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DSLreports - front page



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Published: Thu, 23 Mar 2017 06:40:02 EDT

Last Build Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2017 06:40:02 EDT

Copyright: Copyright 2005-2010, dslreports.com
 






17,000 AT&T Workers Go on Strike -

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 14:17:51 EDT

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17,000 AT&T technicians and call center employees across California and Nevada left work and went on strike this morning in protest over stalled contract negotiations. The workers are protesting at AT&T call centers and offices across California and Nevada, erecting picket lines in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. The CWA says workers have been working without a contract for more than a year, and AT&T has been "illegally" changing their work assignments without negotiation.

The biggest points of contention remains the offshoring of jobs to cheaper overseas call centers, erosion of health benefits, and pension elimination for new hires.

Roughly 2,200 DIRECTV satellite and warehouse workers in California and Nevada joined CWA in April 2016 and are currently in negotiations with AT&T for their first contract.

"AT&T technicians work around the clock to make sure our customers get the high-quality service they need and depend on, and we are building AT&T s billions of dollars in profits," said AT&T technician and 17 year employee Robinson Paiz.

"We don t want to let our customers down, but AT&T left us with no other choice. AT&T needs to get serious and honor its contract with us so we can keep servicing our customers."

The CWA was quick to point out that AT&T reported $41.8 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2016 and has posted profits of more than $1 billion a month over the previous 12 months.

"While AT&T is extremely profitable, the company has become disconnected from the day to day issues facing workers and customers," complains the union. "Despite the financial success, the company is asking its workers to do more for less -- keeping them from their families with unpredictable overtime, undercutting pay and advancement, offshoring good jobs, and pushing more healthcare costs onto employees. At the same time, customers are paying increasingly higher bills to AT&T for essential services."

AT&T has historically had a better track record of avoiding strikes than Verizon, which suffered through a seven week strike last year resulting in a notable loss of revenues and customers due to delayed repair and installation appointments. AT&T says the company continues to work in good faith toward a new contract.

"A walkout is not in anybody s best interest and it's unfortunate that the union chose to do that," AT&T said of the strike when asked for comment. "We're engaged in discussion with the union to get these employees back to work as soon as possible."
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Comcast's 4K Efforts Are Delayed. Again. -

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:10:02 EDT

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Comcast appears to have once again delayed the cable giant's foray into 4K ultra high definition television. On May 6, 2015, Comcast issued a press release proclaiming that the cable giant would be offering a 4K set top cable box by the end of the year. In that announcement, Comcast proclaimed that its "Xi4" set top box was to deliver 4K, while the company's looming "Xi5" box would be offering users access to HDR content. But despite the occasional hype bubbling forth from Comcast, the company's 4K efforts -- and new 4K-capable set top boxes -- were a no show.

This week the company gave a little more insight into the delay, but also indicated that the launch of 4K would be delayed even further.

Speaking at an industry trade show this week, company executives acknowledged that they've quite intentionally "slowed their roll" when it comes to 4K, largely because of evolving standards and the desire to integrate HDR (high dynamic range) -- which provides sharper, more realistic colors and contrast -- and 10 bit HEVC encoding -- which also provides "greater color precision," according to the company.

Comcast's Joshua Seiden said that the 10-bit HEVC standard (read more here) is new enough that Comcast is "having trouble getting the decoders it needs for its set-top boxes." The delay in deploying 4K content has allowed companies like Netflix and Amazon to take the lead in 4K, while cable providers debate whether to embrace QAM or IP for 4K delivery.

"4K HEVC almost has to be done over IP," said Seiden, noting that a single stream of 4K content consumes nearly an entire 6MHz cable network channel. With cable networks already constrained (many still haven't even offered full HD without compression artifacts) and QAM resources as limited as they are, cable providers are finding those bandwidth demands untenable.

According to Comcast there's still multiple 4K and HDR set top boxes in the works, but they're not likely to appear until the end of this year. And even then, Comcast's 4K push isn't really expected to take flight until the 2018 Winter Olympics.
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74% Still Pay for TV, Mostly Because it's Bundled With Broadband -

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:30:02 EDT

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Deloitte s latest annual Digital Democracy Survey found that 74% of US households still subscribe to traditional pay television service. But the survey of 2,131 US consumers (paywalled but previewed early over at Deadline Hollywood) also found that roughly two-thirds of these users keep paying for traditional cable because it s bundled with internet service. There's a growing segment of users that sign up for television largely because a broadband and TV bundle is less expensive than broadband alone (especially if you have the luxury of competition in your market).

