AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Charter Got $58.8 Billion in Tax Benefits: We Want Lower Rates — Now!
Here is a chart you might want to start screaming about. Prices are no longer just and reasonable. There is no effort being made to lower prices, even though just these four companies, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Charter (Spectrum) garnered $58.8 billion in tax benefits.
The “2016” and “2017” columns supply the “net income” as of the end of December 2017 and they include the “earnings per share”, “EPS”. The next columns are the increases from 2016 to 2017 and the “tax benefit” column is what the companies are reporting. For example, AT&T’s 4th Quarter result had the net income rise from $2.4 billion to $19 billion, and the total tax benefit was $20 billion while the diluted earnings per share went from $.39 to $3.08, increases of about 690%.
NOTE: We still have to wait for the companies to put out their annual reports as there can be differences. And some companies, like Centurylink, (the incumbent phone company for western states like Wyoming, Colorado and North Dakota, still hadn’t posted their 4th quarter results as of this writing.) Also, the earnings per share and other factors will vary based on the number of available stock shares, number of shareholders, etc.)
Historically, when an incumbent telecommunications company had a major financial windfall, the regulators would make sure that prices would be lowered, especially when there is little competition to lower them. In fact, in New York, Verizon was granted major rate increases of basic phone service starting in 2005, in part because the company was reporting major losses.
But there are no plans to ‘lower rates’ here. The FCC, of course, doesn’t care to lower cable TV, broadband, internet, or phone prices on their friends, the phone and cable companies — commonly called “ISPS”.
Yet, based on the companies’ financials, the changes in the tax laws for just these 4 companies helped to deliver a mind-boggling tax benefit of $58.8 billion dollars. Maybe if this new found cash was to be used for something useful, like building out infrastructure or bringing in serious competition to lower prices, then these windfall profits could be justified.
But this is not the case. The money appears to be going mostly to shareholders with massive earnings per share benefits — i.e.; take the money and run. And wouldn’t you know it, those who benefit the most are the largest shareholders — the management of Verizon, AT&T, et al.
AT&T Claims 2017 has been a Remarkable Year because of the “Major Policy Achievements”.
America’s consumers and businesses are under attack, not only from outrageous tax breaks to already rich corporations, commonly known as the so-called ISPs, but they are being doubly assisted by the FCC.
And AT&T et al. are, of course, laughing all the way to the bank due to the current Trump and FCC tax and regulatory policies.
Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s CEO, told investors in the company’s 4th Quarter 2017 earnings presentation — it’s a remarkable year because of the “major policy achievements”.
“I just want to take a moment and reflect on 2017 because by any measure, 2017 was a remarkable year. It’s remarkable for our country, for our industry where we operate, and for AT&T. And it’s been a long time since we’ve seen so many, what I would call, major public policy achievements compressed into a single year like we saw last year. And we’re calling these achievements because the combined impact from these is going to be growth. It’s going to be growth in U. S. investment and jobs and in wages. And all of this began early in 2017, as regulations across all industries were being rationalized.”
“We need a long-term predictability on the rules of the Internet and on customer privacy. So, we’re calling for an Internet Bill of Rights and you can expect us to take a leadership role on this as the discussion progresses.”
As we pointed out, in a single year, the FCC decided to make massive changes, which are part of a wish list created by AT&T.
§ Get rid of Net Neutrality
§ Get rid of basic privacy laws
§ Help to kill off competition
§ Help to close down the existing copper infrastructure, even in areas where there are no substitutes.
§ Force-march customers onto wireless service
§ Privatize publicly funded infrastructure.
We call this litany of regulatory mayhem “The Wheel of Misfortune”. And the idea that AT&T wants an “Internet Bill of Rights” is ludicrous. One has to remember that the FCC named the removal of Net Neutrality the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order”.
In fact, Trump has decided to make the FCC a toxic waste dump by having telco and cable company consultants lead the transition team. Trump then appointed former Verizon attorney Ajit Pai to be chairman, and Brendan Carr was made a commissioner; he is a former lawyer at Wiley Rein, who worked for Verizon, AT&T, and the wireless association, CTIA and the phone association, USTA, for years.
