Home » Video » Recent Articles:

Rural New Yorkers Left Behind by Gov. Cuomo’s ‘Broadband for All’ Program

Tens of thousands of rural New York families were hopeful after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in 2015 his intention to bring true broadband to every corner of the state by the year 2018. At the time, it was the largest and most ambitious broadband investment of any state in the country, putting $670 million in lawsuit settlement money and rural broadband funds from the FCC on the table to build out rural broadband service other states only talk about.

But for many rural New Yorkers, Gov. Cuomo’s program was a failure that could lock in substandard internet service (or no service at all) for years. What began as a 100% broadband commitment later evolved into 99.9% (then 98% in another estimate) after state officials learned $670 million was not enough to convince providers to share the cost of extending their networks to the most rural of the rural as well as those unlucky enough to live just a little too far down the road to make extending cable broadband worthwhile. But the governor proclaimed mission accomplished, and as far as the Cuomo Administration is concerned, the rural broadband issue has been resolved.

“There were a lot of tax dollars that were flipped and the governor has said, ‘Internet for everybody. Everybody will have internet.’ Well, that’s not the case. We’re not seeing that and those were his promises, not mine, but I voted for that money. A lot of other members did too,” Sen. Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) told WBFO radio last year.

Ortt wants to know where the money is going and who exactly is getting it, and proposed legislation requiring annual reports from the Empire State Development Corporation detailing expenditures and disclosing the formula used to determine who gets true broadband service, and who does not.

For those not getting high-speed wireless or wired connections, the state has either offered nothing or dreaded satellite internet service, paying HughesNet $14,888,249 to supply discounted satellite equipment Hughes itself routinely discounts as a marketing promotion on their own dime.

For rural residents learning HughesNet was their designated future provider, many experienced with satellite internet over the last decade and hating nearly every minute of it, it was “thanks for nothing.”

“The governor pulled the rug right out from under us,” Ann told Stop the Cap! from her home near Middle Granville in Washington County, just minutes away from the Vermont border. “I have kids that require internet access to finish research and send in homework assignments. Internet service is not an option, and my kids’ grades are suffering because they have to complete homework assignments in the car or in a fast food restaurant or coffee shop that has Wi-Fi.”

Ann used HughesNet before, and canceled it because service went out whenever snow arrived in town.

“I thought the governor promised 100 Mbps service and HughesNet can’t even provide 25 Mbps,” she claims. “If you get 5 Mbps on a clear summer’s day, you are doing okay. In winter, reading email is the only thing that won’t frustrate you. It’s slow, slow, slow.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing rural broadband initiatives in New York.

Nick D’Agostino brought his family to a new home an hour northeast of Syracuse when he got a new job. He was counting on the governor’s commitment to bring wired internet access to a home that used to have Verizon DSL, but no longer does after Verizon’s wired infrastructure deteriorated to the point where the company stopped offering the service to new customers like him arriving in the neighborhood. D’Agostino had to spend hours researching the state’s Broadband Program Office website to find out which provider was going to be supplying his census block (neighborhood) with 100 Mbps internet. He found HughesNet instead.

“It’s a kick in the pants because we have a lot of experience with HughesNet and Exede and neither came close to meeting their advertising claims,” he told Stop the Cap! “Exede was often unusable and a horrible company to deal with. HughesNet has a new ‘Gen 5’ service that is capable of DSL speeds, but comes with a low data cap and speed throttling.”

D’Agostino warns that New York made a terrible choice relying on satellite internet, even though HughesNet’s latest fleet of satellites has offered improvement over HughesNet a decade ago.

“The problem is HughesNet customers in a geographic area all share the same spot beam — a regionally targeted satellite signal that serves a specific state or region,” D’Agostino said. “When we lived in North Carolina, the population growth in rural areas meant a lot more satellite customers were sharing the same spot beam, and speeds plummeted, especially after Netflix, Hulu, and cord cutting took off. Nothing eats bandwidth like streaming video, which is why you can subscribe to their 50 GB allowance package and be over that limit after a single week.”

D’Agostino fears that tens of thousands of additional satellite users will dramatically slow down HughesNet across upstate New York unless the company finds a way to get more shared bandwidth to serve the state’s rural broadband leftovers.

