Tag: "cable"

Posted October 30, 2012 by lgonzalez

Amy Davis, Investigative Reporter for Click2 Houston.com and local channel 2, reports that Wave Vision, a Houston cable company, is not up to the task in the Lone Star State. According to Davis, the cable company may soon lose its license in Houston.

But the story won't end there because the state of Texas has preempted most local authority to protect consumers and the City's interests. Franchises like this one were grandfathered in when AT&T pushed its statewide franchising legislation that made the state responsible for enacting the franchises that allow video providers to put their cables in the rights-of-way and offer services to residents. And that law does not allow the state to refuse franchises to deadbeat corporations.

As long as a company fills out the form, the state must grant a franchise and the City has to abide by it. This leaves the City with only one option - taking the company to court. And that means more legal expenses. But when Houston wins the case, and it almost certainly will, it is not clear that they will be able to collect because the company will likely declare bankruptcy and the City will be just one of several with unpaid debts.

This is what happens when AT&T writes the legislation that takes power away from communities and puts it in the state or federal levels. State and federal government is not as responsive to citizens as local and is not equipped (nor authorized in many circumstances) to protect the public interest.

Now for the background on just how bad company is, another reminder of why communities must have the authority to build their own networks rather than being stuck with companies like this.

Customers have complained to the local Better Business Bureau 90 times and 61 of those complaints have gone unanswered, driving the BBB rating to an F for Wave Vision. (And those are just the complaints the BBB knows about!)

According to Amy Davis, however, customer complaints have not put Wave Vision in this precarious position. The company owes the City of Houston $809,789.91 in unpaid rights of way fees. Customers continue to pay those fees as part of their monthly bill, but the money is not finding its way to...

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Posted September 25, 2012 by lgonzalez

DSLReports has accurately noted the continued decline of competition between DSL and cable providers. Heck, it seems like no large company wants to invest in the future of broadband in this country. Verizon and AT&T have chosen to focus on wireless technology, resulting in less true competition. Cable (or FTTH if you are lucky to have that option) tends to offer faster, more expensive connections and DSL is the slower, less expensive option for many.

As we noted in an earlier post, Verizon no longer offers stand alone DSL and is voluntarily losing customers to focus on their more profitable (and more expensive) fixed LTE service. Many of the companies providing DSL service simply lack the interest or capacity to invest in modern networks.

Windstream lost broadband subscribers last quarter for the first time ever losing 2,200 subscribers for a 1.36 million total. Verizon added just 2,000 net broadband users last quarter, the worst quarterly result in four years. The AP quotes Verizon as saying that the hit was due to Verizon's decision to stop selling standalone DSL.

...

Meanwhile, smaller telcos like Windstream, Frontier, Fairpoint and CenturyLink find themselves unable or unwilling to upgrade their networks to keep pace with faster cable speeds. That's going to result in considerably more bloodshed for the telcos as additional subscribers jump ship (assuming they have the choice), resulting in cable's domination of the U.S. residential broadband market.

Continued reliance on these companies to build the essential infrastructure our economy and citizens need is foolish. The incentives are all wrong for their model and the amount of public money it will take to bribe them into building better infrastructure would offer far higher returns when invested in models that are democratically accountable to the community -- networks owned by local governments, cooperatives, or other nonprofit organizations.

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 6, 2012 by lgonzalez

Not long ago, we shared information on MINET, the municipal network in Martinsville, Virginia, that serves schools, municipal facilities, and about 30 local businesses. We noted that businesses are attracted to the area and cite the capabilities of the fiber network as a driving force.

The Martinsville Bulletin now reports that city leaders have been approached by more local businesses interested in saving money by connecting through the network. The Bulletin spoke with City Manager Leon Towarnicki who said "we are essentially maxed out”  in staff and resources. Obviously, economic development through MINET is moving along well. The City Council is now considering the costs and benefits of expanding.

The city is working with CCG Consulting to develop a business plan. CCG will soon begin a business and residential survey and review of the city's current network. The survey and plan will explore the possibility of deploying a fiber-to-the-home network and communication system, but Martinsville will shy away from operating a cable television system. From the article:

Asked if the city would try to provide cable TV service again, City Attorney Eric Monday said, “We tried it. We litigated. We lost. We’re done.”

Martinsville made an attempt to acquire a retail cable television service in 2006, but found itself in a long and expensive court battle. Adelphia had previously provided cable in the area but filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and as a result, failed to honor its franchise agreement. At the time, the city landfill had just closed and the city was looking for other ways to generate revenue. They wanted to purchase the network and tried to block Time Warner Cable and Comcast from doing so. Time Warner Cable wanted to purchase the network and then engage in a like-kind exchange. This technique is a common tool large cable corporations have used to ensure geographic monopolies.

Martinsville argued that they were grandfathered in, as in the case of Bristol, and thought it could take advantage of another exception by...

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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 31, 2012 by lgonzalez

In our recent podcast interview with Vince Jordan of Longmont Power and Communications (LPC), we shared the story of Colorado's newest community network. Vince told the story of the community's struggle to overcome a massive misinformation campaign by Comcast and progress since. LPC is proving itself to be innovative, creative, and centered on community - all attributes that should drive their success.

