TIME mergers

Charter Promises To Play by the Government’s Internet Rules

Charter Communications Buys Time Warner Cable In $79 Billion Deal
Yvonne Hemsey—Getty Images Charter Communications's office in Newtown, Connecticut is seen May 30, 2015.

If it's allowed to merge with Time Warner Cable

Charter is ready to go above and beyond the government’s requirements for maintaining a free and open Internet, as long as it gets to merge with Time Warner Cable. The cable and Internet giant submitted a statement to the Federal Communications Commission Thursday explaining why the proposed merger between the two companies, along with Bright House Networks, is in the public interest.

If the merger is approved, Charter said that it would not block or throttle certain types of Internet traffic or prioritize certain content in paid “fast lanes.” These are central tenets of net neutrality rules which the FCC recently reenacted, but Charter is agreeing to adhere to these standards even if the new regulations are later ruled illegal (it’s happened before).

Charter also said it would submit disputes over interconnection agreements to the FCC. Interconnection is how ISPs like Charter transfer traffic from content services such as Netflix into people’s homes. The agreements have come under increased public scrutiny over the last year due to drawn-out debates between Netflix and Internet companies like Comcast and Verizon.

Even with these promises, there’s no guarantee that the FCC will approve the merger, which would give Charter about 19 million broadband customers and 17 million TV customers. Comcast dropped a bid to acquire Time Warner Cable earlier this year after it became clear that the FCC was unlikely to approve the deal.

TIME Innovation

Why It’s Time to Kill the Performance Review

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. It’s time to kill the performance review.

By Melissa Dahl in the Science of Us

2. Give communities a valuable summertime resource: Open school grounds for play.

By the editorial board of the Fresno Bee

3. Could we outlaw street harassment?

By Daniel Serrano in Vice

4. We should be able to answer this simple question: How many people die in police custody?

By the editorial board of Bloomberg View

5. Here’s an Internet roadmap for a more equal society. (Hint: it’s got broadband and free wifi everywhere.)

By Ron Klain in Democracy

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Media

Showtime Announces Subscription-Free Streaming Plan

Private Reception And Screening Of Homeland Season 4
Stephen Lovekin—Getty Images for Showtime Actors Mandy Patinkin and Claire Danes attend a Private Reception And Screening Of Homeland Season 4 on September 4, 2014 in New York City.

After HBO made a similar move

Just one month from now, you’ll be able to watch Homeland, Shameless, The Affair, and other Showtime hits without cable.

CBS Corporation, which owns Showtime, has unveiled a streaming-only Showtime offering, according to Variety. Also known as an “OTT” (over-the-top) product, the application will let even those who do not pay to receive Showtime through a cable package watch the network’s programming over the Internet, on a desktop computer or connected device.

The service launches on July 12, coinciding with the season premieres of Ray Donovan and Masters of Sex. It will cost $11 a month, four dollars cheaper than rival HBO’s similar offering.

Like HBO, Showtime previously had an app, called ShoGo, that only allowed TV subscribers to access Showtime on a tablet. Now Showtime is following in the footsteps of HBO, which launched HBO Now this year, offering non-cable subscribers access to HBO for $15 a month. HBO has not yet publicly released numbers on the paying subscribers for HBO Now, but it has indicated that the company sees the launch as a success.

As Variety points out, CBS already moved into OTT last year with CBS All Access, a $6-per-month product with all of CBS’s primary programs as well as the ability to stream CBS affiliate channels signals in local markets.

The move by CBS is considered another step in the burgeoning cord-cutting revolution that is bringing more digital video options for those who no longer wish to pay for traditional television. This week, the National Football League also announced it will stream a regular-season game for the first time exclusively through Yahoo, only showing it on television in the local markets of the two teams.

MONEY TV

Even for Cable TV, These Customer Satisfaction Ratings are Horrible

Time Warner Cable retail store in New York
Richard Levine—Alamy Time Warner Cable retail store in New York

Nearly all providers earned the lowest scores possible for value.

It seems like every customer satisfaction survey about pay TV and Internet providers has become, de facto, a study in dissatisfaction. High, consistently rising monthly bills, combined with poor customer service and little flexibility in packages, have resulted in abysmal satisfaction ratings for Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and the rest of the field.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these services scored poorly in the new Consumer Reports survey. But man, this is bad!

