Home » time warner cable » Recent Articles:

New York PSC Approves Settlement Deal With Charter Communications

The New York Public Service Commission on Thursday approved its final settlement proposal with Charter Communications in a 3-1 vote, allowing Spectrum to continue as the dominant cable operator in New York State.

The Commission rejected all recommended changes from consumer groups (including Stop the Cap!), industry trade associations, and service providers, preferring its own Settlement Agreement.

In July 2018, the PSC voted to rescind approval of the 2016 Merger Order that allowed Charter to assume control of Time Warner Cable franchise areas in New York. The Commission found that Charter had violated a key merger condition requiring the cable operator to expand its service area on a timely basis to reach 145,000 rural homes and businesses that lack broadband service. The Commission found Charter was attempting to count newly constructed condos and multi-dwelling units in the New York City area towards that commitment, which the Commission claimed violated the terms of the agreement. After Charter argued it had the legal standing to define its network buildout more broadly and on its own terms, the Commission held an emergency meeting where it took the unprecedented step of voting to de-certify the merger and throw the cable company out of New York.

The Commission and Charter’s lawyers began private negotiations almost immediately after the vote, signaling the Commission was amenable to settlement talks.

The final settlement approved last week, nearly one year after the vote, narrowly focuses on Charter’s rural broadband commitment, reaffirms and expands it with a new $12 million rural broadband fund paid for by Charter. The cable company also agreed to stop counting addresses in the New York City area towards it broadband expansion commitment, and will deposit a $2,800 payment to escrow for each address where Charter misses its target construction deadline.

“We’re pleased the PSC has approved the agreement, and we look forward to continuing to serve our customers and expanding the availability of high-speed broadband in New York State,” Andrew Russell, Charter spokesman told the (Albany) Times-Union. “We thank the PSC, Chairman Rhodes, the commissioners and staff for working with us throughout this process.”

The settlement details:

  • Charter will complete the expansion of its existing network to pass 145,000 addresses entirely in Upstate New York. This expansion will not include New York City addresses, which the company had previously planned to include in an earlier buildout plan. To date, Charter has passed approximately 65,000 of the required 145,000 addresses. To comply with the settlement, the Department estimates that the company will invest more than $600 million, more than double the public benefit value estimated by the Commission in its 2016 merger approval.
  • Charter’s expansion will be completed by September 30, 2021, in accordance with a schedule providing frequent interim enforceable milestone requirements, with corresponding reporting and accountability.
  • Charter will also pay $12 million for additional broadband expansion projects at locations to be selected by the Department of Public Service and the New York State Broadband Program Office. Of the $12 million payments, $6 million will be administered by the New York State Broadband Program Office and $6 million will be paid into an escrow fund for work that will be completed by Charter at the State’s direction.

In Rochester, Stop the Cap! was disappointed to learn the PSC had rejected recommendations on improving the settlement.

“We feel all New Yorkers have paid a price for this bad merger, including skyrocketing cable bills and a yet to be determined number of rural residents that will fall through the cracks and end up serviced by no one,” said Phillip Dampier, the group’s founder and president. “We applaud the PSC requiring Charter to serve additional rural households, but every customer should get better service from Charter, including the 200 Mbps download speed that customers in many other states receive, and there must be a better solution for low-income residents that don’t qualify for Spectrum’s restrictive Internet Assist program and cannot afford $65 a month for internet access.”

Stop the Cap! today also filed a clarification request with the PSC about Charter’s internet speed commitment.

“There seems to be confusion about exactly what internet speed Spectrum should be offering its New York customers,” Dampier added. “The PSC seems to imply Charter has not yet met its obligation to increase internet speed to 300 Mbps by the end of 2019, while Charter considers the fact it offers gigabit service as evidence it has completed all of its speed obligations to New York State regulators. We want the PSC to clarify if it still expects Charter to offer 300 Mbps as a base speed to customers by the end of this year or whether the mere availability of speeds at or above 300 Mbps (which Time Warner Cable was already offering a significant part of New York a year before the Charter merger) has satisfied this merger condition.”

