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Open Technology Institute Wants FCC to Raise Minimum Broadband Speed to 50Mbps

Phillip Dampier September 27, 2016 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

50-20The Federal Communications Commission should redefine broadband as speeds of at least 50/20Mbps, according to the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The advocacy group argues that the FCC’s current definition of 25/3Mbps is too slow to support the growth of high-bandwidth online applications including high-definition video, cloud computing, and online gaming.

“People use their connections for many reasons, and often multitask,” the group writes in a filing submitted to the FCC this month. “It is easy to see how multiple people with multiple devices engaging in multiple online activities on the same residential connection can quickly lead to buffering, slow load times, and frustration even with a 25/3 connection.”

In general, consumer groups want the FCC to push providers to offer faster speeds, particularly telephone companies still relying on ADSL, a technology that first became widely available in the 1990s. There are millions of consumers still reliant on DSL technology on copper wire phone networks that can only support speeds of 6Mbps or less. Many of those are Verizon and AT&T customers, particularly in suburban and rural areas bypassed by Verizon FiOS or AT&T U-verse. Almost no AT&T or Verizon ADSL customers come close to achieving the FCC’s current minimum definition of broadband: 25/3Mbps.

The OTI argues that it isn’t just the speed required by applications, it is also the number of concurrent connections. As emerging technology like the Internet of Things introduces new devices that will share a user’s home broadband connection, faster internet speeds may be needed.

“The general consensus around IoT is that, with potentially billions of new devices connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi or cellular signals, capacity will need to increase,” the organization writes.

But the OTI will have to contend with provider opposition to redefining broadband speeds upwards. The NCTA – the Internet and Television Association, the nation’s largest cable lobbying group, wants the current definition maintained by the FCC.

“The current benchmark accommodates the expected needs of even those households using an atypically large amount of bandwidth, accounting for multiple streams of bandwidth intensive applications like HD streaming video, in addition to web browsing, email, and other applications,” the NCTA wrote. “The Commission should reject the notion of adopting a future-oriented, ‘aspirational’ benchmark, which would be necessarily divorced from the realities of the marketplace.”

Many NCTA members already offer speeds in excess of 50Mbps, although many cable companies also cap their customers’ usage.

Cheapest Thing Verizon Wireless Employee Ever Sold: Your Private Customer Records

vzw-for-saleA Verizon Wireless employee is facing up to five years in prison for peddling customer phone records and location data to private investigators for as little at $50 a month.

The employee, Daniel Eugene Traeger, worked as a network technician for Verizon and agreed to supply a private investigator with private customer information for a pittance, making it perhaps the cheapest service ever offered with the Verizon Wireless name attached.

Traeger’s lawyer worked out a plea agreement with prosecutors that could substantially shorten his possible sentence for pleading guilty to a felony count prohibiting unauthorized access to a protected computer. The Consumerist obtained a copy of the plea agreement.

Traeger quickly adopted the Verizon Wireless way of doing business, substantially raising his snooping rate to as much as $750 a month by 2013.

In all, prosecutors claim he earned more than $10,000 selling customer data using network tools readily available to Verizon’s network technicians.

Programmer Conglomerates Preparing to Ax Smaller Cable TV Networks

directv

Is this the future of satellite TV?

Ten years ago, large programmers like NBC-Universal, Fox, Viacom, and Time Warner started bundling new niche channels into their programming packages, forcing pay television providers to add networks few wanted just to get a contract renewal agreement in place for the networks they did want. Now, in the era of cord-cutting, those programming conglomerates are preparing to slim down.

One of the largest — Comcast/NBCUniversal — is the first to admit “there are just too many networks,” to quote NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke.

Burke warned investors back in July that axing networks like Style and G4 was just the beginning.

“You’ll see us and others trimming channels,” Burke said during Comcast’s second-quarter earnings call. “We will continue to invest what we need to invest into our bigger channels, and we’ll continue to trim the smaller ones.”

