Tag: "comcast"

Posted September 29, 2012 by lgonzalez

A  recent book by David Cay Johnston, The Fine Print, examines specifically how big companies have found ways to take advantage of the tax and regulatory systems to their benefit and to the detriment of consumers. The sad part - we don't even realize it.

Johnston discusses how big companies and their leaders exploit tax rules to re-distribute wealth upwards. Johnston also examines how this exploitation is almost never covered in the media, encouraging big companies to stoop to new lows in ripping off consumers. Telecommunications is one of the industries he covers in the new book.

In the first chapter (read the first chapter via Democracy Now!), Johnston describes how friend and journalist, Bruce Kushnick, came across twenty years' worth of telephone bills in his elderly aunt's possessions. Kushnick tracked the changes in her bills, systematically reviewing and comparing every charge. Kushnick found an array of confusing and cryptic "fees," "charges," and "taxes." The end result:

When he cross-checked his aunt’s telephone bills over the years, he could hardly believe the numbers. His aunt paid $9.51 for her local phone service in 1984. By 2003 her bill had swollen fourfold to $38.90. In the two decades since the breakup of the AT&T monopoly, even after adjusting for inflation, his aunt’s telephone cost $2.30 for each dollar paid in 1984. And that was without any charges for long-distance calls.

Johnston notes the method used by telecoms to increase prices over time:

Bit by bit, the line items grew, and others were added. It was easy to miss the escalating prices because they came...

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Posted September 18, 2012 by lgonzalez

Chattanooga's EPB Fiber just announced that current customers will receive a bump up in speed at no extra cost for its FI-Speed Internet service.

Residential customers on three separate tiers will automatically receive an increase in speed with no increase in price. The upgrade has already happened and customers can immediately take advantage of the new speeds.

According to an Ellis Smith article in the Chattanooga Times Press:

EPB, which offers gigabit fiber-optic Internet speeds across its Chattanooga service area, is upgrading customers to celebrate its third anniversary in the fiber-to-the-home market, said Harold DePriest, president and CEO.

“Enhancing our FI-Speed Internet was something we could do to celebrate, so we did it,” DePriest said.

This is the second time EPB has upgraded service to customers for free. In 2010, EPB upgraded 15 Mbps service to 30 Mbps service. Oh, and the prices haven't increased over the three years. Look back at your cable bills from Comcast, Time Warner Cable, or others, and you'll likely find that rate increases outnumber speed boosts.

New speed (and old rates) look like this:

$57.99 - 30 Mbps symmetrical increases to 50 Mbps symmetrical

$69.99 - 50 Mbps symmetrical increases to 100 Mbps symmetrical

$139.99 - 100 Mbps symmetrical increases to 250 Mbps symmetrical

As an added bonus to cutomers on the 1 Gbps symmetrical tier, their rates will drop from $349.99 to $299.99.

Fierce Telecom's Sean Buckly shared some perspective on the change:

While major cable MSOs, including local operator Comcast, have been responding to the higher speed FTTH offerings made by the likes of Verizon and their 300 Mbps tier, it's clear cable's best offerings don't come close to what EPB can offer.

Comcast's 105/20 tier is priced at $115 per month plus the price of the modem rental, while Chattanooga EPB customers can get 250 Mbps symmetric service for $139.

EPB CEO Harold DePriest...

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Posted September 7, 2012 by lgonzalez

Back in 2010, we reported on the merger between Comcast and NBC, which was in the works at the time. One of the issues that came up was how programming is chosen.

At the time, the Tennis Channel had filed a suit against Comcast, alleging that Comcast did not make Tennis Channel programming available to as many subscribers as the Golf Channel and NBC Sports (both belong to Comcast). Comcast, under the Communications Act and Commission rules, is required to place channels owned by others on tiers equal to its own similar types of channels and can't play favorites.

The FCC had reviewed the case at various levels for two years (there was an appeal) and finally, in July of this year, issued a decision in favor of the Tennis Channel. The Tennis Channel alleged discrimination, Comcast argued the Tennis Channel was using the FCC to get out of a contract it wanted to escape. According to a Meg James LA Times article:

The FCC ordered Comcast to provide the Tennis Channel with distribution comparable to the two sports channels, which would effectively increase its coverage by about 18 million homes, and force Comcast to pay Tennis Channel millions of dollars more each year in programming fees.

