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“50 Shades of Grey” Community Broadband Ban Bill Ties the Hands of Missouri Communities

Emery

It’s 2017 and a lot of Missouri residents are still tortured by the lack of access to basic broadband service, and if a community broadband ban bill becomes state law it will remain that way for years to come.

SB 186 is essentially a copy of last year’s community broadband ban that eventually died in the legislature. Just like last year, many of the sponsors and promoters of the latest attempt to impose a municipal broadband ban have close ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and receive copious amounts of money from Missouri’s largest telecom companies. Some even win awards from the state’s biggest telecom lobbyists.

State Sen. Ed Emery (R-Lamar) loves the headlines he attracts from throwing ideological bombs into the public debate (he called homosexuality a mental illness, compared public education to slavery and a pathway to prison, and questioned whether former president Barack Obama was actually an American citizen). But he is not in touch with the rural residents in his state who have had their pleas for broadband service ignored by AT&T and other telecom companies for years.

Emery is a big fan of ALEC and serves as a Missouri state chairman. In 2015 he told an audience at an ALEC event he found the group’s efforts inspiring and helpful. ALEC acts as a giant clearinghouse for corporate-inspired legislation that ends up in the hands of friendly state legislators. ALEC’s model bills, including one banning municipal broadband, win passage in part because state legislatures do not get the kind of media attention and public scrutiny seen in Washington. SB 186, its predecessor, and other similar bills introduced in other states are frequently ghostwritten by telecom company lawyers and lobbyists and are designed to stop municipal broadband networks before they can get started.

Emery’s current bill is designed to apply a “scorched earth” response to communities trying to find ways to get rural broadband service up and running after a decade of being ignored by private telecom companies. It’s corporate protectionism and welfare at its finest, with a thicket of language that would force public providers into price and speed regulation. Emery’s bill would interfere with the types of loan agreements communities could contemplate to provide the service, and the language required for a mandatory referendum is heavily slanted to suggest such service is redundant and unnecessary. Emery’s bill also offers assurances his business friends could get gigabit speeds from community-owned providers, but not necessarily consumers.

Like the failed broadband hit bill introduced in Virginia, SB 186 is an ironic piece of legislation, heavy-handed with regulation and micromanagement and anchored with bureaucratic requirements designed to guarantee disappointment and costly failure. Emery’s career in public life has been spent railing against costly and unnecessary overregulation, yet his bill exemplifies both in action.

SB 186 also protects the status quo for broadband in Missouri, which is dreadful outside of major cities. It would assure incumbent telecom companies won’t face any service-improving competition and keep municipalities off their turf. For example, Columbia Water and Light has a “dark fiber” institutional fiber network at its disposal that is woefully underutilized. In addition to helping provide some connectivity for local government functions, the city-owned network also leases connections to hospitals and other public buildings, as well as some businesses. But the utility does not sell internet service itself.

The city believes much of the fiber network’s capacity is sitting un-utilized and could prove a valuable asset to the local connectivity economy. With the fiber already in place, expanding the network could be a cost-effective/common sense way to reach city residents that want better internet service than what incumbents are offering, and the city is more than willing to open the network up to those incumbents as well. SB 186 could eliminate that option in Missouri, just to protect the same private companies that have delivered underwhelming service for years.

In cities like Centralia, now exploring enhanced smart grid technology to improve the area’s electricity infrastructure, SB 186 would make the upgrade much more costly. Smart grid technology relies on fiber optic technology, often laid deep into neighborhoods and office parks. Only a tiny portion of that capacity is used to monitor utility infrastructure. The rest of the bandwidth on the fiber optic cable — already in place, could easily offer gigabit broadband service to every resident and business, especially if the city wires fiber to or near individual utility meters. That wouldn’t be allowed under SB 186 either, so communities like Centralia could not recoup some of the cost of the fiber optic technology by selling broadband service. That’s great news for companies like AT&T, CenturyLink, and Charter Communications. It’s also a relief for the phone companies who need not invest in their networks to offer something better than 20th century DSL.

Rural America: not a broadband-a-plenty

Emery offers two contradictory defenses for his bill:

  1. It is necessary to protect taxpayers from municipal broadband which Emery calls “unsuccessful, leaving ratepayers to cover debt costs.” But when asked by local media for any examples of a Missouri public broadband project that has failed, he could not.
  2. “We need more private-sector opportunities and not drive them out or hinder offerings coming into a community.”