“Along with death and taxes, lousy cable service seems to be one of life’s certainties,” the report states. The survey asked consumers to rate TV, Internet, and phone services, as well as bundled packages including two or all three of the above. Ratings for the value provided in the TV and Internet components were especially awful: 38 out of the 39 Internet services, and 20 out of the 24 TV providers, received the lowest scores possible. What’s more, 19 out of the 20 bundles rated in the survey earned poor scores as well in terms of value.

Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications—which are in the process of merging—were near the bottom of ratings for TV service and bundles. Comcast, which until very recently looked like it was going to buy Time Warner Cable, was also rated among the worst of the worst. As for whether such loathed services will improve or get even worse by expanding via mergers and acquisitions, it’s anyone’s guess. Let’s just say it’s unwise to get your hopes up.

The one clear-cut practical takeaway from the survey is that it’s absolutely in your best interest to call your provider and complain. The business model of pay TV-Internet providers is one in which new customers are drawn in with low introductory rates, which escalate higher and higher the longer you’re a subscriber. It’s a much-criticized system that puts subscribers at odds with the “retention specialists” whose job it is to keep customers from canceling. These customer service agents might otherwise be providing, you know, actual customer service, but instead they focus on negotiating with subscribers who call to complain about rising monthly bills. As the CR report shows, there are rewards for customers who take the time to hound their providers for better terms:

Among the 42 percent who said they tried to negotiate a better deal, 45 percent reported that the provider dropped the bundle price by up to $50 per month, 30 percent got a new promotional rate, and 26 percent received additional premium channels.

Based on results like this, pay TV and Internet providers should anticipate the continued steady stream of subscribers calling up with gripes about monthly rates. After all, instead of tweaking the structure to eliminate complaints about pricing, the system all but encourages subscribers to complain, haggle, and threaten to drop the service in order to be treated fairly.

What emerges is two categories of subscribers. One routinely complains and, amid lengthy, frustrating phone calls, is rewarded with monthly rates that are lower than they otherwise would have been. The other sits back and pays whatever bills arrive each month, without complaint. Essentially, if you don’t want to deal with hassles, you’ll be ripped off.

It’s no surprise, then, that both of these categories of subscribers would give their providers extremely low satisfaction ratings and say that they are poor values.

MONEY The Economy

Internet Subsidy Means More Jobs for Poorer Americans, Says FCC

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wants broadband Internet for low-income families.

TIME Web

Why Dial-Up Internet Isn’t Dead Yet

The Verizon-AOL deal shows staying power of the first consumer Internet connection

Verizon’s announcement Tuesday that it plans to purchase AOL revealed a interesting tidbit about what AOL is up to these days. Not only does the company continue to provide old-fashioned, dial-up Internet service to 2.3 million active subscribers, but that subscriber base has held surprisingly steady in recent years. The current numbers are only a notch lower than 2013, when AOL had 2.5 million dial-up subscribers, according to the company’s second-quarter earnings report.

The numbers reflect a broader trend in broadband adoption—or lack thereof. The vast majority of Americans abandoned their dial-up connections in droves sometime between 2000 and 2010. But their numbers plateaued in recent years. Meanwhile, a slender minority of the population, roughly 3%, didn’t make the switch, according to Pew Research. Year after year, the same percentage of Americans stuck to dial-up.

FT_13.08.29_BroadbandUse_420px-copy

That’s partly because broadband providers have yet to extend fiberoptic cables to sparsely populated regions, such as rural counties in southeast Missouri. “It’s just not a concentrated enough population to justify the investment from the companies,” said Felicity Ray, director of the Ozark Foothills Regional Planning Commission. Residents have been advocating for federal or state funding to extend the broadband cables a little farther into the countryside, Ray said.

“We’ve been trying, trying, trying to get higher-speed Internet,” Judy Allen, 75, who lives five miles outside the Missouri town of Bunker (pop. 402), told TIME. Her house falls just a mile beyond the local broadband network’s outer limit, so she’s been forced to stick with dial-up service instead.

“It was slow as grandma, but it was there all the time,” Allen said—until it wasn’t. The local service provider closed up shop and Allen had to switch to an even costlier and less reliable satellite connection. At roughly $70 a month, she said, she gets a connection that is occasionally disrupted by a cloud drifting overhead. “The politicians say, ‘We want everybody to have access to high-speed internet,’ but they won’t fund it,” Allen said.

MORE 3 Charts that Show Why Verizon Wants AOL

Of course, not all dial-up subscribers are physically cut off from the broadband network. A Pew survey in 2009 found that roughly 15% of dial-up subscribers had no access to speak of, while a full one-third said they simply couldn’t afford to pay broadband prices. AOL offers a dial up connection at $11.99 a month, a tempting discount, especially for more infrequent Internet users. Besides, not everyone needs to stream videos in high definition.