Stop the Cap’s Comments on the Proposed Settlement Between Charter Spectrum and NY PSC

July 8, 2019

Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess
Secretary to the Commission
New York State Public Service Commission
Three Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12223-1350

Re: 15-01446/15-M-0388 Joint Petition of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable for Approval of a Transfer of Control of Subsidiaries and Franchises, Pro Forma Reorganization, and Certain Financing Arrangements – Settlement Proposal

Dear Secretary Burgess,

Stop the Cap!, a party in this proceeding that has regularly contributed to the record since the original application by Charter Communications to transfer control of cable systems formerly owned and operated by Time Warner Cable, is pleased to provide our comments regarding the April 19, 2019 proposed settlement between the Department of Public Service/Public Service Commission and Charter Communications, Inc.

Our organization and our members remain actively interested and engaged on this transaction and the impact it has had on consumers and businesses in New York State. We believe that all New Yorkers were harmed as a result of Charter’s lack of compliance with the 2016 Merger Order.

Stop the Cap! believes the existing settlement proposal lacks adequate compensation for the millions of New Yorkers that are now paying higher prices for internet service, receiving compromised service in the New York City area due to an ongoing, unsettled strike action, rural residents still waiting for Charter to meet its commitments to expand its network, and those low income New Yorkers that have been disadvantaged by the difficulty of obtaining affordable internet service. At the time of this submission, nearly half of Charter’s national footprint provides twice the internet speed New Yorkers now receive, making a mockery of the claim that Spectrum provides best-in-class service in this state.

Therefore, we believe the current settlement proposal as offered is insufficient and does not provide adequate compensation to New York consumers and businesses.

Cost Concerns and Charter’s Impact on New York’s Digital Divide

Stop the Cap! objected to the 2016 merger because of our fears it would result in higher prices for internet service for consumers in New York, exacerbating the digital divide. We believe there is now strong evidence to back our concerns.

Since the DPS/PSC issued the original 2016 Merger Order, New Yorkers now pay substantially more for internet service than was the case with Time Warner Cable. Although Charter has significantly raised broadband speeds in New York State, it has also reduced the number of budget-priced options ordinary customers have for broadband service.

In 2016, prior to the Merger Order, Time Warner Cable charged customers as follows (rates applicable to customers in Rochester, N.Y.)[1]:

  • Everyday Low Price Internet ($14.99)
  • Basic Internet ($49.99)
  • Standard Internet ($59.99)
  • Turbo ($69.99)
  • Extreme ($79.99)
  • Ultimate ($109.99)

In 2019, Spectrum offers faster speeds than Time Warner Cable, but at a higher cost[2]:

  • Spectrum Internet ($65.99)
  • Spectrum Ultra ($90.99)
  • Spectrum Gig ($125.99)

The broadband options for low-income New Yorkers have been drastically reduced by Spectrum. Faster speed is of little concern to low income residents that cannot afford the service. New Yorkers saw their cable bills rise as a direct result of this merger, as we predicted. The minimum cost for standalone broadband service from Spectrum for the majority of consumers is now $65.99 a month, and the company has become far more reticent about negotiating customer retention deals that discount the cost of service than its predecessor Time Warner Cable. In fact, Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge made a point of promising to end the “Turkish bazaar” of pricing promotions at Time Warner Cable after the merger[3]. Customers are now subjected to “take it or leave it” pricing[4].

Spectrum’s concern for low income customers in New York is dubious. Stop the Cap! recommended, and the PSC adopted a condition in the 2016 Merger Order temporarily extending the availability of Time Warner Cable’s $14.99 “Everyday Low Price Internet” (ELP) tier of service, available on a standalone basis to any consumer without pre-qualification. However, after Spectrum announced its own plans and pricing, the company never significantly marketed the option of ELP service to its New York customers. In fact, while the company heavily promoted its own conditional Spectrum Internet Assist (SIA) package, consumers informed us they could not subscribe to ELP in New York because Charter customer service representatives misinformed them the service was no longer available, or they confused it with SIA and told them they were not qualified for discounted internet service. It is our testimony that only the most persistent and well-informed customers were likely to successfully sign up for the ELP program, often requiring multiple attempts to do so[5].

