|March 31, 2014 | By Steve Donohue
FCC commissioners agreed to open up 100 MHz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band available for use with Wi-Fi services, in a big win for Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) and other broadband providers that have said they need more unlicensed spectrum to support advanced services.
“Today’s decision is a win for every consumer who uses Wi-Fi. It will help alleviate congestion and pave the way for next generation Wi-Fi technologies that will operate at gigabit-per-second speeds,” Comcast VP of Regulatory Policy David Don said in a prepared statement.
The move was also cheered by National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Michael Powell, who said the FCC action will drive a “substantially faster Wi-Fi experience” for American consumers.
The FCC said the new rules will remove the restriction on indoor-only use for the 5 GHz band. “This in turn will allow U-NII devices to better integrate with other unlicensed portions of the GHz band to offer faster speeds and reduce congestion at crowded Wi-Fi hot spots such as airports and convention centers,” the commission said.
Tom Rutledge also says he is “observing” the Comcast takeover of Time Warner Cable but adds, “We don’t need M&A to be a successful company.”
1:00 PM PDT 3/10/2014 by Paul Bond
Tom Rutledge is no fan of multiple visits from the “cable guy,” he said during a conversation at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet and Telecom Conference in Florida on Monday.
The Charter Communications CEO said he is working hard to minimize the need to roll out personnel and trucks to customers because “getting that out of the business” improves the quality of the product. One way Charter is accomplishing that is by selling triple-play services so that multiple products can be installed with a single visit and fewer “transactions.”
“Taking transactions out of the business actually increases customer satisfaction,” Rutledge said. “The opportunity for things to go wrong are legendary. I mean, people make movies about it — Cable Guy. Getting that out of the business dramatically improves satisfaction.”
Rutledge also talked about “a whole bunch of opportunities” for Charter and other cable companies that will come by way of looming 10-gigabyte-per-second Internet speeds and wireless Internet connections in every home.
“We’ll have the ability to probably do something along the lines of a ‘wireless drop,’ meaning a wireless connection for every household, which might not even require a physical connection between the house and the street,” he said.
He said that he does not anticipate that consumers will want to navigate giant TV screens with their fingers the same way they do with iPads and other tablets, therefore Charter is focusing on improving remote controls for such functionality.
Of the impending Comcast acquisition of Time Warner Cable — a company Charter once coveted — Rutledge said, “We’re observing them.” He added, “We don’t need M&A to be a successful company.”
Charter shares, meanwhile, were rising 1 percent to more than $128 a share on Monday during midday trading. Wall Street analysts have been friendly to the stock lately, and, on Monday, Jefferies Group upgraded shares to “buy” with a $150 price target. On Friday, Northland Capital upgraded the stock to “outperform.”
Will Make Way for Hearing on STELA
According to sources, the Senate Judiciary Committee is moving its hearing on the proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger from March 26 to April 2.
That move will be to make room for a hearing on the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), said multiple sources. The committee would be unlikely to hold two big hearings on the same day.
STELA has been heating up, with a draft of a bill in the House Communications Subcommittee and movement in the Senate Commerce Committee as well, where Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D- W. Va.) has asked for input on what should be in the bill.
The House Communications Subcommittee is holding a STELA hearing March 12, with witnesses from across the stakeholder spectrum including National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell.
Voluntary Pact Aims At Saving $1B Per Year By Conserving Power
By: John Eggerton Dec 23 2013 – 11:20am
The cable and consumer electronics industries, energy efficiency groups and the Department of Energy have struck a deal on voluntary energy efficiency standards for set-top boxes that they say will result in “significant energy savings for more than 90 million U.S. homes” while avoiding regulations that cable operators had argued would hurt, not help.
The new standards — including energy-use monitoring by pay-TV providers — are predicted to boost set-top box energy efficiency between 10% and 45%, depending on the box, by 2017.
That is expected to translate into more than $1 billion annually, a figure that could grow with the growth of whole-home devices and increasing demand for DVRs and HD set-tops.
The standards agreement applies to all types of boxes from pay-TV providers: cable, satellite and telco. Energy use monitoring will be subject to an independent audit. DOE also reserves the right to test the boxes under the federal Energy Star verification process.
“As Americans increasingly rely on more electronic devices and gadgets, managing energy consumption is both an environmental and economic priority for consumers and industry alike, Michael Powell, NCTA’s president, said in a statement. “The cable industry is working hard to improve the overall consumer experience and we are proud to develop solutions that will reduce our energy footprint and result in real energy savings for millions of consumers.”
