Dish Network case results in record telemarketing fine

via Dish Network case results in record telemarketing fine,

PDF: Dish Network Fine

Satellite TV provider Dish Network will have to shell out $280 million to settle charges that it violated federal law when its representatives called millions of consumers to get them to sign up for Dish Network TV services.

The Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice announced the action Wednesday, in a stinging rebuke of the Colorado-based company’s sales practices that closed an 8-year-old case. A U.S. District Court in Illinois didn’t mince words in its statement, in which it accused the company of creating a situation in which “unscrupulous sales persons used illegal practices to sell Dish Network programming any way they could.”

The agencies were joined in the lawsuit by the states of California, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio, which will share in $112 million to address alleged violations in their respective states. In addition, the federal government will pocket $168 million from the settlement, the largest civil penalty ever obtained for violations of the FTC Act. Dish Network has a reported 13.5 million subscribers nationwide.

“The National Do Not Call Registry is a popular federal program for the public to reduce the number of unwanted sales calls,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “This case demonstrates the Department of Justice’s commitment to smart enforcement of consumer protection laws and sends a clear message to businesses that they must comply with the Do Not Call rules.”

Specifically, the court found that “millions” of Dish Network-authorized calls violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule, The Telephone Consumer Protection Act and state law. (Sixty-six million of those calls on their own were found to be violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule.) The complaint alleged in reference to the Telemarketing Sales Rule that Dish “initiated, or caused a telemarketer to initiate, outbound telephone calls to phone numbers on the DNC Registry, in violation of the TSR, violated the TSR’s prohibition on abandoned calls, and assisted and facilitated telemarketers when it knew, or consciously avoided knowing, that the telemarketer was engaged in violations of the law.”

“The outcome of this case shows companies will pay a hefty price for violating consumers’ privacy with unwanted calls,” said Maureen K. Ohlhausen, acting FTC chairman. “This is a great result for consumers, and I am grateful to FTC staff for their years of tenacious work investigating and developing this case. We and our DOJ and state partners will continue to bring enforcement actions against Do Not Call violators.”

The court’s ruling contained four provisions, which included requiring Dish and its primary retailers to ensure they are fully compliant with the “Safe Harbor” provisions of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (which protect you and me from certain calling practices); requiring Dish to hire a telemarketing-compliance expert to ensure compliance; requiring Dish to allow unannounced inspections of calling facilities or records; and prohibiting Dish from violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule in the future.

Dish has gone on record as disagreeing with the verdict and said it plans to appeal. “The penalties awarded in this case radically and unjustly exceed, by orders of magnitude, those found in the settlements in similar actions,” a representative noted in a statement. “Dish has long taken its compliance with telemarketing laws seriously, has and will continue to maintain rigorous telemarketing compliance policies and procedures, and has topped multiple independent customer service surveys along the way.”

It wasn’t clear how much, if any, of the settlement money will be returned to affected consumers.


Streaming leads to “binge cheating”


From Streaming leads to “binge cheating”,

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20170327_A005_1 (1)

Recently, I came across an interesting article about a survey that claimed nearly half of Netflix viewers have secretly binge-watched a show without their partner, after they had been watching together.

For the uninitiated, “binge-watching” is when you watch multiple episodes at one sitting on Netflix or some other streaming service. The serial nature of many TV shows, as well as the ease with which you can move from one episode to the next, has contributed to the rise of this phenomenon in just a few years. The term has recently been added to dictionaries.

Many couples find it to be something they can share. So, sitting down together, they’ll watch four straight episodes of “The Walking Dead” (for example), one after the other. But, alas, sometimes we still want to watch something after our partner has gone to bed early or is out of town, and the lure of “The Crown” or “House of Cards” is nearly inescapable.

This phenomenon has tripled since Netflix rolled out the results of its first such survey in 2013. Slightly disturbingly, most viewers who admitted to it say they’d plan to keep doing it if they could “get away with it”. As to which shows are inspiring this behavior, Entertainment Weekly reports that “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” “Orange is the New Black,” “House of Cards” and “Marvel’s Daredevil” are most often cited.

To be clear, there are far more serious offenses that can jeopardize a relationship, and this behavior is unlikely to cause significant issues on its own. Still, these statistics indicate just how far TV has infiltrated our lives. While the explosion in streaming services has cut significantly into “traditional” TV watching, the average American watches about five hours of TV a day (across all device types), according to a 2016 Nielsen report.

