As we noted last week
, two different cities with their own broadband networks (Wilson, NC and Chattanooga, Tennessee) have formally asked the FCC to declare that laws in their states hindering community broadband aren't enforceable, giving FCC boss Tom Wheeler the perfect opportunity to back up claims that he'd take action. Such bills are written and lobbied for by companies like Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner Cable, and often restrict local citizen rights to determine for themselves what the best course of action for their community is.
To get the bureaucratic ball rolling, the FCC has formally issued a public notice
(pdf) asking for public and corporate comment on their intervention when it comes to such protectionist laws.
"Both Petitioners allege that state laws restrict their ability to expand their broadband service offerings to surrounding areas where customers have expressed interest in these services, and they request that the Commission preempt such laws," observes the FCC. Chattanooga's EPB claims a Comcast-backed law lets them offer voice services over fiber lines, but prohibits them from offering broadband over those same lines if it's outside their existing utility footprint.
While the public notice opens the door to a potentially protracted discussion about whether the FCC should intervene in these instances, that doesn't necessarily mean the agency will have the political fortitude to actually do so. Incumbent ISPs have already had Rep. Martha Blackburn
push a bill stripping FCC funding should they act, and has used proxy groups to threaten lawsuits
against the FCC.
Comcast made the wrong kind of headlines this week after a support representative was recorded simply refusing to let a customer cancel
. Comcast was quick to insist that the company was "embarrassed" by the employee's behavior, claiming that the employee was "unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives." Except since the story broke, numerous Comcast employees have come forward to point out that obnoxious upselling is the rule, not the exception.
To get their acquisition of Time Warner Cable approved, Comcast has been telling anybody who'll listen that the deal will somehow create more competition. They're making this claim at a time when AT&T and Verizon are looking to exit unwanted DSL markets, literally shoveling customers in Comcast's direction
, resulting in less competition than ever before across huge swaths of the country.
Not to be outdone by the family that sent money to Comcast for seven years for an alarm system that never worked
, an 88-year-old woman in Florida has paid Comcast for TV service for thirteen-plus years -- without ever receiving a working signal. A local Florida news outlet
(via the Consumerist
) notes the woman's development switched from Comcast to Charter service (apparently included in her rent) back in October of 2000, but Comcast kept billing her $29 a month for the next thirteen and a half years. When approached about the error by her grandson Comcast initially said they'd only provide a six month refund ($174). Once the issue received news attention Comcast stated they'd offer a full refund.
Comcast has argued that people shouldn't worry about their $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable because the two companies don't directly compete. They also have thus far brushed aside concerns about the company's mammoth scale leading to the kind of leverage that could harm smaller competitors in the pay TV space, insisting that companies like Google Fiber and Hulu
will keep them on their best behavior.
A new report by the FCC
(pdf) on the cost of television services in the United States found that prices have risen four times the price of inflation over a one year span. The report notes that basic cable prices jumped 6.5% during 2012 while expanded basic cable prices rose by 5.1%.
The writing has pretty clearly been on the wall as Comcast slowly but surely has expanded their usage-cap trials throughout less competitive Southern markets
. Speaking at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit today in New York City (see transcript
via Fierce Cable
), top Comcast lobbyist David Cohen was asked whether or not he sees a future where users only have a choice of capped plans.
In the hopes of further cementing support for their $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable, Comcast this week took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal
. In it, Comcast offers a checklist of the wonderful things that users can expect if they support the deal.
To get their acquisition of NBC approved, Comcast proposed a condition requiring they offer $10 1.5 Mbps broadband to low income homes (dubbed "Internet Essentials"). As we pointed out when the program first surfaced
, Comcast proposed this condition because once potential applicants jump through a number of hoops, Comcast knew that very few low income families would actually qualify.
There has been a recent rash of proposed deals in the wake of Comcast's attempted takeover of Time Warner Cable, including AT&T's rumored takeover of DirecTV
, as well as Sprint's unflagging interest in acquiring T-Mobile
. Regulators choosing poorly in terms of which deals they let through will have a major impact on user wallets.
In the wake of the government's latest cash-drunk stumbleabout on net neutrality
, most consumer advocates are urging the government to solidify FCC authority over broadband by regulating ISPs as common carriers (essentially utilities). Former FCC boss Michael Powell, now the cable industry's top lobbyist at the NCTA, this week fought back against such ideas while patting himself on the back for his deregulatory policies -- policies that put consumer interests and the FCC in the precarious position they are in today.