Also signing on to the agreement were the Consumer Electronics Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. Multichannel video providers onboard include Comcast, DirecTV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems, Bright House Networks and CenturyLink.
Back in June, NCTA asked DOE to pause an effort to come up with government-mandated energy efficiency standards because such regulation would foreclose innovation and “sabotage” a voluntary agreement among equipment manufacturers and the top multichannel video providers.
Under the voluntary agreement reached last fall, Comcast, DirecTV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Verizon, Charter, AT&T, Cablevision, Bright House Networks and CenturyLink â€“ along with consumer-equipment companies Cisco, Motorola, EchoStar and Arris â€“ said new set-tops would meet Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star 3.0 levels. Devices that meet that standard are 45% more efficient than ones that don’t, according to the EPA.
Also, “light-sleeper” mode software will be employed by cable operators to more than 10 million DVRs already in use, and satellite operators will include a power-down feature in 90% of the set-tops they deploy.
Energy conservation advocates did not sign on to that agreement, and the Energy Department restarted the process, which will now officially be terminated with the agreement to the new standards.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has been pushing for the standards, praised the agreement, but said she would monitor its progress to insure industry follows through.
“In 2011, I urged the CEOs of every major television service provider to work together to introduce more energy efficient set-top boxes,” the senator said in a statement. “At the time, set-top boxes were costing Americans $3 billion in electricity charges each year — with $2 billion wasted when televisions were not being used. Today’s voluntary announcement demonstrates the television industry took this matter seriously, and I commend industry and efficiency advocates for agreeing to make 90% of all set-top boxes as efficient as todayâ€™s most energy efficient boxes by 2017.”
She said she would â€œmonitor the situation carefully to ensure the industry remains committed to building on today’s substantial progress in future years.”
The National Resources Defense Council issued a statement by Noah Horowitz, one of the lead negotiators for the voluntary agreement and a senior scientist and director of the Center for Energy Efficiency at NRDC: “This historic agreement promises to put $1 billion back in the pockets of U.S. consumers every year because the new set-top boxes will use less energy. We appreciate the industry’s renewed commitment toward making the devices that bring pay TV into 90 million-plus U.S. homes more efficient and look forward to working together to reduce their future energy use.”
The combination of low-cost internet service and free, world-class education has the power to help level the playing field for low-income families.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA
Today, Comcast’s Executive Vice President David L. Cohen and Salman Khan, founder of the non-profit Khan Academy, announced a comprehensive partnership that will combine the free, world-class educational content of Khan Academy with the transformative potential of Internet Essentials, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program.
For Comcast, this is one of the largest commitments the Company has made to a non-profit partner. The commitment includes hundreds of thousands of PSAs, significant digital promotion in both English and Spanish, as well as multiple joint promotion opportunities around the country over the next few years.
“While Comcast has made great progress connecting more than 1 million low-income Americans, or more than 250,000 families, to the Internet through our Internet Essentials program, there are many more families who are still eligible to participate, but have not yet signed up,” said Cohen. “Research consistently shows that the number one barrier to broadband adoption is a bucket of digital literacy issues, including a lack of understanding of the relevancy of the Internet and of the value it provides. Khan Academy is almost uniquely positioned to help lower that barrier because its content is the ultimate proof point of the value of the Internet.”
In a survey by Comcast of its Internet Essentials program subscribers, 98 percent indicated their kids use the Internet for homework and 94 percent feel that Internet access in the home has had a positive impact on their child’s grades. Khan Academy offers a personalized learning experience which includes over 5,000 free educational videos and 100,000 practice problems, in areas from basic Math to college level Biology and Art History. Khan Academy is helping kids do better in school and is preparing them to compete for 21st century jobs.
“In order to scale our free resources to the world, Khan Academy developed our materials on an online platform,” said Khan. “This approach helps us reach millions of individuals. In order to get the full value of Khan Academy, you need access to broadband. We’re excited to partner with Comcast, so we can help expand the number of people who can gain access to our site.”
Khan Academy is a non-profit with a mission to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. In the last two years, Khan Academy has delivered over 330 million lessons and 1.6 billion exercise problems. Currently, it has 10 million users per month and over 4 million exercise problems completed each day.
Internet Essentials from Comcast is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive program designed to help close the digital divide. It provides low-cost broadband service for $9.95 a month plus tax; the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for under $150; and multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online, and in-person.
