Cable Giant Altice Demonstrates Why A Lack Of Broadband Competition Matters

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

So, we've noted for a long time how US telecom giants, facing neither competition nor meaningful oversight, never have to try very hard. Thanks to their regional monopolies and duopolies over broadband access, competitors in many areas never really force them to compete on price, expand access into lower ROI areas, or shore up atrocious customer service. And thanks to the federal and state corruption that protects these regional monopolies, lawmakers generally don't much care -- outside of some occasional empty lip service to that nebulous, causation free "digital divide" they all profess to care so much about.

This week French-owned US cable giant Altice once again showcased what this apathy looks like in practice. The company announced it would be cutting the upload speeds on its broadband tiers by 86 percent, while still charging users the same rate. Why? Because with no decent options for most of its subscribers to flee to, there will be absolutely no penalty for it.

Of course Altice can't be candid about that fact, so it tried (and failed) to find some other justification that sounded at least marginally coherent:

"Altice claimed that its cable network isn't having any trouble offering its current advertised speeds. "Our network continues to perform very well despite the significant data usage increases during the pandemic and the speed tiers we offer," the company said. The upload-speed change is apparently being implemented not to solve any network problem but to match the slower upload speeds offered by other cable ISPs. Altice told Ars that it is changing its cable upload speeds to bring them "in line with other ISPs and aligned with the industry."

So there's no technical reason to be doing this, they're just exploiting an uncompetitive market. So for example whereas the company used to offer a tier of 100 Mbps downstream and 35 Mbps upstream, new users now get to pay the same money for speeds of 100 Mbps downstream and 5 Mbps upstream. Existing customers will be able to keep their existing tiers, but the second they go to change their plans (which will be mandatory if they're seeking new bundle promotions) they'll lose their faster speeds and be shoveled off to inferior product.

To be clear this is a regional mono/duopoly abusing a lack of competition in its service area to actively make its service worse during the tail end of the pandemic. And because US regulators are so feckless and/or corrupt, not only will there be no action taken here, you'll be lucky to even see a single regulator or politician even mention that it ever happened. After all, with "big tech antitrust reform" sucking all the policy oxygen out of the room (something telecom has actively encouraged), there's just no energy left for reform in any of the countless other heavily consolidated US business sectors.

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Filed Under: broadband, competition, upload speeds
Companies: altice


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 28 Jun 2021 @ 9:31am

    Well that's one way to do it I suppose...

    'Other ISP's offer abysmal service so we decided to deliberately make our service worse to match' is definitely a novel explanation for screwing your customers, so points for at least coming up with a new excuse I guess?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Melvin Chudwaters, 28 Jun 2021 @ 9:38am

    It shouldn't shock anyone that these ISPs (and cable company ISPs in particular) are pulling stunts like this. They're as close to supervillains as it is possible to be in the real world (hell, don't we get a few monologues from them once in awhile?).

    However, I urge everyone to look more closely at this. It's not greed, or at least not simple greed. Altice isn't the only cable company to do this recently, and they never just make it more expensive.

    You can't go offer them more money to get that upload bandwidth back. If it was about greed, they'd hold it hostage until we paid the ransom. But they don't. Instead they make it completely off-limits.

    One wonders if we won't see the same from AT&T (non-cable ISP) eventually. With their fiber offerings, symmetry is built-in (in fact, uploads can be slightly higher, since there are overheads on the down side of GPON) but as newer protocols are rolled out, those might be massaged to make asymmetry a feature (that no one wanted).

    Is this about streaming? If they intended to stream stuff to us, why hobble the upload? No one ever said "I was going to veg out in front of this $29.99 pay-per-view streaming, but instead I think I'll go entertain myself by sending out streams of my webcam pointed at a bird feeder".

    There's some deeper sociological malevolence going on here, the details of which I can't quite tease out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 29 Jun 2021 @ 5:12pm

      Re:

      If there's a "deeper sociological malevolence" it's probably the fact that most ISP's would rather we end-users remain as consumers of online products rather than producers of the same. You need a pretty big upload pipe to stream at FHD or 4K and play an online game at the same time. Similarly, you need a big pipe to upload a 4K video in a reasonable period of time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Lostinlodos (profile), 29 Jun 2021 @ 5:45pm

        Re: Re:

        Totally side-tracking on the topic here but:
        “Similarly, you need a big pipe to upload a 4K video in a reasonable period of time.“
        True. That will change in the coming years though. AV1 is changing that.
        The current crop of AMD CPUs do near real-time conversion on creating content, and the M1 cpu is even faster yet.

        AV1 has proven 4K at 1500kbs is quite reasonable, and most AV1 product demos I’ve seen are 50-60 min and are mailed on a DVD disc.

        Once AV1 becomes user friendly the era of 50GB 4K will die quickly.
        None of the YouTube TV/YouTube Red AV1 4K content I’ve seen is above 5Mbps. And most is between 1.5 and 3Mbps.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    That Other Other Guy, 28 Jun 2021 @ 9:40am

    Insert the standard language here...

    Internet service needs to be categorized as a public utility nationally in legislation that would also specifically ban all state and local restrictions that limit service to a single monopoly ISP service.

