On Net Neutrality

It seems like the fix is in. Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman was the cable TV industry’s chief lobbyist! He spent too many years selling their points of view to not be biased.

Internet-Service-ProvidersThe whole concept of the Internet is amazingly cool. Each piece of the Internet exists independently from the others. Data packets route themselves to go from computer-to-computer. If part of the Internet crashes the system automatically works around the problem.

There are potential bottlenecks where Internet service providers (ISPs) connect to the Internet’s backbone. Until recently more traffic meant the ISPs would install more equipment, in essence laying broader pipes. Now that’s changed.

Comcast, as an example, has extracted money from Netflix. Otherwise Netflix videos would would be slowed by congestion, becoming unwatchable for Comcast subscribers.

John Oliver did a much better job explaining this than I can. This video is full of NSFW language. Beware.

I had to look up my congressman to write him… twice.

Recently I sent a comment to Congressman Campbell concerning FCC proceeding 14-28, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. I am disappointed to have not received any reply from Congressman Campbell’s office–not even confirmation you received my email. I certainly want to know Congressman Campbell’s position.

I am adamantly opposed to any rule change which will allow ISPs to ‘double dip’ by creating fast and slow lanes and charge businesses for access I already pay for.

Geoff Fox
Irvine

It seems like the fix is in. Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman (and of whom I wrote in 2007) was the cable TV industry’s chief lobbyist! He spent too many years selling their points of view to not be biased.

Maybe if the stink is big enough actual citizens can stop this travesty from taking place. That would be refreshing.

Comcast And AT&T: Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

Comcast wishes to become a vertically integrated behemoth. They will dictate programming and technology because their fingers are in every pie.

Even today they double dip, charging Netflix for services I’m already paying for. That’s what monopolies do! How can you say no to the company that stands between you and your customers?

New Haven Comcast officeComcast is in the process of swallowing Time-Warner. AT&T has just announced they’re purchasing DirecTV. Maybe I just haven’t looked closely enough, but where is the benefit to citizens?

The biggest trend in American business over the past few decades has been consolidation. Much of it is subject to regulatory approval. It should be subject to regulatory scrutiny. That part seems sorely lacking.

Comcast wishes to become a vertically integrated behemoth. They will dictate programming and technology because their fingers are in every pie.

Even today they double dip, charging Netflix for services I’m already paying for. That’s what monopolies do! How can you say no to the company that stands between you and your customers?

Comcast as every incentive to do more of the same, protecting their legacy businesses through the terms they offer consumers.

Will programming and distribution deals be structured, as many are now, to protect Comcast’s cable TV business? Why do I even ask?

There was a time in America when bigger was better. Charles Erwin Wilson, nominee for Secretary of Defense in the early 1950’s famously tried to hold onto his GM stock while in office&#185.

Because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.

att_logoAnd maybe, sixty years ago, it was. Employment scaled up as company’s did.

Is there anyone who actually believes the Comcast or AT&T acquisitions will have a positive outcome for America? More choice? More employment? More investment? Better technology?

“This compelling and complementary combination will bring significant benefits to all consumers, shareholders and DIRECTV employees,” said Mike White, president and CEO of DIRECTV. “U.S. consumers will have access to a more competitive bundle; shareholders will benefit from the enhanced value of the combined company; and employees will have the advantage of being part of a stronger, more competitive company, well positioned to meet the evolving video and broadband needs of the 21st century marketplace.” – AT&T press release

The important part is there in the last sentence:

a stronger, more competitive company, well positioned

We’re already dealing with companies treading very close to the anti-trust line. Take the bundling of cable TV services, where I have to buy loads of channels I don’t want to get the ones I do.

Typically, the “tied” product may be a less desirable one that the buyer might not purchase unless required to do so, or may prefer to get from a different seller. If the seller offering the tied products has sufficient market power in the “tying” product, these arrangements can violate the antitrust laws. – Federal Trade Commission

The system is being gamed and these mergers and acquisitions will only make things worse. It’s time to put a stop to it.

&#185 – He sold his stock before his appointment, but after his confirmation hearing.

