Posts Categorized: Competition

ARRIS folds into CommScope

Posted by & filed under Analysis, ARRIS, Blog, CommScope, Competition, Motorola, Operators, tvstrategies, Vendors.

CommScope+ARRISPutting an end to recent rumors, CommScope and ARRIS have announced that the former will be acquiring the latter, with the deal to close in early 2019.  Both companies built themselves through a combination of internal developments and by making acquisitions; ARRIS with Pace, C-COR, Ruckus, a big piece of Motorola, Digeo, and others. While CommScope has not been particularly on the pay TV industry’s radar, the two companies appear to be a good fit for one another.  As network suppliers, the solutions that they provide to the markets that they target are complementary to one another, which CommScope illustrates in their merger presentation of November 8 (see page 14).

So what about pay TV?  Because of their solutions synergies, the two companies should be able to open new business opportunities for one another.  ARRIS might see new opportunities in enterprises and private properties where CommScope offers fiber and LAN connectivity solutions and ARRIS adds TV CPE and Ruckus WiFi access.  Similarly, CommScope could complement ARRIS (and former C-COR) solutions in operator accounts by adding fiber and copper connectivity and outside plant equipment. But the fact that this happened at all was intriguing to me: that ARRIS would build this formidable and comprehensive lineup of solutions – end-to-end, really – and then fold their hand.

You can argue that MediaKind (Ericsson’s to-be-completed-as-of-this-writing joint venture with One Media Partners) and Synamedia (Cisco’s recently consummated joint venture with Permira) have done the same thing, by spinning out “sub-optimally-performing” TV businesses into joint ventures.  But while both Synamedia and MediaKind went out of their way to tell of their respective visions for the future at IBC in September, I didn’t get the same emotional connection from ARRIS.

But upon further reflection, it seems that ARRIS has been pulling back for some time.  If you click down into individual units of ARRIS, I believe there have been some missed opportunities to stake out a leadership claim.

One could argue that ARRIS has been out there plugging away for Set-top Boxes, and devising new use-cases to keep the category alive.  At IBC, I spent an hour with a senior ARRIS executive, and much of our conversation was about was about how screens are canvases.  A valid and correct world-view, but a bit surprising since ARRIS discontinued the TV middleware and service delivery platform portions of the Elements software line after acquiring Pace.  Not to mention the former Motorola Medios platform.

 For another, their TV Security unit has three CAS (SecureMedia’s, and Latens/Pace’s – which overlap – plus Motorola’s/DigiCipher for cable and satellite), a DRM (SecureMedia’s), and a PKI service (Motorola’s).  This gives ARRIS a comprehensive product-set and a strong set of technologies – but one in need of modernization.  With the emergence of anti-piracy as a new market opportunity for video security (and one that all the security vendors are chasing, as opportunities for CAS and DRM flatten and dwindle), ARRIS has been silent – though it is entirely possible that it exists but simply hasn’t been announced.

There are opportunities, should the new company choose to pursue them.  Outside of the Tier-1 operator category that ARRIS calls home, companies like Amino, MobiTV, Nordija, Minerva Networks and of course TiVo, are pursuing “infrastructure modernization” and “cap-and-grow” opportunities with Tier-2 and larger Tier-3 operators, and surely they wouldn’t be doing so unless they saw opportunities there.  But because ARRIS sold Digeo/Moxi to Espial last year (now branded as Elevate Cloud), ARRIS had already pulled one foot out of that water.  Ironic because platforms “-as-a-Service” have attracted such strong interest.

Other questions remain.  For example, what about the ARRIS portion of the joint venture with ActiveVideo and Charter?   What role, if any, will majority-owner-to-be Carlisle Group take?

CenturyLink Part 2: Who’s minding the store?

Posted by & filed under CenturyLink, Comcast, Competition, Operators, tvstrategies.

CenturylinkOur story so far…  We moved our office at the end of May, but our communications services were not established until mid-June.

