Tag: "comcast"

Posted January 21, 2013 by christopher

The next time you hear someone claiming that the broadband market in the U.S. has plenty of competition, remember this statement from Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.

And so each of the last two years, we have had modest increases in the cost of the broadband service, and yet we've had tremendous sales. We're 33%, 31% penetrated. We hope someday all of America has broadband. So the goal would be 100 or 90 [percent take rate]. We have one competitor.

And over the course of that 2011 interview [pdf], Roberts makes it clear that he (correctly) regards DSL as a very weak competitor. The only problem Comcast has is in those few markets where they overlap with Verizon's FiOS (or, left unstated, in areas like Chattanooga where the community itself has built a technologically superior network).

Credit to Susan Crawford's new book, Captive Audience, where I read it first.

Posted January 15, 2013 by christopher

Susan Crawford, author of the just-released Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, is our guest for the 29th episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. A former adviser to President Obama, she has been a leading figure in the struggle to preserve an open Internet.

Susan has long been an advocate of communities deciding for themselves if a community owned network is a wise investment and recognizes the benefits of smart government policies to prevent big companies like Comcast from dominating the telecommunications arena.

We talk about her book and reactions to it -- big cable and telephone companies are attacking her under false pretenses by either putting words in her mouth or misrepresenting her main points. But we also discuss the steps concerned people can take to bring force some accountability on the big monopolies.

We have previously noted Susan's words and presentations here and we noted some Captive Audience reviews here.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 17 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can download the Mp3 file of this episode directly from here.

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Posted January 13, 2013 by christopher

I quickly read the just-released Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, and came away quite excited by Susan Crawford's new book.

Susan Crawford has been supportive of community owned networks and a loud voice against the poor policies that have allowed a few massive cable and telephone companies to monopolize our telecommunications. Her new book is a good resource for those just getting interested in this issue.

After the book was released last week, Susan Crawford appeared on the Diane Rehm show -- an excellent 50 minute interview that comes highly recommended. Be aware that the cable/telephone industry is engaging in character assassination to prevent Susan's message from reverberating around the country.

The book led to Sam Gustin's article in Time, "Is Broadband Internet Access a Public Utility?"

State and local laws that make it difficult — if not impossible — for new competition to emerge in broadband markets should be reformed, according to Crawford. For example, many states make it very difficult for municipalities to create public wireless networks, thanks to decades of state-level lobbying by the industry giants. In order to help local governments upgrade their communications grids, Crawford is calling for an infrastructure bank to help cities obtain affordable financing to help build high-speed fiber networks for their citizens. Finally, U.S. regulators should apply real oversight to the broadband industry to ensure that these market behemoths abide by open Internet principles and don’t price gouge consumers.

Art Brodsky also reviewed the book on the Huffington Post. He leads with a reminder of the damage done by the NFL's replacement refs, an apt comparison given how poorly the FCC and Congress have protected the public.

Susan will be our guest for the Community Broadband Bits Podcast (episode 29) on Tuesday, Jan 15, and I will be offering periodic thoughts on passages from the book in coming days/weeks.

Posted January 4, 2013 by lgonzalez

Kudos to Richard Downey, Village Administrator for the Village of Kronenwetter in Wisconsin. Mr. Downey reminded us that we have yet to write about the fiber network in Princeton, Illinois. While we have noted Princeton in our list of economic development successes, we haven't delved into the network that serves the city, the schools, and the business community.

Princeton is home to about 7,500 people and is located in the north central region of the state in Bureau County. They have their own electric, water, and wastewater utilities and began offering broadband connectivity in late 2003. We spoke with Jason Bird, Superintendent of Princeton Electric Department, who shared the network's story with us.

In 2003, the city’s largest electric and water consumer was also the largest employer. At the time, incumbents served the community with T1 connections. The manufacturing company moved to Mexico, taking 450 jobs with it. The community was stunned.