Pew researchers did discover a tiny kernel of users who seemed to have a stubborn attachment to their dial-up service. Whether it was due to age or force of habit, those respondents didn’t say, but roughly one-fifth simply asserted “nothing would get them to change.”

So even if broadband prices plummet and networks expand to every last redoubt of dial-up nation, AOL may still have a core of paying customers for years to come. If that sounds implausible, consider the longevity of the telegram, which remained a viable service in India until 2013, more than a century after phones supposedly rendered it obsolete.

MORE Meet the Man Who Brought AOL Back From the Dead

MONEY Net neutrality

Why Net Neutrality Isn’t Worth Celebrating

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler (C) holds hands with FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn (L) and Jessica Rosenworcel during an open hearing on Net Neutrality at the FCC headquarters February 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. Today the FCC will vote on Net Neutrality seeking to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Net neutrality doesn't fix the most pressing problem with our internet service.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission officially approved net neutrality regulations intended to protect consumers and businesses from internet service providers.

The new rules, broadly outlined earlier this month by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, will restrict ISPs like Comcast and Time Warner from blocking or slowing down traffic to certain websites, or allowing certain companies to pay extra for better treatment.

These regulations are positive step, but those swept up by the hype might end up disappointed when the real thing finally arrives. That’s because net neutrality doesn’t seriously address anything cable companies are currently doing, nor will it help with the number one issue most people care about: the price and quality of their service.

What Net Neutrality Really Does

Let’s start with the restrictions against blocking or slowing down websites. It’s obviously good that cable companies will now be prevented from actively censoring content, but this isn’t something ISPs ever actually practiced.

“I think it’s funny that the three big rules are no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization,” Dan Rayburn, principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan and owner of StreamingMedia.com, told MONEY. “That’s all great, but do we have a single instance of an ISP doing any of those things?”

That might sound surprising to those who’ve heard Netflix’s repeated complaints that various ISPs, particularly Comcast, were intentionally degrading its service unless the company paid a “toll.” Isn’t that exactly what net neutrality is meant to stop?

Well, sort of. What Netflix and Comcast are really fighting over is something called “interconnection” or “peering,” where sites with especially heavy traffic have to pay more for extra capacity. Comcast says Netflix should be charged for using additional resources, whereas Netflix thinks it’s being strong-armed into forking over more than it should.

The new net neutrality regulations give the FCC some oversight over these agreements to determine if they’re “just and reasonable,” but that standard is so vague as to make an already complicated issue difficult to enforce. In Chairman Wheeler’s proposal, broadband providers are allowed to pretty much do whatever they want as long as they defend their actions as “reasonable network management,” which, as The Verge points out, is “a term which the ISPs have already been using to justify congestion at interconnection points.”

What Net Neutrality Doesn’t Fix

The upshot of all this is very little will change for the average U.S. internet user in a post-net-neutrality world. That’s a bad thing, because America does have a very serious internet problem desperately in need of regulatory assistance: namely, the fact that our internet connections are slower and costlier than the rest of the developed world’s.

The solution to this problem is simple: more competition. FCC data from 2013 shows 55% of American households have no choice in their broadband provider, and the agency has said Comcast will be the only broadband provider for nearly two-thirds of consumers if the company is allowed to merge with Time Warner Cable. It’s not hard to see why cable companies don’t have to compete very hard for your business.

Competition is scarce because it’s prohibitively expensive for a new company to build its own fiber network. The FCC could have fixed this problem by requiring “last-mile unbundling,” a policy that would force major broadband providers to lease their own networks to competing ISPs, when it reclassified broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. However, Chairman Wheeler explicitly ruled unbundling out of any net neutrality regulation.

This means the average internet user is going to be paying more for subpar internet for the foreseeable future. The Obama administration is planning to address this by encouraging cities to develop their own broadband networks, which, if effective, should create more competition and faster internet service. But such a solution is far away and will likely face significant legal hurdles.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying net neutrality is actively bad. We’re better off in a world with these kinds of restrictions. That said, the new rules should be seen as little more than a preventive measure for abuses that have largely yet to occur. For more meaningful reform, Americans should throw their support behind other policies that will break broadband monopolies and actually improve their connections. The fight for a better internet isn’t over. It’s barely begun.

A previous version of this article said a Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger would increase the number of consumers with no choice in broadband providers to two-thirds of Americans. The FCC says a merger would indeed result in two-thirds of U.S. households having only one broadband provider, but this is not likely to be an increase.