At about 9am on June 14 – our re-scheduled installation date – I called CenturyLink to confirm the technician’s arrival time.  “Between 10am and 12 noon,” I was assured.  When I called again at about 3pm, they confirmed that a technician had in fact been dispatched.  A few minutes later, the CenturyLink truck pulled up and I intercepted the technician as he was inspecting the side of the building.  Expressing frustration with the state of the outside wiring, he said that the first installer and one of his colleagues had both taken early retirement, leaving just two installers for our area.

At that moment, a second CenturyLink truck pulled up, and as the two technicians conferred, I overheard that neither of them knew that the other one was coming, and that neither of them had the hardware they needed to complete my installation.  Undaunted, the first technician dismissed the second one and sheepishly asked whether I would be here the next morning (Yes!), and then asked me to lead him to the indoor telecom patch panel was so he could complete his pre-installation inspection.

Here’s where I reveal a guilty secret: prior to my move, and before I found out that I had been calling the “wrong” CenturyLink office to schedule install my new service, I placed a $100 deposit with CableCo to install phone and broadband service.

When the CableCo technician visited during the last week of May to pre-inspect my facilities, I showed him the access panels to both the outdoor and indoor wiring.  Equipped with the knowledge he needed and making no further comments, he left.  But when the “right” CenturyLink office was revealed to me, my sense of loyalty to the Telco industry led me to cancel CableCo’s installation and ask for my deposit back. I was beginning to regret that decision.

As the CenturyLink installer proceeded inside to complete his inspection, I asked whether he would mind whether I followed along to watch what he was doing – explaining to him that I was in the telecom industry and knowledgeable about the Mediaroom platform that CenturyLink uses for TV.  Realizing that he was talking to a friend (sorta…), lots of revealing conversation ensued.

As he removed the cover to expose the indoor wiring patch panel, we saw that there was none – just a mass of wires.  As he organized the wires into three pairs, he informed me not to expect an upgrade path to CenturyLink’s (advertised) 100mbps service.   Having settled for 3mbps VDSL service in my previous office, I was ecstatic at the prospect of having 20mbps service at the new one.  But then again, what if I did want to upgrade to 100mbps later?

To get 100mbps service, we needed four pairs of conductors from the Calix switch providing our service.  The technician had seen this situation in our neighborhood before.  Apparently, despite an agreement with the builders of our development to equip every subscriber with four pairs of wiring, the contractors engaged by the builders installed only three.  To get to four-per-subscriber, new wiring would need to be installed for each subscriber, and capacities of the up-stream transport facilities would need to be re-evaluated, and possibly upgraded.

The agreement also apparently called for them to install patch panels, but as we saw, none were present.   Meanwhile, CenturyLink had equipped this area to handle hundreds of subscribers, but CenturyLink’s actual subscriber-count was only about two dozen, partly due to this situation.  Ceding the rest to CableCo (which doesn’t need four pairs to provide service).

To add insult to injury, the CenturyLink installers who had recently taken early retirement had been suspected of sabotaging new installations by stuffing small rocks into the wiring conduits alongside the buildings, so the wiring would not be accessible.  If true – and perhaps they were just disgruntled short-timers – it made me wonder who they were really working for.  Between possible sabotage, insufficient in-building wiring, and the lack of IT integration described earlier, the cards are stacked against any possibility that CenturyLink could do much better than it is doing.

It’s really a sad situation, and it would probably motivate the developer of this area to take some kind of legal action – if only they knew about it.   Even if I have some of the details not-quite-right, I’ve been thinking about informing the development’s management of this situation.  But how far would this information get within the developer’s organization, and will it motivate them to take action?  And if so, against whom? 

On Friday June 15, we had service.  But one of the primary reasons we opted for CenturyLink service was to have line-powered phones in the event of power outage.  Because CenturyLink has fiber-to-the-premises access here (not that I’m complaining), we could need a battery back-up to preserve service unless the nearest switch has its own.  If we do need one, hopefully the charge for it is minimal.

Also on Friday I received a $100 refund check for the deposit I had made in May with CableCo for the service that we canceled before it was installed.  I had forgotten.   

Is TV having a dialectical moment?

Posted by & filed under Blog, Competition, Content, DISH, Opinion, OTT, Sony.

tv_snow_flickr_panos3
As counter intuitive as it may seem, the emerging range of online video services might give pay TV subscribers little incentive to cut the cord, reunite existing cord-cutters back with pay TV, and even start driving would-be cord-nevers to adopt pay TV.