The differences between ELP and SIA are stark. ELP required no pre-qualification and customers could keep the package as long as they liked. SIA is limited to customers that qualify for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Community Eligibility Provision of the NSLP, or seniors 65 and over that qualify for Supplemental Security Income[6]. Customers must re-qualify at set intervals to continue eligibility, leaving out low income households without school-age children or seniors on limited incomes but lack SSI eligibility. More importantly, Charter protects its revenue stream by denying eligibility to all customers with pre-existing Spectrum internet service. To qualify, a customer would have to disconnect internet service for at least 30 days, have no outstanding debt with Charter within one year prior to applying for service, and once an SIA customer be sure not to have any outstanding debt with Charter subject to Charter’s “ordinary debt collection procedures.”[7] ELP service, in contrast, was available as an option at any time, to anyone.

Charter’s Speed Gap

New York residents do not uniformly benefit from the best in class service available from Charter Communications. Nearly half of Charter’s footprint outside of New York now offers customers entry-level download speeds of 200 Mbps at the same price most New Yorkers pay for 100 Mbps[8].

Failure to Comply With Rural Broadband Buildout Obligations

The PSC’s decision to rescind approval of the 2016 Merger Order between Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications was done after substantial evidence showed Charter had failed to meet the important obligations to rural New Yorkers required of it to make the merger meet the public interest test.

These failures were systemic and have compromised our rural economies by delaying much-needed internet access. It is for this reason that much of the settlement must be focused on correcting these deficiencies and, as a penalty for underperformance, broaden the number of required passings to deliver service to an even greater number of residents and businesses.

We welcome the settlement proposal to target penalties to help fund further broadband expansion. After years of talking to rural New York residents, it is clear New York’s rural broadband problem will continue after the conclusion of the state’s own broadband expansion program. We have heard from New Yorkers that are deeply concerned because the providers originally designated to serve their rural addresses have now refused to offer service or wrongly claim it will be made available by another provider. There is significant confusion and we fear many rural addresses are likely to “fall through the cracks” and end up serviced by no one.

Therefore, guaranteeing that rural New Yorkers have access to 21st century broadband service should be of the highest priority.

More than 78,000 New Yorkers have been assigned inferior internet access through HughesNet, a satellite internet provider[9]. HughesNet will allow those New Yorkers designated for satellite service through the Broadband Program Office (BPO) to use up to 100 GB of data per month before throttling service speeds to 1-3 Mbps for the balance of the billing period[10]. HughesNet also cannot guarantee to meet the FCC’s minimum speed definition of 25 Mbps and more importantly, provides an inadequate usage allowance[11].

Spectrum does not cap data usage or utilize speed throttles, while HughesNet severely throttles internet speeds of customers exceeding a data allowance we consider paltry. Recent research reports the average U.S. household now consumes 282.1 GB per month in areas where flat-rate internet service is offered. This leaves addresses designated for satellite service at a significant disadvantage[12].

The BPO has indicated that addresses assigned to the HughesNet program came as a result of a lack of suitable bids to service those addresses with traditional wireline service. There is clear evidence that providers are dissuaded from serving these high cost areas as a result of a lack of return on investment. Therefore, incentivizing Charter Communications to consider servicing as many of these addresses as practical is in the best interests of New Yorkers.

It is our view that cable broadband service is far superior to many current wireless, satellite, and copper-based DSL services, and we believe that technological capability should be a factor in considering whether to credit Charter for an overlapping new passing. We strongly recommend that Charter be encouraged in every way possible to extend service to as many customers currently designated for satellite internet service as possible. Although the proposed settlement does not punish Charter for extending service into these areas, it is reasonable to assume that the company would not otherwise extend service to these locations without receiving some direct or indirect financial benefit or subsidy. Therefore, we argue that Charter should be credited for any and all new passings in satellite-designated areas, without limit. However, we also believe the 30,000 minimum passing requirement is too low, as is the allowed designation of “substantial compliance” after passing 28,500 homes.