We've noted repeatedly how Comcast's growing monopoly over broadband (as companies like AT&T and Verizon give up on unwanted DSL markets) has helped cushion the company from the cord cutting trend.

With AT&T and Verizon effectively hanging up on millions of unwanted DSL customers, these frustrated customers are heading to Comcast, where it's cheaper to sign up for a bundle of television and broadband, than just broadband alone. For millions of these frustrated and neglected telco cast offs, cable is their only option if they want broadband speeds faster than 3-6 Mbps.

That doesn't mean those customers will stick around as TV customers. Nor does it mean that cord cutting is overhyped or non-existent. What it does mean is that cable providers enjoy a monopoly in many broadband markets and are using that power to shove these users toward bundles. In many markets, TV and broadband bundled can be $20 less on promotion than just broadband alone.

Many of those customers may find themselves cutting the TV component once the full rates kick in. Especially this year, as a flood of new live streaming alternatives from AT&T, Hulu, Amazon and others begin to flood the market. That's of course where companies like Comcast clearly hope usage caps and zero rating (now with the FCC's blessing) will help keep these users captive.

The rest of the Deloitte survey is effectively of the "well, none of this is surprising" variety, finding that traditional cable advertising just doesn't resonate with younger consumers. In fact, the report found that just 18% of "Generation Z" (age 14 to 19) respondents and 25% of Millennials (age 20 to 33) stated that television ads highly influence their buying decisions.

"Many companies might discover that TV ads are no longer the most effective avenue for getting through to some audiences," the survey notes. "Enlisting online influencers and creating social buzz might matter more.

There's still a contingent of cable TV executives who somehow believe that cord cutting and the shift away from traditional TV is a temporary trend that magically disappears once these younger folks get married and procreate. But most people seem to realize that the challenges facing the cable sector are of a tectonic scale, and the orchestra is only just getting warmed up.





Congress to Vote on Killing Broadband Privacy Rules Tomorrow -

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:00:04 EDT

The GOP this week is rushing to vote to dismantle FCC rules protecting your privacy in the broadband era, clearly hoping the debate over the Affordable Care Act overshadows the move. The rules, passed last October, simply require that ISPs clearly disclose what's being collected, who they're selling to, and provide working opt out tools. In instances of more private data collection (your financial data or browsing history), users would have needed to opt in to have this data collected, stored and sold by broadband providers. But the marketing and broadband industries whined incessantly for months about the relatively modest rules, insisting they would "confuse" consumers (read: they make less money when users are informed and empowered to opt out of snoopvertising). Rushing to their aid, Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) earlier this month introduced Congressional Review Act resolutions that would kill the new rules before they're even allowed to take effect. The marketing industry in particular was highly enthusiastic about the move. A vote on the rules has been fast-tracked, with ISP lobbyists (and the politicians that love them) knowing full well that the ongoing debate over the Affordable Care Act revision will overshadow the effort. According to the Senate Calendar (pdf), a vote is expected to take place as soon as Thursday (aka tomorrow). Consumer advocacy groups like Public Knowledge are urging privacy conscious broadband consumers to contact their representatives. While the broadband and ad industries claim is this "reform" will bring greater "efficiency" to regulation, former FCC boss Tom Wheeler recently stated in an interview that the industry's push to have all broadband privacy overseen by the FTC is actually a ploy to ensure less company oversight, since the FTC is already over-worked, under-funded, can't craft new rules, and is over-extended from having to already manage countless other industries. There's also rumblings that the GOP will push legislation eroding the FTC's consumer protection authority as well. "It s a fraud," Wheeler recently said. "The FTC doesn t have rule-making authority. They ve got enforcement authority and their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive. And the FTC has to worry about everything from computer chips to bleach labeling. Of course, carriers want telecom issues to get lost in that morass. This was the strategy all along." Its also worth noting that the FCC only pursued broadband privacy rules after companies like Verizon got caught covertly modifying packets to track users around the internet, and companies like AT&T and Comcast began exploring forcing users to pay more for privacy. Other ISPs, like CableOne, have crowed about using financial data to provide poor customers with even worse customer service. Again, the lack of competition dampens the repercussions for this kind of behavior, none of which the FTC responded to (just the way giant ISPs want it). The 22 Senators pushing to kill the privacy rules have taken $1.7 million from the broadband industry since the 2012 election. Both the EFF and Public Knowledge have provided streamlined tools allowing you to contact your represntatives. read comment(s)[...]



