Tales of the Sausage Factory

Cablevision’s WiFi Roll Out — A Wireless Plan B?

As I discussed in the context of the Sprint/Clearwire/Etc. spectrum menage (and discussed a bit more with Gordon Cook on his blog), the reality of the post-700 MHz auction world makes it necessary for cable operators to have some kind of wireless strategy if they want to meet the potential next generation competitive threat from either AT&T and Verizon or possibly from newly en-spectrumed DISHTV. At the same time, cable operators are desperate to avoid the downdrag on the their stock that would come from a heavy investment in wireless licenses and further nvestment in infrastructure — especially when analysts don’t give them a prayer of taking on the wireless carriers in what has become a reasonably mature market. How to resolve this difficult dilemma?

Those cable systems with the combination of resources and forethought to address this have opted for different solutions. Comcast, Time Warner and Brighthouse –through their new partnership with Sprint/Clearwire etc. — have flopped back to the old cable standard of joint ventures and strategic investment. (Anyone else remember @Home Network?) Cox went out and won its own set of licenses covering its cable service area, as did Charter parent Vulcan Enterprises (as have a few lesser systems, such as Washington Post owned CableOne, which captured a bunch of licenses in the AWS auction).

Cablevision tried twice to acquire its own set of licenses: first in the AWS Auction in 2006, and again in the 700 Mhz Auction. Both times Cablevision went home empty-handed, outbid by the wireless giants. With no new spectrum on the horizon, and apparently no invite into the Sprint/Clearwire Happy House ‘o WiMax partnership, Cablevision found itself in need of a spectrum “Plan B.” Happily for Cablevision, there is also such a thing as “unlicensed spectrum” which — as I and other boosters of the competitive power of open spectrum continually point out — is available to everyone and cheap to deploy (relative to building a licensed network from scratch).

Hence the recent Cablevision announcement that it will deploy a wifi network in conjunction with its cable network. As a Plan B, it has some real advantages over using licensed spectrum, as well as some potential disadvantages. But given Cablevision’s unique deployment situation — it is primarily located in New York City and Long Island which gives it incredible population density for its relatiely small footprint — this fall back position may work for it where it would not work for other cable companies.

A bit more analysis below . . . .

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Econoklastic

The 700 MHz Band Auction, Part IIIb: More Mid-Range Competitors

Once again let’s begin our analysis of strategic options for major actors in Auction 73, 700 MHz Band, with a look at the footprints established by many of those actors in two previous Lower 700 MHz auctions (Auction 44 and 49) and the AWS-1 auction (Auction 66):
Cellular Market Areas (CMA) Map for Auction 44
Economic Area Groupings (EAG) Map for Auction 44
Cellular Market Areas (CMA) Map for Auction 49
Economic Area Groupings (EAG) Map for Auction 49
Cellular Market Areas (CMA) Map for Auction 66
Economic Areas (EA) Map for Auction 66
Regional Economic Area Groupings (REAG) Map for Auction 66

The Mid-Range Competitors (Continued)

Cablevision is bidding as CSC Spectrum Holdings LLC. In Auction 66 it bid as Dolan Family Holdings and got creamed by incumbent blocking bidding. Cablevision unsuccessfully bid on two EAs, AW-BEA010-B (NYC-Long Is. NY-NJ-CT-PA-MA-VT) and AW-BEA010-C (NYC-Long Is. NY-NJ-CT-PA-MA-VT), and the following CMAs: AW-CMA001-A (New York-Newark, NY-NJ), AW-CMA042-A (Bridgeport-Stamford-Danbury CT), AW-CMA062-A (New Brunswick-Perth Amboy NJ), AW-CMA070-A (Long Branch-Asbury Park NJ), AW-CMA144-A (Orange County NY), AW-CMA151-A (Poughkeepsie NY), AW-CMA551-A (Ocean NJ), and AW-CMA552-A (Sussex NJ). Cablevision unsuccessfully sought all three licenses for the Northest REAG: AW-REA001-D, AW-REA001-E, and AW-REA001-F. The pattern is straightforward: replicate the footprint of their cable service in the NY-CT-NJ region in the A and B Blocks and try for one of the Northeast REAGs. Cablevision didn’t get it in AWS-1 and it has to do well in Auction 73 or its triple play options are seriously curtailed. Anonymous bidding helps Cablevision only a bit, because the chief competitors know exactly where they have to bid and it is prime spectrum in the richest market in America.

More below…

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

GOP To America: All Well In Cable-Land! Skyrocketing Rates and Lousy Customer Service All In Your Mind! Forget What We Said Last Summer About Needing COPE!

