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Charter Urges Streaming Services to Crack Down on Password Sharing

Phillip Dampier September 16, 2019 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 3 Comments

Charter Communications is contemplating tying piracy mitigation to renewed contracts with movie studios, cable networks, and other programmers in an effort to enforce a new authentication standard to stop password sharing on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and CBS All Access.

The cable company is trying to build an alliance that will enforce authentication principles on subscribers that share passwords to streaming services. Walt Disney is the only programmer to sign on thus far, agreeing to Charter’s piracy mitigation strategies for its Disney+ service in return for a renewed contract to distribute Disney programming on Spectrum cable systems.

Thomas Rutledge, Charter’s CEO, has spoken frequently about revenue erosion caused when consumers share their streaming accounts with friends and extended family members. Spectrum enforces geofencing on its subscribers, prohibiting access to certain streamed content outside of the home. Rutledge has not been specific about exactly what types of limitations would be imposed under the new strategy, but examples could include geofencing, periodic location checks, and limits on the number of devices authorized to view content.

“Ultimately our goal is that we can get an alliance of a large enough group of programmers and operators to protect the value of the content that people produce and the content that we distribute and we pay for,” Chris Winfrey, Charter’s chief financial officer, said last week at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2019 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference in Beverly Hills.

Winfrey severely criticized programmers that turn a blind eye to the practice of password sharing, claiming such practices are “insane.”

“To think that it doesn’t impact the way we get paid, it does,” Winfrey said. “And it conditions the entire marketplace to think that content should be devalued, it should be free, and that’s the way it is and I shouldn’t have to pay for it. It’s our firm belief that we’d be growing and growing significantly [if it wasn’t for password sharing].”

Californians Complained More About Telecom Companies Than Wildfire Outages Caused by PG&E

More Californians are complaining to state officials about their cable television, internet, and phone service than the energy utilities implicated in causing deadly wildfires that left customers without power for days or weeks.

California’s Office of Senate Floor Analyses prepared a report for elected officials contemplating extending deregulation of the state’s top telecommunications companies. It found deregulation has not always benefited California consumers, noting that several companies have been fined for allowing traditional phone service to fall below required service quality standards. As service deteriorates, lawmakers have tied the hands of state officials trying to enforce what service standards still exist. The report found that the telecom industry has been especially good at covering itself through lobbying and litigation to isolate and disempower consumers seeking redress.

“Many companies, including telecommunications providers, include arbitration clauses in their contracts that limit a consumer’s ability to form a class with other consumers to seek remedies for unfair business practices related to contracts,” the report notes. “These clauses frequently limit consumers to a specified arbitration process that limits the types of remedies consumers can obtain for unfair business practices.”

Customers with unreliable phone service pursuing complaints on the federal level with the Federal Communications Commission have also been dealt a blow by the Trump Administration and its Republican majority control of the FCC.

“It is unclear what kind of remedies consumers can obtain since the FCC has adopted an order limiting its own ability to establish requirements for these services,” the report found.

Deregulation has not stopped Californians from trying to get help from the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC), however. The CPUC’s Customer Affairs Branch recorded 1,087 complaints about the state’s phone and cable companies in January 2019, compared with 677 complaints against the state’s energy utilities and 53 lodged against water utilities.

The CPUC’s Customer Affairs Branch reported communications-related complaints were significantly higher than other utilities. (Image: California Office of Senate Floor Analyses)

“Despite the occurrence of wildfires in which utility infrastructure was implicated, complaints regarding energy utilities remained largely consistent between November 2018 and January 2019,” the report found. “The data indicates that the communications sector generates a greater number of complaints to the CPUC than other utility sectors on average, and a much greater percentage of those complaints are for customer issues over which the CPUC has no regulatory jurisdiction.”

Earlier this year, California’s largest investor-owned utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), filed for bankruptcy protection after estimating it was liable for more than $30 billion in damages from recent wildfires. An investigation found equipment owned by PG&E was responsible for starting the worst wildfire in California history. The November 2018 Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise. Yet the Customer Affairs Branch received fewer complaints about PG&E than it received regarding AT&T, Charter Spectrum, Frontier, Cox, and Comcast XFINITY.