“That usually means, ‘wait until the next generation of satellites are launched,’ something nobody should have to wait for,” D’Agostino said.

The obvious solution for D’Agostino is to convince Charter Spectrum, the nearest cable provider, to extend its lines down his street. The cable company agreed, if he paid an $88,000 engineering, pole, and installation fee.

“That is not going to happen, even if we got the dozen or so neighbors in our position to split the cost,” he said. “This is why Cuomo’s program is a flop. It turns out close to $700 million is not enough, and they probably always knew there would be people they could never economically serve because they are miles and miles from the nearest DSL or cable connection. But if the electric and phone companies are compelled to offer service, the same should be true for internet access.”

D’Agostino believes rural New Yorkers left behind need to organize and make their voices heard.

“They keep saying we are .1% of New York, but I’ve seen plenty of rural town supervisors and other local officials across upstate New York complain they have all been left behind, and that decision will cost their towns good education, jobs, competitive agribusiness, and services online that everyone assumes people can easily access,” he said. “Clearly the state is not telling the truth about how many are being internet-orphaned. There have been three rounds of broadband funding in New York. It is time for a fourth round, finding either tax breaks or funding to get existing providers to reach more areas like mine that are less than a mile from a Spectrum customer.”

Ann shares that sentiment, and adds that Vermont is looking for ways to get internet to its rural residents as well.

“We’re at the point where companies or co-ops already offering service are probably the quickest and easiest option to solve the rural internet crisis, but they are not going to pay to do it if they are not required to,” she said. “We have taxes and surcharges on our phone bill now that are supposed to pay for internet expansion, but the amounts are too small to get the job done I guess. Perhaps it is time to revisit this, because 99.995% is better than 99.9% and satellite internet should be the last resort for people living in a cottage miles from anyone else, not for people who can be in town in less than a five-minute drive.”

A familiar story for any rural resident trying to get internet access to their rural home. But there is a small silver lining. HughesNet’s newest generation of satellites has provided a modest improvement that is often better than rural DSL. (10:19)

Windstream Dumps Its EarthLink ISP Business

Windstream announced this week it was ditching EarthLink, the internet service provider it acquired in 2017 that has been around since the days of dial-up, in a $330 million cash deal.

Trive Capital of Dallas, Tex., is the new owner of the consumer-facing ISP, which today primarily serves customers over some cable broadband and DSL providers.

EarthLink launched in 1994, when almost everyone accessed online services over dial-up telephone modem connections using providers like AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy, and MSN. EarthLink rode the Dot.Com boom and secured funding to build its own multi-city, dial-in access network, allowing customers to reach the service over local, toll-free access numbers. This allowed EarthLink to be among the first ISPs in the country to offer unlimited, flat rate access for $19.95 a month at a time when some other providers charged in excess of $12 an hour during the business day to use their services.

EarthLink grew to become America’s second largest ISP, reaching 4.4 million subscribers in mid-2001 — still dwarfed by 25 million AOL customers, but well-respected for its wide-reaching availability over more than 1,700 local dial-in numbers around the country. But 2001 was as good as it would get at EarthLink.

The newly inaugurated administration of George W. Bush and its deregulatory-minded FCC Chairman Michael Powell quickly threatened to derail EarthLink’s success.

As EarthLink’s balance sheet increasingly exposed the high wholesale cost of the company’s growing number of DSL and cable internet customers, executives calmed Wall Street with predictions that EarthLink’s wholesale costs would drop as networks matured and the costs to deploy DSL and cable internet declined. The phone and cable industry had other ideas.

Under intense lobbying by the Baby Bell phone companies, the FCC voted in 2003 to eliminate a requirement that forced phone companies to allow competitors fair and reasonable access to dial-up infrastructure and networks. The cable industry had never lived under similar guaranteed access rules, a point frequently made by telephone company lobbyists seeking to repeal the guaranteed “unbundled” access requirements. Lobbyists (and industry funded researchers) also claimed that by allowing competitors open access to their networks, it created a hostile climate for investors, deterring phone companies from moving forward on plans to scrap existing copper wire networks and invest in nationwide fiber to the home service instead.

