Charter/Spectrum Wants to Charge Netflix, Others Interconnection Fees

Charter Communications, owner of Spectrum cable, has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to allow it to charge interconnection fees (or peering) to over-the-video services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Disney+ and Hulu broadband.

The fees were in part the genesis behind the Obama-era Net Neutrality guidelines, which specifically prohibited Internet Service Providers from up-charging streaming video services for faster access into subscriber homes.

Charter has been prohibited from charging fees as part of an anti-trust agreement with federal regulators when it acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in 2016.

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The cable operator now claims that with online video booming and the FCC under new authority, it should be allowed to charge fees to third-party platforms delivering content on its broadband network similar to the interconnection fees charged by Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. Charter also wants the FCC to do away with its ability to impose data caps on subscribers.

“The online video marketplace has become extremely competitive,” Charter said in the June 17 petition. “Online video distributors have seen record-shattering growth and increased strength across all performance indicators, including number of subscribers, amount of content available, number of platforms, streaming hours, and revenue. In fact, the online video distribution marketplace is almost unrecognizable compared to what existed in 2016.”

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Charter contends that to ensure efficient allocation of its resources to accommodate the “explosive growth” in broadband usage, many Internet providers have incorporated data caps. It claims data caps imposed by companies such as Comcast, AT&T, Cox and Altice8 has not stifled the growth of SVOD services.

“In fact, the opposite is true: OVD services are thriving and growing at an unprecedented rate. In other words, the market is working,” Charter wrote.

Charter Spectrum Loses 77,000 Q3 Video Subs; Ups Criticism of Shared Passwords

Charter Spectrum joined other pay-TV distributors reporting ongoing subscriber losses of traditional linear video entertainment in the home.

The company Oct. 25 said it lost 77,000 video subs in the third quarter, ended Sept. 30. That compared with a loss of 66,000 subs in the previous-year period.

The service has jettisoned 415,000 video subs in the past fiscal year, ending the period with 15.7 million.

Charter did add 351,000 broadband subscribers, underscoring ongoing consumer migration towards over-the-top video services such as Netflix and online TV. It added 266,000 high-speed Internet subs during the previous-year period.

The service ended the period with 24.5 million broadband subs, up from 23.3 million subs a year ago.

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With the onslaught of high-profile SVOD services from Disney and Apple, in addition to WarnerMedia early next year, CEO Tom Rutledge was asked about the growing industry concern regarding the sharing of user passwords among non-subscribers.

Without naming offending OTT services, Rutledge alluded to third-party streaming services affording simultaneous access to five separate users with no location-based security.

“I feel like I’m beating my head against the wall talking about privacy or piracy, password sharing and pricing, but they’re all inter-related issues,” Rutledge said on the fiscal call.

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge

He criticized content creators entering the distribution market seemingly indifferent to where their programming is going.

Indeed, Netflix, which has heretofore turned a blind eye toward password sharing, has begun looking into the practice.

“It has not been part of their DNA [worrying about it],” Rutledge said. “Most households in the United States have two or less people in them. And as a result of that, there are more streams available [for free] than there are households.”

The executive contends that until there is increased scrutiny on video access in and out of the home on a single account, “it’s just too easy to get the product without paying for it.”

“When we look at data consumption, we can see that video consumption isn’t going down even when people disconnect their paid video,” Rutledge said. “And as a result of that, it makes the [subscription] price value relationship really difficult when it’s free.”

Separately, Rutledge said Spectrum was considering partnering with Comcast’s Flex SVOD service for broadband-only subscribers.

Charter several years ago bowed Spectrum TV Plus, a $12.99 monthly online TV service for its broadband-only subs. The service included a free Roku player.

In 2018, the service was changed to $14.99 Spectrum TV Plus. Last year Charter unveiled “TV Essentials,” a $15 monthly “skinny bundle” option for pay-TV subs.

“We have a significant number of app based relationships that we’ve developed on multiple devices, and that strategy is working for us,” Rutledge said. “And putting inexpensive devices out with your service makes some sense to us.”

Charter’s Spectrum TV App on Apple TV

Charter Communications has launched the Spectrum TV App on Apple TV.

Nearly 50 million homes across Charter’s footprint now have access to live channels and tens of thousands of programs on the Spectrum TV App for Apple TV, according to Charter.

Additionally, starting next week and expanding throughout 2019, new and existing Spectrum TV and Internet customers can get an Apple TV 4K as part of their monthly subscription for $7.50/month plus tax for 24 months, according to Charter.

Charter is the first U.S. based cable operator to offer customers the new zero sign-on experience from Apple, which further simplifies signing in to video apps on Apple TV, according to Charter. When first set up in a Spectrum household, Apple TV 4K or Apple TV (4th generation) will detect the Spectrum customer’s broadband network and automatically sign them in to the Spectrum TV App and all the supported apps they receive through their service — with no need to enter a username and password, according to Charter.

The new Spectrum TV App is also integrated with the Apple TV app and Siri.

“We are bringing our customers the most robust Spectrum TV App experience available today through Apple TV,” said Rich DiGeronimo, Charter’s EVP, products and strategy, in a statement. “With features like zero sign-on and Apple TV app integration, the Spectrum TV App on Apple TV delivers the best and most seamless viewing experience, giving customers even greater choice and flexibility to enjoy Spectrum TV.”

“With Spectrum TV on Apple TV 4K, customers can now enjoy the ultimate entertainment experience across their iPhone, iPad and Apple TV,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple VP of product marketing, in a statement. “We want to help customers get right to watching their favorite channels, shows, movies and sports, and with innovative features like zero sign-on, the Apple TV app and Siri, they are able to jump right in.”

Charter Agrees to Record $174.2 Million Legal Settlement Regarding Fraudulent Internet Speed Claims

Cable operator Charter Communications (a.k.a. Charter Spectrum) has agreed to pay the state of New York $174.2 million to settle a consumer fraud allegation regarding its Internet speed claims.

The settlement – following unsuccessful appeals by Charter – is considered the largest-ever consumer payout by an Internet Service Provider in U.S. history.

Charter’s 700,000 ISP subs in New York will split $62.5 Million in refunds (about $75 each, in addition to $75 each to 150,000 subs who had inadequate modems), plus $100 million in premium channels and streaming services compensation for the pay-TV operator’s 2.2 million active subs.

“This settlement should serve as a wakeup call to any company serving New York consumers: fulfill your promises, or pay the price,” New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement. “[This] sets a new standard for how Internet providers should fairly market their services.”

In an age when streaming of movies and TV shows on services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, in addition to online TV, proliferate, ISPs regularly champion ever-faster download speeds.

Charter, which launched standalone online TV platform, Charter Spectrum TV Plus, to its broadband subscribers in 2015, had claimed ISP download speeds of 100, 200, and 300 Mbps, while failing to maintain enough network capacity to reliably deliver those speeds to subscribers.

Underwood claimed Charter mislead subs with claims they could stream over-the-top video service seamlessly, while at the same time engaging in “hardball tactics” with Netflix and other third-party content providers that, at various times, ensured subs would suffer through frozen screens, extended buffering, and reduced picture quality.

Those “hardball” measures contributed to net neutrality guidelines being imposed in 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission — and rescinded this year by FCC under the Trump Administration.

The direct restitution serves to compensate subscribers who, the N.Y. Attorney General claims, Charter equipped with outdated modems and routers and with premium speed plans that consistently failed to deliver the advertised speeds.

“The streaming benefits serve to compensate subscribers for Charter’s historic failures to faithfully deliver third-party Internet content that it had advertised,” reported the Attorney General.