Approximately 6 months later, Ingersoll Rand, the community's second largest employer with about 300 jobs, also considered moving away from Princeton. While lack of needed broadband was not the only reason, the Ingersoll Rand CEO let community leaders know that it was one of the influential factors. The company liked being in Princeton, and the city would have been on the top of the location list if not for the sad state of connectivity. At the time, the only commercial option was unreliable T1 connections for $1,500 - $2,000 per month. If Ingersoll Rand moved, the community would experience job losses equal to 10% of the population. Community leaders needed to act and do it quickly.

To retain Ingersoll Rand, the City Council decided unanimously to go into the telecommunications industry. They issued an RFP and encouraged incumbents AT&T and Comcast to bid; neither were interested. (Interestingly, once Princeton let it be known that they were going to build the network without them, there were some local upgrades from both companies.)

IVNet, located in Peru, Illinois, won the bid to manage and provide retail...

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Posted December 22, 2012 by christopher

Susan Crawford's new book, Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry & Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, looks to be an excellent read for anyone regularly perusing this site. It is becoming available at bookstores near you. (For why we discourage buying from Amazon, see our Amazon Infographic.)

Susan did a one hour presentation at Harvard to celebrate the release of her new book last week. Video below. We will feature an interview with Susan on a podcast in early 2009.

Posted December 5, 2012 by christopher

A Stop the Cap! story about Charter cutting customer service positions makes a point we make too rarely. Not that customer service from the national cable and telephone companies is terrible and getting worse, but that some are constantly struggling to make a profit.

Investors don’t think too highly of the company either. Charter reported a wider third-quarter loss in November, losing $87 million compared with $85 million lost during the same quarter last year. Executives tell Wall Street the company was in chaos before new management under Tom Rutledge took over operations. Rutledge’s priorities are to invest in new set top boxes, convert more of its systems to digital, raise prices on services, cut back on promotions and retention offers, and centralize customer support operations.

Imagine that! When communities have to make investments and suffer losses, they are accused of failing. Charter is losing money (and recently emerged from a bankruptcy proceeding) and trying to make changes to correct its condition.

This is what happens to many firms in telecommunications. Only when it happens to those that are owned by communities, they are besieged with claims that such a situation is somehow proof that the public cannot own and operate networks.

Note that others, like Comcast, are actually lauded by Wall Street for operating in areas with so little competition that they can increase their rates at will -- hard not to make a profit in that case. Which is precisely why existing cable and DSL companies push laws to restrict local authority to build better networks.

Posted December 3, 2012 by lgonzalez

Last year, when Comcast unveiled its Internet Essentials program, the corporate powerhouse received accolades from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. The program was promoted as an example of corporate philanthropy helping to bridge the digital divide.

Comcast received all kinds of positive media coverage for its program. Most of that coverage failed to note that the FCC required Comcast to integrate the program as one of the supposed concessions offered in return for Comcast being able to take over NBC -- giving the largest cable monopolist in the US even more market power.

DSLReports has publicly exposed what many of us suspected all along -- the program was not a concession on Comcast's part. Internet Essentials was originally conceived as a program that would offer slower connections to certain low income households at affordable rates that nevertheless remain profitable for Comcast.

A recent Washington Post Technology profile on Comcast's Chief Lobbyist David Cohen, notes how the program was actually conceived in 2009, but:

At the time, Comcast was planning a controversial $30 billion bid to take over NBC Universal, and Cohen needed a bargaining chip for government negotiations.

“I held back because I knew it may be the type of voluntary commitment that would be attractive to the chairman” of the Federal Communications Commission, Cohen said in a recent interview.

Eligibility depends on four factors:

  • Participants must reside in an area serviced by Comcast
  • Participants must not have an overdue Comcast bill or have unreturned equipment
  • Participants could not have had Comcast service within the last 90 days
  • Participants must have at least one child in the house that qualifies for free or reduced lunches

...