    The only politicians that oppose that idea get checks from an ISP or are under regulatory capture.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Dave, 28 Jun 2021 @ 3:35pm

      Re: Insert the standard language here...

      Which are, in fact, nearly all politicians. Nearly every single one of them is in the pockets of big corporations. That is why the US is not in fact democratic, but plutocratic.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Vinny Abello, 29 Jun 2021 @ 5:50am

      Re: Insert the standard language here...

      In most cases, there is nothing preventing other ISPs from competing. The main reason there isn’t competition is because building a network to reach customers is expensive. If you’re competing with another company or two, there’s no guarantee how many customers you’ll get to make your money back. ISP’s don’t want to take the risk in overbuilding and losing money as a result, so they just stay in their areas and buy other ISP’s infrastructure to expand.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2021 @ 10:01am

    "in line with other <market-sector-companies> and aligned with the industry." This is the exact argument my employer has used for at least a decade while engaging in a race-to-the-bottom on employee benefits. I'm only surprised it's taken the telecom industry this long to catch on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2021 @ 2:42pm

      Re:

      Yes. This exactly. "The plan is too rich."

      In this case, it doesn't cost us more, won't save us anything by cutting it way back, but boy can we upcharge people who want back what they had before.

      I guess that the "leaving money on the table" psychopathic bullshit people love to bring up. Hey, we (at least maybe) can get something we don't need, certainly do not deserve, but we can hurt everyone else because we can, so we will.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2021 @ 10:03am

    I'm stupid

    I went to check to see how my internet speeds were doing, completely forgetting I was logged into a customer's VPN. Whoops.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2021 @ 11:28am

    So for example whereas the company used to offer a tier of 100 Mbps downstream and 35 Mbps upstream, new users now get to pay the same money for speeds of 100 Mbps downstream and 5 Mbps upstream.

    Wow. In Canada, we can get twice that upload speed on crappy old phone lines (via VDSL2, even via third-party ISPs). And I bitch frequently about the unavailability of decent upload speeds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Brad C, 29 Jun 2021 @ 9:37pm

      Re:

      I mean we can here in the states too.. AT&T's 100Mbps VDSL2 offering is 100/20.

      Cable is just trash for upload because it's currently limited to 42MHz total (~120Mbps) per node, shared by anywhere from an average of 50-200 households.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 28 Jun 2021 @ 12:04pm

    Altice told Ars that it is changing its cable upload speeds to bring them "in line with other ISPs and aligned with the industry.

    Nice of them to openly admit to price fixing and violating the Sherman Act.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      dbrower (profile), 29 Jun 2021 @ 9:37am

      Re:

      What is the antitrust violation in this? I don't see where they conspired with competitors.

      We might like it to be a violation of the law, but I'm not clear it is anything beyond rent-seeking asshattery.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 29 Jun 2021 @ 5:22pm

      Re:

      For it to be a Sherman Act violation they'd have to have actively conspired with their competitors. As it is, it looks like they just looked at their competitor's public bandwidth promises and rates and decided to match them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 28 Jun 2021 @ 12:12pm

    Altice is a shit company. I had Cablevision for years and outside of a few issues over the years, the service was reliable and worked well. Then Altice bought them. Now it goes down for a few hours at least once a month. Usually it's late at night, but a couple weeks ago, it went out at 2:30pm and was out until about 4:30. If you call the customer support line, you get connected to a call center in India, rather than an actual customer rep. with the company. These people have no real knowledge about what's going on with the company and no power to negotiate anything.

    When I called to try and do something about my ever-increasing bill, the idiot I spoke to suggested that I return my cable boxes to save the rental fee. Cablevision went to an all-digital system over a decade ago, meaning, you need a box to view even the basic channels. So basically he was suggesting that I render the TV portion of my service useless.

    They keep adding bullshit fees below the line and jacking up the above the line prices as well.

    When a friend called up, he was mistakenly offered a promotion only available to new customers, but he raised hell until they gave it to him. They came out and installed all new equipment for Altice-1, their premiere service tier. He spent the next 1-2 weeks fighting with them to get it working properly and only got results after filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

    I hate Altice. Them buying Cablevision was the worst thing that could have happened to it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 29 Jun 2021 @ 2:19pm

    Or what if…?

    One should wonder:
    Is this really conformity to standards, or is this another attempt to discourage “piracy” by lowering upload speeds.

    With the MAFIAA coming after cable companies, and winning, over “copy right infringement” I wonder if this is not a knee-jerk reaction often seen with politicians? 5mps upload really puts a dent in that 50GB movie you’re sharing to nobody.

    The intent makes no sense. Here I won’t look at defence and rather question, what are they actually doing something like this!?????

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    gioco, 3 Jul 2021 @ 4:03pm

    here is my 2 cents.

    this is being done to not spend money on network upgrades. when the pandemic hit large chunks of altice's suddenlink footprint got hit with upstream node saturation causing slow speeds, an packet loss to large sections of communities. certain markets would have 50% of their nodes at 100% upstream saturation 75% of the day. the support techs were told not to talk about this with customers and just schedule a tech visit. when you would try to escalate to the local field about the saturated nodes, you would just get the usual replay of that it is not in the budget. suddenlink has nodes in markets with 600-800 subs on 16x4 channel nodes (non gigabit area's)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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