It was the first time that a major cable operator has been found in violation of federal anti-discrimination program carriage rules that were established in 1993.

Comcast was ordered to remedy the situation within 45 days, a window that would make the Tennis Channel available in more homes during one of the biggest tennis events of the year, the U.S. Open in New York. The channel is currently available in about 34 million homes nationally.

Comcast immediately asked for a stay from the remedy, appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Comcast was granted the stay while the case is argued on appeal. Once again, Comcast's army of lawyers  are strategically using the court as a way to slow down an adversary's remedy.

We...

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Posted September 5, 2012 by lgonzalez

We have frequently written of Comcast's anti-consumer actions past posts, so we were not surprised to learn that the Department of Justice (DOJ) recently decided to investigate the cable company for antitrust. The borders between antitrust and hyper competitive business practices are grey; Comcast has experimented in the shadows on more than one occasion. We looked into one nine-year-old case, that recently advanced in the Pennsylvania courts.

The Behrend v. Comcast class action case began in 2003 against the cable giant. The suit alleges that Comcast violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by building itself into an “illegal monopoly.” The plaintiffs are current and former customers of Comcast and damages are estimated at $876 million, although the amount could be tripled under the Act.

The plaintiffs claim that Comcast’s strategy was to “cluster” as a way to eliminate competition and be able to raise rates above the market. “Clustering” involved acquiring the cable systems of other large multi-system operators that operated and offered multichannel video programming distributor service in various franchise areas in the Philadelphia area. There are internal documents, referred to in the April 12 Summary Judgment Memorandum [pdf], supporting the argument that Comcast’s business strategy was to eliminate competition through clustering.

Growing by gobbling up smaller entities in the same industry is not a new idea and certainly not illegal on its face. The issues in the 2003 case were how Comcast went about expanding, why they did it, and to what extent they took steps to hinder competition. There was a cable system asset swap with AT&T and the two worked together to divide up the Philadelphia assets of former MediaOne, rather than compete with each other during the bidding process. Other swaps involved Aldelphia, Time Warner, and even smaller operators, like Patriot Media & Communications.

Swapping and clustering with intent to eliminate competition may be considered Sherman Act violations. There were also allegations that Comcast took steps to prevent a...

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Posted August 28, 2012 by christopher

If you were judging solely from the reaction of Comcast, you could be faulted for thinking Ramsey County and the city of Saint Paul were making a bold, if risky, investment to bring real broadband to local businesses and citizens in Minnesota's capital. But you would be wrong. Very wrong.

The City and the County are paying a company to build them a network to serve their own needs. The City and County are smart to want their own network but this particular approach is a poor one. Let's start with a little background:

Saint Paul and Ramsey presently rely on Comcast's network to transfer data files between locations and access the Internet. It is an old cable network, called the I-Net, that is failing to meet the present day needs for the City and County. Because Comcast provides the I-Net at no charge as part of the franchise, they put it up with its inadequacies. But government employees are less efficient than they could be due to this old, unreliable network. For instance, they have to wait for GIS files to crawl across the network.

St Paul's telecommunications problems aren't limited to just the I-Net. Even back in 2005, St Paul recognized that the Comcast/CenturyLink duopoly wasn't getting the job done for much of anyone. We had (and still have) the same basic connections that the rest of the country had, limiting our attractiveness for new businesses that have above average needs. So the City created a Task Force that produced this terrific report in 2007 [pdf]. But the economy crumbled and the report was largely forgotten.

No one, including myself, stepped up. I have lived in St Paul for 15 years and now own a home here. This has been a failure of leadership from elected officials, staff, and concerned citizens (in that order). Mayor Coleman has utterly failed to do anything but talk about the importance of broadband and the City Council has followed his lead since Lee Helgen lost his seat. A sign of this failure is an announcement that MISO is moving out of St Paul: One of its reasons for moving 90 jobs from St Paul to Eagan was better access to fiber optic connections. As long as St Paul continues to rely on Comcast and CenturyLink, there will be little reason for any entreprenuers or high tech firms to move here.

...

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Posted August 28, 2012 by christopher

The tenth episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast features Vince Jordan, Telecom Manager for Longmont Power and Communication in Colorado. We have long followed the trials and tribulations of this community as they fought through two referenda against Comcast's deep pockets. Now they are expanding their network to connect businesses and residents.