MONEY technology

How to Trim Your Internet Bill After You Cut the Cord on Cable

laptop with cord in shape of piggy bank
Atomic Imagery—Getty Images

Pay attention to how much speed you're paying for—and what you really need.

You can cut your land line and sever your cable TV, but if you want to stream the new season of “House of Cards,” you need to hang on to your Internet connection. Whatever savings you might achieve by ditching other services, you will almost certainly give them back as your bill for Web connectivity inexorably creeps up.

Consumers now pay an average of $50 a month for a broadband connection to the Web, which is up from a monthly average of about $40 a decade ago. But costs can vary widely—ranging from $10 to $120— depending on whether the service is bundled with cable and phone, is an introductory rate, and depending also on your connectivity speed.

Cutting costs for Internet starts with understanding what you are currently paying. Most people cannot even parse this out because their bills are a jumble of bundled pricing and fees, says Kim Komando, who has hosted a national radio talk show on computers and technology for more than 20 years.

“If you haven’t looked at your whole internet package, then it’s time to go through it A-Z,” she said.

The items to look for include: the base price, speed surcharges, and equipment. If you cannot figure it out based on the arcane coding on your bill, call and ask.

One potential way to save is to buy your own modem/router combination—at $50 to $100, you could quickly make up the $5 to $10 a month rental fee you may be charged.

Another variable to control is your speed. A study released recently by the Federal Communications Commission says standalone Internet service that delivers 10-25 megabits per second (Mbps) is becoming the standard for the typical family that streams video. Many, however, opt for even higher speeds.

You could be paying for more than you need, or getting less than you expect because the wiring to your home simply cannot deliver.

The bottom line, according to savings expert Andrea Woroch, is do not pay for more speed than you need. Someone who goes online mainly to check email could make it work with a connection of 1 Mbps rather than the typical offering of 10 Mbps or more.

Some of the biggest cable providers are offering “basic” Internet connections for about $15 a month for these light users. The same deal applies for DSL, a slower Internet connection offered by phone companies and delivered over traditional phone lines. Light users will enjoy a decent price compared with those who pay for high-speed broadband, but the trade-off is that they cannot expect to stream movies without frustration or engage in video game battles online.

For those who want to make sure they are getting the speed they are paying for, numerous websites such as SpeedTest.net measure the actual speed of your connection.

If it turns out that you are paying for one speed but are receiving far less, Komando said it is important to go back to your provider and ask for an adjustment.

Vote With Your Feet

The next step is to call the competition, if you have alternate service providers in your area. If you do not, Woroch said it is still worth calling your provider to ask for a lower rate.

If you price out a cheaper plan, you can ask your current company to match it.

If they balk, all the better. The best deals can come from the cancellations department, says Ian Aronovich, 42, of Great Neck, New York.

Aronovich, who runs the website GovernmentAuctions.org, says he first went to Cablevision Systems Corp, his provider, about four years ago and asked for a rate that would match the introductory offer of a competitor. That deal bundled phone, TV and Internet for about $90 rather than the more than $150 he was paying.

After following up yearly to ask for better rates, Aronovich is still receiving about the same discount today—which works out to $29.99 for a high-speed connection with a free router.

MONEY Internet

Want a New Broadband Provider? Google Expands Its High-Speed Internet to 4 More Cities

Google’s newly announced Fiber cities are already territory served by the likes of AT&T and Time Warner Cable.

TIME Internet

Google Fiber Expands Into Southeastern U.S.

Plans for Portland, San Antonio and other cities also in the pipeline

Google’s high-speed broadband service will soon be available to consumers in four metropolitan areas in the Southeastern U.S.

The company announced Tuesday that Google Fiber will soon be available in Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham. Since the expansion encompasses the surrounding areas of these metropolitan hubs, Google says it’s technically expanding into 18 new cities total.

Google launched Google Fiber nearly three years ago in Kansas City and has since expanded the service to Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah. Google Fiber offers download and upload speeds of up to one gigabit per second, which the company says is 100 times faster than basic broad speeds, for $70 per month.

The service has mostly been viewed as a way to shame traditional ISPs into boosting their own broadband speeds. A speedier Internet benefits Google because it allows people to execute search queries faster, which lets Google serve users more ads.

Google didn’t offer a timetable for when customers can start buying Google Fiber in the new cities. It has also tapped Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Jose as five additional cities where Google Fiber may be rolled out in the future.

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