The exceptional amount of confidentiality surrounding Plans of Record among the different providers, including Charter, is not in the public interest and prevents impacted New Yorkers from fully participating in this important process. Since these areas have been historically underserved or unserved, there is little, if any, competitive risk by divulging the Plans of Record publicly. Charter’s rural buildout plans and progress reports should be publicly available. As it stands today, we remain unclear about how many already-passed or planned-to-be-passed homes are a part of the 30,000 the Commission proposes to count. Having that information is crucial to offering informed views about the proposed settlement.

With respect to wireline service overlap, we believe that consumers should benefit from the best possible service provider. We recognize that with limited funds available, duplicative service should be avoided. However, if Charter overlaps with another provider, and if the broadband speed Spectrum offers is superior to what is available from the incumbent wireline provider, it should receive credit for that passing even if in excess of 9,400 addresses, so long as that area is designated as rural and underserved.

Incremental Build Commitment

Stop the Cap! strongly approves of the settlement recommendation to establish a fund for supplementary broadband expansion beyond the original commitments defined in the 2016 Merger Order.

However, we offer some recommendations that we believe will make the fund’s purpose more practical to address the real-life experiences rural New Yorkers encounter when requesting that Charter extend service to a presently unserved address.

Charter Communications, like all cable companies, has a confidential formula to determine a reasonable return on investment when considering whether or not to expand service to a currently unserved address. Cable operators designate an amount the company is willing to pay out of pocket to cover construction/expansion costs. That number is often different for residential and commercial subscribers.

The proposed ceiling of $10,000 is very low in our opinion. Rural New York residents seeking Spectrum cable service are frequently quoted prices far in excess of this amount to extend service from a nearby served location. We believe this ceiling should be at least doubled to $20,000 and should be separate from the amount of money Charter routinely self-funds for qualified buildouts. For example, if Charter is traditionally willing to self-fund up to $2,500 of the cost of supplying service to a new residential or commercial customer, a project budget up to $22,500 would be acceptable to proceed, with $2,500 in funds coming from Charter and the remaining $20,000 coming from the Incremental Build Account.

We also recommend that any address rejected for consideration for service expansion for cost reasons be formally notified and offered an opportunity to participate in the process and permitted to optionally finance any cost in excess of the ceiling amount. The current proposal lacks any provision for the participation of residents and businesses in this process. At least some might choose to voluntarily participate in a cost-sharing opportunity to extend cable broadband service to their address.

Impact of Ongoing Strike in the New York City Area

For more than two years, at least 1,500 Spectrum employees affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 have been on strike in the New York City area. As a result, Spectrum customers have been subjected to a declining level of service as highly-qualified technicians remain off the job[13]. Charter Communications’ merger with Time Warner Cable was only approved in New York if it met a public interest test, and there is significant evidence New York City customers are not getting the level of service they would otherwise receive if there was no strike action[14].

As a result, the PSC should carefully study the impact of the strike on New York City customers and find any means available to compel a fair settlement and end this historically long labor dispute. Customers are caught in the middle, and there is evidence Charter may not be employing an entirely local workforce to service its customers in the New York City area. This strike would likely have not occurred had Time Warner Cable still been the incumbent cable provider.

Stop the Cap!’s Recommendations for a Revised Settlement Between Charter Communications and the Department of Public Service/Public Service Commission