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Posted November 29, 2012 by lgonzalez

We have already published a fact sheet on the critical role community broadband plays in job development. Now, ILSR presents a collection of how commnity owned broadband networks save money for local government, schools, and libraries while providing cutting edge services. The Public Savings Fact Sheet is now available.

Though schools, libraries, and other community anchors need access to faster, more reliable networks, the big cable and telephone companies have priced those services so high that they are breaking the budget. But when communities create their own connections, affordable high capacity connections are only one of the benefits. A community owned network offers the promise of self-determination -- of upgrades on the community's time table and increased reliability for emergency responders.

The Public Savings Fact Sheet is a great piece to share to mobilize other members of your community. Share it with decision makers and use it to start meaningful conversations. Distribute it widely and often.

We are always developing new resources. If you have an idea for a new fact sheet, we want to hear it.

Posted November 4, 2012 by lgonzalez

We recently came across a post by Seth Clifford, a blogger whose parents' house in New Jersey was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy and is still in danger. In this time of climate change, when humans no longer know waht to expect from Mother Earth, it can be comforting to have a few solid truths on which to rely.

In this case, however, that solid truth isn't comforting at all. From Seth:

She was trying to explain to them that they stood to lose the entire house in an explosion and that the authorities were having trouble even reaching the area to cut the gas to prevent this. She mentioned that she wouldn’t be able to return the cable box and equipment because the storm had basically destroyed the area, and the house was perilously close to being destroyed completely as well.

Comcast’s reply to her?

We’re very sorry, but the price of the equipment will be charged to your account if you’re unable to return it.

That’s right: in the middle of a natural disaster, the worst our area has seen in decades, at a time when my parents have already lost one house and stand to lose the other, as well as everything in it (remember, it’s not a rental so it’s fully furnished and they live there for part of the year – there are family keepsakes, antiques, and the like) – at a time like this, Comcast has essentially told my mom “tough shit”.

We only wish that reporting this story was shocking, surprising, and rare but it isn't. Unfortunately, we see reports like this on a regular basis. Responses are also usually scripted and go something like this response to the Consumerist, which requested a comment:

Consumerist Logo

We have already reached out to apologize for adding to his parents’ difficulties and to ask for his parents’ contact information so we can call to personally apologize and assure them that we are handling the equipment without the need for them to...

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Posted October 18, 2012 by christopher

What happens when economies of scale are taken to ridiculous proportions? The wretched customer service of Comcast, AT&T, Etc.

We recently had to move our Institute for Local Self-Reliance office within Minneapolis due to our old building being razed shortly for student condos. Given the paucity of choices, we are stuck with Comcast as our ISP (the other option is a slower, less reliable CenturyLink DSL connection).

Dealing with Comcast for the move has been a reminder why communities are smart to build their own networks. They can ensure a much better customer experience because they are not so unmanageably large. In telecommunications, some scale is desirable because key costs are somewhat fixed. Regardless of how many subscribers a network has, it has to advertise, do tech support, keep the network functioning, and more. Spreading those costs across a wide base makes sense.

But when you take it to the levels of national carriers, you end up with customers having to call India to talk to a living human. After enough complaints, some of those jobs have come back to the US, but customer satisfaction remains elusive because of the difficulty of managing tens of millions of customers on probably hundreds of different internal systems -- most of which do not talk to each other.

To ensure continuity of service for our office, we installed business-class service at our new location before we moved. We were told that on the day of the move, we could switch our static IP from the old location to the new with just our account number and the MAC address of the Comcast modem already installed in the new location.

On that day, I called Comcast with that information and was told I needed to have our "new" account number. I said that we didn't know anything about a "new" account number as we were moving our service and they specifically told us that we only needed the Mac addy and the account number we have long used.

Comcast Anchor on Economy

The Customer Service Rep could not tell me the new account number. I asked if he could find it with several different pieces of unique information I did have and was told no. It was not possible.

Frustrated, I said, "screw it," and just plugged old Comcast modem into the network, wondering if it would magically work with the correct static IP. And...

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