 When it comes to how much binge-cheating is going on, Americans are strictly amateurs. The real action is in Latin America and Europe. In Brazil and Mexico, about six in 10 viewers reported that they regularly “binge-cheated” on their significant others. And in the U.K., the problem has gotten so out of hand that a British ice-cream company created what they call “commitment rings,” wearable gadgets that are linked to each other by radio signals (near-field communication). Clever marketers have sold the product with the tagline, “Love should last more than one season.” A couple buys the rings, then registers through an online app, choosing which shows they plan to watch together. If both rings aren’t in close proximity to each other, the app will prevent the show from streaming.
So — other than buying expensive wearable tech — what’s a committed couple to do to avoid conflict from binge-watching? I’m no marriage counselor (nor do I play one on TV), but after 26 years of wedded bliss, I believe it starts with honesty. My wife and I have a policy of telling each other when we want to keep on watching after the other has left the room. (In the interest of full disclosure, I promptly self-report even unintentional incidents: “Sweetie, I continued to watch ‘Longmire’ after you fell asleep in your chair. Please forgive me.” One can’t be too careful in a marriage.) We have a specific set of shows we like to watch together, and if one of us wants to move on to the next episode alone, we’ll ask. But we’ll generally switch to something else until the next time we can watch together; we’ve found that time we spend together is too valuable.
Having honest dialogue could possibly prevent the conflict altogether. Hmmm, sounds like it could solve much more serious problems than that of trying to hide the fact you watched “Breaking Bad” by yourself.

Technology taking TV to next level


via Bill Moak: Technology taking TV to next level

PDF: technology-tv

Most of us have gotten used to those rectangular boxes sitting somewhere near our TVs. The set-top box has become so commonplace we don’t notice it anymore, but if the Federal Communications Commission has its way, the boxes could disappear in a couple of years.

On Thursday, FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler announced his agency’s intention to make TV providers eliminate the boxes, which cost consumers millions annually in rental fees. The average consumer pays $231 each year to rent their set-top boxes, which deliver programming and allow easy access through connected remote controls. The FCC estimates the fees bring in $20 million in revenue to cable companies, satellite TV providers and other pay TV services.

“If you want to watch Comcast’s content through your Apple TV or Roku, you can. If you want to watch DirectTV’s offerings through your Xbox, you can,” Wheeler wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. “And if you want to watch your current pay-TV package on your current set-top box, you can do that, too. The choice is yours.”

The issue is technology has finally arrived to make these boxes irrelevant. Most consumers can already access content through mobile phones, game consoles and internet-ready devices such as smart TVs and Roku. Wheeler’s proposal will make providers phase out the boxes in favor of free apps, which can be used to control content.

“Following constructive engagement from a wide range of stakeholders,” Wheeler announced in a blog post, “I’ve circulated a proposal that would require pay-TV providers to offer to consumers a free app to access all the programming and features. Consumers will be able to use this app on the device of their choosing, whether that’s a streaming device, gaming console, or even your current smartTV. “

The initiative, called “Unlocking the Box,” will also require providers of pay-TV services to make their content available to users of competing platforms and to make their content searchable across a range of devices and services. In addition, providers will have to make sure their devices allow the government to break in with emergency alerts and that they accommodate people with disabilities.

The proposal — altered from an earlier incarnation announced six months ago — has already met with some criticism as well as support. Some companies criticized the original proposal, saying it would allow search engine giant Google unfettered access to everybody’s programming. And a group called The Future of Television Coalition, representing a variety of cable and satellite providers and other industry players, has announced its opposition.

“Chairman Wheeler claims his intention is to lower TV bills, but his proposal would instead drive up costs as customers are forced to foot the bill for infrastructure overhauls and new in-home hardware,” the organization noted on its website. In addition, the group warned of increased ads directed at consumers, invasion of privacy and loss of access to local channels.

But former U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering of Mississippi, now head of a communication industry trade group called INCOMPAS, praised the ruling in a news release. “Unlocking the set-top box is a win for competition, consumers and innovators,” Pickering said. “Competition is the law, and we commend Chairman Wheeler and the FCC for standing up for consumers who want lower prices, more choice, and the freedom to discover new and exciting content streaming online. By presenting a balanced approach, which takes input from all sides of the debate, the FCC has come down on the side of the consumer, and the innovators of the future.”

Wheeler’s proposal still must be approved by FCC commissioners and, if enacted, will allow providers two years to comply.

Cutting the Cord: Replacing Cable/Satellite with Streaming

via Cutting the Cord: Replacing Cable/Satellite with Streaming | Consumer Watch,, 1/20/2013

Last year, as I was teaching a class, I was discussing the idea of communication as requiring some way to send and receive messages (the medium). To illustrate my point, I mentioned the term, “TV antenna”. One of my students (in her early 20′s) raised her hand and and asked, innocently, “what’s a TV antenna?” Other members of the class (most of them in their 30′s and 40′s), nearly fell out of their chairs laughing. But, yes, boys and girls, back in the dark ages of growing up in the 70′s, our choices were limited to whatever you could pull off the air with your rooftop antenna or “rabbit ears”. For us in the Jackson area, that meant Channels 3, 12, 16 and 29. One day, in the distant science-fiction future, we dreamed, we could have as many channels as we wanted.