The conventional wisdom about OTT has been that the cost of online TV would be much lower than for traditional pay TV.  Along comes DISH Network’s Sling TV, which only seems to reinforce that point.   Comparing Sling TV’s $20/month with the typical entry-level pay TV package at $40/month – excluding monthly service and equipment fees – seems to bear that out.

Or does it?

A reality-check against the conventional wisdom

For the first time, there are enough actual online TV services that it’s becoming possible to make an objective comparison.  So, let’s compare:

Basic Pay TV (for about $40 per month)

  • Broadcast networks: CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox
  • Networks found on pay TV: AMC Networks, CBS, Discovery Communications, The Walt Disney Company, Netwarko Grupo (Latino), Scripps Networks, Time Warner, Viacom and others

Online TV (…for about $40 per month!)

  • DISH Sling TV ($20/month): AMC Networks, Disney/ABC, Netwarko Grupo, Scripps Networks, Time Warner
  • Sony Playstation Vue (TBD, but let’s say $20/month): CBS, Discovery, Fox, NBC Universal, Scripps, Time Warner, Viacom
  • Broadcast networks (live linear): Sony will offer CBS and Fox linear feeds in selected local markets.
  • Or in place of Sony, you can opt for a combination of CBS All Access (which offers  CBS linear feeds) plus HBO’s upcoming direct-to-consumer online TV service; probably for about the same $20/mo.

You might have noticed that Sling TV’s programming and Sony’s are almost mutually exclusive.  They have only Scripps and Time Warner in common.  So, an online-only subscriber who wants to come at all close to replicating a traditional MVPD’s line-up would need both DISH and Sony.

Is price the right metric for comparison?

My comparison make it look as if there’s price parity between online and pay TV, but this is not a truly fair comparison.  Pay TV’s $40/mo for pay TV excludes monthly equipment rental and service fees; which bring it to about $60-70/month.  Not to mention what the price might rise to after the new-subscriber promotional period wears off.

Okay: $60-$70/mo for pay TV, versus $40/mo for online.  But unless the online subscriber abandons their Netflix, Hulu and/or Amazon Instant Video (or Prime) accounts – and many online subscribers take two or even all three of those, at about $10 each per month, plus or minus – the price comparison again comes closer to parity.  (And let’s also acknowledge that $60-$70 price points are a lot higher than many of us envisioned…)

Both may taste great, but one may be less filling

Purely on the basis of the number of available channels, pay TV wins.  Compare the lineups and prices from Comcast, AT&T U-verse and DISH Network (not SlingTV) with those from SlingTV and Sony Playstation Vue.  Add all of the local and independent channels, and live local sports programming that you don’t get online.

One might protest that you can fill the local sports gap with online programming from professional sports leagues.  But MLB.TV blocks programming for local games, in order to drive people back to local broadcast or pay TV.   This may change, but for now, that’s the way it is.  Plus, my local MLB games are included with my pay TV subscription, but MLB.TV starts at $19.95 per month.  Yikes!

This situation makes me wonder: was it the plan all along to drive people back to pay TV?  In the end, there may be very little incentive for pay TV subscribers to cut the cord, and very little reason for cord-nevers not to ultimately adopt the pay TV cord.  DISH Network, for one, might be quite pleased with such a turn of events – and maybe this was DISH’s objective all along.

It comes down to priorities.  Would you be satisfied enough with the limited lineups of online TV, and okay with filling the gaps with services from individual networks?  Many people are.  Many people are not.

Is TV having a dialectical moment?

In the discipline of philosophy, there is a method of resolving disagreements, called the dialectic process, which consists of a thesis, an antithesis, and a synthesis.  Here, the thesis has been that OTT would drive people from pay TV.  The antithesis has been the empire striking back, that pay TV would have sufficient value stem cord-cutting.