Cable operators hope that day arrives sooner rather than later as cord-cutting continues to have an impact on cable-TV subscriptions.

For every popular cable network like USA and Bravo, cable operators get stuck carrying ratings-dogs like CNBC World, Centric, Cloo, VH1 Classic, Fox Business Network, and Fuse — all of which attract fewer than 100,000 viewers nationwide at any one time. Fuse barely attracted 51,000 viewers in 2015. But just about every cable TV customer pays for these channels, and many more.

Many cable channels wouldn’t survive without subscription fees because advertisers consider them too small to warrant much attention.

cable tvWhile Burke’s prediction has yet to slash the cable dial by more than a few networks so far, it has slowed down the rate of new network launches considerably. One millennial-targeted network, Pivot, will never sign on because it failed to attract enough cable distribution and advertisers, despite a $200 million investment from a Canadian billionaire. Time, Inc.’s attempts to launch three new networks around its print magazines Sports Illustrated, InStyle and People have gone the Over The Top (OTT) video route, direct to consumers who can stream their videos from the magazines’ respective websites.

Fierce Cable this week opined that forthcoming cord cutter-targeted TV packages streamed over the internet from players including DirecTV/AT&T and Hulu, among others, will likely start a war of cable network attrition, which may make the concept of a-la-carte cable a thing of the past. Editor Daniel Frankel believes the future will be a finite number of cable networks delivered primarily over IP networks, which are expected to dramatically pare down the traditional cable TV bundle into fewer than 100 channels. Only the most popular networks will be included in a traditional cable TV lineup, and some of these providers expect to deliver a bundle of fewer than 50 channels, including local stations. Those booted out of the bundle may still find life from viewers going OTT, if those networks can attract enough people to watch.

AT&T is hoping for the best of both worlds as it prepares to launch an internet-based package of networks under its DirecTV brand called DirecTV Now. Sources told Bloomberg News AT&T is hoping DirecTV Now will attract more subscribers by 2020 than its satellite service. At some point in the future, it may even replace DirecTV’s satellite television service.

directvDirecTV Now is expected by the end of this year and will likely offer a 100 channel package of programming priced at between $40-55 a month, viewable on up to two screens simultaneously. The app-based service will be available for video streaming to televisions and portable devices like tablets and phones. No truck rolls for installation, no service calls, and no equipment to buy or rent are all attractive propositions for AT&T, hoping to cut costs.

Since AT&T has taken over DirecTV, it has lost over 100,000 satellite customers. The threat to AT&T U-verse TV is also significant as customers increasingly look for alternatives to cable TV’s bloated and expensive programming packages. AT&T no doubt noticed the impending arrival of Hulu’s cable TV streaming platform next year and other services like Sling TV. Deploying their own streaming alternative with AT&T’s volume discounts from the combined subscribers of DirecTV and U-verse means AT&T can sell its streaming service at a substantial discount.

If consumers find the offerings from DirecTV Now and Hulu a credible alternative to traditional cable television, cord cutting could dramatically accelerate, provoking a response from cable operators likely to offer their own slimmed-down packages. So being among the 100 or so networks carried on DirecTV Now, or among the 50 or so networks Hulu is planning to offer, could be crucial to the future survival of any cable network. Those stranded in the 500-channel Universe of today’s cable television packages could be forced off the air or to an alternative means of reaching an audience such as OTT.

The lesson learned by the cable television industry is that customers are tapped out and unwilling to pay ever-rising cable TV bills for dozens of networks they’ve never watched and don’t intend to. The longer term lesson may be even more scary for some networks. Live, linear television as a concept may have seen its time come and go, at least for entertainment programming. While viewers are always going to seek live television for sports and breaking news, alternative on-demand viewing of everything else, preferably commercial-free, is a growing priority for many, especially if the price is right.

Cox Customers Pushed Into New Set-Top Boxes Or Else They Lose Channels

Phillip Dampier September 22, 2016 Consumer News, Cox No Comments

COX_RES_RGBCox Communications is requiring cable customers to add a cable box to their television set(s) or they will start losing channels as the company continues its nationwide effort to digitally encrypt all of its television services.