About Khan Academy:
Khan Academy is a 501(c)3 non-profit with a mission of providing a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere. Khan Academy provides free online educational material (e.g., practice exercise, instructional videos, dashboard analytics, teacher tools) that support personalized education for users of all ages in a scalable way. In the last two years, the organization has delivered over 330 million lessons and 1.6 billion exercise problems. Currently it has 10 million users per month and over 4 million exercise problems completed each day. Khan Academy covers subjects from basic Math to college level Biology and Art History. For more information, visit www.khanacademy.org.
About Internet Essentials:
Internet Essentials from Comcast is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program. It provides low-cost broadband service for $9.95 a month plus tax; the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for under $150; and multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online, and in-person. A household is eligible to participate if it has at least one child eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), is located where Comcast offers Internet service, has not subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days, and does not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment. Families that enroll in the program can continue to enjoy the service as long as one child eligible to participate in the NSLP is living in the household.
For more information about Internet Essentials visit InternetEssentials.com for English and InternetBasico.com for Spanish. Educators or third-parties interested in helping to spread the word can find more information at InternetEssentials.com/partner. Parents looking to enroll in the program can call 1-855-846-8376 or, for Spanish, 1-855-765-6995.
About Comcast Corporation:
Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is a global media and technology company with two primary businesses, Comcast Cable and NBCUniversal. Comcast Cable is the nation’s largest video, high-speed Internet and phone provider to residential customers under the XFINITY brand and also provides these services to businesses. NBCUniversal operates 30 news, entertainment and sports cable networks, the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, television production operations, television station groups, Universal Pictures and Universal Parks and Resorts. Visit www.comcastcorporation.com for more information.
Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT) picked the current “Best Companies For Women In Cable” today, based on results of the 2013 WICT PAR Survey. After each survey is conducted, distinguished operators and programmers are recognized as the highest achievers based on the survey data. This year two companies tied for the first-place position of best operator, Comcast and Cox Communications. NBCUniversal attained the first-place position of best programmer.
The PAR Survey gauges gender-related qualitative and quantitative employee data, and assesses companies’ practices as to how they support Pay equity, Advancement opportunities, and Resources for work/life support. Mercer, a leading global consultant on human capital issues, gathered and analyzed the data, creating an executive report that will be available in December 2013 on WICT’s web site, www.wict.org. This year marks the tenth anniversary and the ninth cycle of the PAR Initiative, which is now administered biennially.
In all, 25 companies participated in the survey, representing 59% of the overall cable work force.
Other companies singled out for recognition were:
- Cable providers: Bright House Networks, second place; Time Warner Cable, third place; Midcontinent Communications, fourth place, and Suddenlink Communications, fifth place.
- Programmers: Discovery Communications, second place; Disney ABC Television Group, third place; Scripps Networks Interactive, fourth place, and Turner Broadcasting System Inc., fifth place.
The PAR Survey is administered in partnership with the NAMIC AIM Survey. The PAR Initiative is underwritten by the Walter Kaitz Foundation and supported by each of WICT’s local chapters.
“This is the 10th year of the PAR Initiative, and as the industry continues to raise the bar on equitable gender employment standards, the data over time shows gains for women in several key areas, including a higher percentage of women at the executive and senior levels,” Parthavi Das, WICT Chief of Staff, said in a release. “However, promotion rates are lower for women as compared to men and departure rates are higher, and the concern is that if the trend continues the number of women in management will decline over the next five years.”
“We applaud those companies recognized as the best for women in cable. They offer great lessons that we will share as part of an ongoing advocacy campaign to help the industry absorb and enact best practices,” Maria E. Brennan, CAE, President & CEO of WICT, said in the release. “We appreciate the commitment of time and resources that companies dedicated to participating in the PAR Initiative this year. We are also grateful to NAMIC for their partnership, as well as to the Walter Kaitz Foundation and the WICT local chapters for their support of PAR.”
Initial findings from the 2013 PAR Initiative were released during a joint Town Hall with NAMIC, as part of Diversity Week. The Executive Summary may be downloaded from www.wictparinitiative.org; a full report will be released later this year.
CableLabs Plants Flag In Silicon Valley
When the doors of the new CableLabs Innovation Office and Lab facility swing open on October 28 in the Silicon Valley, cable’s R&D consortium will embark on a new era of strategic thinking and boot up a venue tasked with sparking new ideas and the debut of a process aimed at bringing those ideas to fruition.
The 17,000-square-foot Innovation Office and Lab, located at 400 W. California in Sunnyvale, will report into CableLabs CEO Phil McKinney and represent the follow-on to a CableLabs office originally opened-up in San Francisco in November 2011.