Fast forward to 2013. Now, there are so many channels that we don’t know what to do with them all. In fact, there are so many channels that most people can’t — wouldn’t care to — possibly watch all of them.

However, as the rates for programming through cable and satellite keep growing, many people are saying “enough”. For the first time in history, last year saw major indications that people are leaving cable and satellite for “streaming”, which is receiving TV programming through a service like Netflix or Hulu, using your existing broadband Internet connection. And, as options get better and technology catches up, millions are finding that “cutting the cord” is the way to slash their entertainment costs while satisfying their hunger for programming. Apple’s iTunes is also offering content through their own AppleTV service.

One increasingly-popular option is Roku, featuring a small box smaller than a sandwich, which allows users to stream movies, sports, TV programs and special content using services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. In addition, owners of the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft’s X-Box 360 and Sony’s PS3 are finding that their devices come complete with the ability to stream content. Roku has no fees other than purchasing the device, and it provides an easy interface with the subscription channels. There is a lot of free content, but it consists largely of B-movies and video clips.

Recently, we decided to give it a try. We cancelled our DirecTV subscription and signed up for basic Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime trial subscriptions, turned on the Wii (It requires a wireless connection, which we already had), and found that I could log in from the Wii.

For now, our family is satisfied with the content, but it is changing our viewing habits. I have found that recent episodes of many of the shows we like to watch (including virtually all of CBS’ lineup such as NCIS and The Mentalist) are not available for free, although you can watch it free on the computer directly from the CBS website. Some of these shows are available from Amazon Prime for a per-episode charge, but that would perhaps defeat the purpose. (Amazon Prime, by the way, has a $79 annual fee that must be paid up front, and you still won’t get everything for no additional cost afterwards.)For the next several weeks, our family became movie junkies, watching dozens of movies and old TV programs like MacGyver , Miami Vice and Top Gear. Later, I added the Roku (about $80) and invested in a $20 antenna to pull in local channels.

The signal quality is excellent, but that depends on your broadband connection. We found that we can watch two programs simultaneously on the wired computer, and in HD on the Roku in the other room, with excellent picture quality and few interruptions. Some shows make you watch commercials, but the breaks are blissfully short.

The verdict? While we have watched lots and lots of programs, the convenience factor for cable/satellite can’t be overlooked. We are continuing the Netflix and Hulu subscriptions, and watching shows on the computer. And come the next football season, we may have to do something else. At some point, we may switch back totally; however, for now, we are going to stay “off the cord”. I’d appreciate your opinions on whether you have tried cutting the cord for your own household. Happy streaming!

For more information on “cutting the cord”, a good article is here.

– See more here..

Directv announces rate increase to begin in February

via Directv announces rate increase to begin in February | Consumer Watch,, 12/27/2012

If you’re a DirecTV subscriber, be on the lookout for a price increase starting Feb. 7. The satellite TV company has announced a major rate increase which they attribute to the rising costs of providing television channels. “In 2013, the programming costs we pay to owners of television channels will increase by about 8.0%, but we have chosen to adjust the prices our customers pay by an average of only 4.5%,” says the company’s website.

You may recall the bitter battles between DirecTV and providers of television content over the past few years. There is a lot of huffing and puffing from both sides, and on occasion a channel will go dark for a while. But if you watch the satellite TV industry, it’s obvious that they can really only go so far; they need each other.

“On occasion, some negotiations of new and existing channel contracts have become public recently (who put that sentence together?!) so you can see we are doing all we can to make sure you do not suffer unfair price increases as a result of unreasonable demands in these disputes,” says a statement on DirecTV’s website. “By holding firm, we’ve held our annual price increases on average below those of cable competitors.”

DirecTV is trying to soften the blow by reminding consumers that they could be paying 8% more, instead of 4.5%.

The company’s most popular package, currently called Choice Xtra, will increase by $2.00 per month, while the Premier package will increase by $5.00. If you have HBO but not as part of the Premier package, you’ll be paying an extra $2.00 a month.

All this comes on the heels of last summer’s battle with Viacom, owner of the lucrative MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon networks. After a lengthy battle culminated in a record-setting 10-day blackout of Viacom programming, Viacom wound up with what is rumored to be at least a 20% increase in rates paid by DirecTV. (Viacom will make an estimated $600 million per year from DirecTV). DirecTV tried to put lipstick on the pig by reminding us that Viacom had initially wanted a 30% increase instead of the 20% they wound up with.

DirecTV isn’t alone, and the pie doesn’t appear to be getting bigger. Competitor Dish Network has perennial battles with providers, and new technologies such as Roku are threatening to take even more market share. Rising dissatisfaction is causing customer loyalty to be a thing of the past (and for good reason).

Ultimately, for consumers, the game appears to offer few good choices. I suspect that, in the new year, a lot of consumers are going to be voting with their feet.