  1. In recognition of the fact Charter has exacerbated the digital divide by pricing internet service higher than its predecessor, Charter must agree to further extend the availability of its Everyday Low Price Internet ($14.99/month) service to new customers for an additional five year period, reset existing New York customer pricing for this package to $14.99 for the same period, and publish a regular notice in bill statements about the availability of this tier, including the fact it is available to all customers on a standalone basis.
  2. In recognition of the fact Charter places unreasonable restrictions on qualifying for its Spectrum Internet Assist program, the settlement agreement should require that for the next five years Charter remove the restriction preventing New York customers from enrolling in the SIA program if they already have Spectrum internet service.
  3. In recognition of the fact Charter is not supplying all New York residents with best-in-class service, Charter must immediately boost the download speed of its basic Spectrum Internet package from the current 100 Mbps to 200 Mbps in all service areas in New York State, which matches the speed offered in nearly half of its national footprint. For a period of not less than five years, Charter must agree to provide New York State customers with access to any other speed improvements or upgrades as soon as they become available in any other state serviced by Charter.
  4. In recognition of the fact Charter has failed to meet its obligations to expand service to rural New York locations, the Commission should move forward with the revised buildout plan that includes additional new passings beyond what was specified in the 2016 Merger Order, and establish the proposed Incremental Build requirement and associated Spectrum-funded Build Account of not less than $6 million.
  5. In recognition of the fact New York addresses designated to receive HughesNet satellite internet service will be at a substantial disadvantage because of slower internet speeds and a usage allowance of 100 GB, well below the national data consumption average, the DPS/PSC do everything possible to compel and/or encourage Charter Communications to extend its service to overlap satellite-designated areas and receive credit towards its buildout requirement for doing so.
  6. In recognition of the fact some wireline providers offer superior internet service over others, any formula counting the number of homes provided overlapping wireline internet coverage from Spectrum and an existing incumbent wireline provider should consider the capabilities of both providers. If Spectrum offers superior internet speeds, it should be counted as a new passing. If the incumbent matches or exceeds Spectrum’s available speeds, Spectrum’s new overlapped passing should not be counted.
  7. In recognition of the fact that rural consumers and businesses have been left in the dark about the status of their designated internet provider, Plans of Record from Charter Communications under this settlement, as well as other BPO-fund recipients should be made public, including the name and contact information of the designated provider and estimated date of service availability.
  8. In recognition of the fact cable companies designate a maximum amount they are willing to pay out of pocket to establish service at a new address/location, that amount should continue to be paid out of pocket by Charter, with additional expenses above that amount, up to $20,000, covered by the Incremental Build Account if designated as an incremental buildout project. Any address considered for a new passing must be notified in advance if the proposal would otherwise be rejected because the estimated cost to extend service is beyond the $20,000 ceiling and the amount Charter would typically pay out of pocket. That resident or business would then be offered the opportunity to optionally pay the specified excess amount within a reasonable period of time to allow the project to move forward.
  9. In recognition of the fact that Charter technicians and employees in the New York City area have been on strike for over two years, potentially impacting the quality of service Spectrum customers receive in the area, the DPS/PSC should study the impact of the strike on service quality and do all it can to encourage Charter to settle the strike at the earliest opportunity.

We appreciate the Commission and its staff’s hard work on this matter, and hope you will seriously consider our input and ideas, demonstrating once again that the New York Public Service Commission takes its obligations to the citizens of New York seriously.

Very truly yours,

Phillip M. Dampier

President and Founder

Stop the Cap!

 

[1] http://stopthecap.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/twc-2016-rate-card-rochester.jpg

[2] http://stopthecap.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Charter-Spectrum-2019-Rate-Card-Information.pdf

[3] https://www.fiercevideo.com/cable/charter-s-rutledge-pre-merger-twc-offered-a-turkish-bazaar-promo-offers

[4] https://www.syracuse.com/news/2017/05/thousands_of_time_warner_cable_video_customers_flee_spectrums_higher_prices.html

[5] https://www.reddit.com/r/Spectrum/comments/ab02cu/spectrum_deceiving_customers_about_everyday_low/

[6] https://www.spectrum.com/browse/content/spectrum-internet-assist.html

[7] https://www.spectrum.com/browse/content/spectrum-internet-assist.html

[8] https://newsroom.charter.com/news-views/2018-twas-the-year-of-gig-50-million-locations-and-counting/

[9] https://nysbroadband.ny.gov/new-ny-broadband-program/phase-3-awards

[10] https://www.hughesnet.com/node/102201

[11] http://legal.hughesnet.com/SubAgree-03-16-17.cfm

[12] https://www.telecompetitor.com/report-u-s-household-broadband-data-consumption-hit-268-7-gigabytes-in-2018/

[13] http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2017/aug/10/spectrum-strike-affects-us-all/

[14] https://www.pressconnects.com/story/money/2018/08/08/charter-spectrum-cable-new-york-consumers/898780002/

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.

Take It Or Leave It Pricing: No, You May Not Have a Better Deal!

GIVE us more money and TAKE what we offer you.

Bloomberg News is reporting what many of you already know — it is getting tougher to get a better deal from your cable or phone company.