The new facility, initially to support seven CableLabs employees, will focus on managing and developing the R&D organization’s innovation portfolio while also encouraging employees, CableLabs members, and potential development partners to identify and develop new technologies for the cable industry. It will also be used to host events and lay down firm roots in the tech-savvy area. In fact, it has already scheduled an open house on November 21 so vendors, members and Silicon Valley locals can poke around and schmooze.
The facility “will allow greater flexibility and collaborative efforts with bellwether, emerging technology firms,” McKinney said in an email exchange with Multichannel News.
A main goal of the Silicon Valley facility is to accelerate the process of developing new ideas and how to get them to market for efficiently, while also creating fresh investment opportunities.
“The intent of Innovation Office is to be a developer, catalyst and enabler of innovation and will reach out to contributors and thought leaders as well as innovative companies focused on emerging technologies,” McKinney added.
CableLabs vice president of innovation Christian Pape will head up the facility’s day-to-day operations. He’s also been charged with developing the office’s business model and establishing the vision of the new lab beyond its start-up period.
“We will look at innovations in three horizons; one, two and three years out,” Pape explained. The new facility will “make cable a relevant technology to developers in the Silicon Valley” and provide lab capabilities that are “on par” with the CableLabs facility in Colorado.
Setting The Innovation Process
CableLabs holds that the process of identifying and vetting ideas will be rigorous and disciplined, and will start with presentations made to “theme leaders” at the R&D organization.
“They [the theme leaders] are the execution arm, and pitch ideas just like a venture capital firm would. We have already generated a significant backlog of ideas and identified 20 worthy of further examination that could lead to investment,” Pape said.
Theme teams will assess ideas based on three key questions: Will it change the customer experience? Will it change the economics of the industry and its growth? Will it change the competitive business of industry and strategic alliances?
And, there’s a “wow” factor: Does it capture the imagination?
“It’s like a business case and the audience is the executive team,” Pape said. Once an idea is approved, it first enters a gated stage process before later heading to customer validation and proof-of-concept stages that look to deliver on the problem trying to be solved. “Data is then collected and presented to the executive committee,” Pape added.
The new facility aims to pursue new technologies and business models that extend beyond the traditional cable industry.
“That is the focal point. We recognize our members’ business is changing, so we’re serving their needs and strategies. We think it will lead us to new places beyond the cable space,” Pape said.
High on the Innovation Office’s radar screen are technologies such as IP, display technologies and Ultra HD/4K. Seven projects are already funded and being accelerated through the Silicon Valley facility, according to CableLabs.
“It’s not just about harnessing technology, it’s about building out to the future, so we’re looking for trends and opportunities,” Pape said.
NCTA: Cable Wi-Fi Pushes Past 200,000 Hotspots
U.S. cable operators have deployed more than 200,000 Wi-Fi hotspots, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association estimated in a blog post Monday.
That’s up from about 150,000 in June, the last time the NCTA offered a count, and up from 50,000 in May 2012.
The NCTA is also revealing the new figure as the House Energy and commerce committee gets ready to discuss next-gen “Gigabit” Wi-Fi Tuesday. The cable industry has been urging the government to loosen restrictions on the 5GHz band if Wi-Fi is to meet the anticipated demand of wireless broadband access.
The bulk of those 200,000 hotspots come from cable operator members of the “CableWiFi” roaming alliance – Cablevision Systems, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks.
Those operators have primarily used their hotspots as a free add-on for cable modem customers, though some operators also support pay-as-you-go plans for non-subscribers.
Comcast, meanwhile, has also kicked off a program that envisions turning millions of DOCSIS-powered wireless gateways in customer homes into quasi-public hot spots, hitting on a trend that is already well underway in Europe. When equipped with the right firmware, those gateways use a new “xfinitywifi” signal, or SSID (service set identifier), that are accessible to authenticated, roaming Comcast broadband subs. Comcast’s Xfinity WiFi site estimates that the operator now provides access to more than 300,000 hotspots through its upgraded gateways and partnerships with other MSOs.
LIVERMORE, Calif., Sept. 10, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Comcast has named veteran communications professional Mary Stutts to the newly-created position of Regional Vice President of External Affairs for California, it was announced today by Hank Fore, Regional Senior Vice President for Comcast California. Stutts will report directly to Fore, and will oversee all aspects of Comcast’s communications, government affairs, community investment and telecommunications policy matters throughout the state. She will be based in the company’s Livermore, California office, and will manage a recently merged team of government affairs and communications professionals.
“Mary has a proven track record as an external affairs executive, strategic thinker, trusted advisor and a motivational leader,” said Fore. “Her understanding of corporate social responsibility and experience in directing large public affairs teams, make her the perfect choice to tell Comcast’s story to our external stakeholders.”