But this also can take an entirely different direction.  The synthesis might be the emergence of the “hybrid subscriber,” in which one might take pay TV for local news and live sports, plus whatever else they get with the lowest cost basic subscription, and then get his or her premium content online from Hulu and perhaps HBO.  In any of these scenarios, the alternatives might add up pretty close: a cord-never might end up paying the same as a pay TV subscriber would pay.

FCC soon to rule on Net Neutrality…

Posted by & filed under Blog, broadband, CenturyLink, Competition, fcc, Net Neutrality, Operators, Opinion, TV Everywhere.

FCC_logoUpdate 11 Feb 2015:  The majority of FCC’s five commissioners are always of the party of the sitting President.  So when FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai exclaimed: “I have studied the 332-page plan in detail, and it is worse than I had imagined,” it was no surprise, as Mr Pai is one of the two Commissioners in the Republican minority.


The wait is nearly over: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler posted an article with Wired that previews the FCC’s decision on Net Neutrality.  At risk of alienating some old friends and making some new ones, my opinion is that the FCC’s pending regulation under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 is exactly the right thing to do.   Operators with their own network facilities have challenged NN and will continue to do so, but their bark is worse than the bite.

Why? Because the FCC holds the keys:

  • The FCC set the precedent for N.N. in 1934 by mandating a responsibility to put phone calls through (common carrier), and reinforced it in 1996 by adding transparent handoff between wireline and wireless.
  • What happens when any of these network providers starts producing its own content (As owner of NBC Universal, Comcast comes to mind), and gets throttled by another network provider?  The FCC is the arbiter.
  • If any of these operators actually did go ahead and not play by the FCC’s rules, the FCC can issue warnings, followed by fines, followed by revoking their licenses to operate.

Besides, do you honestly think that your favorite cable, telco or wireless operator would actually walk away from business (e.g. stop investing in their networks, as AT&T and Verizon have each threatened to do) if the FCC put NN in place?  Really?  Would you like to buy a bridge?

In my opinion, N.N will result in exactly the opposite.  Readers of my blog know about my trevails with Centurylink, which currently has no incentive to give me more than 3.2mbps down and .9mbps up.  I am out of mobile range, and no cable operator serves my neighborhood.  If Centurylink were suddenly to have competition, I would expect them to protect their share, not abandon it.

In other words, I believe that NN will spur a race to the top, not the bottom.

Aereo loses. Who wins?

Posted by & filed under Competition, Content, News, Opinion, OTT, tvstrategies.

Aereo logoAereo, the Barry Diller startup that was delivering local over-the-air TV programming to online and mobile app users, has been deemed illegal by the United States Supreme Court.  The Court’s majority opinion was that Aereo is similar to cable TV, and is therefore subject to the same copyright obligations.  We should have seen it coming: Chief Justice John Roberts had earlier said that Aereo’s entire model was to circumvent copyright law.

Winners:

  • TV broadcast networks
  • Local TV stations owned and operated by the TV broadcast networks
  • Local independent broadcast stations

Losers:

  • Consumers, who now lose the option to access local programming online unless they subscribe to an operator, or receive programming over the air
  • Aereo, which would have to pay retransmission fees and presumably pass the cost on to consumers, be shut down, or devise some other work-around that keeps it in service
How aereo works

How Aereo Works

Aereo rents dedicated over-the-air TV antennas to each end user, and converts the live TV signal from each antenna to IP video for unicast (which, Aereo argued, constitutes ‘private performance’ that is not subject to copyright rules).  Aereo also hosts a cloud-DVR service that stores recorded programming for later unicast access by subscribers.

What if?

If Aereo had won this case, the power of content owner to charge retransmission fees would have diminished, reducing pressure on operators to raise prices to the consumer.   Aereo would have continued its expansion toward national coverage.  With this decision, retransmission fees are likely to increase, supplementing existing revenue streams from TV advertising.

What else?

Aereo’s loss also opens the door for Dyle.tv, a joint venture of NBC, Fox, Pearl Mobile DTV and Ion; which currently offers over-the-air receivers to mobile device owners.  Dyle’s Web site states that the company intends to offer “…encrypted broadcasts … to authenticated MVPD (pay TV) subscribers through a variety of apps, possibly those developed by TV networks, stations or cable/satellite companies.”