FilmOn Loses Copyright Fight in Blow to Online Streaming -

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:00:02 EDT

Streaming video provider Aereo died a quick death in the courts after broadcasters declared the service violated copyright. The company had tried to skirt the law by offering users an $8 per month streaming TV package that delivered signals picked up by an ocean of micro-antennas -- then streamed it to your living room. But you might recall that in mid-2015, a court ruled that a company by the name of FilmOn was entitled to a compulsory license under the Copyright Act to retransmit the broadcasters' programs. While initially some believed the win could lead to cheaper TV service as broadcasters licensed their programming to Internet companies at discounted rate, a new court ruling has now put that possibility to bed. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this week rejected a bid by FilmOn to stream broadcast channels over the Internet under a provision of the Copyright Act. FilmOn lawyers had argued that the company should be able to stream broadcast content online under an exception to the Copyright Act intended for cable companies, since the law allows cablecos a "compulsory license" to distribute broadcast channels for a nominal fee. But according to the full ruling (pdf), the court shot down the idea that this compulsory license should apply to streaming TV content over the internet. While the court acknowledged that the law itself is relatively ambiguous on this subject, they deferred to the Copyright Office, which has previously and consistently argued that internet streaming services do not qualify as "cable systems" under the law. Granted as we saw when the Copyright Office spread false information to help the cable sector shoot down attempts to bring competition to the cable box, the Office often only has bigger company financial best interests in mind. Needless to say, consumer advocacy groups were disappointed by the ruling. "A legal result where online video services have the same copyright liabilities as traditional cable services (following the Supreme Court's Aereo decision), but not the same copyright benefits (the compulsory license), is not a good result for consumers or competition," said Public Knowledge of the ruling. "Traditional pay TV services already have many advantages over online video services," continued the group. "They are dominant buyers of programming that can use their influence to keep content away from competitors, and they are often integrated with the same broadband access networks that online video services themselves need access to if they are to reach viewers. Adding legal barriers to those existing advantages benefits incumbents at the expense of consumers and potential new entrants." For its part, FilmOn says it was "disappointed" with the ruling, but would continue fighting. "FilmOn X is disappointed with the Ninth Circuit s opinion, which allows the Copyright Office to further its narrow agenda rather than give meaning to the plain language of the relevant statute," said the company. "FilmOn X continues to believe Congress intended that cable companies could utilize modern communications channels to deliver broadcast television to the American public." Interested readers can find the full ruling here (pdf). read comment(s)[...]



Forum Topic: Getting the Best Deal From Charter -

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:00:02 EDT

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While Charter has raised most customers' rates and eliminated many promotional offers post merger, users in our Charter forum found that they've had some luck in getting a better deal by cancelling -- and then just waiting for Charter to contact them with a better deal. "I get a call every day now," says one freshly-cancelled customer. "Each one has same prices or offers much lower then i was offered when canceling."





Charter CEO Nets New $98.5 Million Pay Package -

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 07:40:02 EDT

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While customers say the Charter merger hasn't been particularly good for consumers, Charter CEO Tom Rutledge appears to be doing well in the wake of the deal. Bloomberg points to new SEC filings that indicate Rutledge was awarded a $98.5 million pay package last year as part of a new contract that will keep the CEO in place until 2021. The report notes that Rutledge received stock options valued at approximately $78 million last year, after earning $16.4 million in total pay the year before. Rutledge's 2016 compensation also included $10.1 million in stock awards and a $7.65 million cash bonus.
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Cablecos Are Killing Niche Channels, Yet You're Paying The Same -

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 18:10:03 EDT

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A growing number of cable providers are killing off lesser known channels -- yet you're still paying more and more money every month to your cable provider. The Wall Street Journal has an interesting report on how small, niche cable channels are slowly but surely dying, as pay TV providers trim the lesser-watched channels to save money wherever possible. The Journal's staff analyzed data on more than 100 TV channels, and found that many of these channels still cost you significant money, despite the fact you're not watching them:

quote:
Nearly 70 channels that collect an average of $13 of Americans monthly cable bills each accounted for about 0.5% or less of total TV viewing in January, according to a WSJ analysis of Nielsen and Kagan data.
Around nine companies own the lion's share of channels in your cable lineup, and most are painfully aware that consumers are growing increasingly annoyed at high prices and bloated bundles. Yet the Journal is quick to note that despite the consumer demand for more flexible channel skinny bundles and a la carte TV, cable bundles for years just got fatter as companies refused to compromise or lose money:
quote:
Since 2008, the average number of channels in U.S. cable bundles has grown from 129 to 199. But people typically watch only about 15 a week, according to Nielsen.
You'll recall that one of the industry's argument against a la carte TV channels (where you pick and choose just the channels you want) was that it would kill off niche channels. That appears to be happening anyway, and lucky you -- you're now losing this content yet still paying more for cable TV than ever before.
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Charter Kills Earthlink Broadband Promotion 'Loophole' -