I must applaud the Republican House Commerce Committee members for their willingness to stay bought. Why else would 23 of the 26 Republicans on the House Commerce Committee send this letter celebrating the perfection of the cable industry in the United States and opening a can of whoop-ass on Kevin Martin for daring to suggest otherwise? Because if that letter came in response from hundreds of constituents complaining that their cable service costs too little and the service is too good, I’ll eat my lap top.

God knows, with the number of issues on their plate and with their party’s standing plummeting in the polls, you’d think Republicans would decline to publicly defend the cable industry. What with rates consistently rising faster than inflation (and despite increasing profits-per-subscriber until the last quarter or so), cable operators have raised rates every year – whether they need to or not. As if that were not enough, the customer service records of the major cable companies are abominable (or why would Mona “The Hammer” Shaw have attained folk-hero status?). So with us heading into an election, and the Republicans weighed down by all the baggage of the Iraq War, corruption scandals, accusations of cronyism and mismanagement, and a general anti-special interest sentiment in the electorate, you wouldn’t think the Republican party would rise up en mass to defend the cable industry from one of their own?

And yet that is precisely what 23 Republican members of the House Commerce Committee just did. Upset that Kevin Martin has proposed several items for the next FCC meeting that limit cable market power, the Commerce Committee Republicans have leaped to the defense of the cable industry. “Shame!” They have cried to Kevin Martin. “All is well in cable-land! The industry is intensely competitive, prices are low, service is wonderful, and consumers are bursting with happiness! How can you even think of regulating the cable industry?”

Mind you, these are the same Republicans who in the summer of ’06 were so gosh darn concerned about the lack of cable competition that they were all set to completely rewrite the Telecom Act to help phone companies get into video. Because God knows if we didn’t deregulate phone companies we couldn’t get any competition for cable, and Lord knows we needed competition for cable. But when you are a member of the Republican Party and you see a special interest and regular campaign contributor in need, you don’t worry about such fiddlin’ details as consistency with your past positions. Either that, or we should assume Mr. Barton, Mr. Upton, and the rest that championed the “we must deregulate the phone companies to bring competition to cable” bill in 2006 believe that the whole competition thing worked itself out, so that is now — in the words of the 23 Commerce Committee Republicans — “significant competition in the video programming marketplace.”

So now we see the delightful sight of Mr. Barton, Mr. Upton, and the rest of the Republican Cable Commerce Cheering Squad, who last summer couldn’t vote fast enough to deregulate because we needed cable competition, taking FCC Chairman Martin out to the woodshed for daring, DARING to suggest that cable has market power and that therefore the FCC should take steps to address this problem, or at least bloody recognize the reality. (Apparently, flip-flopping is not a problem if it is bought and paid for flip-flopping.)

So rest assured America, in the fight between your personal well-being and the profit margins of GOP campaign contributors, you can always count on the Republicans to stay bought and stand up for special interests.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

VDC — Video VOIP

I confess I hadn’t heard of VDC: Virtual Video Cable until they filed a program access complaint. Of course, since the vast majority of people probably hadn’t heard about that either (or even know what a “program access complaint” is), I imagine I remain in the distinct minority.

VDC bills itself as a purely broadband-based cable-like service. I compare it to “video VOIP” (or voice-over-IP for the five readers unfamiliar with the acronym). In theory, a service like VDC could provide real competition to cable by letting you get an actual cable service (as opposed to video clips like YouTube or random episodes from iTunes or from some streaming site) — just like VOIP allows a company like Vonage or Sunrocket to offer voice if you have a broadband connection so you can discontinue phone service, saving a bundle (assuming your broadband provider does not make you buy a bundled service or interere with your VOIP packets).

So it is unsurprising that when a possible competitor like VDC emerges, cable uses its market power to try to squash it like a bug. In this case, cable companies have resurected one of the old reliable tricks from their early days: deny the would-be competitor needed programming. Here, Time Warner has refused to enter into negotiations to make CNN available to VDC. (We can expect that if this doesn’t do the trick, cable cos will move to the new fangled tricks — mess with the packets.)

But VDC has a few weapons in its arsenal. It has invoked a provision of the 1992 Cable Act called the “program access rule” that Congress passed to force cable operators to make programming available to would-be competitors like Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) providers. VDC has only two problems:

1) The complaint is being handled by the FCC’s usual cable enforcement staff which, as I have observed previously, does not exactly move on “internet time.”

2) The program access rules stop working (“sunset”) this October. So even if staff resolve the complaint in something approaching reasonable time, it may not do much good.

So is video VOIP dead before it even starts? Not necessarily. For a full explanation of what’s going on and how you (yes, you) can help make video VOIP a reality, see below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

I hope USA Today got it wrong on Kevin Martin and local franchising of telco video.

After a brief vacation from the 21st Century, I am back on the job and as puzzled as ever by this USA Today story.

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