Both the FCC (and later the courts) found the industry’s argument compelling. EarthLink protested the move was anti-competitive and could give the phone and cable company an effective duopoly in the business of selling internet access. Others argued the industry’s commitments to build out fiber networks came with no guarantees. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps warned that Americans would pay the price for the FCC’s unbundling decision:

I am troubled that we are undermining competition, particularly in the broadband market, by limiting — on a nationwide basis in all markets for all customers – competitors’ access to broadband loop facilities whenever an incumbent deploys a mixed fiber/copper loop. That means that as incumbents deploy fiber anywhere in their loop plant — a step carriers have been taking in any event over the past years to reduce operating expenses — they are relieved of the unbundling obligations that Congress imposed to ensure adequate competition in the local market.

[…] I fear that this decision may well result in higher prices for consumers and put us on the road to re-monopolization of the local broadband market.

Blinky, EarthLink’s mascot, was featured in instructional videos introducing customers to “the World Wide Web” and how to buy books on Amazon.com

In the end, the industry got what it wanted during the Bush Administration, and was also able to effectively wiggle out of its prior commitments to scrap copper networks in favor of fiber optics. Phone companies were also able to raise wholesale prices on providers like EarthLink. In 2002, EarthLink paid about $35 per month to phone companies for each subscriber’s DSL connection, for which the ISP charged customers $49 a month. Financial reports quickly showed EarthLink started losing money on each DSL customer, because it could keep only about $14 a month for itself. The cable industry was slightly more forgiving, if companies voluntarily allowed EarthLink on their emerging cable broadband networks. In general, cable operators charged EarthLink $30 a month for each connection, which gave EarthLink about the same revenue it earned from its dial-up business.

An even bigger threat to EarthLink’s future came when phone and cable companies got into the business of selling internet access as well, usually undercutting the prices of competitors like EarthLink with promotional rates and bundled service discounts.

EarthLink’s subscriber numbers dropped quickly as DSL and cable internet became more prevalent, and customers defected to their providers’ own internet access plans. Attempts by EarthLink to diversify its business by offering security software, web hosting, email, and other services had limited success in the residential marketplace.

By the mid-2010s, EarthLink primarily existed as a little-known alternative for some cable broadband customers and DSL users. But beyond initial promotional pricing, there was no compelling reason for a customer to sign up, given there was usually little or no difference between the prices charged by EarthLink and those charged by the phone or cable company for its own service. EarthLink’s competitors, including AOL and MSN, also saw subscriber numbers start to drop for similar reasons, especially when their customers dropped dial-up access in favor of broadband connections. This was strong evidence that companies that do not own their own networks were now at a strong competitive disadvantage, held captive by unregulated wholesale pricing and no incentive for phone or cable companies to treat them fairly.

In 2017, Windstream paid $1.1 billion for EarthLink, primarily to consolidate fiber-optic network assets and improve its business services segment. After more than a year, Windstream realized EarthLink’s residential ISP service had little relevance to them.

“People paid $5 to $10 a month for email,” Windstream spokesman Chris King told Bloomberg News. “It was not a strategic asset for us.”

With subscriber numbers still dropping to around 600,000 today, Windstream decided the time was right to sell.

“This transaction enables us to divest a non-core segment and focus exclusively on our two largest business units. In addition, it improves our credit profile and metrics in 2019 and beyond,” said Tony Thomas, president and CEO of Windstream.

An EarthLink television ad from 2004. (1:00)

Congressman-Elect Brindisi Calls on Regulators To Put Their Foot Down on Spectrum

Brindisi

Congressman-elect Anthony Brindisi has a message for the New York State Public Service Commission: stop giving Charter Spectrum extensions.

“Today, I am asking the Public Service Commission to make Feb. 11 the absolute final deadline for Charter Spectrum to present its plan to give customers the service they deserve or it is time to show them the exit door here in New York State,” Brindisi said at a press event. ““No one’s losing their cable. They’re not just going to turn the switch off and leave. The would have to bring in another provider. I would actually like to see a few providers so people can have some choices in their internet and cable providers. Competition, I believe, is a good thing.”

Brindisi is reacting to repeated extensions of the PSC’s order requiring Charter Spectrum to file an orderly exit plan with state regulators so that an alternate cable provider can be found. Private negotiations between the PSC staff and Charter officials have resulted in several deadline extensions, the latest granted until after the new year. Observers expect Charter and the PSC will settle the case, with the cable company agreeing to pay a fine and fulfilling its commitments in return for the Commission rescinding its July order canceling Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable.

