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Verizon’s Idea of a “Modest Rate Increase” in New Jersey: 440%; $15 Billion Collected for Phantom Fiber

Verizon-logoWhile the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities was able to quickly settle its differences with Verizon by granting the phone company’s wish to walk away from its commitment to offer 45Mbps broadband across the state, New Jersey ratepayers are out $15 billion in excess phone charges levied since 1993 for promised upgrades many will never get.

The Opportunity New Jersey plan the state government signed with Verizon was supposed to expand advanced broadband across the state in return for “a modest amount of pricing flexibility” in the fees Verizon charged customers in New Jersey. But Verizon is not a modest company and a new report shows the phone company used the agreement to boost rates as much as 440% — primarily through ancillary surcharges including inside wire maintenance, wire investment, an investment recovery fee, a local number portability surcharge, merged local calling area charge, and various other charges for phone features including Caller ID, Call Waiting, etc.

Tom Allibone, the president of LTC Consulting joined forces with New Networks’ Bruce Kushnick to analyze more than 30 years of Verizon New Jersey phone bills and discovered when it comes to tallying up rate increases, Verizon’s addition skills are akin to taking out a bag of M&M’s and only counting the yellow ones.

“This Verizon New Jersey bill from April 2002 [...] has an “FCC Subscriber Line Charge”, which was $6.21 cents per line. Verizon’s quote doesn’t include this charge in their analysis of no increases between 1985 to 2008,” Kushnick writes. “The FCC Line Charge (it has many names), is on every local phone bill and the charge started in 1985. You can’t get service without paying this charge and the money does NOT go to fund the FCC but is direct revenue to Verizon New Jersey.”

verizonnjrateincreaseAfter adding up various other surcharges, Kushnick’s bill increased a lot.

“Add up the ‘Total Monthly Charges’ for 2 phone lines— It’s ugly,” Kushnick said. “While the cost of the ‘monthly charges’ was $25.62, there’s an extra $17.70 cents — 70%. I thought that Verizon said there were no ‘increases.’”

“Anyone who has ever bought a bundled package of services from Verizon (or the other phone or cable companies) knows that they all play this shell game; the price of service you have to pay is always 10-40% more than the advertised price. That’s because the companies leave out the cost of these ancillary charges and taxes in their sale pitch,” he added.

Verizon raised local residential service rates 79% in 2008, according to Kushnick. Business customers paid 70 percent more. Caller ID rates increased 38% — remarkable for a service that has a profit margin of 5,695%. But Verizon did even better boosting the charge for a non-published number by 38% — a service that has a 36,900% profit margin as of 1999 — the services are even cheaper to offer now.

Telephone service is one of those products that should have declined in price, especially after phone companies fully depreciated their copper wire networks — long ago paid off. Companies like Verizon have cut the budgets for outdoor wire maintenance and the number of employees tasked with keeping service up and running has been reduced by over 70 percent since 1985, dramatically reducing Verizon’s costs. But Verizon customers paid more for phone service, not less.

The cost of service might not have been as much of an issue had Verizon taken the excess funds and invested them in promised upgrades, but that has not happened for a significant percentage of the state and likely never will. Instead, they just increased company profits. More recently, Verizon has directed much of its investments into its more profitable wireless division.

Even though Verizon achieved total victory with the Christie Administration-dominated BPU, the company is still making threats about any future plans for investment.

“It’s important that regulators and legislators support public policies that encourage broadband growth in New Jersey rather than ones that could jeopardize the state’s highly competitive communications industry, or risk future investments by providers like Verizon,” wrote Sam Delgado, vice president of external affairs.

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The Bug is Back: AT&T’s Cricket Brand Launches New Ho-Hum Plans That Are More of the Same

Cricket has relaunched its website with a new logo and service plans as new owner AT&T merges its value-conscious Aio prepaid offering under the acquired Cricket brand name.

Targeting the credit-challenged, Cricket’s new service plans are not groundbreaking, basically copying Aio’s recent offers. Swept away are the low-cost “pay when you use” plans that only levy charges on the days you actually use the phone. Instead, Cricket is looking for a longer, committed relationship with month-long service plans and loyalty discounts:

cell plans

The relaunch of Cricket will bring changes for existing customers as AT&T begins to decommission Cricket’s freestanding CDMA 3G network in March 2015 in favor of AT&T’s GSM 4G LTE service. That means customers with current Cricket phones will need to eventually switch to a newer handset, a process being made easier with $50 rebates that can make some of Cricket’s smartphones available for free. Enroll in Cricket’s rewards program, stay with them a year, make your payments on time and you will also get a $50 device credit which can be used towards an upgrade next year.

cricket-logoCricket’s data plans do not carry automatic overlimit charges. Instead, your data connection is throttled to 128kbps until your billing period resets. Customers can buy an extra gigabyte of data at any time for $10.