We asked what future plans may be in the works for the expanding the network or the different potential services coming to residents and businesses, wondering if triple-play services may be offered. Vince noted that in LPC's current online survey, video and voice are two products that have sparked the public's interest. Because video can be one of the most expensive and least profitable ventures, LPC is once again approaching the community desires creatively.

LPC is looking into options for video and voice services that are accessible with a blazing broadband connection and plan to create a clearinghouse for customers on their website. Direct links and information on Hulu, Netflix, Roku,...

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Posted August 30, 2012 by lgonzalez

Once again, we are witnessing the federal government allowing a few massive telecommunications companies to collude rather than compete. Verizon is about to ally itself with major cable companies, to the detriment of smaller competitors in both wireless and wireline.

One of the reasons we so strongly support the right of communities to decide locally whether a community network is a smart investment is because the federal government does a terrible job of ensuring communities have fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. By building their own networks, communities can avoid any dependence on the big cable or telephone companies that are more interested in consolidating and boosting shareholder dividends than they are in building the real infrastructure we need.

The Department of Justice released a statement on August 16th, that it will allow the controversial Verizon/SpectrumCo deal to move forward with changes. We have watched this deal, bringing you you detailed review and analysis by experts along with opinions from those affected. One week later, the slightly altered deal was also blessed by the FCC.

Many telecommunications policy and economic experts opposed the deal on the basis that it will further erode the already feeble competition in the market. In addition to a swap of spectrum between Verizon and T-Mobile, the agreement consists of side marketing arrangements wherein Verizon agrees not to impinge in the market now filled with SpectrumCo (Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, and Bright House Communications).

Verizon has been accused of hoarding spectrum it doesn't need. The marketing arrangements constitute anti-competitive tools that the DOJ has decided need some adjusting. From the announcement:

The department said that, if left unaltered, the agreements would have harmed competition by diminishing the companies’ incentive...

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Posted August 21, 2012 by lgonzalez

If you are a current or potential Verizon customer, by now you know that you no longer have the option to order stand alone DSL. When the business decision became public knowledge in April, DSL Reports.com looked into the apparent step backward and found existing customers were grandfathered in but:

However, if you disconnect and reconnect, or move to a new address -- you'll have to add voice service. Users are also being told that if they make any changes to their existing DSL service (increase/decrease speed) they'll also be forced to add local phone service. One customer was actually told that he needed to call every six months just to ensure they didn't change his plan and auto-enroll him in voice service.

By alienating customers from DSL, Verizon can begin shifting more customers to its LTE service, which is more expensive. Susie Madrak, from Crooks and Liars, speculated on possible repercussions for rural America:

Rural areas could see the biggest impact from the shift, as Verizon pulls DSL and instead sells those users LTE services with at a high price point ($15 per gigabyte overages). Verizon then hopes to sell those users cap-gobbling video services via their upcoming Redbox streaming video joint venture. Expect there to be plenty of gaps where rural users suddenly lose landline and DSL connectivity but can't get LTE. With Verizon and AT&T having killed off regulatory oversight in most states -- you can expect nothing to be done about it, despite both companies having been given billions in subsidies over the years to get those users online.

The belief is that current DSL customers who don't want (or can't afford) the switch to the LTE service will move to Verizon's cable competition. Normally, losing customers to the competition is to be avoided, but when your new marketing partners ARE the competition, it's no big deal.

Recall that Verizon entered into an agreement with Time Warner Cable, Cox, Bright House (collectively SpectrumCo) to a purchase...

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Posted August 16, 2012 by christopher

In Star Tribune coverage of Mediacom's war against real broadband in rural Minnesota, we learn that Mediacom will not sue Lake County to disrupt its plan to serve thousands of unserved residents and local businesses.

And for all its accusations, Larsen says Mediacom will not sue. Spending millions of dollars on a lawsuit in a place where the company serves so few homes, he said, "is not a great business decision."

We have previously covered the many false and disproved accusations Mediacom have leveled against Lake County. The Strib article reiterates that these charges have been found to have no merit.

The article also reiterates that the County has a real need that private companies have failed to meet:

The conflict that ensued is part of a national struggle. Public officials and some of their constituents argue that rural broadband is like rural electrification: It's a lifeline for small-town America that the free market will not extend.

"We've been ridiculously underserved in this area for years," said Andy Fisher, who owns a Lake County bed-and-breakfast and a rural cross-country skiing lodge. The cable companies "are working in the interest of their profits. But if they're not going to serve this area, what are we going to do?"

And yet, Mediacom sees itself as the underdog!

"Lake County wants to make this into a David and Goliath story, where Mediacom is Goliath and poor little Lake County is David," said Tom Larsen, Mediacom's group vice president of legal and public affairs. "The truth is we're David because we're fighting [the government]. It's just the same story repeated all over the country."

Fascinating. Mediacom has billions in revenues whereas the County deals with budgets in the millions. Sure Mediacom is between 100 and 1000 times bigger than Lake County, it still wants to stop a project serving thousands of unserved people (that it believes is doomed to fail) because it is too disadvantaged.

Mediacom logo

If Mediacom actually met the needs of its subscribers, it...

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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

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