You can learn more about Longmont's approach on its website for the project. Our interview discusses some of the history behind the network, reflections on referenda, and the interesting approach Longmont has taken to avoid getting involved in the cable television business while still making sure everyone can view the content they want.

Read the transcript of 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 25 minutes long and can be downloaded here, 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. Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted August 23, 2012 by lgonzalez

Just on the heels of Time Warner Cable announcing 81 new jobs in Kansas City in response to the newly competitive environment created by Google's Gig, we learned that Comcast is adding more jobs to its workforce in Chattanooga.

In talking points, the lobbyists and spokespeople for these major carriers often claim that community networks will result in less investment from the existing providers, not more. This is theoretically absurd, as competition drives increased investment. And empirically, we almost always see existing providers invest more as a response to losing their monopoly, not less.

According to Ellis Smith of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, 150 new jobs will be added by the end of the year. Ellis spoke with Jim Weigert, vice president and general manager of Comcast Chattanooga:

"Chattanooga is often at the top, not only in our division but across the country in terms of performance,” Weigert said. “Our strength and record of success made it a contributing factor when they selected a location."

Comcast and others, including AT&T, have had to step up their game in Chattanooga to keep customers who suddenly had a real choice. 

Regardless of whether or not today's Chattanoogans connect to its publicly owned network, they benefit. Consumers get better service, affordable rates, and advanced technology simply because the network has created competition.

Posted August 14, 2012 by christopher

The eighth podcast in our Community Broadband Bits series is a discussion with Jim Moorehead, the Chair of the Executive Committee of the Broadband Alliance of Mendocino County in California. Mendocino is a large, rural county in the northern part of the state that has been left behind by major incumbent providers including AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon.

We talk about what steps they have taken to solve their problems and discuss the frustrating state of broadband mapping -- state and federal officials readily accept the dramatic exaggeration of incumbent footprints where broadband is available.

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 26 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 this Mp3 file directly from here.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted August 8, 2012 by lgonzalez

A major difference between Main Street and Wall Street is that we view Comcast's lack of competition as a major problem. The prospect of Comcast increasing our rates year after year makes us want to scream. Prepare to scream. Or throw things.

The Lafayette Pro-Fiber Blog alerted us to a piercingly honest analysis from Wall Street. The article on SeekingAlpha.com, titled We-re Big Fans Of Comcast's Cash-Flow Generation captures one of the major policy failures of our time:

Comcast's traditional Cable Communications continues to grow and generate copious cash flow. Video revenue, Xfinity and other cable TV products, grew 2.8% to $5 billion, while High-Speed Internet revenue grew 8.9% to $2.4 billion. We're big fans of the firm's Video and High-Speed Internet businesses because both are either monopolies or duopolies in their respective markets. Further, we believe that both services have become so sticky and important to consumers that Comcast will be able to effectively raise prices year after year without seeing too much volume-related weakness.

Wow.

SeekingAlpha.com, describes itself as "…the premier website for actionable stock market opinion and analysis, and vibrant, intelligent finance discussion."

We want to empower local businesses and communities to control their own destiny. Monopolistic telecommunications companies, with their Goliath market share, Wall Street priorities, and armies of lobbyists continue to attack local control and self-reliance. They are extracting assets from Main Street and shipping it to Wall Street.

Yet we see the FCC, Congress, and many states pretending that the public interest is best served by giving more power to these massive companies. And we will continue to hear industry-funded think tanks claiming that broadband has robust competition and should be subject to less public oversight. Coming soon to an op-ed page near you.

Photo courtesy of JSquish via Wikipedia Commons

Posted July 17, 2012 by christopher

The fourth episode of Community Broadband Bits features Kevin Kryzda from Martin County, Florida. We discuss their county-owned network that is saving millions of dollars for the community -- as detailed in our case study published last month.

Activists that want to encourage publicly owned broadband in their communities should familiarize themselves with the cost savings and advantages from Martin County's approach. Though Martin County is serving schools, libraries, and public safety, it does not serve residents and businesses with services directly. However, this could be the first step for other communities before they do offer such services to everyone.

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 19 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via a different tool using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can download the Mp3 directly from here.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music.

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