Unintended consequences of deregulation have also caused several high profile scandals among telecom companies in the state. Some of the worst offenses were committed by cable and phone companies that further traumatized victims of catastrophic wildfires. An effort to implement new consumer protections for fire victims forced to relocate met fierce resistance from cable and telephone industry lobbyists. Some of those same telecom companies continued to bill wildfire victims for months for service at addresses that no longer existed. AT&T even billed customers that died in the fires.

A recent San Francisco Superior Court decision (Gruber v. Yelp) also found another consequence of deregulation. A judge ruled The California Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA) does not apply to calls made or received on “digital” phone lines better known as Voice over IP (VoIP). The judge found that since the CPUC does not regulate VoIP calls, and such calls are not legally defined as a traditional phone call, CIPA cannot apply.

More than six months after devastating wildfires swept across the North Bay in 2017, AT&T was still billing customers that died in that fire. KGO-TV reports. (3:31)

After promising to never again erroneously bill wildfire victims, AT&T did it again to those traumatized by the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and wiped the town of Paradise off the map. KOVR in Sacramento reports on one family pleading with AT&T to stop billing them for landline service at an address that no longer exists. (2:15)

FCC, Wireless Industry Take Aim At C Band Satellite Spectrum for 5G

Phillip Dampier September 9, 2019 Public Policy & Gov't, Video, Wireless Broadband No Comments

A major battle between satellite owners, broadcasters, and the telecom industry has emerged over a proposal to repurpose a portion of C Band satellite spectrum for use by the wireless industry.

Multiple proposals from the wireless and cable industry to raid C Band satellite frequencies for the use of future 5G wireless networks suggest carving up a band that has been used for decades to distribute radio and television programming.

Before the advent of Dish Networks and DirecTV, homeowners placed 6-12′ large rotatable satellite dishes in backyards across rural America to access more than a dozen C Band satellites delivering radio and television programming. Although most consumers have switched to much smaller fixed satellite dishes associated with Dish or DirecTV, broadcasters and cable companies have mostly kept their C Band dishes to reliably receive programming for rebroadcast.

Now the wireless industry is hoping to poach a significant amount of frequencies in the C Band allocation of 3.7-4.2 GHz to use for 5G wireless service. Competing plans vary on exactly how much of the satellite band would be carved out. One plan proposed by Charter Communications and some independent cable companies would take 370 megahertz from the 500 megahertz now used by C Band satellites and sell it off in at least one FCC-managed auction to the wireless industry. A more modest plan by an alliance of satellite owners would give up 200 megahertz of the band, allowing wireless companies to acquire 180 megahertz of spectrum. To reduce the potential of interference, both major plans offer to set aside 20 megahertz to be used as a “guard band” to separate satellite signals from 5G wireless transmissions.

Satellite dish outside of KTVB-TV in Boise, Ida. (Image courtesy: KTVB-TV)

Much like the FCC’s repack of the UHF TV dial, which is forcing many stations to relocate to a much smaller number of available UHF TV channels, most proposals call on the FCC to subsidize dislocated satellite broadcasters and users with some of the auction proceeds to help pay the costs to switch to fiber optic terrestrial distribution instead.

Broadcasters and satellite companies claim the cable industry proposal would leave U.S. satellite users drastically short of the minimum 300 megahertz of satellite spectrum required to provide radio and television stations with network programming. Many rural broadcasters have complained that the cable industry plan calling for a shift to fiber optic distribution ignores the fact that there is no fiber service available in many areas. Other objectors claim fiber outages are much more common than disruptions to satellite signals, putting viewers at risk of a much greater chance of programming disruptions.