As Stop the Cap! has documented since the completion of the Time Warner Cable/Bright House/Charter Spectrum merger in 2016, companies are pulling back on promotions, taking advantage of a lack of competition and offering best pricing only to new customers.

Charter Spectrum and Cable One (soon to be Sparklight) are the most notorious for implementing “take it or leave it” pricing. In fact, one of Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge’s chief complaints about Time Warner Cable was its “Turkish Bazaar” mentality about pricing. Rutledge claimed Time Warner Cable had as many as 90,000 different promotions running at the same time, typically targeted on what other companies were theoretically providing service and how serious the representative felt you were about canceling service. Time Warner Cable had basic retention plans available for regular representatives to offer, better plans for retention specialists to pitch, and the best plans of all to customers complaining on the “executive customer service” line or after filing complaints with the Better Business Bureau. There were plans for complaining over the phone and different plans for complaining at the cable store. Rutledge was horrified, because customers were now well-trained on how to extract a better deal every year when promotions ran out.

Last month, Rutledge said he was indifferent about cash-strapped consumers that cannot afford a runaway cable TV bill on a retired/fixed income or the urban poor who can’t imagine paying $65 a month for basic broadband service. To those customers, pointing to the exit is now perfectly acceptable. In fact, companies make more profit than ever when you drop cable television service and upgrade your broadband connection to a faster speed. That is because there is up to a 90% margin on internet service — provisioned over a network paid off decades ago and designed for much less space efficient analog television. Charging you $20 more for faster internet service is nearly 100% profit and costs most companies next to nothing to offer, and Time Warner Cable executives once laughed off the financial impact of so-called “heavy users,” calling data transport costs mere “rounding errors.” 

Even with a much tougher attitude about discounting service, Charter and Comcast are still adding new broadband customers every month, usually at the expense of phone companies still peddling DSL. So if you cancel, there are probably two new customers ready to replace you, at least for now.

Cable One redefines rapacious pricing. The company specializes in markets where the incumbent phone company is likely to offer low-speed DSL, if anything at all. As a result, they have a comfortable monopoly in many areas and price their service accordingly. Cable One’s basic 200 Mbps plan, with a 600 GB data cap, costs $65 a month, not including the $10.50/mo modem fee, and $2.75 monthly internet service surcharge. To ditch the cap, you will pay another $40 a month — $118.25 total for unlimited internet.

In fact, Cable One charges so much money for internet, they even have Wall Street concerned they are overcharging!

When Joshua May tried calling Spectrum to deal with the 29% more it wanted (around $40 a month) after his promotion expired, the customer service representative told him to go pound salt.

“I expected they’d at least offer free HBO or Showtime,” May, 34, of Springfield, Ohio, told Bloomberg News. “They did nothing.”

He did something. He cut the cord. The representative could have cared less.

The product mix cable and phone companies offer has not really changed, but the era of shoving a triple play bundle of internet, TV, and phone service sure has. Charter and Comcast now treat cable television as a nice extra, not the start of a bundle offer. Broadband is the key item, and the most profitable element, of today’s cable package. Beleaguered phone service gets no respect either. Time Warner Cable used to sell its triple play bundle including a phone line for less money than their double play bundle that omitted it. Today, it’s a simple $9.99/mo extra, given as much attention as a menu offering premium movie channels.

Comcast differs from Charter by offering a plethora of options to their customers. If you don’t want to spend a lot for high speed internet, spend a little less for low speed internet. Their television packages also vary in price and channel selection, often maddeningly including a “must-have” channel in a higher-priced package. Like Spectrum, their phone line is now an afterthought.

AT&T and Verizon have their own approaches to deal with reluctant customers. Verizon FiOS customers face steep price hikes when their promotions expire, but the opportunity to score a better deal is still there, if Verizon is in the mood that quarter. Verizon remains sensitive about their subscriber numbers and growth, so when a quarter looks like it will be difficult, the promotions turn up. AT&T prefers to play a shell game with their customers. Most recently, the company has given a cold shoulder to its U-verse product, treating it like yesterday’s news and best forgotten. AT&T literally markets its own customers to abandon U-verse in favor of AT&T Fiber. Verizon and AT&T treat their DSL customers like they are doing them a favor just by offering any service. All the best deals go to their fiber customers.

