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Verizon Has No Interest in G.fast, Other DSL Improvements

Phillip Dampier August 17, 2017 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon No Comments

VDSL2 vectoring and G.fast are only as good as the copper wiring that extends to each customer. Up to 45 percent of North American wire pairs are in some state of disrepair.

Verizon has no interest in using advanced forms of DSL as part of its next generation broadband service.

Speaking at ADTRAN’s Broadband Solutions Summit, Verizon’s director of network planning Vincent O’Byrne made it clear DSL variants and copper wiring were not going to be a part of Verizon’s future network platform.

“We have no strategy for G.fast,” O’Byrne told Telecompetitor in response to a question about whether the company would upgrade or deploy advanced forms of DSL as part of overhauling its broadband networks.

Some telephone companies with large legacy copper networks have promoted DSL advancements including bonding, VDSL, and G.fast in lieu of costly fiber upgrades to shareholders and customers to improve the sluggish 6-10Mbps speeds many customers get from DSL service. But O’Byrne said Verizon has had nothing but headaches trying to make its legacy copper network actually deliver the improved broadband speeds those technologies promise on paper.

O’Byrne admitted Verizon’s copper network has not aged well, calling it “poor” in some areas. Verizon’s previous efforts to deploy VDSL and ethernet over copper to multiple dwelling units (MDUs) like apartment buildings and condos turned out so poorly, O’Byrne does not want to repeat those mistakes in the future.

For urban areas and MDUs, O’Byrne stressed he plans to take fiber all the way to each condo unit or apartment and get rid of the copper.

Verizon’s next generation fiber strategy will depend heavily on NG-PON2 technology, which is managed by unpowered splitters and filters — dramatically cutting the hardware costs associated with active fiber networks. Many PON networks are fiber to the premises, but then rely on Wi-Fi or Ethernet wired networks once inside a building. Verizon prefers an all-fiber solution, which is unusual among U.S. carriers. AT&T, CenturyLink and Windstream still use G.fast for relatively short runs of existing copper phone wiring inside MDUs and homes.

Verizon’s O’Byrne believes an all-fiber solution may cost more upfront, but will deliver better longevity, value, and fewer problems over time.

Comcast Brings Gigabit DOCSIS 3.1 to Philadelphia, South Jersey

Comcast customers in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties in Pennsylvania as well as parts of New Jersey and New Castle County, Del. can now subscribe to the company’s DOCSIS 3.1-powered gigabit broadband service.

Jim Samaha, senior vice president of Comcast’s “Freedom Region” surrounding southeastern Pennsylvania says at least two million customers will be able to subscribe to the new, faster broadband speed immediately.

“We have been on a pace of doubling our network capacity every 18 to 24 months, ensuring that we stay well ahead of demand,” said Samaha in a statement.

Comcast is running an introductory promotion that will price the gigabit service at $79.99 a month with a one-year contract or $104.95 a month for month-to-month service. A 1TB usage cap did apply to customers on a gigabit plan who did not agree to a term contract, but there was some debate on that point with Comcast representatives giving conflicting answers. Customers who want a cap-free experience with Comcast may have to pay an additional $50 a month.

YouTube TV Reaches 50% of U.S. With Addition of 14 New Markets

Phillip Dampier August 17, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, YouTube TV 2 Comments

YouTube TV, an online streaming alternative to cable television, now reaches 50% of U.S. residents after the company introduced local TV service in 14 new markets.

The latest additions allow customers to view most local ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC stations as part of their subscription. But YouTube TV has not yet signed agreements with all of those station owners, so some cities will continue to have only on-demand access to FOX network shows for the time being.

The newest cities added:

  • Florida: Jacksonville (inc. Brunswick, Ga.), Tampa-St. Petersburg, Sarasota, West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce
  • Kentucky: Louisville
  • Maryland: Baltimore
  • Massachusetts: Boston
  • Nevada: Las Vegas
  • Ohio: Columbus, Cincinnati
  • Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh
  • Tennessee: Memphis, Nashville
  • Texas: San Antonio
  • Washington: Seattle, Tacoma

The service costs $35 a month and includes a feature-limited DVR, which in certain cases does not allow customers to fast-forward past commercials. The service also recently added two new channels to its lineup: Tennis Channel, and for Boston-area residents only: NESN, a regional sports network.

