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AT&T Using $9.7 Million in Public Dollars to Bolster its Cell Towers in South Carolina

AT&T will spend $9.7 million in annual public subsidies to bolster its cell tower network in South Carolina in part to expand its rural wireless broadband program.

The Federal Communications Commission approved the funding, which is expected to cost Americans nearly $10 million annually until 2020 to boost wireless coverage in 20 mostly rural counties in South Carolina to reach an estimated 12,000 new homes and businesses by the end of this year. Nationwide, the company is getting almost $428 million a year to extend access to 1.1 million customers in 18 states, the FCC says.

AT&T plans to spend the money to improve cell towers it already has in place for its mobile phone customers. The company admitted it will rely on existing infrastructure and won’t lay a single new strand of fiber optics. Instead, wireless broadband customers will share space with AT&T’s existing mobile customers on AT&T’s backhaul network.

“Because of the wireless aspect of it and the greater ability to deliver that last-mile connection, it does help to overcome any obstacles that may be in the cost equation,” Hayes said. “This initial build, with it being infrastructure that we have in place with these towers, that comes from years of investment.”

AT&T will also be able to promote its own products and offer customers discounts and free installation when they agree to sign up for other AT&T services. Hayes said the service will cost $60 a month for everyone else, along with a one-time installation fee of $99.

“Because of the wireless aspect of it and the greater ability to deliver that last-mile connection, it does help to overcome any obstacles that may be in the cost equation,” spokesman Daniel Hayes told The Post and Courier. “This initial build, with it being infrastructure that we have in place with these towers, that comes from years of investment.”

AT&T is treating the fixed wireless program, which offers up to 10Mbps service, as an alternative to wiring fiber optics in outer suburban and rural areas.

With taxpayer/ratepayer dollars financing a significant part of the cost, AT&T will have a de facto monopoly in its rural service areas where it has traditionally declined to offer or maintain DSL service or consider fiber optic upgrades, leaving these areas without broadband service until the subsidy program began.

Gouging Legacy Time Warner Cable Customers: Set-Top Boxes $11.75/month

Phillip Dampier July 25, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News 1 Comment

Charter Communications customers with Spectrum and Time Warner Cable packages in several parts of Ohio are being notified analog cable television is about to be switched off in favor of all digital, fully encrypted cable service starting in August, and that switch will cost some subscribers plenty.

More than two million customers across the state are getting robocalls from Charter warning all cable-connected television sets must have a digital receiver attached by the time the switch takes place or they will lose television service.

“They only mention digital receivers, which is what Spectrum calls their basic set-top box,” said Charles Pierson, a Charter customer in Columbus who is still hanging on to his old Time Warner Cable package. “The recording doesn’t promote alternatives like a CableCARD, Roku or a digital adapter, which can cost considerably less than what Charter charges its legacy Time Warner customers for cable equipment.”

Pierson notes that because he has not abandoned his Time Warner Cable package, he faces a huge rate increase if he puts digital receivers on his three spare television sets that do not have boxes attached to them.

“Charter really wants to gouge you off of your current plan and make you switch to a Spectrum plan, so they have told us that Time Warner Cable plan customers like us will pay $11.75 a month for each set-top box while Spectrum customers can qualify for free equipment for up to five years or, at worst, pay $4.99 a month. That means we have to pay more than double the price for exactly the same equipment.”

For many customers, “free” equipment will not be an option. Charter usually only provides that promotion to customers who have never had a set-top box before or are on a qualified public assistance program. Charter’s customer service representatives are trained to urge Time Warner Cable legacy plan customers to walk away from them, offering the fact Spectrum plans charge lower prices for cable equipment. If that does not work, legacy customers like Pierson are told the price for each box is nearly $12 a month if they insist on keeping their current TWC plan.

