Charter Spectrum Once Again 'Competes' By… Raising Prices
from the nickel-and-dime dept
When Charter Communications (Spectrum) proposed merging with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in 2016, the company repeatedly promised that the amazing “synergies” would lower rates, increase competition, boost employment, and improve the company’s services. Of course like countless telecom megamergers before it, that never actually happened. Instead, the company quickly set about raising rates to manage the huge debt load. And its service has been so aggressively terrible, the company almost got kicked out of New York State, something I’ve never seen in 20 years of covering telecom.
Fast forward to 2019, and despite surging competition from streaming video providers, Charter is once again raising rates on numerous services. Broadband and TV services will all be seeing major price increases next month, as will the company’s hardware rental surcharges and the universe of misleading fees the industry uses to covertly jack up the advertised rate post sale. That includes the company’s “broadcast TV fee,” which is really just a small part of the cost of programming hidden below the line in the form of a (now) $13.50 monthly additional charge:
“With this price change, you will now pay $13.50 a month for broadcast TV fees, which is up from $11.99 a month. This will add up to $162 a year to your bill just watch free over-the-air TV you could get with an antenna.”
Note: that fee had already seen a $2 bump early this year.
That Charter’s response to increased streaming video competition and record cord cutting is to raise rates tells you plenty about both the level of competition it sees in broadband, and the regulatory oversight of the sector. These hidden fees in particular are something the FCC (under both parties) has been happy to turn a blind eye to. Much in the same way both parties have rubber stamped a long line of telecom and media megamergers that, time and time again, have only really netted one thing: greater sector consolidation, higher rates, fewer jobs, and worse service.
Giants like Comcast and Charter have one ace in the hole when it comes to the streaming video wars to come. They are enjoying growing monopolies over broadband access thanks to the slow, steady implosion of many US telcos. That limited competition has let Comcast respond to cord cutting and streaming by imposing arbitrary and punitive usage caps and overage fees that are incurred when its broadband users use a competitor’s services (say Netflix) but not their own TV offerings. This lets them simultaneously cash in on — and hinder — streaming competitors.
Charter’s banned from doing this due to a few flimsy conditions affixed to its 2016 merger, but those conditions expire in just a few years, meaning you can expect an even fatter broadband bill over the horizon. The FCC having just effectively neutered its oversight authority over telecom at telecom lobbyist behest certainly isn’t likely to help, nor is the death of FCC privacy and net neutrality consumer protections.