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Altice Dismisses Wireless Broadband as Inadequate, “There is No Substitute” for Wired

Goei

While Wall Street and the tech media seems excited about the prospect of 5G and other fixed wireless home broadband services, Altice, which owns Cablevision and Suddenlink, dismissed wireless broadband as inadequate to meet rapidly growing broadband usage.

“In terms of usage patterns, our customers are taking an average download speed of 162 Mbps as of the second quarter of 2018, which is up 74% year-over-year,” Dexter Goei, CEO of Altice USA told investors on a recent conference call. “[Our customers now use] over 220 GB of data per month, which is up 20% year-over-year, with 10 in-home connected devices, on average. If you take the top 10% of our highest data consuming customers as a leading indicator, they are using, on average, almost 1 terabyte of data per month with 26 in-home connected devices. To support these usage patterns, which are mainly driven by video streaming and the proliferation of new over-the-top [streaming] services, it requires a high quality fixed network like ours. There is no substitute.”

Goei argued America’s wireless carriers are not positioned to offer a credible, serious home broadband alternative.

“For example, so-called unlimited data plans from the U.S. mobile operators start capping or significantly throttling customers at 20 GB of usage per month,” Goei said. “Over 60% of our customers are now using over 100 GB of data per month right now, which the mobile operators do not and will not have the capacity to match on a scaled basis unless they overbuild with a new dense fiber network.”

Altice just so happens to be building a dense fiber network, scrapping Cablevision’s remaining coaxial cable in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut in favor of a fiber-to-the-home network that will eventually reach all of its customers.

TDS Wins 54% Market Share After Upgrading Customers to Fiber Service

Phone companies can beat their cable competitors, but only if they invest in fiber upgrades that can deliver as-advertised broadband service and speed.

TDS Telecom, an independent phone company based in Chicago, has reported good results from the $60 million in fiber upgrades it has committed to complete in 2018.

TDS has been overbuilding beyond its existing telephone service areas to deliver broadband, phone, and television service to communities evaluated as:

  • Having a good demographic mix of upper middle class residents;
  • Experiencing population growth;
  • Underserved by incumbent phone/cable companies;
  • Offers good population density where homes and business are close enough to each other to warrant the expense of wiring each for fiber service.

TDS chief financial officer Vicki Villacrez made her case with investors to think positively about investments in fiber, reporting one TDS market garnered a 54% market share in broadband and took 33% of the market share for video after fiber service arrived.

TDS, unlike many other independent phone companies, is not avoiding investments in delivering faster broadband speed to customers. TDS typically reinvests 75% of its revenue in network upgrades and returns the other 25% to shareholders. Outside of its landline service areas, TDS has also acquired cable companies to provide service to customers, offering gigabit speeds in many areas.

In rural areas, the company is combining federal Connect America Funds with its own money to deploy bonded DSL service in areas too unprofitable to serve with fiber. This typically delivers faster internet service than rural broadband rollouts from other phone companies like Windstream and Frontier.

TDS is often the third provider in its overbuilt markets, a fact that is usually not well-received by investors because it can constrain market share and potential profits. TDS chooses its overbuild markets where incumbents have chronically underinvested in their networks, and the result is “pent-up demand” by customers, according to Villacrez. TDS’ market share is typically higher in their markets than other overbuilders.

Villacrez routinely tells investors the company’s success largely depends on fiber upgrades. About 24 percent of TDS Telecom’s local landline service area now has fiber to the home service, and the company is aggressively cutting the number of customers still served by slow traditional ADSL service.

Tribune Media Ends Merger Deal, Sues Sinclair for $1 Billion for Scamming Regulators

Tribune Media walked away from its $3.9 billion dollar merger agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group this morning, and announced it would sue Sinclair for $1 billion for its conduct trying to get the deal approved, including withholding information and deceiving regulators.

The merger deal was controversial from the moment it was announced, pairing up Sinclair’s 192 stations with Tribune’s 42 TV stations in 33 markets, including well-known stations like WGN in Chicago and WPIX in New York. Sinclair was already the nation’s top TV station owner, and to acquire more stations, Sinclair would have to get TV ownership limits eased, something coincidentally provided by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who suddenly announced an interest in bringing back a “discount” on ownership caps for stations broadcasting on the UHF band. That policy was dropped after the country moved to digital over-the-air broadcasting, which negated the perception that UHF channels were less desirable and held lower value than lower VHF channels because of reception quality.

Sinclair’s Long History of Partisan Politics

Sinclair, unlike other TV station owners, also has a long history of being active in partisan politics, airing programming in favor of conservatives and openly advocating for the agendas of the Bush and Trump Administrations. Its long-standing policy to require its stations to air corporate-produced news segments and commentaries during local newscasts has irritated local newsrooms for years, but as the number of Sinclair-owned stations has grown, the practice was eventually exposed with a viral video depicting an uncomfortable collection of anchors from dozens of Sinclair stations decrying “fake news.”