An additional 17 markets are expected to be online before the end of summer:

  • Alabama: Birmingham
  • California: San Diego
  • Connecticut: Hartford, New Haven
  • Colorado: Denver
  • Indiana: Indianapolis
  • Michigan: Battle Creek, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo
  • Missouri: Kansas City, St. Louis
  • North Carolina: Triad Region (Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem), Raleigh-Durham
  • Ohio: Akron, Cleveland
  • Oklahoma: Oklahoma City
  • Pennsylvania: Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, York
  • Texas: Austin
  • Utah: Salt Lake City
  • Virginia: Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth
  • Wisconsin: Milwaukee

Who Will Buy Charter? Altice, Comcast, SoftBank, or None of the Above?

The French press did not take kindly to comments from MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett, who suggested Altice’s ability to swallow up Charter Communications in a deal worth at least $185 billion dollars was “not credible.”

Panelists appearing on French language business news channel BFM TV chuckled at Mr. Moffett’s ability to predict Altice chairman Patrick Drahi’s next move.

“Mr. Moffett does not know Mr. Drahi like we’ve come to know Mr. Drahi,” noted one analyst. “We’ve learned not to underestimate his ability to put together business deals that some would call bold, others financially reckless, yet he does it again and again. If Mr. Drahi wants [Charter], he shall have it.”

French business reporters have scoffed at Altice for years, well before the company arrived in the United States to acquire Cablevision and Suddenlink and rebrand them as Altice.

“When you don’t take him seriously, that is when he strikes,” reported BFM.

Drahi is a master of using other people’s money to finance massive telecommunications deals. For him, bigger is essential, and that means he’d either have to acquire Comcast or Charter or hope to build a cable empire out of smaller cable companies he’d acquire and combine.

Drahi (center)

Multiple independent media outlets are tracking Drahi’s movements. Le Figaro reports Drahi has spent months laying the groundwork for his next big takeover in the United States and the newspaper knew all along it would be a major deal, because Drahi is banking on the prospects of emptying the pockets of millions of American cable subscribers to fund his operations. Americans pay vastly more for cable television and broadband service than consumers in Europe because of a lack of regulation and competition.

The newspaper adds that Drahi routinely tells investors and reporters he wants to be “number one or two” in all countries where he does business. Right now Altice is the fourth largest cable operator in the United States, an absolutely intolerable situation for Mr. Drahi.

Drahi is well aware of the enormous cost of a Charter acquisition, and Bloomberg News reports he is considering asking the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and BC Partners to help fund the potential merger. Both groups are already familiar with Mr. Drahi and Altice and were instrumental in his acquisition of Cablevision and Suddenlink. Despite the potential help, Moffett still believes Charter is well outside of Altice’s reach.

“None of the proposed suitors—Verizon, SoftBank, Altice—have the balance sheet to acquire Charter,” Moffett wrote his investor clients in a research note. He notes Greg Maffei, chairman of Liberty Broadband, is unconvinced of the wisdom of allowing a buyer to use its other highly leveraged companies as compensation in a merger deal.

Moffett believes the deal has to make sense to two people to proceed – John Malone, Charter’s largest shareholder and ironically Drahi’s mentor and Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge, who was America’s highest paid executive in 2016. He stands to get considerably richer if he can fend off a deal until he achieves tens of millions in stock option awards, first when Charter’s average share price tops $455.66 a share and stays there for at least 60 days and then again when the share price exceeds $564 a share and stays there for 60 days. This morning, Charter Communications was selling at just over $399 a share. All of the merger and acquisition talk is helping boost Charter’s stock price, but Rutledge doesn’t want the company sold until after he can walk out with his compensation package fully funded or finds a buyer willing to make him whole.

As for Malone, he’s always been willing to cash out, but only when the deal makes financial sense to him and avoids taxes.

“Let’s put a finer point on it,” Moffett added. “The ONLY reason [Liberty Media chief] John Malone would be willing to swap his equity in Charter for equity in Altice would be if he believed, with real conviction, that Altice could simply manage the asset better than Charter’s current management.  It is not a knock on Altice to suggest that there is simply no way that Liberty would believe that. Next.”