Although written communications about the digital conversion from Charter mention the availability of poorly understood CableCARD technology as an alternative, only a tiny percentage of customers choose this option. Charter’s own support pages don’t help with “clarifying” information like this:

CableCARD customers subscribing to any service package in which Spectrum equipment is included in the package price may receive a discounted price, reduced by an amount equal to/greater than the fee for such equipment not leased from us. We lease CableCARDs for $2.00 per month per CableCARD for use in customer-owned retail CableCARD-ready devices. Our leased receivers also include either a CableCARD or integrated security inside the device. Our lease rate for cable boxes with CableCARD includes a $2.00 imputed charge for the included CableCARD.

Considering the fact CableCARD technology used by Spectrum does not support on-demand features, the majority of customers follow Charter’s recommended upgrade path to digital receivers or cancel service when they learn how much their bill is going up. Many will wait up to two hours in long lines at cable stores to manage either.

Charter customers facing a forthcoming digital conversion can skip the line in many areas and order digital receivers online from Charter to be delivered by mail. Visit spectrum.com/digitalnow or call 844-278-3408 to verify if you qualify. Delivery takes 3 to 5 days, with no delivery charge.

Customers can also bypass Charter’s equipment by placing Roku devices on spare televisions. The majority of Charter’s television lineup can be found in the Spectrum TV app in the Roku channel/app store.

America’s First $3 Cord Cutter’s Bundle Coming from Discovery/Scripps Networks?

Phillip Dampier July 24, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

Discovery Communications, occasionally left out of online video alternative bundles targeting cord-cutters, is preparing to retaliate with a $3-4 web-delivered bundle of channels featuring Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC and other affiliated networks and possibly Scripps Networks’ bouquet of channels including HGTV, Food Network, and the Cooking Channel.

Discovery is one of two bidders (Viacom is the other) vying to take charge of Scripps Networks Interactive, one of the few remaining independent network owners not affiliated with a cable company or Hollywood studio.

Bloomberg News reports Discovery wants the networks to bolster its forthcoming inexpensive online video bundle, which will sell for $3-4 a month. While Discovery has advocated selling a sports-free package of networks in partnership with Viacom and AMC for under-$20 since April, those negotiations appear to be stalled, so Discovery is reportedly moving forward on its own.

Discovery Networks¹

Channel Launch Date U.S. Households 2015 Notes
Discovery Channel 1985 91 million Flagship network
TLC 1980 89 million Acquired by Discovery Communications in May 1991, previously known as The Learning Channel.
Animal Planet 1996 88 million
Investigation Discovery 1996 84 million Formerly Discovery Times, Discovery Civilization
OWN 2011 77 million Joint venture ownership with Harpo Productions
Velocity 2002 71 million Formerly Discovery HD Theater and HD Theater
Science 1996 68 million
Discovery Family 1996 61 million Initially launched as Discovery Kids in 1996, relaunched as The Hub in 2010, renamed Hub Network on 2013 and rebranded as Discovery Family in 2014.[55]
40% of the network is owned by Hasbro.
American Heroes Channel 1999 53 million Formerly Discovery Wings, Military Channel
Destination America 1996 52 million Formerly Discovery Home and Leisure (1998–2004), Discovery Home (2004–08), and Planet Green (2008–12)
Discovery Life 2011 46 million Merger of Discovery Health Channel and FitTV, previously known as Discovery Fit & Health
Discovery en Español 1998 6 million Spanish-language version of the Discovery Channel Unavailable in HD
Discovery Familia 2007 5 million Unavailable in HD

If Discovery successfully snares Scripps, it will own five of the top 20 U.S. cable networks. That is likely to be important in future negotiations with cable and satellite providers at contract renewal time. Discovery, like most cable network owners, pitches cable companies bundles of networks sold at wholesale prices, whether a cable operator wants all the channels in that bundle or not. Discovery plans to avoid alienating cable and satellite providers by using them to market the bundle direct-to-consumers. A prospective customer would call their local cable or satellite provider to order the bundle of web-streamed networks, not Discovery. Cable operators would likely also handle billing and customer service issues.