Online TV certainly isn’t going away.  Earlier this month, Leightman Research Group said that almost half of U.S. households already subscribe to an online premium video service, such as Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime.  The TV networks simply want to boost revenue by participating in the same opportunity.  Adding to what they already make from advertising.

Also, the range of available TV programming continues to expand on all the major streaming video device platforms.  No question that the content world sees online video as a viable channel of distribution.  It just has to be on its terms, and subject to copyright law (agree or not about the Aereo decision).

AT&T with DirecTV is greater than Comcast with TWC. DISH remains a wild card.

Posted by & filed under AT&T, Comcast, Competition, DISH, News, Operators, Opinion.

AT&T-LogoDirecTV-LogoOver the weekend, AT&T announced its intentions to acquire satellite TV operator DirecTV.  Should the deal pass regulatory muster and go through, it will create an operator with about 26 million pay TV subscribers, plus 17 million broadband subs, 11 million phone subscribers and 100 million wireless customers.  As a merged entity, AT&T becomes a national pay TV provider, with immediate access to TV subscribers outside its fixed-line (U-verse) territory.  That’s just in North America.  DirecTV has about 18 million TV subs in Latin America as well.  All told, this would make AT&T the largest pay TV provider in the US (and in the Western Hemisphere).

Of course, DirecTV is a high-value target for content reasons as well: particularly its exclusivity for NFL Sunday Ticket.   Some major AT&T suppliers must also be taking notice.  For one, AT&T has based its TV service on Microsoft Mediaroom, which Ericsson bought last year.  DirecTV uses NDS TV security and middleware, and NDS is now owned by Cisco.  So, two TV infrastructure leaders that also both happen to be incumbent network suppliers to AT&T.

But there’s also a bigger picture: while a combined Comcast-TWC results in a triple-play provider, DirecTV adds to AT&T’s existing quad-play advantage.  Without offerings that compete against AT&T wireless and DirecTV, Comcast will remain a local carrier within its own cable TV service territory; even with Time Warner Cable.  To serve any devices – mobile or fixed – outside of its territory, Comcast will remain an OTT player.  (Note: TWC is partnered with Verizon Wireless – but it’s anyone’s guess as to how Verizon might treat ‘foreign’ video providers over its mobile network in the future).

The expiration of Net Neutrality was certainly a strategic consideration for both AT&T and Comcast.  One of AT&T’s terms in the proposed DirecTV acquisition is to place a three-year expiration date on its commitment to the FCC’s current version of Net Neutrality.  This is interesting, given that DirecTV is a satellite operator with no Internet access network of its own.   My own guess is that this is really a pre-emptive move to keep Comcast from having (or making Comcast pay for) equal access to AT&T mobile subscribers; for video delivered to smartphones, tablets or the Connected Car.

And Comcast doesn’t really have an answer to that.  Even if Comcast were to let its own Net Neutrality commitment expire in 2018 (which is the year specified in the terms for its NBC Universal acquisition), that will only be within Comcast’s own network.  Comcast would have little power over mobile carriers which, by then, will be perfectly able to parachute right into the thick of Comcast territory, to deliver high quality pay TV over LTE mobile access.  This places Comcast at the ultimate disadvantage, even with TWC, because it can’t do the same in a U-verse territory.  All the more reason to keep Net Neutrality principles in place.

By missing out on DirecTV now, and by not bidding for Sprint last year, Comcast missed two strategic opportunities to reach subscribers that don’t depend on fixed lines, at a time when mobility arguably represents the biggest single opportunity in telecom.  Not quite so much to see here after all.

But the competition will really get interesting when DISH finally launches a national LTE service, using all that spectrum that they’ve acquired in recent years.  Or, even more interesting if DISH were to acquire T-Mobile as well.

Monopoly or Competition: Epilogue – Consumers don’t understand the impact (until they do)

Posted by & filed under Blog, CenturyLink, Competition, fcc, Operators, Opinion.

In the wake of my long debacle to get new voice and broadband services from CenturyLink, detailed in my five-part article, I was reminded that many consumers in the US are still served by what, in effect, are telecommunications monopolies.