In A Pissing Match Everyone Gets Wet

cantore-weather-channel

The Weather Channel and DirecTV have gone past the end of their carriage agreement with no new contract in sight. Let the PR games begin!

It’s only been the last few years that cable companies, satellite providers, stations and networks began airing their disputes in public, asking for your help to make sure channels don’t disappear. That makes me uncomfortable.

From my vantage, this dispute seems the most public and potentially ugliest so far. The Weather Channel is both DirecTV’s supplier and competitor–mostly owned by NBC/Universal, which itself is owned by Comcast! Comcast has to be careful they’re not teaching their suppliers how to beat them at their own game!

The Weather Channel of 2014 isn’t the same service that John Coleman began in 1982. Back then it was 100% weather presented without much sizzle. Today’s TWC is much more slickly packaged with lots of non-weather programming. DirecTV says, “more than 40 percent of The Weather Channel’s programming is dedicated to reality television shows.”

Beyond that, its iconic “Local on-the-8s” forecast is no longer uniformly delivered. In Connecticut, Comcast didn’t provide the local forecast on TWC’s HD channel. The forecast on TWC’s standard def channel was for the shoreline and often inapplicable where I lived a few hundred feet up on Mount Carmel. Here in Irvine, AT&T Uverse doesn’t provide it at all.

It’s also a problem for DirecTV subscribers.

Since we are a national service provider, we’re unable to offer local updates through The Weather Channel the way that local-based companies can.

The Weather Channel is facing a financial reality some all news channels are also facing. People watch when the weather’s compelling and don’t when it isn’t. That’s part of the reason for the move into (easily preempted) unscripted non-fiction.

weathernationThe wild card in all this is DirecTV’s ace in-the-hole, WeatherNation. A few weeks ago DirecTV began carrying WeatherNation right next to The Weather Channel. Begun by Paul Douglas, a Minneapolis area meteorologist for years and innovator in computer graphics, WN reminds me of the ‘old’ Weather Channel. It’s all weather with clean graphics, nothing fancy. It looks like a lean operation with the on-camera meteorologists acting as their own director, switching the show live on-air.

The Weather Channel is pushing back on-air and on-line. Jim Cantore, their most recognizable meteorologist/personality, has become the company spokesman.

But now DIRECTV is threatening to remove this critical life-saving community resource from 20 million households.

The problem is TWC probably isn’t where you should go when weather is critical. You’re nearly always better served going to a source which specifically concentrates on your specific area.

In the end this dispute isn’t about competition or technology or even “life-saving.” This is about money and power. When an agreement is reached (it will be) both DirecTV and The Weather Channel will shut up and play on.

Today it’s a pissing match and unfortunately, in a pissing match everyone gets wet!

Good Service From Time Warner Cable. No, Really

Time Warner Cable Beverly Connection

When people talk about Time Warner Cable it’s usually not to praise them. Here’s a typical TWC story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Time Warner Cable had the lowest customer satisfaction score in an industry-wide quarterly cable TV survey released Tuesday.

The quarterly American Customer Satisfaction Index report released Tuesday suggests consumers are generally becoming more satisfied with their cable TV companies, in particular the picture quality.

But Time Warner Cable’s scores declined 5%, the most of any provider. That gave Time Warner a 60 satisfaction rating on a scale of 100 in the first quarter of 2013 compared with a score of 63 in 2012, according to the report.

That’s not always the case. I speak from personal experience in fixing a problem with Stef’s cable.

The story starts a few weeks ago when Stef’s LG TV went from picture to blank! She tried all the things you’d normally do–cables, plugs, buttons, praying. Nothing worked.

What Stef didn’t know at the time was she was suffering one of the most vexing problems in tech–a failure hidden behind a feature.

I didn’t know either when I drove up yesterday to troubleshoot the problem.

No matter what we did, the input button would not change the input! As we’d later learn, that was the feature. I’ll explain in a minute.

I called LG’s support line. The very polite, very non-native English speaking agent said this problem would need to be dealt with by a technician. In other words, the TV was broken.

It was around this time I had my Eureka moment.