Scripps Interactive Networks¹

Channel Launch Date U.S. Households 2015 Notes
HGTV 1994 96 million households Frequently among the first networks to appear on digital cable.
Food Network 1993 97 million households Part owned by Tribune, which means Sinclair will own a stake in this network if acquisition deal approved.
DIY Network 1999 61 million households At initial launch, DIY was often skipped over by cable systems.
Cooking Channel 2010 62 million households A spinoff of Food Network.
Great American Country 1995 59.5 million households Started with country music videos, was uncommon outside of southern U.S. until the 2010s
Travel Channel 1987 91.5 million households Originally owned by Trans World Airlines, sold to Discovery, which sold it to Cox, which sold it to Scripps.

This type of sales partnership is not unprecedented. Before the era of DirecTV and Dish Networks, home satellite dishowners using C band TVRO satellite dishes as large as 12 feet across often ordered satellite-delivered programming from cable companies, particularly those owned by John Malone’s Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) and sold through its home satellite programming division Netlink. Customers would be billed directly by the nearest TCI cable system on an ongoing basis, which irritated a lot of dishowners in the 1990s who sought satellite reception as an alternative to dealing with the cable company.

The practice did not come without problems. Many local TCI systems were baffled when their customer audits revealed they had customers in cities 100+ miles outside of their immediate service area. Many were accidentally disconnected after their subscriptions were purged from TCI’s systems in error. By 2005, TCI was five years out of the cable business and had sold Netlink to Echostar, which owns Dish Networks. That same year TVRO owners were informed they could no longer subscribe to a number of networks for their giant backyard dishes and were converted to Dish Network small dish service instead.

¹-Information sourced by Wikipedia and Stop the Cap!

Net Neutrality: A Taste of Preferential Fast Lanes of Web Traffic in India

Unclear and unenforced Net Neutrality rules in India give a cautionary tale to U.S. internet users who could soon find Net Neutrality guarantees replaced in the U.S. with industry-written rules filled with loopholes or no Net Neutrality protections at all.

As India considers stronger enforcement of Net Neutrality protection, broadband providers have been merrily violating current Net Neutrality guidelines with fast lanes, sometimes advertised openly. Many of those ISPs are depending on obfuscation and grey areas to effectively give their preferred partners a leg up on the competition while claiming they are not giving them preferential treatment.

Medianama notes Ortel advertises two different internet speeds for its customers – one for regular internet traffic and the other for preferred partner websites cached by Ortel inside its network. The result is that preferred websites load 10-40 times faster than regular internet traffic.

Ortel’s vice president of broadband business, Jiji John, said Ortel is not violating Net Neutrality.

“Cache concept is totally based on the Internet user’s browsing. ISP does not control the contents and it has nothing to do with Net Neutrality,” John said in a statement.

Critics contend ISPs like Ortel may not control the contents of websites, but they do control which websites are cached and which are not.

Alliance Broadband, a West Bengal-based Internet provider, goes a step further and advertises higher speeds for Hotstar — a legal streaming platform, Google and popular movie, TV and software torrents, which arrive at speeds of 3-12Mbps faster than the rest of the internet. Alliance takes this further by establishing a reserved lane for each service, meaning regardless of what else one does with their internet connection, Hotstar content will arrive at 8Mbps, torrents at 12Mbps and the rest of the internet at 5Mbps concurrently. This means customers can get up to 25Mbps when combining traffic from the three sources, even if they are only subscribed to a much slower tier.

Alliance Broadband’s rate card. Could your ISP be next?

Which services are deemed “preferred” is up to the ISP. While Alliance may favor Google, Wishnet in West Bengal offers up preferential speeds for YouTube videos.

The ISPs claim these faster speeds are a result of “peering” those websites on its own internal network, reducing traffic slowdowns and delays. In some cases, the ISPs store the most popular content on its own servers, where it can be delivered to customers more rapidly. This alone does not violate Net Neutrality, but when an ISP reserves bandwidth for a preferred partner’s website or application, that can come at the expense of those websites that do not have this arrangement. Some ISPs have sought to devote extra bandwidth to those reserved lanes so it does not appear to impact on other traffic, but it still gives preferential treatment to some over others.

