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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.

The Average Comcast Customer Now Uses Over 200 GB of Data Per Month

The average Comcast broadband customer now consumes over 200 GB of online data per month, an increase of 34% over just one year ago, according to Dave Watson, president and CEO of Comcast Cable Communications.

The increased usage accelerated during the last quarter of 2018, Watson told investors on a quarterly conference call.

What remains unchanged is Comcast’s data cap, which remains fixed at 1 TB per month for many customers. To avoid overlimit penalty fees of $10 for each additional 50 GB block of data consumed (up to $200 per month), Comcast is still pitching its unlimited data option — insurance against Comcast’s own overlimit penalties, which costs a growing number of customers an extra $50 a month.

Watson knows data usage over Comcast’s network is about to grow exponentially, mostly thanks to streaming video.

“I think that we start with the central view that streaming is going to happen, video over the internet is more friend than foe. and we wish every bit was our bit,” Watson told investors this morning. “If people consume more bits and video clearly does that, and 4K video does even more than that, that is the sweet spot of where this company is going to grow.”

Translation: We intend to make a killing on usage growth. Comcast can market you a faster internet package at a higher price, or as your usage approaches the data cap, scare you into buying overlimit insurance.

Remember that Comcast drops usage caps for some customers willing to rent their latest network gateway (available only in some areas at this time).

By 2022, Online Video Will Make Up 82% of Internet Traffic; 60% of the World Will Be Online

By the year 2022, 60% of the world’s population will be connected to the internet and 82% of online traffic will come from streaming video.

Those are the conclusions found in Cisco’s newest Visual Networking Index (VNI), based on independent analyst forecasts and real-world network usage data tracked by the networking equipment manufacturer.

“By 2022, more IP traffic will cross global networks than in all prior ‘internet years’ combined up to the end of 2016,” Cisco predicts. “In other words, more traffic will be created in 2022 than in the 32 years since the internet started.”

Key predictions for 2022

Cisco’s VNI looks at the impact that users, devices and other trends will have on global IP networks over a five-year period. From 2017 to 2022, Cisco predicts:

  1. Global IP traffic will more than triple

    • Global IP traffic is expected to reach 396 exabytes per month by 2022, up from 122 exabytes per month in 2017. That’s 4.8 zettabytes of traffic per year by 2022.
    • By 2022, the busiest hour of internet traffic will be six times more active than the average. Busy hour internet traffic will grow by nearly five times (37 percent CAGR) from 2017 to 2022, reaching 7.2 petabytes1 per second by 2022. In comparison, average internet traffic will grow by nearly four times (30 percent CAGR) over the same period to reach 1 petabyte by 2022.

      1 A petabyte is equal to 1,000 terabytes or one million gigabytes.

  2. Global internet users will make up 60 percent of the world’s population

    • There will be 4.8 billion internet users by 2022. That’s up from 3.4 billion in 2017 or 45 percent of the world’s population.
  3. Global networked devices and connections will reach 28.5 billion
    • By 2022, there will be 28.5 billion fixed and mobile personal devices and connections, up from 18 billion in 2017—or 3.6 networked devices/connections per person, from 2.4 per person.
    • More than half of all devices and connections will be machine-to-machine by 2022, up from 34 percent in 2017. That’s 14.6 billion connections from smart speakers, fixtures, devices and everything else, up from 6.1 billion.
  4. Global broadband, Wi-Fi and mobile speeds will double or more
    • Average global fixed broadband speeds will nearly double from 39.0 Mbps to 75.4 Mbps.
    • Average global Wi-Fi connection speeds will more than double from 24.4 Mbps to 54.0 Mbps.
    • Average global mobile connection speeds will more than triple from 8.7 Mbps to 28.5 Mbps.
  5. Video, gaming and multimedia will make up more than 85 percent of all traffic
    • IP video traffic will quadruple by 2022. As a result, it will make up an even larger percentage of total IP traffic than before—up to 82 percent from 75 percent.
    • Gaming traffic is expected to grow nine-fold from 2017 to 2022. It will represent four percent of overall IP traffic in 2022.
    • Virtual and augmented reality traffic will skyrocket as more consumers and businesses use the technologies. By 2022, virtual and augmented reality traffic will reach 4.02 exabytes/month, up from 0.33 exabytes/month in 2017.

Regionally, Asian-Pacific internet users are expected to use far more internet data than North Americans — 173 exabytes a month by 2022 vs. 108 exabytes in North America. Usage caps, usage-based pricing, and overall slower internet speeds in the U.S. and Canada have slowed growth in new high-bandwidth internet applications. The prevalence of low-speed DSL in rural areas also restricts potential traffic growth. Large parts of the Asia-Pacific region use very high-speed fiber to the home technology.

The slowest growing regions — Latin America and the Middle East/Africa, which lag behind in internet penetration, often apply low usage caps or bandwidth restrictions and often do not have the ability to financially scale growth to meet demand. Even by 2022, Latin America will generate only 19 exabytes of traffic per month.

Fixed Wireless Not a Good Solution for Rural Areas; Usage Demand Outstrips Capacity

Morrow

Australia is learning a costly lesson finding ways to extend broadband service to rural areas in the country, choosing fixed wireless and satellite networks that will ultimately cost more than extending fiber optic broadband to rural customers.

Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) is tasked with supplying virtually all of Australia with internet access, using fiber/wired broadband in urban and suburban areas and fixed wireless and satellite internet access in the country’s most remote locations.