Verizon Benefits from All of this are Also Worth Noting.
Talk about financial gifts, Verizon writes that it had a $16.8 billion dollar, one-time earnings increase — and instead of actually building out areas with fiber optics that were neglected, the company has decided to give the money to the shareholders, with an additional $4.10 per share.
“As Verizon noted in an 8-K filing on Jan. 17, the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act also resulted in a one-time, after-tax increase to earnings provisionally estimated to be approximately $16.8 billion, or $4.10 per share. This is primarily related to the re-measurement of the company’s net deferred tax liabilities at the new corporate income tax rate.
“The cumulative net impact from these items, after tax, was approximately $15.2 billion, or $3.71 per share, in fourth-quarter 2017.
I note that elsewhere, according to Verizon, this increase was $4.56 in earnings per share (EPS), compared with $1.10 in 4Q 2016–315% more.
Verizon is also adding $100 million to the Verizon Foundation, from the current $200 million to $300 million over the next two years — which, as we documented, has been used as a slush fund to give to politicians in their districts for pet projects.
But who is the largest beneficiary of this largesse? Well, Chairman Lowell McAdam who had 1.5 million shares of stock in 2016 (the last published accounting) so this tax benefit per share will make him an additional $6.1 million. Who knows what else is in the convoluted executive pay schemes which will be listed in the Verizon 2017 annual proxy statements.
The Net Neutrality Decision Claims that “Title II Harms Investment”. This Conclusion is Based on Manipulated Data
These year-end financial reports also highlight something else: The FCC has been manipulating the story that Title II harms investment.
This is Comcast’s capital expenditures for 2015–2017.
Our most significant recurring investing activity has been capital expenditures in our Cable Communications segment, and we expect that this will continue in the future. The table below summarizes the capital expenditures we incurred in our Cable Communications segment in 2017, 2016 and 2015.”
This shows that there were only increases in the total from 2015 through 2017, from $7 billion to $7.9 billion. Where’s the ‘impact’ of Title II?
And this is Verizon’s overall capital expenditures. The numbers are going up, not down as well.
These ‘overall’ numbers directly contradict the FCC’s claims. The FCC quotes multiple garbage-pail analyses, such as Hal Singer’s Broadband survey, which takes the entire holding companies’ capital expenditures of Verizon, AT&T and Comcast, then calls all of these “ISP” investments.
“91. Comparisons of ISP investment before and after the Title II Order suggest that reclassification has discouraged investment. Performing such a comparison, economist Hal Singer concluded that ISP investment by major ISPs fell by 5.6 percent between 2014 and 2016.
“Singer attempted to account for a few significant factors unrelated to Title II that might affect investment, by subtracting some investments that are clearly not affected by the regulatory change (such as the accounting treatment of Sprint’s telephone handsets, AT&T’s investments in Mexico, and DirecTV investments following its acquisition by AT&T in the middle of this period).”
The problem with this approach, as we mentioned elsewhere, is that these numbers are ‘loaded’ as they represent the entire Verizon holding company. Verizon had investments of 5% or more in 471 companies in 2016 and no break outs of the use in these garbage pail numbers that include ‘capitalized software’.
And Singer manipulates the details of AT&T’s numbers as well, which gooses the entire calculation to show a larger decline. As we just showed, Comcast had increases every year and Verizon’s overall capx also increased.
But, as we pointed out elsewhere, using the base holding companies’ capx total are useless — and there are better data, which we presented, based on state broadband expenditures that the FCC ignored.
We bring this up because what we have is an out of control FCC that is helping to feed the telco-cable gluttony by manipulating the basic data about construction expenditures to create harmful public policies, like getting rid of Net Neutrality.
Next Step: Lower Prices Immediately.
Then we have Charter, which includes Spectrum, formerly Time Warner Cable.
Let’s examine why America should be getting rate reductions immediately.
Charter had a $9.3 billion tax benefit gift, and its net income increased 2048% from $454 million to $9.6 billion and the earnings per share went up 2247%.
But this will have no impact on lowering rates.