In 2016, Sinclair aired 1,723 stories about the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Utah on 64 of its stations. Most were designed to look like one or two minute news stories, although Sinclair also produced a 30-minute show about the facility. What viewers were never told is that the stories were paid for by the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. In December, the FCC fined Sinclair a record-breaking $13.3 million for failing to disclose the story’s sponsor. The Democratic minority on the Commission called that a slap on the wrist and wanted the maximum fine of $82 million levied on Sinclair for its egregious and flagrant violation of FCC rules.

Sinclair’s past run-ins and controversies guaranteed its merger deal with Tribune would receive special scrutiny. The documents attached to the lawsuit filed this morning reveal Tribune got quickly upset with Sinclair’s hardball lobbying, accusing Sinclair of brazenly flouting the FCC’s rules and setting up the merger for failure.

In the end, even Sinclair’s apparent ally Ajit Pai distanced himself from the TV station owner in July, suddenly advocating the merger deal be forwarded to an administrative law judge for review, a sure sign the merger was in serious trouble with regulators.

Tribune Takes Sinclair to Court

This morning, Tribune officially pulled the plug on the merger.

“Our merger cannot be completed within an acceptable time frame, if ever,” Tribune Media chief executive Peter Kern said in a statement. “This uncertainty and delay would be detrimental to our company and our shareholders. Accordingly, we have exercised our right to terminate the merger agreement, and, by way of our lawsuit, intend to hold Sinclair accountable.”

That accountability will come in the form of its lawsuit that includes revealing documents about Sinclair’s behavior during the merger process, which includes allegations Sinclair recklessly withheld information and deceived the FCC and Justice Department about the transaction. If true, that could threaten Sinclair’s fitness to hold FCC licenses for its TV stations.

“From virtually the moment the Merger Agreement was signed, Sinclair repeatedly and willfully breached its contractual obligations in spectacular fashion,” Tribune said in its lawsuit. “In an effort to maintain control over stations it was obligated to sell if advisable to obtain regulatory clearance, Sinclair engaged in belligerent and unnecessarily protracted negotiations with DOJ and the FCC over regulatory requirements, refused to sell stations in the ten specified markets required to obtain approval, and proposed aggressive divestment structures and related-party sales that were either rejected outright or posed a high risk of rejection and delay – all in the service of Sinclair’s self-interest and in derogation of its contractual obligations.”

Tribune claims Sinclair only favored its own financial interests, not the obligations it had to Tribune to get the merger deal approved as quickly as possible. Tribune also accused Sinclair of threatening, insulting, and misleading regulators to keep control over stations it was obligated to sell.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group has come under fire following the spread of a video showing anchors at its stations across the United States reading a script criticizing “fake” news stories. (8:03)

“Sue me.”

Tribune’s executives gradually became more alarmed the more Sinclair negotiated with regulators, claiming Sinclair antagonized officials at the Justice Department. Tribune notes the assistant attorney general of the antitrust division got an earful from Sinclair, lecturing the official that he “completely misunderstand[ood]” the broadcast industry and was “more regulatory” than any recent predecessor.

When Sinclair was cornered by the Department of Justice over demands for station divestitures, the company summarized its position in two words: “sue me.”

Tribune pointed out the Justice Department was prepared to accept the merger with the appropriate stations being sold to new owners, but Sinclair balked. After a series of schemes were suggested to partly divest the stations, Tribune saw the protracted negotiations as unnecessary and imprudent. The agendas of both companies were radically different. Tribune wanted Sinclair to do whatever the FCC and Justice Department insisted be done, to get the deal done quickly. Sinclair wanted the deal and a way to maintain control, even indirectly, over almost every station involved in the deal. Tribune began threatening to sue Sinclair if it did not agree to the Justice Department’s terms.

Tribune’s growing unease with Sinclair’s behavior culminated in this email exchange between Tribune and Sinclair executives in late December, 2017.

Sinclair finally relented in February, 2018, but only partially. Exasperated Tribune executives were stunned as Sinclair now proposed to sell stations to third parties that maintained “significant ties to Sinclair’s executive chairman,” David Smith, or his family.

“Sinclair would effectively control all aspects of station operations, including advertising sales and negotiation of retransmission agreements with cable and satellite operators,” Tribune said in its lawsuit. “Under these proposed arrangements, Sinclair would continue to reap the lion’s share of the economic benefits of the stations it was purportedly ‘divesting’ and would have an option to repurchase the stations in the future.”