Even though large operators (often backed by legal disclaimers) say that there is plenty of competition in local markets, my own reality was to have no viable alternative for fixed voice and data communications services.  With no competitor looking over CenturyLink’s shoulder, I was virtually forced to beg for service for more than a week.  And I must settle for 3 megabit broadband access.

It isn’t this bad for most consumers

Fortunately, the competitive landscape is different for most consumers.  In most local markets, at least in metropolitan areas, they can choose from among at least two fixed-line providers: their local phone company and the local cable operator.  In some cases, there are additional alternative private – and even public (municipality- and public utility-based) – broadband providers.  Rather than pleading, those lucky consumers can simply change providers without too much sacrifice.

As for pay TV, even though most areas have only one cable operator, all of them face competition from two strong satellite TV competitors: DISH and DirecTV.   Plus now, Telco IPTV is a full-fledged competitor to cable and satellite, and direct-to-consumer (OTT) distribution brings a steadily-increasing range pay TV and local broadcast programming.  I’m sure that this level of competition motivates at least most of them to improve continually.

On the mobile side, the US has four national cellular carriers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile -  and the healthy competitive battle among those ensures that, if one of them provides doesn’t reach or provides inadequate services, there are others to choose from.

Stay tuned for the next battlegrounds

So, the battle among service providers in the physical world is well engaged.   Now, all eyes should turn to the FCC, as it fights to reassert authority over the ongoing consolidation of the media industry, and  Net Neutrality.   Whether or not operators like Comcast and Verizon are purposely degrading service for content that they don’t originate or profit from themselves are two sides of the same coin.

But those are stories for a different day.  (Ed: As it turned out, it was a story for the next day.)

Furthermore, Centurylink wasn’t done with me either.

Which is better: Monopoly or Competition? Part 5 – Finally (CenturyLink post-mortem)

Posted by & filed under Blog, CenturyLink, Competition, Operators, Opinion.

This is the last part of a 5-part article that contrasted two very different customer service experiences; one with TV provider DISH Network, and the other with the local incumbent Telco, CenturyLink.  The DISH experience was one of the best customer service experiences I have had in some time.  CenturyLink was a nightmare.  The story starts here.  Part 2 is here,  Part 3 is here, and Part 4 is here.

Somebody up there must have decided that I had had enough

While I was waiting for Emily from CenturyLink to call back (who never did), I decided to call the number from the “customer satisfaction” message that had been left for me on Sunday.  True to form, it landed in the Philippines.  But instead of going through the previous pattern, I immediately asked the agent to transfer me to an agent in the United States, which she did.

This time, the call was answered by an agent named Lori, who, after I asked, revealed that she in fact was able to read my history of support attempts on her console.  I told her that I expected resolution during this call, and since there must have been a lot for her to read, I gave her a short summary of the procedings to date anyway.  After two times on hold, she told me that Internet service was now associated with both my residential and business lines, and asked me to switch the jacks outside.

Of course, to switch jacks, I realized I would lose this call, so I asked her to give me her direct line.  She did so, and assured me that she would answer the phone.  So I switched the jacks outside and prayed.  First I called the residential line from the business line, and it rang on the right phone.  I called the business line from the residential phone, and the right phone rang.  I had Internet service in my office.  In short, everything was finally right.  I then called Lori to tell her that everything was finally in order, and thanked her for whatever she may have done.

I asked Lori to send me a customer service feedback form, told her that she was my hero for the day, and told her I would give her top marks for resolving all of this.  However, the promised feedback form never came.   Who knows whether the “right” services were a result of my calls with Emily on Thursday, or Lori on Monday.  Also, I’m half expecting to be billed double for Internet access, since it was now associated with both of my voice lines.  But after a week of drama, I was thankful to have my services.

Not only that, but my broadband access has gone from 700-something kilobits per second to the three megabits that (in fairness) the CenturyLink rep I spoke with on January 14 had said my line tested for.  Still, it’s far cry from the 40mbps that CenturyLink advertises in my local market.

Why did this have to be so expensive, to CenturyLink and to me?