There are several other changes that probably won’t affect the majority of Cricket customers:

  • There is a $5 discount for every month you are enrolled in Auto Pay to keep your phone active;
  • A family plan discount provides $10 off the monthly service charge of a second line, $20 off the third line, and $30 off the fourth and fifth line, for a maximum discount of $90 a month;
  • While you remain on your current Cricket service (on the CDMA network) you may keep paper billing. When you transition to the new Cricket (the 4G GSM network with nationwide coverage), you will no longer receive a paper bill;
  • Customers participating in the 5 for $100 promotion can continue with this rate plan only while on the Cricket CDMA network;
  • Cricket no longer offers military or friends & family discounts;
  • Cricket will transition out of the wireless Lifeline program. Current Lifeline customers can use Cricket’s CDMA network until it is shut down, after which they must choose a different provider;
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Cricket Home New Cricket Merger Info.mp4

AT&T keeps its name and brand completely off the relaunched Cricket and Aio combined website. This introductory video explains the merger of the two wireless brands and what customers can expect. (1:44)

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Even Europe’s DSL is Faster: VDSL2 Vectoring Delivers 100Mbps Over Copper Telephone Networks

Phillip Dampier May 20, 2014 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Video No Comments

vectoringAlcatel-Lucent reported this month next generation DSL technology is a success for the company, with more than five million customers outside of North America now getting speeds up to 100Mbps over ordinary copper telephone lines.

VDSL2 line vectoring delivers more than twice the speed of AT&T’s fiber to the neighborhood U-verse service, and has proved reliable for simultaneous television, broadband, and telephone usage. It will even support 4K video streaming of ultra high-definition video.

Vectoring employs sophisticated noise cancelling to cut “crosstalk” interference to boost broadband performance. Testing has shown VDSL2 line vectoring can offer 100/30Mbps service with copper lengths as long as 1,600 feet. Most VDSL2 services are delivered over telephone networks that replace at least some copper wiring with fiber.

Alcatel-Lucent has shipped enough VDSL2 vectoring equipment to provide service to five million customers, surpassing non-vectored VDSL2. But practically none of the equipment is headed to North American ISPs. Instead, companies including Belgium’s Belgacom, Israel’s Bezeq, KPN in the Netherlands, Telecom Argentina, Telecom Italia, TE Data in Egypt and NBN Co. in Australia have launched vectoring technology, offering service to customers at speeds topping out at 70-100Mbps.

Most customers switched to VDSL2 vectoring see their speeds double, usually from 30Mbps to 70Mbps or more. Providers like Belgacom have been careful to only promise speeds the company can actually deliver. Belgacom’s own tests found 100Mbps service was only completely reliable when the amount of copper between the customer and the company’s fiber connection was kept less than 650 feet, so it has capped customer speeds at 70Mbps for now.

“The prime goal in DSL must be signal quality, integrity, robustness and stability for perfect video grade services,” says the Belgian ISP.

Vectoring technology has been on the drawing board for a decade and is only now achieving success in the market.

Many ISPs are choosing to deploy vectoring because it is less costly than a fiber upgrade and can still meet the speed goals demanded by government regulators. The technology has proven robust even where copper wire networks have degraded. In several European countries, homes are still serviced by indoor copper wiring insulated with paper sheaths.

Alcaltel-Lucent believes even after vectoring is widely deployed, it won’t be a dead-end for DSL service.

The company is working on its next generation “Phantom Mode” technology that combines VDSL2 bonding and VDSL2 vectoring with a traditional voice technology called “phantom transmission.” This combination adds a virtual channel to create three channels over 2 pairs of phone wiring.

In Phantom Mode tests, the company achieved 300Mbps over 2 pairs at 400 meters and 1Gbps (up and down-stream combined) over 4 pairs.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Alcatel Lucent DSL Vectoring 5-2014.flv

Alcatel-Lucent produced this video explaining vectoring technology. (A “CPE” means customer-premises equipment, in this case the DSL modem.) (3:09)

 

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Comcast: Usage-Based Billing for All Customers Within 5 Years; ‘We’re Also Allowed to Do Fast Lanes’

comcast highwayComcast will introduce usage-based billing on all of its broadband customers nationwide within five years, whether they like it or not.

Comcast’s executive vice president David Cohen told Variety he predicts the new usage limit will likely be 350GB a month but could increase to 500GB in 2019. Cohen claims consumers in usage-capped test markets prefer a preset usage limit and an overlimit fee of $10 for each additional 50GB of usage.

But Stop the Cap! has learned at no time has Comcast surveyed customers about whether they want their Internet usage metered or capped. That question is evidently not an option.

If Time Warner Cable territories are merged under the Comcast brand, usage billing would likely immediately follow.

Usage caps will go a long way to protect Comcast’s cable television package from online video, which if viewed in significant amounts could put customers over their monthly usage limit and subject them to higher fees.

“We’re trying to go slowly, not out of a regulatory concern (but because) we have no desire to blow up our high-speed data business,” he said.

cohenIf the merger is approved, Comcast will face significantly less competition in many Verizon service areas also served by Time Warner Cable. Verizon FiOS expansion has ended and the company continues to de-emphasize its DSL service, which is the only broadband competition Time Warner Cable faces in many upstate New York and western Massachusetts communities.

An unrepentant Cohen also doubled down on paid prioritization — Internet fast lanes — declaring regardless of what the FCC decides on Net Neutrality, Comcast still has the right to offer paid prioritization to customers.

“Whatever it is, we are allowed to do it,” said Cohen, speaking at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit in New York. “We are not sure we know what paid prioritization, or what a fast lane, is. Fast lane sounds bad… (but) I believe that whatever it is, it has been completely legal for 15 or 20 years.”

The way Comcast’s lawyers read “Title II,” even if the FCC declares broadband ISPs to be common carriers, Cohen says Comcast will go right on selling prioritized access, claiming Title II doesn’t prohibit paid prioritization — indeed, he said, “the whole history” of Title II is that carriers are allowed to provide different levels of service at different prices, reports Variety.

Cohen said he expects Washington regulators will promptly approve the company’s buyout of Time Warner Cable with no delays, insisting the deal is “not that difficult” in terms of antitrust implications.

 

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FCC Chairman Promises “New and Improved” Net Neutrality Proposal That Is More of the Same

Phillip "Section 706 is a road to nowhere" Dampier

Phillip “Section 706 is a road to nowhere” Dampier

After thousands of consumers joined more than 100 Internet companies and two of five commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission to complain about Chairman Tom Wheeler’s vision of Net Neutrality, the head of the FCC claims he has revised his proposal to better enforce Internet traffic equality.

Last week, huge online companies like Amazon, eBay, and Facebook jointly called Wheeler’s ideas of Net Neutrality “a grave threat to the Internet.”

In response over the weekend, an official close to the chairman leaked word to the Wall Street Journal that Wheeler was changing his proposal. Despite that, a closer examination of Wheeler’s ideas continues to show his unwavering faith in providers voluntarily behaving themselves. Wheeler’s evolving definition of Net Neutrality is fine… if you live in OppositeLand. His proposal would allow Internet Service Providers and content companies to negotiate paid traffic prioritization agreements — the exact opposite of Net Neutrality — allowing certain Internet traffic to race to the front of the traffic line.

Such an idea is a non-starter among Net Neutrality advocates, precisely because it undermines a core principle of the Open Internet — discriminating for or against certain web traffic because of a paid arrangement creates an unfair playing field likely to harm Internet start-ups and other independent entities that can’t afford the “pay to play” prices ISPs may seek.

Paid traffic prioritization agreements only make business sense when a provider creates the network conditions that require their consideration. If a provider operated a robust network with plenty of capacity, there would be no incentive for such agreements because Internet traffic would have no trouble reaching customers with or without the agreement.

But as Netflix customers saw earlier this year, Comcast and several other cable operators are now in the bandwidth shortage business — unwilling to keep up investments in network upgrades required to allow paying customers to access the Internet content they want.

While there is some argument that the peering agreement between Comcast and Netflix is not a classic case of smashing Net Neutrality, the effect on customers is the same. If a provider refuses to upgrade connections to the Internet without financial compensation from content companies, the Internet slow lane for that content emerges. Message: Sign a paid contract for a better connection and your clogged content will suddenly arrive with ease.

net-neutrality-protestWheeler has ineffectively argued that his proposal to allow these kinds of paid arrangements do not inherently commercially segregate the Internet into fast and slow lanes.

But in fact it will, not by artificially throttling the speeds of deprioritized, non-paying content companies, but by consigning them to increasingly congested broadband pipes that only work in top form for prioritized, first class traffic.

With Wheeler’s philosophy “unchanged” according to the Journal, his defense of his revised Net Neutrality proposal continues to rely on non germane arguments.

For example, Wheeler claims he will make sure the FCC “scrutinizes deals to make sure that the broadband providers don’t unfairly put nonpaying companies’ content at a disadvantage.” But in Wheeler’s World of Net Neutrality, providers would have to blatantly and intentionally throttle traffic to cross the line.

“I won’t allow some companies to force Internet users into a slow lane so that others with special privileges can have superior service,” Mr. Wheeler wrote (emphasis ours) to Google and other companies.

But if your access to YouTube is slow because Google won’t pay Comcast for a direct connection with the cable company, it is doubtful Wheeler’s proposal would ever consider that a clear-cut case of Comcast “forcing” customers into a “slow lane.” After all, Comcast itself isn’t interfering with Netflix traffic, it just isn’t provisioning enough room on its network to accommodate customer demand.

Another side issue nobody has mentioned is usage cap discrimination. Comcast exempts certain traffic from the usage cap it is gradually reintroducing around the country. Its preferred partners can avoid usage-deterring caps while those not aligned with Comcast are left on the meter.

Wheeler

Wheeler

Some equipment manufacturers are producing even more sophisticated traffic management technology that could make it very difficult to identify fast and slow lanes, yet still opens the door to further monetization of Internet usage and performance in favor of a provider’s partners or against their competitors.

With Internet speeds and capacity gradually rising, the need for paid priority traffic agreements should decline, unless providers choose to cut back on upgrades to push another agenda. Already massively profitable, there is no excuse for providers not to incrementally upgrade their networks to meet customer demand. Prices for service have risen, even as the costs of providing the service have dropped overall.

Wheeler seems content to bend over backwards trying to shove a round Net Neutrality framework into a square regulatory black hole. Former chairman Julius Genachowski did the same, pretending that the FCC has oversight authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act. But in fact that section is dedicated to expanding broadband access with restricted regulatory powers:

The Commission and each State commission with regulatory jurisdiction over telecommunications services shall encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans (including, in particular, elementary and secondary schools and classrooms) by utilizing, in a manner consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity, price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.

The spirit of the 1996 Telecom Act was  deregulation — that language pertaining to “regulatory forbearance” encourages regulators to restrain themselves from reflexively solving every problem with a new regulation. The words about “removing barriers to infrastructure investment” might as well be industry code language for the inevitable talking point: “deregulation removes barriers to investment.”

1nnWith a shaky foundation like that, any effort by the FCC to depend on Section 706 as its enabling authority to oversee the introduction of any significant broadband regulation is a house of cards.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. In the Verizon network management case, the court found that the FCC was not allowed to use Section 706 to issue broad regulations that contradicted another part of the Communications Act.

U.S.C. 153(51) was and remains the FCC’s Section 706-Achilles Heel and the judge kicked it. This section of the Act says “a telecommunications carrier shall be treated as a common carrier under this [Act] only to the extent that it is engaged in providing telecommunications services.”

The current president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) Michael Powell — coincidentally also former chairman of the FCC under President George W. Bush — helped see to it that broadband was not defined as a “telecommunications service.” Instead, it is considered an “information service” for regulatory purposes. This decision shielded emerging Internet providers (especially big phone and cable companies) from the kinds of traditional telecom utility regulations landline telephone companies lived with for decades. Of course, millions were also spent to lobby the telecom deregulation-friendly Clinton and Bush administrations with the idea to adopt “light touch” broadband regulatory policy. A Republican-dominated FCC had no trouble voluntarily limiting its own authority to oversee broadband by declaring both wired and wireless broadband providers “information services.”

Tom Wheeler is the former president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association

Tom Wheeler is the former president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association

So it was the FCC itself that caused this regulatory mess. But the Supreme Court provided a way out, by declaring it was within the FCC’s own discretion to decide how to regulate broadband, either under Title I as an information service or Title II as a telecommunications service. If the FCC declares broadband as a telecommunications service, the regulatory headaches largely disappear. The FCC has well-tested authority to impose common carrier regulations on providers, including Net Neutrality protections, under Title II.

In fact, the very definition of “common carrier” is tailor-made for Net Neutrality because it generally requires that all customers be offered service on a standardized and non-discriminatory basis, and may include a requirement that those services be priced reasonably.

Inexplicably, Chairman Wheeler last week announced his intention to keep ignoring the straight-line GPS-like directions from the court that would snatch the FCC’s attorneys from the jaws of defeat to victory and has recalculated another proposed trip over Section 706′s mysterious bumpy side streets and dirt roads. Assuming the FCC ever arrives at its destination, it is a sure bet it will be met by attorneys from AT&T, Comcast, or Verizon with yet more lawsuits claiming the FCC has violated their rights by exceeding their authority.

Wheeler also doesn’t mollify anyone with his commitment to set up yet another layer of FCC bureaucracy to protect Internet start-ups:

Mr. Wheeler’s updated draft would also propose a new ombudsman position with ‘significant enforcement authority’ to advocate on behalf of startups, according to one of the officials. The goal would be to ensure all parties have access to the FCC’s process for resolving disputes.

Anyone who has taken a dispute to the FCC knows how fun and exciting a process that is. But even worse than the legal expense and long delays, Wheeler’s excessively ambiguous definitions of what constitutes fair paid prioritization and slow and fast lanes is money in the bank for regulatory litigators that will sue when a company doesn’t get the resolution it wants.

Wheeler promises the revised proceeding will invite more comments from the public regarding whether paid prioritization is a good idea and whether Title II reclassification is the better option. While we appreciate the fact Wheeler is asking the questions, we’ve been too often disappointed by FCC chairmen that apply prioritization of a different sort — to those that routinely have business before the FCC, including phone and cable company executives. Chairman Genachowski’s Net Neutrality policy was largely drafted behind closed doors by FCC lawyers and telecom industry lobbyists. Consumers were not invited and we’re not certain the FCC is actually listening to us.

The Wall Street Journal indicates the road remains bumpy and pitted with potholes:

Mr. Wheeler’s insistence that his strategy would preserve an open Internet, without previously offering much insight into how, has been a source of disquiet within his agency. Of the five-member commission, both Republicans are against any form of net neutrality rules, which they view as unnecessary. Commission observers will be watching the reaction of the two Democrats, Ms. Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, to Mr. Wheeler’s new language.

“There is a wide feeling on the eighth floor that this is a debacle and I think people would like to see a change of course,” said another FCC official. “We may not agree on the course, but we agree the road we’re on is to disaster.”

There is still time to recalculate, but we wonder if Mr. Wheeler, a longtime former lobbyist for the wireless and cable industries, is capable of sufficiently bending towards the public interest.

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And the Winner Is… United Arab Emirates Now the World Leader in Fiber to the Home Broadband

fiberThe United Arab Emirates leads the world with the highest penetration of fiber-to-the-home broadband service.

At least 85 percent of all homes in the UAE today rely on fiber broadband, according to research by the Fiber to the Home Council.

The UAE’s love for fiber broadband comes from the country’s aggressive government-directed infrastructure and services modernization plan as part of the Emirates’ transformation into the 21st century knowledge economy.

In the UAE, e-commerce, e-government, e-education, and e-health are pervasive, allowing residents instant access to government, commercial, health and educational services. Only fiber broadband had the capacity to handle both the broadband traffic today and sustain the rapid expansion of bandwidth required tomorrow.

The country relies on fiber networks to power smart electricity service, cell towers, wireless data, and various electronic payment systems, which allow consumers to use a single smart card to pass through immigration at airports with biometric authentication, as well as pay for everything from food to traffic fines, utility bills, or even zakat (charitable giving by Muslims).

The two national broadband providers — du and Etisalat, both invested heavily in fiber infrastructure with a goal of connecting every home and business to their competing fiber networks.

uaeSubscription rates in the next-biggest markets — South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan — range from 63 percent to 37 percent, the council notes. In comparison, the United States trails dismally with just 7.62% of Americans signed up for fiber to the home service and Canada’s fiber numbers still too negligible to rate, with only Atlantic Canada seeing widespread fiber deployments.

This leaves North America rapidly falling behind in the race to build next generation fiber broadband networks.

Speaking at the ITU’s recent World Telecommunication Development Conference, the council’s chairman, Dr. Suleiman Al Hedaithy noted that “fiber connections are available to more than 200 million homes globally — a tenth of all the households in the world,” adding that of these homes, “an estimated 107 million households subscribe to fiber-based services.”

Across the Middle East and North Africa, “more than 1.5 million households are using FTTH service,” Al Hedaithy added, with the UAE “ranked number one in FTTH penetration rate globally, for the past two consecutive years.”

In comparison, only 8.7 million Americans subscribe to fiber service.

Etisalat has invested $5.17 billion in fiber upgrades inside the UAE.

Living the eLife with fiber to the home service in the UAE.

Living the eLife with fiber to the home service in the UAE.

Last year, the total length of the UAE’s fiber network was equal to “five times the distance between the Earth and the moon, consisting of a total of 2.8 million kilometers of cable being deployed all over the country,” Etisalat CEO Saleh Al Abdooli said.

Elsewhere across the region:

  • Saudi Arabia’s ambitious fiber to the home projects reached 38% of households by the end of 2013;
  • Qatar will approach 100% fiber coverage by the end of 2015;
  • The next growth areas in regional fiber network construction will be in Egypt, Algeria, and Kuwait;
  • The fastest speed fiber networks offering 100+Mbps are in Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE;
  • There is no relevant development of fiber networks in Libya, Sudan, Syria, Yemen or the Palestinian territories.

“The future,” according to Christine Beylouni, director general at the FTTH Council Middle East & North Africa, “is definitely fiber to the home.”

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Sprint Applying Speed Breaks to Top 5% of Wireless Data Users Accessing Congested Cell Sites

throttleEffective June 1st, all Sprint contract and prepaid customers, as well as those using Virgin Mobile USA and Boost will find their wireless data speeds throttled if Sprint finds they are among the top 5% of users on a congested cell site.

Text messages are being sent to all customers about Sprint’s new “fairness algorithm” that it will use as part of its data “prioritization management.”

“Beginning 6/1/14, to provide more customers with a high quality data experience during heavy usage times, Sprint/Virgin Mobile USA/Boost may manage prioritization of access to network resources in congested areas for customers within the top 5 percent of data users.”

Such text messages are unlikely to be understood by average customers who have no idea how much data they use, don’t understand what “prioritization of access” means, or what would make them a “top 5 percent” data user. What many do understand is that they were sold “unlimited use” plans that will be much harder to use if they are identified as a 5%‘r.

Fierce Wireless found answers to several unanswered questions:

  • Boost and Virgin customers exceeding 2.5GB of data use a month used to find their data speeds cut to 256kbps until the beginning of their next billing cycle. In March, Sprint announced it was further cutting speeds in the punishment zone to 128kbps for affected prepaid customers;
  • Sprint’s postpaid/prepaid customers are likely to find themselves throttled once they exceed 5GB of usage per month.

speedbumpSprint says the throttle will only be activated on “congested cell sites” and will impact WiMAX, 3G and LTE 4G networks owned by the company. Anyone who has used Sprint’s 3G network will discover most urban and suburban Sprint cell towers are frequently congested, judging by the low speeds many customers endure. Rural customers or those served on the edge of a suburban area may never find themselves throttled and Sprint promises once traffic clears, the throttle is shut off.

At the same time, once Sprint labels you a “heavy user,” they can leave you in the penalty box for up to 60 days because the network prioritization will also apply during the following month of service.

“Customers that continue to fall within the top 5 percent of data users will continue to be subject to prioritization,” Sprint said.

The approach “will enable us to provide more customers with a high quality data experience during heavy usage times,” Sprint said in a statement sent to FierceWirelessTech.

Other wireless carriers also have employed speed throttling to control their grandfathered “unlimited data” customers, Fierce Wireless notes:

During September 2011, Verizon Wireless implemented what it  termed a “network optimization” plan to limit the bandwidth for the operator’s top 5 percent of 3G smartphone users who are on a grandfathered unlimited data plan. (Ed. Note: However, because of FCC requirements, Verizon cannot throttle its 4G LTE customers.)

One month later, AT&T Mobility  instituted a similar plan, targeting the top 5 percent of users on unlimited plans in specific high-traffic locations. However, AT&T was forced to alter its approach in early 2012 after an outcry from users who were unprepared to have their speeds reduced, particularly in cases where some of them had only consumed 2 GB of data. AT&T’s revised policy slowed speeds of unlimited data users who exceeded specific data thresholds.

T-Mobile US also uses a form of prioritization, noting “certain T-Mobile plans may be prioritized” over service plans under its GoSmart Mobile prepaid brand.

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Time Warner Cable Customers in Queens Enjoying Free Maxx Broadband Speed Upgrades: 300/20Mbps

8681_262Time Warner Cable’s major broadband speed upgrade is alive in the Astoria, Woodside and Long Island City neighborhoods of Queens, N.Y.

The Time Warner Cable Maxx upgrade is Time Warner Cable’s effort to catch up to other cable operators that have significantly upgraded broadband speeds for customers over the last 18 months. Time Warner Cable has traditionally been one of the slowest major cable broadband providers in the country, with most customers only able to buy speeds up to 50/5Mbps. But Time Warner Cable has also committed to keeping unlimited use service available to customers, unlike Comcast, Charter, Cox, Suddenlink, and Mediacom.

The free speed upgrades are the largest ever for Time Warner Cable, typically more than tripling speeds for most customers.

Stop the Cap! has heard from readers in Queens who discovered the upgrades took effect this week, so we have been able to take a closer look at what customers can expect as Time Warner rolls out upgrades across New York City and Los Angeles and finally extending faster speeds over the next two years in other cities.

new speed

(Image: ematrix)

Arris Touchstone Telephony Gateway TG1672g

Arris Touchstone Telephony Gateway TG1672g

The first notification your area is about to receive an upgrade will come in a letter from Time Warner Cable.

Customers subscribing to the fastest speed tiers may need new equipment. Time Warner Cable is using 8-channel bonding in Queens for its 100 and 200Mbps tiers and 16-channel bonding for its 300Mbps tier. Some older and low-end DOCSIS 3 modems only support four channel bonding. For instance, a customer using a four-channel capable Motorola 6121 modem in Queens with Time Warner’s 30/5Mbps Extreme tier will only get speeds up to 50/5Mbps after the upgrade. If the customer owned a Motorola 6141, which supports eight channel bonding, they will get the full advantage of the upgrade: 200/20Mbps. But even the 6141 isn’t enough for Time Warner’s top tier: 300/20Mbps. Customers would need an upgrade to a 16-channel capable modem.

Time Warner’s notification letter says customers can swap out a company-owned cable modem for a 16-channel capable model, currently the Arris TG1672g, either by mail, through an area Time Warner Cable store, or with a service call. The usual modem rental fees still apply.

The TG1672g (download user manual) is a fully capable broadband and Wi-Fi home gateway that also supports Time Warner’s phone service:

  • 16×4 Channel Bonding
  • Full Capture Bandwidth Tuner
  • Multi Processor Technology with an Intel Atom Core Application Processor
  • DOCSIS® 3.0 and PacketCable™ 2.0 compliant design
  • 4 port Gigabit Ethernet Wireless Router
  • 3×3 Integrated Dual Band Concurrent
  • 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11n radios with Beam Forming
  • USB 2.0 Host Port
  • Upcoming support for DLNA and File Storage
  • Two FXS lines of carrier-grade VoIP with HD voice support
  • MoCA1.1 for in Home Video and Data distribution over Coax
  • Dual Stack IPv4/IPv6 Home Router
  • Internal Power Supply for Highest Reliability and reduced energy consumption
  • Battery backup: Single battery pack for reaching a full 8 hours of standby support

If picking up new equipment, a Time Warner representative will probably let you know if your account is flagged “Maxx-capable,” which means your neighborhood’s upgrade is imminent or complete. Time Warner may also want to swap out your set-top boxes if you subscribe to cable television, although readers report cable television service and the on-screen guide in Queens doesn’t look any different at present. The backup battery inside the cable modem is rated for up to 10 years of life and is replaceable by the user for around $60.

Customers who own their own cable modem might have to buy a new one if they are seeking the company’s fastest speeds. Time Warner’s latest approved modem list should guide what, if any, new equipment you might need. If you are considering buying your own modem, you might plan your purchase around the model(s) that support the speeds you want.

approved modems

Time Warner Cable’s Latest Approved Modem List

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TWC Techs Launch 300 Mbps Internet Speeds at Queens NY Hub 5-6-14.flv
Technicians launch 300Mbps broadband speeds for Time Warner Cable customers in Queens, N.Y. (1:27)

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Verizon: If Your Town Doesn’t Already Have a FiOS Commitment, Forget About Fiber

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still as dead as Francisco Franco.

Verizon is prepared to watch up to 30% of their copper landline customers drift away because the company is adamant about no further expansion of its FiOS fiber to the home network.

Fran Shammo, chief financial officer at Verizon, told attendees of the Jefferies Global Technology, Media & Telecom Conference that Verizon will complete the buildout of its fiber network to a total of about 19 million homes, and that is it.

“Look, we will continue to fulfill our FiOS license franchise agreements,” Frammo said. “[We will] cover about 70% of our legacy footprint. So 30%, we are not going to cover. That is where we are still going to have copper.”

That is bad news for Verizon customers stuck with the company’s copper network because Verizon isn’t planning any further significant investments in it.

“We will continue to harvest that copper network and those customers and keep them as long as we can,” Frammo said. “But we will not be building FiOS out for those areas.”

In fact, Frammo admitted ongoing cost-cutting at Verizon’s landline division is allowing the company to shift more money and resources to its more profitable wireless network.

verizon goodbye

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam doesn’t want to spend money on non-FiOS areas when more can be made from its wireless network.

“It is also taking cost structure out,” Frammo said.  “As I mentioned, the migration of copper to fiber has been very big for us. Our Lean Six Sigma projects have really significantly helped us in our capital investment in the wireline which is why I can put more money into the wireless side of the business.”

Verizon has shifted an increasing proportion of its capital investments towards its wireless division year after year, while cutting ongoing investment in wireline. Ratepayers are not benefiting from this arrangement, and critics contend Verizon landline customers are effectively subsidizing Verizon’s wireless networks.

Verizon will still complete the FiOS buildouts it committed to earlier, particularly in New York City, but it is increasingly unlikely Verizon will ever start another wave of fiber upgrades.

In fact, Michael McCormack, the Jefferies’ Wall Street analyst questioning Shammo at the conference foreshadowed what is more likely to happen to Verizon’s legacy copper customers.

“We have talked extensively in the past about the non-FiOS areas and I guess in my second reincarnation as a banker, I will try to help you get rid of those assets,” said McCormack.

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Comcast Promises Wonderland of Broadband Ecstacy if Time Warner Cable Deal Goes Through

Neil Smit, CEO Comcast Cable (left), Ryan Lawler, TechCrunch (right)

Neil Smit, CEO, Comcast Cable (left), Ryan Lawler, TechCrunch (right)

Of all the tech companies to turn up at TechCrunch’s Disrupt New York 2014 event, Comcast Cable seemed the least likely to qualify as the kind of innovative start-up TechCrunch loves to cover.

But there sat Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit with TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler, discussing Comcast’s mega-merger with Time Warner Cable, its peering agreement with Netflix, broadcast TV streamer Aereo, and Comcast’s legendary dismal customer service.

Smit’s arrival on stage to a smattering of tentative applause was a clear sign there was no love for the cable giant in the audience, particularly from many New York area Time Warner Cable customers dreading a future with Comcast.

Smit was immediately confronted with the fact Comcast was recently voted the Worst Company in America by Consumerist readers, prompting yet another promise that improving customer service was Comcast’s “top priority,” the same promise Comcast gave in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

“I think if there’s one thing to disrupt in our business, it’s customer service,” Smit added.

Smit defended Comcast’s merger with Time Warner, relying heavily on video subscribers to downplay the concentrated market power Comcast would have after the merger. Smit pointed out Netflix has the largest subscriber count of any pay television channel or platform and denied Lawler’s contention that a merger would give Comcast more than 50% of the American broadband market.

“I think the number is a little less than that — it is closer to 40% but if you include wireless than it would be less than 20%,” Smit responded, referring to the LTE 4G wireless networks from wireless carriers that come with very low usage caps and very high prices.

Comcast-LogoSmit also promised major broadband speed upgrades and other improvements for Time Warner Cable customers, but nobody mentioned Comcast’s gradual reintroduction of usage caps on residential broadband accounts.

Comcast Cable’s CEO also addressed several other hot button issues:

Smit claimed Comcast has a good working relationship with the FCC and is providing advice on whatever changes to Net Neutrality FCC chairman Tom Wheeler will propose later this month.

Despite the fact Comcast could ultimately benefit if Aereo is found to be legal by the U.S. Supreme Court, Smit recognized Comcast also owns NBC and other broadcast programmers and was concerned about the economic impact if cable operators stopped paying for over-the-air programming.

“We pay $9 billion a year for content,” Smit said. “One of the things that I question in the Aereo solution is: are they paying for content? The spend for that content has to come from somewhere.”

Smit also noted Comcast is increasingly targeting younger audiences by signing deals with college campuses to bring Comcast service to students to hook them as future subscribers. Comcast is also creating new packages with fewer channels to appeal to millennials. Smit also acknowledged many younger family members are accessing cable programming using passwords associated with their parent’s cable account.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TechCrunch Interview with Neil Smit 5-6-14.mp4

Here is the complete interview TechCrunch conducted with Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit. (22:20)

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