month.

“We have argued that broadband is underpriced, given that pricing has barely increased over the past decade while broadband utility has exploded,” the researcher said in 2017.

Customers should watch their September bills for Charter Spectrum’s official rate increase notification. Customers on promotional or retention plans are exempt from increases except the Broadcast TV Fee and equipment charges until their promotion expires.

Customers that bundle multiple services will pay slightly lower prices as a result of bundling discounts, but the overall price increase will still be noticeable to most customers.

Cord-cutting is likely to accelerate dramatically because of Spectrum’s TV rate hikes, as customers reassess the value of a basic cable television package that is nearing $100 a month.

Rogers Announces “Infinite” Data Plans That Are Finite and Throttle You

Canadians, living under a regime of three national wireless carriers (Bell, Rogers, and Telus) pay some of the highest wireless prices in the world. A new plan announced today from Rogers Communications is unlikely to change that.

“Introducing Rogers Infinite – Unlimited Data plans for Infinite Possibilities,” or so claims Rogers’ website.

Canadians’ initial enthusiasm and excitement for Rogers’ new “unlimited data plans” was quickly tempered by the accompanying fine print that makes it clear the plans may be free of overlimit fees, but very much limit their usability once the data allowance runs out. Customers can pool data with family and friends, but Rogers did not mention exactly how.

Rogers Infinite oddly offers three different price tiers, based on… usage, which is strange for an “unlimited” plan:

  • Infinite +10 offers 10 GB of data at traditional 4G LTE speed, bundled with unlimited calling and texting for $75 a month.
  • Infinite +20 offers 20 GB of data at traditional 4G LTE speed, bundled with unlimited calling and texting for $95 a month.
  • Infinite +50 offers 50 GB of data at traditional 4G LTE speed, bundled with unlimited calling and texting for $125 a month.

Those prices are steep by American standards, but Rogers also incorporates fine print that few carriers south of the border would attempt. First, Mobile Syrup reports included calls and texts must be from a Canadian number to a Canadian number. Extra fees may apply if you contact your friends in America and beyond. The “infinite” runs out when your allowance does. After that, it may take an infinitely long time to use your device because Rogers will throttle upload and download speeds to a maximum of 256 kbps for the rest of the billing cycle. American carriers, in contrast, typically only throttle customers on busy cell towers after exceeding an average of 20-50 GB of usage, although some mandate a throttle based entirely on usage. If customers want more high-speed data, they can purchase a Rogers Speed Pass for $15 and receive an extra 3 GB of high-speed data. In contrast, T-Mobile offers U.S. customers an unlimited line for $60 with no speed throttle until usage exceeds 50 GB a month. That is less than half the cost of Rogers’ Infinite +50 plan for an equal amount of high-speed data.

More fine print:

Rogers Infinite data plans include 10 GB, 20 GB or 50 GB of data at max speed on the Rogers network, extended coverage areas within Canada, and Roam Like Home destinations (see rogers.com/roamlikehome). You will continue to have access to data services with no overage beyond the max speed allotment at a reduced speed of up to 256 kilobits per second (for both upload and download) until the end of your current billing cycle. Applications such as email, web browsing, apps, and audio/video streaming will continue to function at a reduced speed which will likely impact your experience. We will send you a text message notifying you when you have used 90% and 100% of the max speed allotment included in your plan with the option to purchase a Speed Pass to add more max speed data to your plan. In all cases, usage is subject to the Rogers Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policy.

AT&T Warning Tower Owners to Cut Prices or They Will Relocate

AT&T claims it is willing to play hardball to force cell tower owners to reduce the cost of leasing space for AT&T’s wireless services. If tower owners won’t lower their prices, AT&T is threatening to find someone else willing to build a new, cheaper tower nearby.

AT&T is closely coordinating its tower strategy with its biggest competitor, Verizon Wireless. Together, the two companies are looking to force costs down by seeking opportunities with newer tower companies Tillman, CitySwitch, and Uniti Towers that are willing to build new towers next to old ones, while offering “much cheaper” pricing than industry leaders American Tower, Crown Castle, and SBA Communications.

Light Reading notes AT&T would like to pay roughly half the current rent for its wireless infrastructure. But it is running into a roadblock because 65% of American cell towers have no competition within a half-mile radius. Getting zoning approval to construct new towers, especially in suburban and residential areas, can be difficult and costly. But the three upstart tower companies AT&T and Verizon are working with claim they will commit to tower construction when there are signed contracts in hand. AT&T is using this fact to leverage existing companies to lower prices or lose AT&T’s business.

But Wall Street analysts suggest AT&T is bluffing. Research of FCC public records between January 2017 and April 2019 found 1,000 new tower applications, but only 500 had been built. Only 40% of those applications were to build new towers near existing ones. When one considers there are about 110,000 cell towers in the U.S., fewer than 0.5% of cell sites are likely to face competition based on the applications already filed.

The wireless industry prefers to co-locate infrastructure on existing towers, which means Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint could all theoretically be leasing space on the same tower. This was originally both a cost-saving measure and a bow to reality because new tower applications often take years to approve and often face local opposition. Most wireless companies sign 10-year contracts with tower companies, so any organized effort to force competition will probably take years.

AT&T complains it is the victim of a lack of competition and is fed up with the “vicious model” of monopoly tower companies charging excessively high prices and raising fees anytime AT&T changes their contract. Many of their customers can relate.

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