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:10:02 EDT

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Charter is killing a "loophole" that allowed customers to grab a better deal from Earthlink. For more than a decade users were able to play the two companies off of one another, thanks to conditions originally attached to the 2000 merger between AOL and Time Warner (which at that point still owned Time Warner Cable). Users at the tail end of a Time Warner Cable promotion could seamlessly switch to Earthlink broadband at a six month promotional rate for $30 per month. After that promo period, they could simply switch back to Time Warner Cable for a new promotional rate using the same connection.

Rinse, wash repeat.

But Stop the Cap notes that Charter has killed the option.

The move isn't a particular surprise, given that Charter has been moving away from promotions after recently acquiring Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. In fact, many users now say they're paying more than ever for broadband courtesy of the megamerger's "synergies." With the Earthlink loophole closed, another avenue for users to get a better deal has also been closed.

My broadband bill is now double what it used to be because I cannot switch to a broadband promotion with Charter as my Earthlink promotion ends this month, one South Carolina user tells the website. "I was paying $30 a month and now Spectrum wants to charge me $65 a month."

"After Spectrum pricing took effect in my area, my bill went up $30 a month," said another Chater customer in Maine. I was hoping to switch back to Earthlink but after placing an order with Earthlink, a representative from Charter/Spectrum called me and denied my request. It s false competition. Since when is it okay to sign up with one company and then get a call from another telling me I am not allowed to take my business elsewhere. It s monopoly abuse!"

Of course to Charter executives, reducing broadband competition -- especially when that competition comes over a line they own -- is a good thing.
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ISP Think Tank Urges FCC to Kill Ban on Charter Usage Caps -

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 10:00:02 EDT

A think tank funded by major broadband providers is pushing the FCC to remove a condition barring Charter from imposing usage caps. As part of Charter's $79 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, the FCC broke from a long tradition of hollow merger conditions and banned the company from imposing usage caps for a period of seven years. That was a notable hit on Charter, given that other cable providers like Comcast have been rapidly expanding such arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions as the amount of telco competition in many markets decreases. Now, the broadband industry funded think tank known as the Conservative Enterprise Institute is pushing new FCC boss Ajit Pai to kill the condition. In a recent petition to the FCC and a corresponding blog post (pdf, hat tip, Stop the Cap), the think tank repeats the long-standing claim that usage caps are all about fairness -- and not, as most of us realize, about giant broadband providers raising rates on uncompetitive markets, while protecting their TV revenues from streaming video competitors. "As then-Commissioner Pai wrote in 2016, this condition is neither fair nor progressive," claims the group. "Instead, he called this the paradigmatic case of the 99% subsidizing the 1%, as it encourages Charter to raise prices on all consumers in response to costs stemming from the activities of a bandwidth-hungry few." Right, but even many broadband CEOs have acknowledged that usage caps aren't an effective way to manage network congestion. They're also in no way tied to financial necessity, since flat-rate broadband has proven very profitable. What usage caps are: a glorified price hike on uncompetitive markets with a very real, anti-competitive impact on competing streaming video providers. In short, imposing confusing price hikes on all customers (even if some don't reach the cap initially) isn't about fairness, it's about making more money off of all Charter customers. Usage caps aren't the only Charter merger condition the industry is trying to have killed. As part of the conditions Charter was also required to provide a low-income broadband option, adhere to net neutrality for a period of seven years (even if ISPs are successful at killing the FCC's net neutrality rules during that period), and build out broadband to two million additional households (1 million of which needed to be overbuilds into competing ISP territory). Pai is already looking to eliminate overbuild conditions that were part of the deal, but the CEI wants the entire condition package scrapped. To, uh, help consumers. "These four conditions, among several others imposed by the Commission in its Order, will hurt consumers and are contrary to the 'public interest, convenience, and necessity'", the CEI argues in its petition. "The Commission should therefore reconsider these conditions and remove them from the Order." Surely Charter customers appreciate the CEI's "help" and are eagerly awaiting paying more money for the same broadband, right?read comment(s)[...]