In the aftermath of this debacle, I could only sit in wonderment.  Why, in 2014, couldn’t this have been better managed?   I was not CenturyLink’s first broadband customer.  Why a major Telco can’t seem to provide a consistent single view of their customer through any service rep’s console puzzles me.  Some reps saw my history and some did not.  Also, why could some customer service agents see what other parts of their operation were doing, while others could not – forcing them to place the customer on hold to call around the company manually?  Since the agents in the Philippines couldn’t help, why weren’t they better trained?  Why did so many people have to be involved? And all of this just to resolve what might even have been an order-entry mistake!

If you’re a Telco, you know that call-center support costs just a fraction of the $250-$500 per incident for a site visit.  Accordingly, it’s easy to see why CenturyLink doesn’t send technicians onsite to activate new services.  But they should darn well better make sure that their internal support, troubleshooting and escalation processes work flawlessly before confounding innocent consumers.  They also should make sure that nobody tries to sell wiring that isn’t necessary (the home was wired just fine two weeks ago before we moved in),  and make sure that the instructions that arrive with the DSL modem don’t reference a defunct company or a CD-ROM that isn’t in the package.  It all takes relentless attention to detail and frequent process testing, neither of which were evident to me.

My other observation was of how utterly unconcerned most of the CenturyLink reps were, about providing an acceptable customer experience.  They just worked there.  Nearly all of the burden to resolve this issue was placed on me, and I had to do all the critical thinking.  I was fortunate to finally reach two people – Emily and Lori, probably by the luck of the draw – that were actually able to help.  But to get to them, I had to bypass CenturyLink’s first line of defense: their outsourced call center.  I also had to bypass a representative that was hoping to book an $85/hour home wiring appointment which, in retrospect, and as common sense dictated, was never necessary.

One can’t fault that a company the size of CenturyLink must put a huge focus on cost-reduction, but my own experience showed how cost-cutting can backfire.  My many (many) calls, without resolution, were probably more costly than CenturyLink’s model would hope for.  And in addition to the poor use of my time, it put me out of business for several days – which was very expensive to me.

CenturyLink must and can do better.

I promised a number of people at CenturyLink that I would publish this series of articles, which hopefully speak for themselves.  Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to reviewing DISH’s new Hopper with Sling and its other associated new product offerings.

By the way, another DSL modem arrived from CenturyLink yesterday.  I’m not exactly sure what to do with it, and fear the consequences of calling them to find out.

On to my closing thoughts

Which is better: Monopoly or Competition? Part 4 – Still no satisfaction

Posted by & filed under Blog, CenturyLink, Competition, Operators, Opinion.

This article continues a story that starts here.  Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here.

I thought that the fourth time was a charm.  It had occurred to me that I should get the phone number specifically for the business department, should I be disconnected again; which I got.  I asked for an assurance that the next person I spoke with would be in the United States.  Then the call was transferred, to Emily in the business department in Logan, Utah.  Whew!

I thought I was getting somewhere

Emily understood my explanation, and after several brief times on hold, told me that she would be able to arrange a site visit on February 12.  But by this time, I had decided that the person who originally took my order on January 14 must have associated my broadband service with the wrong voice line (I wanted it associated with my office phone, because about 95% of its usage is for my business).   I suggested to Emily that she simply change the association.  She said she would investigate and then call me back “in a little while.”   Then we ended the call.

True to her word, Emily did call back about 10 minutes later to tell me that she was successful in finding a way to re-provision the lines in my home so the right phones would ring in the right rooms, and that Internet access would be via the right jack – from their end.  Thank goodness, because the alternative would have been for me to wait almost another week for the house call.

She said that the service change would take place some time before 5pm on Thursday.  At which time, I am instructed to switch the jacks on the side of my house again, then pray.   I told her she would hear from me one way or the other.   On Friday, I found that my lines still reversed, but decided that I had simply put enough time into this mess and went back to my “real” work.  In the afternoon, I went out to run some errands and noticed a message waiting on my mobile phone (which had been out of range for more than a day).  It was a representative from CenturyLink, saying that a technician would show up at my home on Friday Feb 7th.   I didn’t know whether this was a reminder of the visit that I was informed of on Wednesday, or was in response to someone I had spoken with on Thursday.