Here’s what Charter writes about its taxes, fees and charges:
“A special note regarding phone taxes: Government agencies have found phone bills to be an effective way to assess and collect taxes because most people receive one. Those taxes may subsidize various services at the federal, state and local levels (e.g., emergency services, telecommunications services for schools, libraries, health care facilities, etc.). Charter and other companies offering phone service collect the required taxes as part of the total phone bill and send the appropriate amounts back to the taxing agency.
Unfortunately, most of this is deceptive. The charges below, like the “Broadcast TV Surcharge” or the “Business License Fee” are NOT government agency taxes, but made up fees or are charges on the company that they pass through.
Fees / Surcharges
- Broadcast TV Surcharge “Federal law allows local U.S. broadcast television stations (i.e. affiliates of networks such as CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, etc.) to negotiate with cable and satellite providers in order to obtain “consent” to carry their broadcast signals (Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992).
- Business License Fee “This is a fee or tax assessed on Charter for doing business in your state or locality”.
And some of these are downright despicable and should be removed immediately, regardless of anything else — Secure Connection Fee? Really?
“Secure Connection Fee
“Charter devotes considerable resources to the development and implementation of measures designed to ensure that the connection between a Spectrum receiver (or any other authorized device) and the Spectrum network is secure and that subscribers receive through the connection all of the services they are lawfully authorized to receive.”
REFUNDS AND LOWER PRICES DEMANDED — $20-$40 PER MONTH.
If Charter got an additional $9.3 billion in tax benefit, how come this nickel, dime and quartering of customers with questionable charges is not on the table to be removed, or have these tax benefits used to lower the overall costs to customers for all services?
Here’s What We Suggest:
Charter had about 25.6 million residential customers who get cable, internet, broadband or voice and some combination.
This comes to $363 dollars extra per customer in this benefit, with caveats.
Why shouldn’t we split the difference and get $181.50 back in lower rates — isn’t that reasonable? With an average of $107.00 per month (as different customers have different services and bundles), then there should be a $15.00 decrease, about 14% across the board.
But these per month revenues does not appear to include all of these extra charges, many bogus, and thus this average quoted in the 4th Quarter 2017 report has little reflection on the total bill.
“Monthly residential revenue per residential customer is calculated as total residential video, Internet and voice annual revenue divided by twelve divided by average residential customer relationships during the respective year.”
NOTE: Thus, there is an additional $10.00-$25.00 a month that may also need to be eliminated. Charter never discloses the total actual average charges on bills that a customer pays per month.
Thus, adding the made up fees and surcharges, of the $117-$132.00 a month, we should have a drop of $25-$40.00 a month — not counting the reduction in actual taxes being applied to all of these costs.
And this is just Charter. Comcast, Verizon and AT&T should also be lowering rates 15%-30% and getting rid of all of these made up fees.
Where’s the FCC’s analysis to lower rates? Where’s the FCC’s discussion of bringing in direct competition to lower rates?
Here’s a list of Charter Fees/Surcharges (if charged) — from their web site.
- Broadcast TV Surcharge
- Business License Fee
- California Advanced Services Fund Surcharge (California only)
- California High Cost Fund-A Surcharge (California only)
- California High Cost Fund B Surcharge (California only)
- CA Relay Service and Communications Devices Fund Surcharge (California only)
- California Teleconnect Fund Surcharge (California only)
- E911 Charge (9–1–1 Fee)
- E911 Equalization Surcharge (9–1–1 equalization fee — Texas only)
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Fee
- Federal Universal Service Fund (USF) Surcharge
- Line Access Fee
- Franchise Fee
- Police and Fire Protection Fee (Wisconsin only)
- Public Education and Government Channels (PEG) Fee
- Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Fee
- Regulatory Cost Fee
- Returned Check Fee
- Secure Connection Fee
- State Access Restructure Fund (Michigan only)
- State Regulatory Fee
- State Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) Charge
- State Universal Service Fund Charge
- Telecommunications Access Fund (TAM — Minnesota only) Surcharge
- Telecommunications Infrastructure Maintenance Fee (Illinois only)
- Telephone Assistance Plan (TAP — Minnesota only) Surcharge
- Telephone Right Of Way Fee (municipal right-of-way fee)
- TV, Voice (Phone) and Internet Late Payment Fee