But just a few years after debuting satellite broadband and fixed LTE 4G wireless service in many parts of the country, demand has quickly begun to overwhelm capacity, forcing costly upgrades and punitive measures against so-called “heavy superusers.” The NBN has also scrapped plans to introduce higher-speed fixed wireless services, fearing it will only create additional demands on a network that was not envisioned to manage heavy broadband usage from video streaming.

NBN CEO Bill Morrow has elected to place most of the blame on his customers, specifically “superusers” that he characterized as “online gamers” who spend hours during the day and peak usage periods consuming large parts of the fixed wireless network’s available capacity.

“In the fixed wireless, there’s a large portion [of end users] that are using terabytes of data,” Morrow said. “We’re evaluating a form of fair use policy to say, ‘We would groom these extreme users.’ Now the grooming could be that, during the busy period of the day when these heavy users are impacting the majority, that they actually get throttled back to where they’re taking down what everybody else is taking down.”

Under the current NBN fair use policy, monthly downloads per household are capped at 400 GB, with maximum usage during peak usage periods limited to 150 GB a month, which is already significantly less than what most average American households consume each month. With expensive and unexpected early upgrades to more than 3,100 cell towers to manage rapidly growing usage, the cost of service is starting to rise substantially, even as usage limits and speed reductions make these networks less useful for consumers.

In areas where the NBN extends a fiber optic network, the fixed wholesale price for a 50/20 Mbps connection is $32.00 (U.S.) per month. (A 100/40 Mbps connection costs $46.25). For fixed wireless, prices are rising. A 50/20 Mbps fixed wireless connection (with usage cap) will now cost $46.25 a month.

Morrow took heat from members of Parliament over his claim that online gamers were chiefly responsible for slowing down the NBN’s fixed wireless network.

“With great respect to everything you said over the last 15 minutes, you have been saying to us the problem here is gamers,” said MP Stephen Jones (Whitlam).

Morrow clarified that online gamers were not the principal cause of congestion. The main issue is concurrency, which drags down network speeds when multiple family members unexpectedly use an internet connection at the same time. The worst congestion results when several family members launch internet video streams at the same time. Online video not only leads average users’ traffic, it can also quickly outstrip available cell tower capacity. High quality video streaming can quickly impact 4G LTE service during peak usage periods, driving speeds down for all users. The NBN now considers these newly revealed capacity constraints a limit on the feasibility of using wireless technology like LTE to supply internet access.

The current mitigation strategy includes limiting video bandwidth, discouraging video streaming with usage caps or speed throttles, capacity upgrades at cell towers, and public education requesting responsible usage during peak usage times. With capacity issues becoming more serious, Morrow canceled plans to upgrade fixed wireless to 100 Mbps speeds because of costs. The proposed upgrades would have cost “exponentially” more than wired internet access.

Hype vs. Reality: Most Australians reject fixed wireless and satellite internet as woefully inadequate. (Source: BIRRR)

Actual Fixed Wireless speeds

Actual Satellite Internet speeds

The concept of supplying fixed wireless or satellite internet access to rural areas may have made sense a decade ago, but there are growing questions about the suitability of this technology based on growth in consumer usage patterns, which increasingly includes streaming video. The cost to provide a sufficiently robust wireless network could easily rival or even outpace the costs of extending traditional fiber optic wired service to many rural properties currently considered cost prohibitive to serve. In Australia, fixed wireless and satellite has delivered sub-standard access for rural consumers, and requires the imposition of “fair usage” caps and speed throttles that inconvenience customers. For now, Morrow believes that is still the best solution, given that Australia’s national broadband plan relies heavily on wireless access in rural communities.

“[The benefit of a fair usage policy is] big enough to where if we did groom them during the busy time of the day, it would be a substantial [speed] lift for people,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet in any of this – this is going to require us to think through a number of different areas.”

Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Rural Australia (a volunteer consumer group) shares horror stories about relying on satellite to solve rural broadband problems. (7:50)

 

Spectrum Ditching Usage Measurement Meter Tool in July; Usage Caps Not in the Cards

Charter Communications is abandoning any pretense of data caps on its internet service by decommissioning its internet usage measurement tool for residential subscribers effective this July.

Company officials began notifying customers in billing statements that the usage measurement tool will be dropped effective next month. Charter Communications markets Spectrum internet service as free of any data caps, and a usage measurement system only confused customers about whether their internet usage was truly unlimited.

Originally introduced by Time Warner Cable in late 2009 and gradually made available to customers nationwide, the usage measurement tool reported monthly data usage for customers as part of Time Warner Cable’s original 2008 market test of data caps in Beaumont, Tex.

Customers were offered a Lite Tier with a 5 GB monthly cap or 40 GB of usage for the company’s Turbo Tier. Overlimit fees were $1/GB.

The company attempted to expand its data cap trial in the spring of 2009 to customers in Austin and San Antonio, Tex., Rochester, N.Y., and the Triad region of North Carolina. A major backlash, organized in part by Stop the Cap!, resulted in those market trials being abandoned within two weeks of being announced.

Time Warner Cable never attempted to impose compulsory data caps again after its disastrous 2009 trial and Charter Communications quietly abandoned its own frequently unenforced usage caps in 2015, shortly before bidding to acquire Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

By ditching the usage measurement tool, Spectrum will retire the last remaining elements of Time Warner Cable’s legacy of dabbling with usage caps and further monetizing internet usage.

Charter is also forbidden from imposing data caps for up to seven years as a result of deal conditions imposed by regulators in return for approval of its merger with TWC and BH.

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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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