Last June Comcast announced
that the company's new customer gateways would be configured to start sharing user Wi-Fi with local passers by, noting that the service could be disabled and that other peoples' usage wouldn't count against your usage cap. Today Comcast announced
that they're expanding this service further, now turning on shared Wi-Fi across 160,000 customer hotspots across the greater Atlanta area. Many users were rather confused to learn their hotspots were suddenly being used by strangers when Comcast enabled the functionality in the Chicago area back in March
. Users interested in disabling the feature can do so via the preferences page of their Comcast customer portal.
To help sell regulators on their acquisition of Time Warner Cable, Comcast has been suggesting that the larger company could start offering an MVNO-like wireless service
that heavily relies on the company's growing number of Wi-Fi hotspots. Now Sprint MVNO Scratch Wireless has announced they've been talking with cable operators about a wireless phone service that would lean heavily on Wi-Fi.
The New York Times is the latest to write a love letter to Comcast top lobbyist David Cohen
, who skirts federal lobbying rules by simply pretending not to be a lobbyist
. Cohen's currently in the middle of selling lawmakers on Comcast's $45 billion attempted acquisition of Time Warner Cable, and the Times pays more than a little adoration towards Cohen for his lobbying skill set, while also highlighting his close fundraising ties to many of the politicians reviewing the merger.
A few years ago we noted how
a large scam ring operating in Philadelphia was offering users Comcast's entire cable TV lineup for $150...per year. The operation, which law enforcement claims cost Comcast $2.5 million in revenue, used a secret computer installed in a subcontractor's office, in addition to the IDs of subscontractors that were on disability or had been let go. Local Philly news outlets claim that the "ringleader" leader of the operation, who employed roughly two-dozen people in the operation, plead guilty last week
in a Montgomery County courtroom.
Al Franken has been leading a strong charge in opposition of Comcast's $45 billion Time Warner Cable acquisition, being one of the only people to hit the company with hard questions during the recent Congressional hearing on the merger
. Now Franken is looking to get Netflix's help after the company recently vocally complained about the threat new interconnection and peering deals
pose to the health of the greater Internet.
Like AT&T did when they tried to acquire T-Mobile, Comcast is using the fairly standard lobbying trick of using third party groups to parrot merger support -- since it's hard to get someone to like what most agree will be an anti-consumer merger without paying them. That includes the use of everything from minority groups
to an ocean of niche associations, many of which are often willing to sell out their own constituents and support bad corporate policy just as long as money keeps flowing from Comcast.
The cable industry has historically found itself at the very bottom of customer satisfaction rankings across nearly all industries
, in large part because of the constant rate hikes
, but also because they simply don't want to pay for quality customer support. Comcast is no exception, and has spent most of the last decade trying to, as they put it, "combat consumer perceptions" that they're not very good at doing their job.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts seems to have popped up every few months or so over the last decade to make a promise that the company's rock-bottom customer satisfaction rankings are going to change soon -- yet they never do. With Comcast wanting regulatory approval for their Time Warner Cable acquisition, once again the company is promising everyone that customer service is a priority
and will get fixed any day now
Comcast Executive VP David Cohen told the Senate Judiciary Committee today that "it bothers us that we have so much trouble delivering a really high quality service level to customers on a consistent basis. It is not something we're ignoring." "We have spent billions of dollars over the last five years improving our networks to try to make them more reliable."..."We are deeply disappointed as to where we are."
Except reliable networks don't cure your customer satisfaction problems when you vehemently refuse to compete on price or spend serious money to improve your customer service systems, whether that's better training and support for front line support reps, or spending more money on better subcontractors so they don't fall asleep
, kill anyone
, torture kittens
, dig in the wrong yard
or blow up any laptops
With a 180-page filing
(pdf) and a blog post
, Comcast today formally made their sales pitch to regulators regarding approval of Comcast's planned $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Most of what's included in the sales pitch are things Comcast has argued repeatedly already in the court of public opinion; namely that the two companies combined will create amazing synergies that will benefit consumers in a myriad of ways, and that the merged company can't possibly engage in bad behavior because relatively tiny operations like Google Fiber will somehow keep them honest.
Comcast has officially won the Consumerist's "Worst Company in America" award for the second time. According to the website
Comcast beat out a significant number of heavy hitters riding massive waves of negative public sentiment for the honorary "golden poo," including Monsanto, numerous banks, and Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner Cable.
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