With spectrum valued at more than $8 billion at stake, various industry groups are organized into coalitions and alliances to either support or fight the proposals. The Trump Administration has made it known it is putting a high priority on facilitating the development of 5G services to beat the Chinese wireless industry, which is already moving forward on a major deployment of next generation wireless networks. The FCC, with a 3-2 Republican majority, has signaled it is open to reallocating spectrum to wireless carriers for the rollout of 5G service. Unfortunately, much of this spectrum is already in use, setting up battles between incumbent users threatened to be displaced and the wireless industry, which sees big profits from acquiring and deploying more spectrum.

With serious money at stake, strains are emerging among some individual members of the different industry groups. Late last week, Paris-based Eutelsat Communications quit the largest satellite owner coalition, the C-Band Alliance. The move fractured unity among the world’s satellite owners, just as the FCC seems ready to move on a reallocation plan. Eutelsat will now lobby the FCC directly, reportedly because of concerns among shareholders that splitting off significant amounts of C Band spectrum is inevitable and could drastically reduce the value of Eutelsat’s share price. Eutelsat reportedly wants to independently participate in the FCC’s proceeding, potentially securing a larger amount of compensation from the FCC for the spectrum it will give up as part of a final reallocation plan.

Whatever compensation plan emerges will run into the billions of dollars. Satellite dishes will probably require new equipment to shield signals from interference, may require re-pointing to a different satellite (which could prove problematic for some equipment originally installed in the 1980s), and may even require the launch of additional satellites to provide more capacity in the newly slimmed C Band.

The FCC is expected to decide on the reallocation proposals this fall, with a signal repack likely to take between 18-36 months before the frequencies can be cleared for use by wireless operators.

Satellite owners, mobile carriers, and cable operators discuss reallocating part of the satellite C Band for use by 5G wireless networks. Sponsored by the industry-funded Technology Policy Institute. Sept. 3, 2019 (44:10)

Southern California Getting 200 Mbps Standard Internet from Charter Spectrum

Phillip Dampier September 4, 2019 Broadband Speed, Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Video No Comments

Spectrum customers in Southern California are gradually getting a free upgrade to 200 Mbps — twice the usual Standard speed, starting with new customers.

Spectrum has been running commercials in the region promoting the company’s new entry-level internet speed of 200 Mbps, along with a free cable modem and no data caps. The current new customer promotion offers $44.99/mo for internet service for 12 months, or a package of TV and internet for $89.98 a month for 12 months (which does not include equipment fees or the significant Broadcast TV Fee, which will add at least $20 more to the TV side of your bill).

Some current customers in legacy Time Warner Cable areas are successfully getting the speed upgrade by asking customer service to re-provision their cable modem. Others are finding the new speed after briefly unplugging their modem, while others are still waiting for any upgrade at all. It is clear the company is soft-launching the speed upgrade and is taking some time before publicly announcing it to all of their existing broadband customers in the area.

About 45% of Charter Spectrum’s footprint supports 200 Mbps as the entry level internet speed, mostly in AT&T landline service areas in the Midwest. Charter has not said when the rest of their service areas will get the free upgrade, but considering the company is about to raise internet prices, bringing faster speeds soon might make the price hike sting a little less.

Spectrum is running this advertisement in Southern California, promoting 200 Mbps internet service. (0:59)

Spectrum: Go Ahead and Cancel Cable TV, We’ll Make a Fortune Selling You $70 Broadband Instead

Phillip Dampier September 3, 2019 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 15 Comments

Charter Communications has set the stage for a Wall Street-pleasing boost in average revenue per user (ARPU) with a major broadband rate hike planned for this fall.

The rate of U.S. broadband subscriber growth slowed significantly in the second quarter of 2019, as the marketplace for internet access remains saturated and current customers are largely staying with the provider they know.

A MoffettNathanson report to investors shared by Light Reading reported subscriber growth is down from 3% during the first three months of 2019 to 2.8% over the late spring and early summer. In total, cable and phone companies added 438,000 new broadband customers in the second quarter, a significant drop from the 570,000 they added at the same time last year.