“Sinclair fought, threatened, insulted, and misled regulators in a misguided and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to retain control over stations that it was obligated to sell,” the lawsuit concludes.

The country’s largest owner of local TV stations, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which reaches over a third of homes across the nation, wanted to get even bigger by merging with the Tribune Media Company. Sinclair is raising concerns among media watchers because of its practice of combining news with partisan political opinion. William Brangham reports for PBS Newshour. (8:58)

beGONE Sports: Comcast Boots beIN Sports from Lineup in Contract Renewal Dispute

Comcast has dropped sports network beIN Sports off the lineup after its contract with the cable company expired July 31.

Customers who tune to the channel will find a series of rotating on-screen messages explaining the network was switched off because the renewal price was too high:

Have you heard about a disagreement between beIn Sports and Comcast?

Every month Comcast has to pay networks to bring their programming to you. That’s right, we pay the network. Not the other way around.

Now beIN sports is asking for a major increase in fees for the channel you already have, which could have a big impact on your bill.

beIN Sports won’t allow Comcast to carry its channels until this is resolved.

beIN Media Group, a spinoff of Al Jazeera Media Network, owns the network and has already filed a complaint against Comcast for violation of the deal conditions imposed by the FCC after approving the merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal. The complaint alleges Comcast is giving preferential treatment to its own sports networks, a violation of program carriage rules. That complaint remains pending.

“We are deeply disappointed that despite our best efforts over the last year to resolve the situation, millions of Comcast XFINITY subscribers have lost access to the content they love. We are happy to extend existing terms while we continue to negotiate, but unfortunately Comcast would rather continue to charge the same while taking away valuable and loved content from customers,” said Antonio Briceño, beIN Sports’ deputy managing director for the U.S. and Canada. “The truth is, we face a disheartening trend of media consolidation, where the big get bigger and innovative brands like ours that serve diverse audiences get pushed-out. This is almost always to the detriment of consumers who end up paying the price. We hope it stops now.”

C-Spire Introduces Unlimited 120 Mbps Fixed Wireless for $50/Month in Mississippi

For residents of 10 Mississippi communities, an alternative broadband option is now available delivering up to 120/50 Mbps speed with no data caps or throttling for a flat $50 a month, taxes and fees included.

C Spire 5G Internet” is as described, except it doesn’t use the official 5G standard and will require the installation of a “dinner plate”-sized antenna on one’s home to get the service.

C Spire is using an 802.11 variant with equipment developed by Mimosa and Siklu, leveraging C Spire’s existing 8,400 route miles of fiber infrastructure to extend service wirelessly to each customer without the cost of wiring a fiber optic cable to the home.

Siklu’s EtherHaul products work in conjunction with its point-to-point and point-to-multipoint radios that operate in the 60 and 70-80 GHz millimeter wave bands. Because of the vast amount of spectrum available on these uncongested frequencies, C Spire can provide connections up to 10 Gbps from each small cell site.

C Spire is using Siklu’s EH-600 mmWave backhaul equipment for its fixed wireless internet service in Mississippi.

Mimosa supplies short-range MicroPoP architectures and in limited tower deployments including Mimosa A5 and A5c access devices, Mimosa C5 client devices, and Mimosa N5-360 beamforming antennas.

“Our service is backhauled by Siklu’s carrier grade solutions enabling us to deliver high-speed internet access without the arbitrary data caps usually associated with LTE or satellite services,” said C Spire president Stephen Bye.  “With a flat rate of $50 a month, which includes taxes and fees, our customers can now easily get all of the content they want and need.”

C Spire said it is quickly working to introduce the service in “dozens” of markets in Mississippi, in addition to its earlier plans to offer fixed wireless to over 90,000 locations across its service area. The “5G” fixed wireless service being introduced in Mississippi is not the same as C Spire’s earlier fixed wireless initiative.

Customers report wireless speeds are within a reasonable range of what is advertised, but antenna placement can be critical to get the best speed. It isn’t known how many customers are currently sharing each small cell site, and C Spire has protected itself with a contract clause allowing it to begin data caps, usage based billing, or targeted suspensions for customers deemed to be consuming too much data if network congestion becomes a problem.

Mississippi is broadband-challenged because many of its rural locations are populated with some of the country’s poorest citizens. AT&T, the state’s largest phone company, has shown little interest expanding fiber into many of these areas, especially in northern Mississippi, and the state’s cable companies include Cable One, notorious for being expensive and data-capped. As a result, the state is ranked 49th out of 50 for broadband availability.

C Spire is a regional mobile provider — the sixth largest in the country — and directly provides its own cell service in Memphis, Tenn., Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle.

C Spire introduces 120 Mbps fixed wireless internet access for a flat $50 a month in Mississippi. No data caps or throttling. This company produced video introduces the service. (1:23)

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