For the last 23 years, Stutts has held a variety of external affairs leadership positions at Fortune 500 pharmaceutical and health care companies, including Genentech, Kaiser Permanente, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Bayer and UnitedHealth Group. Most recently, she served as the Vice President of Corporate Communications at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and she was previously the Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations at Elan Pharmaceuticals where she led a combined government affairs and communications organization.
A long-time Bay Area resident, Stutts previously worked in broadcast and print media and served as the producer of “The Informed Viewer” — a current affairs program that aired on KFCB/KTNC-TV in Concord, California.
Stutts is a founding member of the Communications Executive Council of the Corporate Executive Board, a leading member-based company that provides research and advisory services to businesses worldwide. She is also a member of The Arthur Page Society and The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).
The Network Journal named her to the publication’s 2012 list of 25 Influential Black Women in Business, and, in 2010, Black Health Magazine named her as one of the 25 Most Influential African Americans in Healthcare.
A native of Chicago, Stutts is a graduate of the University of Louisiana – Monroe and received a Master of Arts in Health Care/Hospital Administration from the University of Southern California. She also completed the Executive Program in Organization and Strategy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Stutts and her family live in Fairfield, California
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) Monday released a draft of retransmission consent legislation in advance of a hearing this week dealing with that and other video regulation issues.
The bill, The Video CHOICE (Consumers Have Options in Choosing Entertainment) Act, “Gives the FCC explicit statutory authority to grant interim carriage of a television broadcast station during a retransmission consent negotiation impasse.”
According to Eshoo the bill also:
- “Ensures that a consumer can purchase cable television service without subscribing to the broadcast stations electing retransmission consent.
- “Prohibits a television broadcast station engaged in a retransmission consent negotiations from making their owned or affiliated cable programming a condition for receiving broadcast programming.
- “Instructs the FCC to examine whether the blocking of a television broadcast station’s owned or affiliated online content during a retransmission consent negotiation constitutes a failure to negotiate in ‘good faith.’ ”
- “Calls for an FCC study of programming costs for regional and national sports networks in the top 20 regional sports markets.”
Eshoo is the ranking member of the House Communications Subcommittee, which is holding a hearing Sept. 11 on video regulation that is expected to feature retrans and satellite licensing issues, tied to the 2014 expiration of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA).
Also expiring as part of that bill, unless Congress renews it, is the FCC’s authority to enforce retransmission consent good faith negotiations.
Distributors — cable and satellite operators — have been pushing the FCC to use more muscle in enforcing good faith, including blocking blackouts and perhaps requiring third-party arbitration of impasses.
The bill comes as little surprise. Last month, during the recently resolved CBS/Time Warner Cable retransmission blackout, Eshoo, a long-standing retransmission blackout critic, signaled that she “intend[ed] to carefully examine whether changes to current law are needed to adequately protect consumers and prevent the reoccurrence of blackouts.”
Broadcasters argue that blackouts are rare, and are part of a marketplace negotiation that should not include FCC intervention. Distributors point to must-carry, network non-duplication and syndicated exclusivity rules and say those are a government thumb on the scale that makes it far from a free-market negotiation.
Eshoo’s action drew plaudits from the American Cable Association, the trade group representing small to mid-sized cable operators and an open advocate of changes to retransmission-consent regulations.
“ACA applauds Rep. Eshoo for having the vision and courage to offer a timely and thoughtful plan for addressing serious problems causing harm to consumers related to the broken retransmission consent and sports programming markets — highlighted by a record-number of broadcaster signal blackouts and skyrocketing retrans fees that push up monthly pay-TV bills,” ACA said in part. “To her great credit, Rep. Eshoo has proposed a set of common sense reforms. ACA agrees that the nation’s top media regulator – the Federal Communications Commission — should have the authority to prevent TV signal blackouts as part of its mandate to protect the public interest, convenience and necessity. We also agree with Rep. Eshoo that consumers should not have to buy local TV stations that elect retransmission consent as part of their pay-TV package.”
“We applaud Ranking Member Eshoo for her leadership and her legislation to address the myriad problems with our retransmission consent system,” said The American Television Alliance, whose members include the American Cable Association, Time Warner Cable, Dish and DirecTV. “Her voice is the latest in an ever-growing chorus calling for retrans reform and her bill is a step in the right direction. Consumers continue to be hit with more and more blackouts and we encourage Congress to consider reform immediately. We look forward to working with Ranking Member Eshoo and other members seeking to update our video rules into this century.”