The number of new household formations continues to decline in the United States, presumably because younger Americans saddled with student loan debt are having a tougher time buying property or justifying high rent payments. Providers also believe the ongoing shift away from copper telco DSL service to cable broadband has slowed to a trickle, with those still loyal to DSL not concerned about internet speed, are happy with lower cost service, or do not have any other option. Craig Moffett, chief analyst for MoffettNathanson believes much of the growth in cable broadband at this point is coming from customers switching from services like AT&T U-verse, which still offers top speeds of under 30 Mbps in some areas. Other phone companies still relying on fiber-to-the-neighborhood service are likely also seeing customer departures triggered by recent discontinuation of video service. In most areas, cable operators are still the largest beneficiaries of provider changes. Phone companies relying on DSL continue to report broadband subscriber losses. Last year during the second quarter, phone companies lost 127,000 subscribers (a 1.1% decline). This summer, they lost 172,000 subscribers (a 1.3% decline).

With slowing cable broadband growth, companies are still under pressure to report positive quarterly results to shareholders. Without a significant number of new customers, Moffett believes operators will raise broadband prices to deliver higher revenue, especially in light of ongoing video cord-cutting. Moffett points to Charter Communications’ Spectrum in particular. Spectrum has one of the cable industry’s lowest ARPU numbers, because it does not impose cable modem rental fees or usage caps. That may explain the company’s plans to hike general internet pricing 6% starting in October, soon collecting $69.99 for Standard 100 (or 200 Mbps) service and $75.99 a month for customers bundling Standard Internet with Wi-Fi.

“The broadband increases alone would suggest significant upside to Charter ARPU estimates,” Moffett said. He also noted Charter’s plan to dramatically increase video pricing also “underscores their recent pivot towards ‘letting’ video customers leave if they want, and repricing those who remain for profitability.”

That means customers outraged by Spectrum’s cable TV rate hikes will not get much sympathy from customer retention agents. Moffett believes customers will be invited to cancel cable television service, because Charter does not make as much profit on the service as it used to, and customers will probably still keep their Spectrum internet service, which is enormously profitable for the cable operator. Customers will also pay an even higher price for standalone internet service once they stop bundling television service, increasing Charter’s profits even more.

Ironically, the more Spectrum customers drop cable TV packages, the more profit Charter can report to shareholders. Those keeping cable television won’t hurt Charter’s bottom line either. Customers that readily agree to pay more with each cable TV rate hike are statistically the least likely to complain or cancel.

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  • Stacy Wagner: You can add cinemax to your Hulu subscription for $10 which is $2 cheaper than xfinitys add on rate and even if it cost more I would pay it just as a ...
  • Stacy Wagner: This is absolute nonsense. Things like this make it worth the time and effort to figure out which streaming sites I'll need in order to finally cancel...
  • Debbie Lippitt: To bad about Verison as I have lived 2 places now where Verison is the only one that can get you service. All the others fail. I have also been liter...
  • Andy: Well that's cause you're in New York State. Those much higher than average taxes you New Yorkers pay is being used to fund high dollar legal suits aga...
  • Paul Houle: Elliot Management recently wrote an Urkase against the management of AT&T and I don't blame them. AT&T prices DirectTV as if it was a premium...
  • Dyl: (Small type) You must lease their new xFi gateways to receive a Flex box....
  • Roy: As of September 2019, my legacy EDLP in NYC is still $14.99 (no fees no taxes, my own modem/router). This is even after an in-home service call last m...
  • LG: 300Mbps with no bandwidth cap for $50 / month? I'll believe that when I see it. Likely $50 only if you have some grotesque TV package....
  • Phillip Dampier: The problem with all of these kinds of schemes is that they usually irritate legal subscribers, while pirates and password sharing alternatives flouri...
  • Doug: I would imagine they'd tie a MAC Address to a username/password, for starters. They'd also only allow a fixed amount of MAC addresses to be tied to a...
  • Josh: Yikes. All of those “strategies” sound like they would interfere with legitimate users all the time. Only watch stuff at home?!? Gigantic numbers of...
  • Michaela Houston: The CW station JUST NOW got a station black out around 2pm Central time when Judge Mathis JUST started. Now it's taking up "People's Court " time slot...

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