Remarkably, Indian ISPs frequently give preferential treatment to peer-to-peer services that routinely flout copyright laws while leaving legal streaming services other than Hotstar on the slow lane, encouraging copyright theft.

American ISPs have already volunteered not to block of directly impede the traffic of websites, but this may not go far enough to prevent the kinds of clever preferential runarounds ISPs can engineer where Net Neutrality is already in place, but isn’t well defined or enforced.

Crown Castle Buys Lightower Fiber for $7.1 Billion; Sets Stage for 5G in Northeast

Phillip Dampier July 20, 2017 Consumer News, Wireless Broadband No Comments

Antenna tower operator Crown Castle International has announced it will buy privately held Lightower Fiber Networks for about $7.1 billion in cash to acquire the company’s extensive fiber assets across the northeastern United States that will be used to connect small cell 5G networks.

The acquisition will allow Crown Castle to market an extensive fiber backhaul network in large cities like New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia, as well as smaller cities particularly in upstate New York, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and northern New England. Crown Castle, which already owns many of the cell towers where AT&T and Verizon place their equipment, will now be able to market fiber backhaul connectivity for AT&T and Verizon’s forthcoming 5G networks.

LIghtower’s fiber footprint.

Lightower’s fiber network was originally focused on major markets like Boston, New York City, the District of Columbia, and Chicago. Its partner, Fibertech — acquired by Lightower in 2015, focused on 30 mid-sized cities from Indiana to the west to Maine in the east. The network’s customers are large companies and independent ISPs. In Rochester, where Lightower maintains a Network Operations Center, Greenlight Networks relies on a fiber backhaul network originally built by Fibertech to connect its fiber-to-the-home broadband service. That fiber is likely to soon be shared with AT&T, Verizon, and potentially T-Mobile and Sprint to power any 5G buildouts in the region.

“Lightower’s dense fiber footprint is well-located in top metro markets in the northeast and is well-positioned to facilitate small cell deployments by our customers,” said Crown Castle CEO Jay Brown in a statement. “Following the transaction, we will have approximately 60,000 route miles of fiber with a presence in all of the top 10 and 23 of the top 25 metro markets.”

This acquisition marks Crown Castle’s first major diversion outside of its core market — leasing out the cell towers it owns or acquires.

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  • Lee: Tower improvements will be selective. First will be towers where AT&T bought the land the tower is on. Second will be fixed yearly rent land. Las...
  • Paul Houle: It makes more sense than some of the bundles I've heard about. I think many families subscribe to Netflix for the documentaries, and all of these ch...
  • Paul Houle: How many years is this for: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020: If it is really is four years, this is $3230 per sub, which is in the range of what rural fiber...
  • Josh: Not the dumbest use of our money possible, but why the frak don't we just own the service we're paying for?...
  • Joe V: and the fleecing of the U.S. continues....
  • Josh: LOL! That's $0.75 a month less than a TiVo that's not on lifetime service! And of course it's far MORE/month if you have more than one outlet. Yowz...
  • Joe V: I almost pity those that think that this “5G” will good enough once cord cutting internet streaming TV becomes the norm. AT&T’s Direct TV Now chok...
  • Friz: well, at least in my area speeds are relatively staying in line with what I would expect over the years at midco the cost jumped from 30 a month for ...
  • Ralph: Frontier seems to be only interested in acquiring other phone companies' properties for the monthly income from subscribers of the phone and internet ...
  • Lee: They will not be the only company that will have problems paying for debt as rates rise and they have to refinance debt....
  • Daniel: My experience with Verizon was CONSISTENTLY HORRIFIC. The sheer incompetence broke my brain. They would screw up everything they possibly could, and s...
  • Josh: Good grief. If they still have money, they HAVE to spend...I mean it's probably too late, but...what on Earth is wrong with these executives? I mean...

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