AT&T Randall Stephenson is a recent convert to the “who cares about video customers” movement. Services like DirecTV Now were originally channel-rich bargains, but now they are a place for rate hikes and channel deletions. Over a half-million streaming customers have already canceled after the most recent price hikes, but Stephenson claims he does not mind, because those bargain-chasers are low-quality customers worthy of purging. AT&T’s dream customer is one who appreciates whatever AT&T gives them and does not mind a parade of rate hikes.

Comcast’s chief financial officer Mike Cavanagh said it more succinctly: seeking subscribers that “really value video and our bundle despite the increases in prices,” and has “the wallet for a fuller video experience.”

Customers who decide to take their business to a streaming competitor are already learning the industry still has the last laugh. As package prices head north of $50/month, that is not too far off from the pricing offered by cable and phone companies for base video packages. In fact, Spectrum has begun undercutting most streaming providers, offering $15-25 packages of local and/or popular cable channels with a Cloud DVR option for around $5 more a month.

Charter Refuses to Cooperate in Audit of Its Merger Commitments in California

Charter Communications has refused to cooperate in a review to determine if the company is meeting its merger obligations to customers in California.

The Public Advocates Office of the California Public Utilities Commission reports that Spectrum was required to offer at least 300 Mbps internet service to all households in its California service area by December 31, 2019. It was a key condition required of the cable company to win approval of its 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable. But after getting its merger, Charter officials have stopped cooperating with the Public Advocates Office, which is required to submit annual progress reports on Charter’s compliance.

“Charter’s reports thus far have consisted only of bald assertions, without any supporting household data, that it is providing download speeds of up to 300 Mbps to a certain percentage of households and, as stated in its 2017 report, 400 Mbps to a certain percentage of households,” the Public Advocates Office wrote in a Notice of Ex Parte Communication.

“Charter has refused to provide all data requested by the Public Advocates Office, making it impossible for the Public Advocates Office and the Commission to verify whether Charter is, in fact, in compliance with [its merger obligations},” the Office stated. “[I]f Charter fails to comply with merger conditions, the Commission may pursue appropriate enforcement remedies, including the imposition of fines.”

The Public Advocates Office won the granting of a motion to compel Charter Communications to provide the information, signed by Administrative Law Judge Karl J. Bemesderfer.

Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

  • paul: Hi guys, this worked perfectly....you made my day! I had called the retention department a year ago and they gave me $60 off per month...pretty good d...
  • Phillip Dampier: Can you scan or photo a copy of the letter and I'll blot out the personal info. Would like to investigate. [email protected]
  • Paul Houle: Recently I got a letter from Frontier that disclosed that my internet speeds were not up to the advertised rates. Seems like they had a dispute with ...
  • BM: So this law was passed without any notification to the citizens or their consent.. People need to fight these 5G towers, they are very dangerous! Peop...
  • Deborah Kohler: My spectrum bill just went up over $30 for the month. Spectrum states it was due to being on a promotional offer for the first year. My daughter and I...
  • Matt M: The million dollar question is this: Who, where or what does a NYS homeowner without broadband contact to get service? I am now the only house on my...
  • L. Nova: So FCC and the Trumpsters panic because SF tries to actually foster competition? Of course, we know that competition is only good if it doesn't inconv...
  • Anthony: Phillip Dampier: What if I cancel the service, and then a week later request the service again?, that will give me the initial benefits? or should I u...
  • N: This site would not allow me to edit my first posting. I have some I corrected it and I'm reposting now. Please excuse my last post / my first post. ...
  • N: No big deal,?!! Well, I don't know about you or others in this forum, however I simply do not have the time 2 watch much TV, nor am I inclined to wast...
  • Evie Williams: These brokers really had me for almost all of my life savings, it started with small investments and really strong assurances, although they let me wi...
  • Karolyn Hardaway: ClearView is now called LiveWave. Just read an ad and the wording was almost identical to ClearView. Glad I saw your article. Our telephone co-op is i...

Your Account: