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FCC Speed Tests Show Charter’s Slow Upgrades Affecting Some Customers

Phillip Dampier August 1, 2017 Broadband Speed, Charter Spectrum, Consumer News No Comments

Regular speed test results from a network of volunteers using FCC-supplied equipment are showing some problems with Charter Communications’ ability to meet its advertising claims for fast broadband speeds.

After Charter acquired Time Warner Cable in May 2016, it formally suspended Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade program, designed to increase broadband speed and capacity across the cable company’s footprint. Charter committed to completing Maxx upgrades already underway at the time the merger was concluded, but future upgrade activity would have to wait for up to three years before being completed.

As a result, newly available speed test results are showing that in some areas where Charter delayed upgrades, some customers are seeing their speeds gradually drop as capacity no longer adequately meets demand.

One sign of trouble is when broadband speeds begin to slow or become unstable during peak usage times, typically in the evening hours. This is usually a sign customers have saturated the shared neighborhood connection serving their area. When customers head for bed, speeds usually return to normal. But customers are also complaining that in some instances they never get the speeds advertised by Charter’s Spectrum. Sometimes this is a result of a local line problem, but in some neighborhoods, a large number of customers sharing an inadequate or faulty connection can cause speed slowdowns that persist day and night.

A closer examination of daily speed test results over the last year show that while ordinary speed tests using Charter-hosted speed test servers or websites don’t always show a problem, independent tests of network traffic performance in areas bypassed for upgrades are showing signs of traffic jams.

During the last quarter of daily periodic testing, a customer that used to subscribe to Time Warner Cable’s 50/5Mbps service and routinely got those speeds no longer does after switching to Charter/Spectrum’s 60Mbps plan. Customers question where the bottleneck is, because when they test broadband speeds using the company’s own test tools, they usually find their broadband speeds are above what is advertised. But independent, regularly conducted speed tests by third-party organizations reveal problems. One customer noted for the month of July, he received a minimum of 27.3Mbps, a maximum of 70.1Mbps, but an average of only 47.6Mbps from Spectrum’s basic 60Mbps plan — less than what he was able to get from Time Warner Cable’s 50Mbps Ultimate Internet.

A review of traffic graphs show most of the problems are showing up in the evening starting by 5pm weekdays. Tests show uneven performance until around midnight.

Frontier Employees: Company is Adrift as Management Obsesses Over Stock Price

Frontier Communications employees continue to send unsolicited news tips and insider gossip about a phone company in decline, not only losing customers but middle management that have either left voluntary or been asked to leave in a frantic effort to cut costs.

Earlier this year, Frontier CEO Dan McCarthy ended a long-term effort heralded by former CEO Maggie Wilderotter that gave significant autonomy to local and regional managers to handle problems in their respective service areas without having to consult a centralized bureaucracy. McCarthy elected instead to adopt more rigid company-wide policies and practices that often require consultation with senior management. For many mid-level managers already frustrated with the company, that change proved a bridge too far that and several are now working for Frontier’s cable competition.

One of the senior managers responsible for Frontier’s web presence became so frustrated with Frontier’s corporate roadblocks, he dropped his Frontier service in favor of the competition because accomplishing almost anything on Frontier’s website proved frustrating and often impossible.

“Instead of focusing their leadership on ways to turn the company around they seem to be doubling down on their efforts to get as many employees to leave the company as possible,” a Frontier insider tells Stop the Cap!

Some of the employees likely to leave are Frontier’s telecommuting workforce. Senior executives now want many of those workers back in the office.

“[The new policy says] if we live less than 50 miles from a Frontier Office, we have to be in the office every day and could no longer work at home,” our source tells us. “There are employees who had Permanent Work At Home status by HR who are [now] being told they have to relocate to another city [or] come into an office or they will be let go.”

Frontier’s network continues to be criticized as great for some, lousy for everyone else. Our source notes a few years ago Frontier was speed-limiting some of its DSL customers in congested areas because they were using too much broadband and slowing down the network for others. While Frontier’s legacy copper areas continue to endure copper-based DSL with its inherent capacity and speed limitations, Frontier is planning a feast for its acquired FiOS fiber customers, including free automatic speed upgrades.

Less technically conscious customers pay more. In addition to a $4.50 convenience fee that now applies to customers phoning customer care centers to make a payment, our source warns Frontier is about to launch a paper billing fee, reportedly $1 a month, in an attempt to convert customers to electronic paperless billing.

“We are so at a loss as to the direction this company is taking and there is zero vision from senior leadership that is being passed down,” our source said, noting executives are preoccupied with their compensation plans and bonuses. “The directions we’re given change daily, projects and promotions only seem to be reactionary to try to stop the bleeding, but Frontier is in need of major surgery starting with the CEO and every single member of our executive leadership.”

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.

Altice Deploys Gigabit Broadband in Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas

Phillip Dampier July 19, 2017 Altice NV, Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Suddenlink No Comments

Altice’s Suddenlink Communications has announced gigabit service for its customers in Batesville and El Dorado, Ark., Maryville, Mo., and Conroe, Tex.

“Today’s announcement is the next step in Altice USA’s Operation GigaSpeed initiative to provide gigabit broadband service to our Suddenlink customers,” said Hakim Boubazine, co-president and chief operating officer of Altice USA, in a statement.

Altice will continue to use DOCSIS 3.0 technology for most of its Suddenlink customers instead of adopting DOCSIS 3.1 in the near future. Because Suddenlink systems are all-digital, Altice is using a significant amount of its available cable bandwidth for broadband services. Customers who don’t want to pay for 1,000Mbps can also choose from 100 and 200Mbps plans, up from 75 and 100Mbps respectively.

These communities bring the number of GigaSpeed enabled cities in Suddenlink territory to 45. Here are the others, below the break:

… Continue Reading

Frontier’s March to Oblivion: Bankruptcy In Its Future?

Frontier Communications is quickly becoming the Sears and Kmart of phone companies, on a slow march to bankruptcy or outright oblivion.

What started as a small independent phone company in Connecticut has grown through acquiring overpriced or decrepit landline cast-offs, mostly from Verizon, leaving itself with massive amounts of debt and infrastructure it is not willing to upgrade.

Despite rosy prognostications given to customers and shareholders, few are willing to take Frontier’s word that life is good with a company that still relies heavily on copper wire phone and DSL service.

Don’t take out word for it. Just watch the line of customers heading for the exits, canceling service and never looking back. As Frontier continues to lose customers fed up with its bad DSL service, rated even poorer than satellite-delivered broadband by Consumer Reports, its only chance to grow is to acquire more customers through more acquisitions. Unfortunately, after another disastrous transition for former Verizon customers in Florida, California, and Texas, Frontier’s bad reputation is likely to leave regulators and shareholders concerned about Frontier’s ability to manage yet more acquisitions in the future.

The Wall Street Journal reports Frontier bet on making it big with rural and suburban landlines, and lost.

Frontier’s mess has infuriated shareholders who invest in the stock mostly for its dividend payouts. The Norwalk, Conn. company recently announced it slashed its dividend, causing investors to flee the stock. Shares are down 69% so far this year. In a desperate bid to keep its Nasdaq listing, the company announced an unprecedented 1-for-15 reverse stock split just to prop up its share price.

Frontier’s slow hemorrhage of landline customers turned into a flash flood in the spring of 2016 after botching yet another “flash cutover” of customers acquired from Verizon. Verizon’s decision to sell off its landline networks in Florida, California, and Texas (mostly acquired from GTE by Verizon predecessor Bell Atlantic) was good news for Verizon, bad news for Frontier’s newest customers. Frontier hates to spend money to overhaul its copper-based facilities with fiber. It prefers to buy service areas from companies that undertook fiber upgrades on their own dime. Verizon had already upgraded large sections of those three states with its FiOS fiber to the home network. Frontier’s interest was primarily about acquiring that fiber, Frontier finance chief Perley McBride told the Wall Street Journal. Even McBride admitted Frontier failed to do a good job integrating those customers.

Consumer Reports rates Frontier DSL lower than one satellite broadband provider.

That should not be news to McBride or anyone else. Frontier has repeatedly failed every flash cutover it has attempted. The worst recent examples were Frontier’s botched 2010 transition in West Virginia, where the company inherited copper landlines neglected by Verizon for decades. Customers were infuriated by Frontier’s inability to maintain service and billing, and the company was investigated by state officials after many customers lost service, sometimes for weeks. In Connecticut, Frontier messed up a transition of its acquisition of AT&T’s U-verse system, having learned nothing from its mistakes in West Virginia or elsewhere. The company was forced to pay substantial service credits to residential and business customers that were offline for days. Thus it was no surprise yet another hurried transition would lead to disaster last spring. Regulators received thousands of complaints and a significant percentage of longtime Verizon customers left for good.

Frontier CEO Dan McCarthy appears to be even less credible with investors and customers than his predecessor Maggie Wilderotter, who may have retired with an understanding the long term future of Frontier looks pretty bleak. McCarthy has repeatedly put an optimistic face on Frontier’s increasingly poor performance.

John Jureller, Frontier’s last chief financial officer, routinely joined McCarthy in putting a brave face on Frontier’s stark numbers. He repeatedly tried to fuel optimism by telling investors the Verizon landline acquisition would make revenue trends “very positive.”

Jureller is no longer with Frontier. His replacement is the aforementioned McBride, who has a reputation as a “turnaround” expert, usually at the expense of employees. McBride has already helped oversee the permanent departure of at least 1,000 employees, laid off as part of what Frontier is calling “a customer-focused reorganization.” McCarthy prefers to tell Wall Street the layoffs are about reining in costs, despite the company’s profligate spending on acquisitions.

McBride told the Journal he doesn’t expect much revenue growth at Frontier anytime soon in California, Texas, and Florida. McCarthy’s grand turnaround plan isn’t working either. In fact, customer ratings of Frontier are falling about as fast as a rock thrown off a cliff.

There is little evidence Frontier will improve its dismal American Customer Satisfaction Index score in 2017. It finished dead last among internet service providers last year, falling 8% despite taking on new customers and allegedly upgrading others. Frontier’s overall grade was second to last across all categories in the telecom sector. Frontier managed to achieve bottom of the barrel scores despite broad upticks in customer satisfaction among other similar providers last year. Verizon FiOS achieved a 7% improvement to a best-ever customer satisfaction rating. In areas acquired by Frontier, as soon as the service was renamed Frontier FiOS, ratings plunged.

So has Frontier’s revenue, which continues a downward spiral. The company posted a loss of $373 million last year compared to $196 million in losses a year earlier. It has committed to spending $1 billion on its network this year, but customers uniformly report few substantial service improvements, and many wonder where the money is going.

Frontier is also upset that Verizon, in its zeal to make its landline properties in California, Texas, and Florida look as good as possible, stopped collection activity on overdue accounts just before the sale, saddling Frontier with thousands of deadbeat customers Verizon should have written off as uncollectable long ago, but never did.

Yesterday, the western New York office of the Better Business Bureau reported Frontier had achieved an “F” rating, amassed nearly 9,000 complaints, and out of 718 customer reviews, just six were positive:

We find a high volume and pattern of complaints exists concerning prior Verizon consumers who have not had a smooth transition to Frontier Communication since Frontier Communications took over various Verizon customers on April 1, 2016. Consumers have reported that services did not transition properly: many do not have services or are having spotty service with outages; many internet issues, from slow speeds to complete outages, consumers advise they are paying for certain levels of internet speeds but are not receiving those levels. Cable issues including missing networks, movie on demand concerns, issues with purchased subscriptions not carrying over, titles consumers have paid for (purchased licensed for) not being uploaded to their libraries and no solutions are being offered; and inability to access items like DVR boxes at the same time (multiple boxes in households not functioning); the Frontier App is not functioning for consumers; not fulfilling the rewards advertised with new service signups; charging consumers unauthorized third party charges on their telephone bill and not properly applying credits to consumer’s bills or consumers not being able to login to pay their bills.

When consumers call to receive assistance many report to BBB that they are hung up on or calls are disconnected and [are not followed up] by Frontier representatives. Consumers are transferred from representative to representative without receiving any assistance to their concerns many times resulting in a disconnection.

We have also identified a pattern in [Frontier’s] responses to complaints stating:

  • Per Tariff, in no event shall Frontier be liable in tort, contract, or otherwise for errors, omissions, interruptions, or delays to any person for personal injury, property damage, death, or economic losses. Frontier shall in no event exceed an amount equivalent to the proportionate charge to the customer for the period of service during which such mistake, omission, interruption, delay, error or defect occurs. Frontier will apply a credit based on the customer’s daily service rate.
  • We trust that this information will assist you in closing this complaint.  We regret any inconvenience that ‘consumer name’ may have experienced as a result of the above matter.

The business did not respond to the pattern of complaint correspondence BBB sent.

“Cable companies are beating the pants off Frontier,” Jonathan Chaplin, an analyst for New Street Research, told the newspaper. Heavy targeted marketing of Frontier’s customers, especially those served by Charter Communications in states like New York, Texas, Florida, and California are only accelerating Frontier’s customer cancellations.

Frontier’s cost consciousness and deferred upgrades as a result of its financial condition are only allowing cable companies to steal away more customers than ever, as the value for money gap continues to widen. While Frontier has failed to significantly upgrade many of their DSL customers still stuck with less than 10Mbps service, Charter Communications is gradually boosting their entry-level broadband speed to 100Mbps across its footprint and selling it at an introductory price of $44.99 a month.

Even Verizon sees the writing on the wall for the revenue prospects of landline service, especially in areas where it has not undertaken FiOS upgrades. Verizon DSL is still very common across its northeastern footprint, particularly in states like New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. Upstate New York is almost entirely DSL territory for Verizon, except for a few suburbs in Buffalo, Syracuse, and the state’s Capitol region. Verizon soured on upgrading its copper facilities in these areas years ago, and has contemplated selling them or moving customers to wireless service instead.

Verizon spokesman Bob Varettoni admitted Verizon’s strategy was to “sharpen our strategic focus on wireless,” which makes Verizon considerably more money than its wireline networks.

“If Verizon’s selling assets, they’re selling them for a reason,” Chaplin said. “Verizon had taken those markets [in California, Florida, and Texas] pretty close to saturation before they sold. That’s the point at which they punted the assets to Frontier.”

Frontier cannot continue to do business this way and expect to survive. Investors have circled 2020 on their calendar — the year $2.4 billion in debt payments are due. Another $2.5 billion is due in 2021 and $2.6 billion in 2022, not including interest charges and other obligations. Refinancing is expected to get tougher at struggling companies and interest rates are rising. The pattern is a familiar one in the telecom industry, where acquirers like FairPoint Communications and Hawaiian Telcom spent heavily on acquiring landline cast-offs from Verizon. Customer departures, a financial inability to upgrade facilities quickly enough, and heavy debts forced both companies into bankruptcy, precisely where Frontier Communications will end up if it does not change its management and business practices.

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  • mike: I guess they mean like the upgrades Time Warner was in the middle of when the sale went through and Charter then dropped the ax on....
  • Taylor Langdon: I was told on the phone $69.99 was the lowest they'd go. I used online chat after that and got $64.99....
  • Paul Houle: EJ, all too often, "technology agnostic" seems to be a codeword for the same DSL and fixed wireless technologies that have (in the case of DSL...
  • EJ: Kevin S that is not a fair judgement to make. You just have to put requirements on the 25mbps which should be on all providers anyways. Simple require...
  • Kevin S: You (Bloomburg) had me in your corner in 100% support of your views and findings right up until the end...when you stated: "Bloomberg supports the FC...
  • Shaun: The same thing happened when Verizon happened, when Bell took over GTE.. GTE, was more like time warner, and was a decent company.. Bell.. another cha...
  • Shaun: Their own pricing plans proves this to be a lie. You know that the company is not going to give you "any" plan where they are going to "loose" money.....
  • L Nova: I really wish that these companies told wall street to f**k off and do what they feel is right to retain customers. Self-aggrandizing douchenozzles su...
  • Jim Jackson: Yeah when you introduce $65 billion in debt overnight that money has to come from somewhere. There is so little synergies in a cable company merger t...
  • Ronald: How long until those customers realize they get most of the good stuff with just the antenna, and decide they don't need Dish anymore?...
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  • FredH: Charters/Spectrum's executive team is so full of crap it isn't funny. Time Warner Cable was a blessing compared to Spectrum. I for one wish this mer...

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