Brindisi, a Democrat from the Utica area, made Charter Spectrum a prominent campaign issue, and even ran ads against the cable company that Spectrum initially refused to air.

Brindisi says he would be okay with Spectrum remaining in the state as long as it meets its agreements, but he is not very optimistic that will happen.

“Number one — they committed that they were going to expand their service into underserved areas,” Brindisi said. “Number two — they weren’t going to raise rates and they have not complied or lived up to their agreement so I think action has to be taken.”

WUTR in Utica reports Congressman-elect Anthony Brindisi’s patience is wearing thin on Charter Spectrum. (0:48)

The Return of Court TV: Law and Order Networks Struggle to Gain Carriage

Phillip Dampier December 11, 2018 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Video No Comments

In the era of cord-cutting, getting a new, independently owned cable network on cable lineups can be an exercise in futility.

With most new channel additions coming as part of renewal agreements with major cable network owners or sports teams, launching a new 24-hour cable network and getting it on the lineup has never been so difficult. That isn’t stopping a relaunch of Court TV — a well-known former cable network that literally burned its logo into some television sets that were reliably tuned to coverage of the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, which ran from January-October, 1995.

“Court TV was a top-20 cable network and at the height of its popularity when the network was taken off the air in 2008,” said Jonathan Katz, CEO of Katz Networks. “Today, while consumer interest in the real-life drama of true-crime programming is at an all-time high, there is no dedicated daily court coverage on television. We expect the new Court TV to fill that void on cable, satellite, over-the-air and over-the-top.”

A promotional video for Court TV, returning in May, 2019 (0:44)

Katz Networks, a division of E.W. Scripps Co., has acquired the rights to the Court TV name and other intellectual property from its old owner, Time Warner (Entertainment). That includes over 100,000 hours of pre-recorded programming and trial coverage in the Court TV archives. The new venture has hired Vinnie Politan, a former Court TV presenter, as its lead anchor. The new Court TV has also hired back some of its old employees who either left the network or transitioned to its replacement – Tru TV.

The new Court TV will run 24 hours a day, everyday, and is expected to concentrate on live coverage of high-profile trials.

The thought of bringing back Court TV has not been enough to attract much attention from the cable industry. When the network launches in May 2019, it is expected to achieve coverage in 25% of cable homes at best. Most viewers will be able to watch Court TV as a digital subchannel offered by a local over-the-air station. Katz already specializes in running digital sub-networks, including Bounce (African-American targeted channel) and Laff (comedy).

Multichannel News reports several station owner groups will carry Court TV, giving it coverage of about half the country at launch:

Dan Abrams hosting a show on the Law & Crime Trial Network

Tribune Broadcasting will carry Court TV in 22 markets, including New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Philadelphia; Dallas-Fort Worth; Houston; Miami-Fort Lauderdale; Denver; St. Louis; Seattle-Tacoma, Washington; and Sacramento, Calif.

Eight Scripps markets will carry Court TV, including Tampa, Fla.; Detroit; Cleveland; Cincinnati; Las Vegas; Tulsa, Okla.; Green Bay, Wis. and Tucson, Ariz.

Entravision Communications’ 10 Court TV markets include Boston; Orlando, Fla. and Wichita, Kan.

Univision Communications will carry the network in San Antonio; Albuquerque, N.M. and Bakersfield, Calif.

Citadel Communications will air Court TV in Providence, R.I.

Court TV already has at least one minor competitor. Dan Abrams, a former well-known Court TV personality who now hosts the popular A&E show Live PD, also runs the Law & Crime Trial Network, which relies primarily on live video streaming online to attract viewers. While the network has garnered little attention since it began streaming multiple feeds of live trial coverage over its website, YouTube, and Facebook Live, it did attract A+E Networks, which announced its involvement in the project in March, 2018.

Like Court TV, Abrams’ Law & Crime depends on live trial coverage during the day and analysis and documentary-style programming at night. So far, it is free to watch. Its future may be overshadowed by the higher profile return of Court TV, however, unless A+E bundles it into its suite of networks offered to cable and satellite providers.