Customers in Las Vegas are the latest to be pushed to add a digital adapter, dubbed a “minibox” by Sept. 27 or they will start losing channels. By Nov. 9, all cable channels are expected to be encrypted and on Dec. 6, local stations will also be encrypted and viewable only with a cable box or similar equipment.

Cox calls the move a customer-pleasing “upgrade.”

“It will enable us to implement more advanced services down the road,” Cox spokesman Juergen Barbusca told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We deployed home automation in the last couple of years and home security. We are trying to get as much bandwidth out of your cable potential as possible and one way to do that is to go completely digital.”

cox-miniboxCox customers with a basic Starter package of more than 40 channels at $24.99 a month will get two miniboxes free for two years. Those with the second tier Essential package ($75.99) with more than 90 channels will get two miniboxes free for one year. You read that right. If you pay Cox more, you get free boxes for half the time lower-paying customers do. Each additional box is $2.99 a month. A traditional HD-capable set-top box from Cox rents for $8.50 a month.

Cox’s miniboxes are more advanced that traditional digital adapters provided by some other cable companies, supporting service like Music Choice, HDTV, parental controls and an on-screen program guide.

Customers are generally okay with getting the boxes for free, but are convinced it will cause their cable bills to rise in the years ahead.

“I’m not happy with that. That’s more money and I’m only getting basic service. I’m already at $146 a month for cable, internet and phone,” Cox customer Monique Patton said. “Not everybody can afford that. It’s too expensive now. They’re not giving us what they should for our money.”

California Consumer Seeks Class Action Case Against Frontier for False Advertising

frontier new logoDorothy Ayer said she was quoted a price of $69 a month for a package including landline phone and broadband service from Frontier Communications, but when she received her first bill, she claims she was charged $426.55.

Ayer filed a class action complaint against Frontier Communications Sept. 12 in U.S. District Court for the Central Division of California, claiming the phone company regularly engages in unlawful, unfair, and deceptive business practices including false advertising.

Ayer claims Frontier promised her all installation charges, activation fees and other miscellaneous costs found on her first bill would be waived, but now that the bill is in her mailbox, the company wants to be paid in full.

The lawsuit asks the court to recognize the economic harm and injury done not only to Ms. Ayer, but to other similarly situated Frontier customers. The lawsuit claims Frontier Communications benefits from falsely advertising the prices of its services without properly informing customers of the many other charges the company levies on the first bill.

If Ayer is successful, Frontier will be forced to notify all affected customers and presumably refund or credit their accounts.

The case is being handled by attorneys Todd M. Friedman and Adrian R. Bacon of Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman PC in Woodland Hills, Calif.

CableLabs Working on Symmetrical DOCSIS 3.1; Equal Upload/Download Speeds Coming

Phillip Dampier September 21, 2016 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News 1 Comment

1000mbpsThe cable industry’s broadband Achilles’ heel has always been upstream speeds that are set much lower than download speeds. But the days of asymmetric cable broadband may soon be a thing of the past if CableLabs successfully defines a new Full Duplex extension for DOCSIS 3.1 — bringing symmetrical broadband speeds to cable companies across the country.

CableLabs sees the potential of eventually offering multi-gigabit broadband over today’s existing hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) cable systems. Marketing 1,000/1,000Mbps internet access could keep cable operators competitive with fiber to the home services that already offer symmetrical internet speeds.

The cable industry-supported research group is collaborating with vendors, according to Belal Hamzeh, vice president of wireless for CableLabs, in a blog post.

“The ecosystem support for the Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1 technology has been staggering, with many vendors collaborating and contributing to the development of the technology,” Hamzeh wrote. “A recent example is Cisco’s contribution of a new silicon reference design of a digital echo canceler that maximizes the use of HFC capacity to provide a scalable multi-gigabit return path.”

The Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1 project transitioned from the innovation phase to the R&D phase in June. A working group will continue to meet on a regular basis to finalize the specification, which will allow vendors to begin producing modems that support the new standard.

Want 100Mbps from Charter? Fork Over $200 for Activation/Upgrade Fee

charter-spectrumStop the Cap! reader Gabe, a Time Warner Cable customer, recently decided to upgrade his service to Charter’s fastest internet plan in his area — Ultra/100Mbps. That upgrade stopped dead in its tracks when Charter Communications informed him there is a mandatory $200 “activation” fee for customers selecting 100Mbps service.

We learned this upgrade fee is not new for Charter Communications’ existing customers. First implemented in 2012, Charter Communications claims the activation fee is set at a level commensurate with the value of having premium speed service.

“Ultra is a premium service which results in higher incremental network investments, equipment costs, and other operating expenses,” Charter Communications wrote in 2012. “In an effort to maintain reasonable monthly recurring service fees, we have implemented a higher installation fee for Ultra customers.”

We’ve taken a look to see if this fee can be waived and we found no instance where customers can avoid it. However, customers signing up for business service, which costs about the same as residential service, can subscribe to 100Mbps and face a $99 installation fee instead of $200 in most areas.

Comcast Getting Into the Wireless Mobile Business; Relies on Wi-Fi, Verizon Wireless

(Image courtesy: FCC.com)

(Image courtesy: FCC.com)

Comcast is getting into the wireless mobile business.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts made the surprise announcement at this morning’s Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference, telling attendees Comcast will offer service beginning in mid-2017.

Roberts added the service will depend heavily on Comcast’s installed base of 15 million Wi-Fi hotspots, mostly from cable modem/gateways already installed in customer homes. When away from a hotspot, Comcast’s cellular service will depend on Verizon Wireless.

The deal with Verizon Wireless was expected, because Comcast has maintained an agreement with Verizon since 2011 that allows both companies to sell each other’s services to consumers. The agreement allows Comcast to obtain service from Verizon Wireless at fixed wholesale prices.

That means Comcast can introduce its wireless service without having to build wireless infrastructure like cell towers.

“We believe there will be a big payback with reduced churn, more [customer] stickiness and better satisfaction,” Roberts said.

Comcast will continue the cable industry’s tradition of not directly competing with other cable operators and will not accept customers outside of an existing Comcast service area. Comcast will likely offer the service in a bundle with other services. This will result in a quad-play package for Comcast, bundling cable TV, internet, phone, and cellular service.

Roberts did not talk about pricing.

Cable Industry Lobby Drops “Cable” from Its Name

Phillip Dampier September 19, 2016 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

ncta-logo-2016The country’s largest cable industry lobbying group has decided to drop the word “cable” from its name, rebranding itself NCTA – The Internet & Television Association.

It is the fifth name for the cable industry’s trade association since its inception in 1951 as the National Community Television Council. The name change was introduced by its president and CEO Michael Powell, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Since 2001, when the group was rebranded the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the NCTA has gradually shifted its emphasis away from television and towards the internet.

“Modernising our brand injects a new sense of excitement into our effort to represent an industry that is America’s largest and fastest home internet provider and the creator of the world’s best television content,” Powell said.

The group is expected to continue to spend heavily on lobbying Congress to take the industry view on matters regarding television and broadband.

History of the NCTA

  • 1951: National Community Television Council was formed in September 1951, after a handful of community antenna (CATV) operators met at a hotel in Pottsville, Pa.;
  • 1952: The group rechristened itself the National Community Television Association in January 1952;
  • 1968: As “CATV” became less popular than simply calling it cable television, the NCTA again renamed itself as the National Cable Television Association;
  • 2001: As internet access began to play a prominent role for cable operators, the NCTA again rebranded, this like as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association;
  • 2016: With broadband now offering the greatest percentage of cable industry profits, the group dropped “cable” from its name, now calling itself NCTA – The Internet & Television Association.

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