We have a TV at home with loads of inputs. To make it easier on the consumer you can’t click an input unless it’s getting a signal. If Stef’s TV wasn’t getting a signal from her cable box the input button would be useless, exactly the symptom we were seeing.

I carried another set in from her bedroom and plugged it into the cable box. No HDMI output. Blank screen!

The problem wasn’t the TV, it was the cable box!

It was the TV’s consumer friendly feature that kept us from seeing the problem wasn’t in the set. Why LG’s rep didn’t know this is a subject for another day.

I called Time Warner Cable. After moving through the voice prompts a human picked up on the second ring. He asked me the standard questions and after around thirty seconds said,

“I think you’re right.”

He told me to go to a TWC store where there would be notes on the account indicating we were good to go.

I am used to the Comcast hovel in New Haven. This was the antithesis. The TWC store at the Beverly Connection was new, warm and well staffed. At Comcast the agents sat behind Plexiglas, making a trip to their office feel like visiting day at prison. Here I was offered a bottle of water and some candy.

Stef signed in on the tablet near the door. Five minutes later we were done!

Our wait was short, their staff was friendly. I can’t fault Time Warner for a box failing after three years. There is nothing I could have wanted in the service I didn’t receive.

After I got back to Irvine, I received a text from Stef.

“Thank you again for fixing my lightbox. You’re a good Greg.&#185”

That seems like fair pay for a day’s work. Thanks Time Warner Cable.

&#185 – No, my name isn’t Greg. There’s a story behind being call Greg. You can read it here.

Dear Comcast

New Haven Comcast officeDear Comcast,

I am a subscriber to your New Haven, Connecticut system. I’m going to complain about commercials, but probably not in the way you expect.

The timing of your local commercial breaks is screwed up. I can’t believe no one there has noticed. I do. It’s been happening for months.

Here’s what happens. During a network break, a national commercial will be cut while in-progress as your local break rolls. This doesn’t happen at the very beginning or end of the spot, it’s right in the middle.

Then, when the cluster of local ads ends, you go back and catch the last few seconds of the last national spot.

Are you running 90 seconds of commercials in a 120 second hole? Maybe. I don’t really know.

All I can tell you is it’s jarring and puzzling. It’s as if you go in late and come out early.

Could you take care of it, please?

All the best,
Geoff

A Trip To The Cable Company

All I could think of today when I visited your New Haven office today was they’ve brought that DMV experience to the private sector!

Oh Comcast. There are so many people who work for you with whom I’ve had contact and who are wonderful. In fact that part of Comcast is nearly universal. Yet all I could think of today when I visited your New Haven office today was they’ve brought that DMV experience to the private sector!

I drove to New Haven to replace my RNG200 HD DVR. I’m now on my third.

You’ve seen TiVo? There will never be any confusion between it and this DVR!

To reach a higher channel when tuning you press up. To reach a higher channel when in the program guide you press down. Need I say more?

I pulled into the Comcast lot. No empty spaces. When a car finally did pull out another Comcast subscriber who’d gotten there after me pulled into the space. He was wearing a New Haven Parking Authority uniform with his name embroidered on the front.

This kind of thing is so irksome because he knows he did the wrong thing and just didn’t give a damn. I would so like to be a putz and find a way to get back, but I will leave it pass.

There were three long lines leading to four windows in the office. One woman asked another how it worked with three feeding four? No one knew. It was a situation that wasn’t poorly thought it. It just wasn’t thought out!

The waiting room itself is one of those drab places that doesn’t seem to be a profit center and is treated as such. Notices and advisories were printed then taped on the wall. Some were curling at the edges the way forgotten paper often does.

I could have had Comcast come to the house to replace my dead DVR. This seemed easier… well it did in the abstract. I waited in line and looked at my watch.

When I finally got to the window the agent was great. Unfortunately her microphone only worked every second or third sentence. I looked through the dirty, thick, plastic window symbolizing customer distrust and tried to read her lips.

I am a Comcast shareholder. I’ve owned a small position in their stock for a very long time. I appreciate the potential for profit in their business. But as a shareholder this experience was not a confidence builder.

They have a monopoly in providing TV and Internet service to my house. They won’t always.