But then, Time Warner Cable’s management didn’t take an acquisition offer from Charter Communications seriously either when it was first proposed. Time Warner Cable believed selling to Comcast made better sense to shareholders and executives. Like Altice, Charter was a much smaller cable operator proposing to buy a much larger one. In the end, regulators rejected the deal with Comcast and with Wall Street beating the drum for someone to acquire Time Warner Cable, Charter’s sweetened second offer was readily accepted.

Charter’s biggest downside to a potential acquirer is the $60 billion in debt it took on buying Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Debt at SoftBank also makes Moffett skeptical of a deal between Sprint and Charter.

“They [SoftBank] already sit on $135 billion of debt,” Moffett wrote. “Add Charter’s $63 billion and you’re within a rounding error of $200 billion. Add any cash at all for Charter’s equity and you’re flirting with a quarter trillion (trillion!) dollars of debt. Were SoftBank to buy Charter, they would become not only the most heavily indebted non-financial company the world has ever seen, they would in fact be more indebted than most countries.”

To avoid crushing debt scuttling a deal, Citigroup speculated in a report to their investors that Comcast and Altice could partner up to divvy up Charter Communications themselves. The Wall Street bank speculates Comcast would help finance a deal if it meant it would take control of Charter’s customers formerly served by Time Warner Cable. Legacy Charter customers and those formerly served by Bright House would become part of the Altice family.

Such a transaction would likely overcome Malone’s objections over an Altice-only offer leaving him with a large pile of Altice USA stock.

Just as with Time Warner Cable, once a company is seen willing to deal, fervor on Wall Street to make a deal — any deal — can drive companies into transactions they might not otherwise have considered earlier. If Charter is seen as a seller, there will be growing pressure to find a buyer, if only to satiate investors and executives hoping for a windfall and Wall Street banks seeking tens of millions in deal advisory fees.

Cox Introducing $50 Option to Waive Data Caps: The ‘Freedom from Extortion Plan’

As Cox Communications continues to expand its arbitrary data cap program on its broadband customers, the company has announced a ‘cap relief’ option for customers willing to pay $50 more for the same service they enjoyed last year without a data cap.

Company insiders tell DSL Reports Cox will introduce a new $50 option to avoid the data caps and overlimit fees the company began imposing in 2015 starting in its Cleveland, Ohio service area.

On Wednesday, Cox is expected to introduce two add-on options to help avoid the bill shock likely if customers exceed 1TB of usage per month and face the $10 overlimit fee for each 50GB of data consumed:

  • $30 a month for 500GB of extra data;
  • $50 a month to avoid data caps altogether and get back unlimited service.

Cox customers in Cleveland were unimpressed with Cox’s data caps when they were introduced in 2015.

These fees are in addition to whatever Cox customers currently pay for broadband service.

“An overwhelming majority of data is consumed by a very small percentage of internet users,” a memo to employees documenting the changes reads. “The new choices are great options for the small percentage of heavy users who routinely use 1TB+ per month and prefer a flat monthly rate, rather than purchasing additional data blocks. In Cox markets with usage-based billing, the less than two percent of customers who exceed the amount of data included in their plan still have the option of paying $10 for each additional 50GB of data when they need it.”

Such claims raise the same questions Stop the Cap! has always asked since we began fighting data caps in 2008:

If data caps only impact <2% of customers, why impose them at all?

Is the actual revenue earned from overlimit fees worth the expense of introducing usage measurement tools, billing system changes, and the cost of customer dissatisfaction at the prospect of an unexpectedly high bill?

What technical reasons did Cox choose 1TB as its arbitrary usage allowance other than the fact Comcast and other operators chose this level first?

Time Warner Cable executives privately admitted in internal company documents obtained by the New York Attorney General’s office that internet traffic costs represent little more than “a rounding error” in expenses for cable companies. But for most consumers, $30-50 to buy a bigger data allowance is hardly that.

In short, the “solution” Cox has decided on this week comes in response to a problem the company itself created — imposing arbitrary, unwanted data caps and overlimit fees on a product that is already intensely profitable at the prices Cox has charged for years. This internet overcharging scheme is just another way to gouge captive customers that will likely have only one alternative — the phone company and its various flavors of DSL or a U-verse product that cannot compete on speed unless you are lucky enough to live in a fiber-to-the-home service area.

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