Another let-down

In any case, nobody showed up at any time on Friday before I went out.   After returning from my Friday afternoon errands, there were no notes on my door to say I missed a visit from CenturyLink, but three emails from CenturyLink were waiting in my inbox.  The first was that a service order had been completed for my residential line, with data service.  The second was that a service order had been completed for my office line, voice only.  The third said that my equipment had shipped.  (Great, except that I already had my DSL modem, and it was working, albeit slowly and on the wrong line).

If, as Emily had said on Thursday, my service had actually been corrected by Friday, I would not have seen Internet service until I switched jacks outside.  But throughout the weekend and into Monday, Internet service had not been interrupted, and the two voice lines were still reversed.

On Monday morning, February 10 (CenturyLink Day Eight), I played a voice message that was left on my office line on Sunday at 1:01pm:

“This is a message from CenturyLink to let you know that your recent request for products or services is completed, and that service is available for your use.  At CenturyLink, customer satisfaction is important to us.  If your service is not working properly, or you have any questions, please call us at 1 800 573 1311. Thank you for calling CenturyLink.”

Since she had given me her phone number, I left a message for Emily – just in case she could help – and then called the number that was left in my voicemail on Sunday.

On to Part 5

Which is better: Monopoly or Competition? Part 3 – An Empty Feeling

Posted by & filed under Blog, CenturyLink, Competition, Operators, Opinion.

This article continues a story that starts here and continues here.

I made my third call to CenturyLink technical support.  But this time, it was to a different number: the one printed on the instructions that came with my modem.   After making my way through a new set of voice menus, I reached an agent who quickly put me on hold.

Actiontec-adminWhile I was waiting for the support rep to come back, I noticed that the ActionTec had its own 802.11n wireless radio, which I didn’t need because the AirPort Extreme has one as well.  Thank goodness I knew about 192.168.0.1, which many Internet CPE makers use as the admin port, accessed it with my browser, and deactivated the ActionTec’s radio.

Then I went nosing around the other menus, deactivating the log of URLs that I visit, and putting the ActionTec into stealth mode (so it doesn’t respond to pings from the Internet).  I also noticed that it had pre-set configurations for CenturyLink’s Prism IPTV service, including QoS pre-sets – even though CenturyLink doesn’t offer that service in my area.  But it’s smart of them to pre-set it that way.

A few minutes later, the agent came back on the line, walked me through a couple of steps to re-set the modem again.  Whatever she did in the meantime finally had given me access to the open Internet.  Unfortunately my “greater than 3mbps” Internet access was 768 kilobits downstream and a few hundred kbps up. I ended February 5th about one-quarter satisfied: I had broadband Internet service but it was glacially slow, and my voice lines were still reversed.

Back to square one

Before my last tech support call ended, the technician suggested that I go outside in the morning, find the network termination box on the side of my house, and reverse the two voice line inputs from there.  Which I did.   As a result, the two phone numbers were associated with the right voice lines, but my Internet service was out.  Switching my phone and DSL modem cables between jacks made no difference.  Either I had the wrong voice numbers with Internet service, or the right voice numbers with no Internet.

Making my first support call of February 6, the technical support representative who answered was very polite but also clearly reading a series of questions from a script.  After I answered her questions, she read me the questions again, which again I answered.  Again I was placed on hold for about 10 minutes.  And then again.  After two of these exchanges, I asked her where she was (not that it really mattered, but I was curious).  “Thank you sir for asking.  We are in the Philippines, sir.”  She said that she could not resolve my issue and would have to transfer me to the “business department,” which she assured me was located in the United States.  Then I was immediately disconnected.

Calling back, and after going through the same triage again, the next tech support agent also said she was “in Asia.”  She transferred me to the business department, and after telling about half of my story yet again (I was told that neither my account record nor the record of my conversation came across with my call), that call was also disconnected. On my third call,  I had the presence of mind to ask for a phone number in case I was disconnected again: 1 800 244 1111, which is the customer service number for CenturyLink.  In other words, if disconnected again, I would have to start all over. This was how I spent the first two-thirds of my day on Day Four of my CenturyLink experience, Thursday, February 6.

On to Part 4