Dan Abrams pitches his Law & Crime Trial Network to potential partners. (1:29)

Spectrum Strikers Launch Website to Teach Consumers How to Cut Cable’s Cord

Phillip Dampier December 10, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Video 2 Comments

A new union-sponsored website promises consumers they can find a better deal with a different video provider.

(Courtesy: Cut the Cord on Spectrum)

Many of the more than 1,800 Charter/Spectrum workers in the New York City area, on strike since early 2017, have teamed up in a new campaign to encourage customers to cut cable’s cord and disconnect service.

“We all know a typical cable/internet bill with Spectrum runs about $164 – 194 (can’t forget those equipment rental fees, DVR fees & random bill increases!),” the Cut the Cord on Spectrum website says. “By cutting the cord on Spectrum and signing up for streaming services – many of which offer Live TV options including all your favorite cable network and sports channels – you can cut your bill down to as low as $57.99/month!”

The website offers basic advice on alternative providers that stream video programming over the internet, including general pricing and included features. The website implies choosing any other provider is probably better than sticking with Spectrum.

“Spectrum customers – along with the N.Y. Attorney General’s office – have a long list of gripes with Spectrum Cable,” the site claims. “With an income over $490 million and CEO Tom Rutledge earning a salary of $98.5 million, it’s clear that Spectrum Cable is fleecing its customers, overcharging for horrible service while raking in huge profits.”

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 is behind the latest digital effort to make life difficult for Charter Communications. The union plans to spend “tens of thousands of dollars” on online ads targeting zip codes where Spectrum provides cable service, according to union officials.

The union is getting significant support from politicians downstate, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who blasted Charter at a well-attended union rally in front of Charter’s headquarters on Wednesday in Manhattan.

“[Spectrum’s] CEO in 2016 made $100 million. The COO of Charter Spectrum, $50 million. The company made $15 billion,” Cuomo told the audience. “How dare you abuse the hardworking men and women that built that company and put the money in your pocket?”

The governor also continued his ongoing attack on NY1 – Spectrum News, a company-owned 24-hour news channel. Many union-supporting politicians have refused to appear on NY1, accusing the channel of bias.

“You want to know what’s interesting about their news organization? It has a very selective memory, their news organization,” Cuomo said. “You know what their news organization never covered? The fact that the state of New York is trying to take away their franchise and kick them out of New York. You know what their news organization failed to cover? The fact that 2,000 Local 3 members were kicked to the street and they’re rallying for two years for fairness and decency.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasted Charter Spectrum at a rally held Wednesday in front of Spectrum’s corporate headquarters in New York City. (15:19)

 

Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

  • LC Fults Jr: Not true I had a run in with Livewave I never went thru with the purchase but it show up on my PayPal account anyway I file a complaint with PayPal in...
  • LC Fults Jr: I have did the same thing with the Livewave spend 48 dollars for nothing got zero channels also and they will not answer any email for a return so wha...
  • Tube: Was watching CMax and Epix yesterday and today it says I no longer sub to them! For an additional 15 bucks a month I can get them back. For what? So ...
  • Rossa Williams: I moved over and they qualify for early buyout off under $500 I've called twice I've got no respond they say they was going to send me something in th...
  • snake: I had the original $20 a month service for years. Then last week they shutdown my internet, before my bill was due. I paid the amount. Service was sti...
  • JayS: Are the streaming services that carry local channels (Sling, DirectTv Now, YouTubeTv....) paying the same/similar remuneration to the local stations a...
  • Nicole: Would be fine if spectrum actually worked all the time. It's the worst....
  • jeff k: So glad I looked at reviews FIRST! I was 5 minutes away from buying the 3 for $73.75 deal. WOW, I started the day calling COX to find out how much it ...
  • Adam: Figured I’d take a deeper look into my bill. Each month it kept slowly creeping up! My bill increased $20 more since last year! I’m stuck with their m...
  • Divine Retribution: I've had Fios since 2006 when it was originally owned by Verizon & much better then mind you & I can tell you their internet speed isn't even ...
  • Mark: I ordered LiveWave yesterday and used PayPal/AMEX. I read through theses comments and decided to cancel my order. I called the number listed on my ord...
  • fordoughnow: My Internet started at $40 less than 2 years ago with Spectrum. $68 now with all the taxes and service BS. I haven't had a raise in that time so I'm n...

Your Account: