Confrontation of the Evil Week: Mobile Operators and Cable Companies
It’s time to end Evil Week, and what better way than pitting two of the most evil industries against each other. Today we are turning our usual scenario upside down to find out which is worse: the cellular operators or the cable companies.
By any reasonable criterion, most people are unhappy with their cellular carrier or cable company. The latter are often topped the lists of the least reliable companies and mobile operators … well, just check the comments on any of our articles about them . Of course, the corporate world of ISPs is complex and many companies operate in both industries, so here’s how we break it down.
- Cellular operators. There are four major carriers in the US: Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Collectively, they represent over 405 million US wireless subscribers (phones, tablets, and hotspots are considered separate “subscribers”). They also host dozens of virtual networks called MVNOs that secretly rely on their networks.
- Cable Companies: For our purposes, “cable companies” are short for home broadband Internet companies and cable TV package companies. In many parts of the country, they are the same thing. Comcast (which owns Xfinity), AT&T, Charter (which owns Time Warner Cable) and Verizon fall into this category. As of 2014, nearly a third of US households do not have a choice of home ISP , while another third can only choose between two ISPs.
We’re not even going to pretend to cover every area in which these companies annoy their customers because it’ll all take weeks, but we’ll definitely give it a try.
Data limitations and regulation make it difficult to use both groups
Telecom carriers and cable companies are guilty of one of the most annoying billing practices: data caps. These limits charge higher prices to customers who use more data. Allegedly, restrictions control network congestion, but it’s unclear (at best) if they really help. Data limits affect average customer usage over a month, but they cannot – and cannot – target periods or locations with high traffic . In fact, Comcast’s own internal customer service scenario even says the data constraints are not related to congestion management, but rather to “fairness” in pricing. Of course, Comcast also says these are not restrictions, but “data usage plans.” So even if there is no real practical reason to restrict your home Internet use, cable companies will find a way to charge you more because it is “fair”.
Data limitation is such a huge issue that the FCC has received tens of thousands of complaints about it since mid-2015. However, most of them are aimed at home internet companies. Operators have stricter restrictions on data transfers, but that makes a little more sense given that wireless spectrum is a limited resource . If your phone is out of data, you can connect to a Wi-Fi network. However, if you run out of data on your home internet then you screwed up a bit. Comcast and AT&T have raised their data limits to 1 TB per month, after which you will be charged an additional migration fee. 1TB is a more reasonable limit than it was in the past (some were only 250GB), but even that can get difficult if you have a family sharing a single connection, streaming movies, or downloading games. In most cases, the limit also does not change if you have a higher internet speed. Whether your speed is 1 Mbps or 150 Mbps, you get the same amount of data. It doesn’t make any sense. If you don’t want to worry about counting your gigabytes, AT&T will sell you an unlimited data surcharge for $ 30, while Comcast will charge you $ 50.
From the operator’s side, everything is much more complicated. You can get several unlimited plans, but they have a lot of small print . The T-Mobile One plan offers unlimited data, but if you try to tether you will be limited to 2G speeds unless you pay $ 15 for 5GB of data per month . Sprint’s similar plan includes 5GB of free LTE tethering data before you have to pay extra. AT&T will only give you unlimited data if you have DIRECTV or U-Verse for some reason and they will still limit you beyond 22GB. Verizon doesn’t give a damn about unlimited plans .
Contracts, hidden fees and sponsored deals make purchases difficult
While carriers have improved their multi-year contracts – they’re now mostly tied to your phone ‘s payout, rather than randomly tying you to them for two years – they’re still a terrible way to buy phones , and they hide the truth. the cost of your phone . Meanwhile, sponsored data plans hide the edges of net neutrality under our noses, and new phone rental programs are forcing you to pay the same amount for phones you’ll never keep . One volume of convoluted carrier plans is enough to make me dizzy, and that’s my job. For the average consumer, getting a fair deal can be difficult, if not impossible.
In the meantime, cable companies use a lot of the dubious tricks we’re all used to taking . Local competition is limited or extremely rare depending on where you live, and it’s basically impossible to start a new internet company (as Google recently found out the hard way ), so you’re stuck with what you already have in your area. TV and Internet packages push you to buy packages you may not need, just to save money. On the other hand, there has been a resurgence of competition in television. Such services, as the Sling TV, pushed AT & T to launch its own streaming plan, which offers 100 channels for $ 35 per month without being tied to a television or internet package. While this is much better than the old model, Comcast and other cable companies still sell many convoluted packages, which often result in you buying a lot more than you need, just to get the basic service you want.
Accessing the Internet on your phone or at home is frustrating no matter what. You can spend hours reading the fine print, comparing purchases, and doing your own calculations to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal. Just remember to make a phone call every six months or a year to save money.
Both groups have their own legal problems with consumers
Once a company has pissed off its customers enough, it can eventually be expected to have the government intervene. Let’s take a look at some of the various lawsuits, investigations and orders that all of these companies have dealt with in just the past two years.
- The FCC has fined T-Mobile $ 48 million for misleading advertisements for its unlimited data plans. In 2015, the company revealed that it caps 3% of its top users, typically over 17GB. This policy was not initially disclosed to clients. He was fined $ 12.5 million, plus $ 35.5 million had to be spent on compensation for injured clients.
- AT&T faced a $ 100 million fine for the same , prompting the company to raise the gas limit to 22GB. AT&T also had a policy of limiting the number of users of its unlimited data plan (which itself is a holdover from many years ago, which the company no longer offers) to use more than 5 GB. The FCC fined the company $ 100 million for this, and AT&T relented, increasing the limit to 22GB. Notably, Sprint changed its policy shortly after the FCC passed new rules that made the practice illegal .
- The FCC fined Sprint, Verizon and AT&T $ 263 million for fraudulent cramming charges. Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T charged users on bills for third-party text services, a practice known as cramming. In the case of Sprint and Verizon, neither of them have been able to prove that their customers ever approved the allegations. T-Mobile faced a similar charge in 2014 but claims it had stopped the practice by then .
- The FCC fined Comcast $ 2.3 million for billing customers for products and services they never ordered. The FCC has received complaints that users were being charged for services they specifically rejected. In addition to the fine, the FCC required Comcast to adhere to a five-year “compliance plan” to ensure that consent is obtained before it is charged for services.
- The FCC has demanded $ 25 million from AT&T for three customer data breaches , the largest data privacy penalty ever. In 2013 and 2014, AT&T call center employees accessed and sold customer data, including names and the last four digits of social security numbers. AT&T paid compensation in the amount of $ 25 million in 2015.
- AT&T charged customers an additional $ 30 fee to prevent them from tracking their data, which led to new privacy rules. AT&T called the $ 30 surcharge for its cable package to prevent eavesdropping a “discount,” prompting consumer groups to ask the FCC and FTC to investigate the practice. This ultimately led to a decision this week at the FCC to ban Internet service providers from selling user data without permission .
- The FCC wants to investigate AT&T and Comcast’s zero-rated plans that exclude certain data from data limits. To counter the stress of data constraints, ISPs exempt certain services (the services they own) from data constraints, a practice called zero rating. AT&T zeroes DIRECTV from mobile data restrictions and Verizon zeroes NFL streaming . The FCC is currently looking into whether the practice is consumer-friendly, although it has signed a T-Mobile Binge On zero rating form .
The effect of lawsuits and federal investigations has had a clear impact on the way these companies operate, but it is a slow process and requires considerable effort. There are many gray areas in which telecom operators and cable companies can cheat their services in order to get additional fees from their customers. This list is by no means exhaustive. Tracking these companies from a legal point of view is a full-time job.
Both groups want to control what you see and read, but cable companies are better at that.
Wireless carriers and cable companies have a curious relationship with the media you watch, stream, and read. The more they grow, the more they want to own the content their networks bring to you, controlling the process from start to finish. Perhaps the clearest example of this is Comcast’s 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal . Following a buyout (which ended in 2013), Comcast owns the studio that produced Jason Bourne , one of the TV channels promoting him , and a TV and Internet provider that you can watch him with at home . That’s a pretty sweet deal for Comcast. For most consumers, this sounds scary as hell.
Having one company with so much control over so many forms of media can be daunting, even if you ignore monopoly policies like Comcast, which gives preferential treatment to its own content. For example, Comcast is known to have written letters to politicians to be sent to the FCC on its behalf, urging the organization to approve the Time Warner acquisition (a venture that ultimately failed). Back in 2007, NBC also wanted ISPs to be copyright cops . Comcast and NBC now have financial interests aligned, so it should come as no surprise that Comcast helped create the highly criticized six-hit copyright infringement reporting system . While the acquisition did not end the internet wasteland, which some feared, was gone, it did solidify power.
If Comcast’s overpowering power scares you, don’t worry. AT&T wants to acquire Time Warner , so there will be at least two mega-corporations competing with each other. In a way, this is really comforting. AT&T recently announced that it wants to sell a $ 35 a month internet cable package based on its DIRECTV service. If he buys Time Warner and includes more channels in this package, he could push Comcast to do the same. This could not only reduce the cost of cable packages, but also, finally, rid them of the Internet and TV packages that we are so used to. Imagine how great it would be to pick a TV package from whatever provider you want, pay a small monthly fee, and watch it on any device you want.
On the other hand, this would mean AT&T owns CNN, HBO, Warner Brothers and a host of other media companies. It brings together a lot of power in one place, just like Comcast. Of the ” big three” news networks (MSNBC, CNN and Fox), two will be owned by US Internet service providers. The third will be Fox, owned by 21st Century Fox. The more large companies buy media creators, the more difficult it is to find independent organizations producing TV shows, making films, or covering news. It also means that these companies are harder to pressure. Don’t like your Comcast internet service and want to “vote with your wallet”? Well, you better stop watching Universal or Dreamworks movies, NBC shows, and definitely not go to Universal Studios. Plus, you probably still have to buy Comcast’s internet service if you don’t have a better choice in your area.
Where are the carriers in all this? Well, with the exception of AT & T (which is present in both camps), cellular operators, fortunately, laughing bad conspire to control the media. Sprint doesn’t really have the money to buy anyone, and its Japanese owner SoftBank doesn’t have a lot of media presence. T-Mobile’s majority shareholder, Deutsche Telekom, is also not very interested in becoming a mega-media conglomerate.
The only other carrier interested in media is Verizon, which has a curious history at best. In 2014, Verizon tried to launch its own tech news site, SugarString. This site had a clearly biased mandate to avoid topics such as espionage and net neutrality . It closed less than two months later . In 2015, Verizon tried to enter the media game again by … buying AOL . Not exactly a multimedia leader. This gave Verizon control of sites like the Huffington Post and TechCrunch, but nothing more. Then in 2016 he bought Yahoo , which gave him Tumblr and all of Yahoo’s media portals. These properties are important, but far from owning entire news networks and film studios. Given its history, it would be unsettling if Verizon ever got hold of a larger media company, but so far it doesn’t seem to have the same level of power as Comcast or AT&T.
Verdict: They all suck, but cable companies are big enough to do even more harm
Both operators and cable companies suck in their own way. Operators use convoluted billing methods and dense volumes of contracts to tie you to service plans that are likely to cost a lot more than you really need. Luckily, most people can just upgrade to the prepaid plan and get the best of it without any bullshit.
But cable companies are on a different level. AT&T and Comcast are aiming to be the increasingly difficult multimedia titans to fight. This can sometimes lead to really cool innovations, but it also raises a lot of questions about consolidating power. These fears are compounded when these companies control powerful lobbying forces. Your cable TV bill is a headache, but the impact these companies can have on Congress could be much worse. If we are looking for the most evil, then, probably, the point is.