In other words, Emery believes all public broadband networks are failures -and- they represent a major threat to private telecom companies that will be discouraged from investing in broadband expansion because a publicly owned competitor could be ready to “drive them out.”

Of course, neither is true. In rural Missouri there is no line of eager telecom companies seeking to expand broadband service into unprofitable rural communities and where only one broadband provider exists, there is no pressure to improve service quality or speed. In the first instance, there is no investment by private companies to discourage and in the second, the presence of a new provider encourages upgrades and investment. It’s a concept called “competition.” Sen. Emery would have a difficult time providing the name(s) of telecom companies that exited a community because of the presence of a municipal broadband alternative.

Rural farms are among the least likely places to get adequate internet service.

Sen. Emery’s family has a feed and grain business background, and those businesses (as well as Missouri’s farmers) are among the hardest hit economically by the lack of suitable broadband. But Emery is now far away from the business his father and grandfather ran. These days, he harvests big dollar contributions from some of the country’s largest corporations and much of his last campaign was financed by just two families — one with a vendetta against unions and the other — Rex Sinquefield — bucking to be Missouri’s own version of the Koch Brothers, who has his own private agenda he’d like enacted into law. Sinquefield has close ties to the Grow Missouri PAC, that also has close ties to the Club for Growth, ALEC, and the Koch Brothers’ backed Americans for Prosperity. Birds of a feather flock together.

Missouri’s biggest telecom companies are also generous contributors to Sen. Emery, which isn’t a surprise considering his bill and voting record directly benefits their businesses in the state. That may explain why the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association — the state’s top cable lobbying group — gave Emery its Legislator of the Year award. Not to be outdone, the phone companies’ Missouri Telecommunications Industry Association gave Emery its own Leadership Award. Anyone who can introduce a bill that eliminates the best prospect of competition in suburban and rural Missouri for years is probably worthy of both.

In return for favors like that, some familiar names appear at the top of Emery’s list of campaign contributors:

  • AT&T ($6,000)
  • Comcast ($4,000)
  • Verizon Communications ($4,000)
  • CenturyLink ($3,500)
  • Charter ($2,000)
  • Time Warner Cable ($1,500)
  • Charter Communications ($1,325)
  • Sprint ($1,000)

Emery clearly listens to their interests more than average Missouri consumers still searching for broadband service.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last summer that there are significant gaps in broadband coverage even in St. Louis County, where one million residents live. “Fringe suburban spots” too costly to meet Return On Investment requirements guarantee no service, indefinitely. In St. Clair County, 5,000 homes are without broadband for the same reason. In large parts of the state, what constitutes broadband no longer meets that definition — 25Mbps, as established by the FCC. Every telephone ratepayer pays a “universal service fee” on their phone bill, in part to extend broadband into rural areas. But that extension has been spotty because not every phone company accepts the money and the conditions that come with it to broaden their reach. That leaves many rural Missourians with <1Mbps DSL service. That’s the case in Wildwood, where streaming media is out of the question because internet speeds are too low.

The Broadband Berlin Wall: Wildwood, Mo. — Broadband service is easily available to the east of Highway 109. But to the west, service is spotty to non-existent.

Wildwood — in western St. Louis County, is living in “Third World conditions,” even though “we’re not in rural Timbuktu,” according to resident Marilyn Gilbert. It’s also comparable to Cold War-era Berlin, except in reverse. Eastern Wildwood offers residents broadband options from both Charter and AT&T. But the Broadband Berlin Wall dividing the community — Highway 109, separates the broadband haves’ from the have-nots’. The larger part of Wildwood to the west, now growing with new housing and businesses, is a broadband swamp with few, if any choices for local residents.

Gilbert “enjoys” AT&T DSL and speeds that never come close to 1Mbps. It is her only option.

“I tried to download my Windows update and it timed out,” she said. “The amount of time you waste waiting for things to open up or download!”

Remember, this is in St. Louis County, the old home for the headquarters of Charter Communications, which dominates the city of St. Louis.

Despite earning billions every year from the broadband business, Charter has refused to extend its lines of service into the western half of Wildwood, despite efforts to attract the company that date back six years. Residents report broadband availability is among their top concerns taken to local officials, who have in turn sought help from Charter, AT&T, and the state legislature.

The city of Wildwood’s efforts were met with a demand by Charter to pay the cable company $3 million in taxpayer funds to extend service. The city said no.

“The comment we hear constantly is that kids need high-speed (internet) in order to access their school work,” said Wildwood councilman Larry McGowen. “These days, internet is just like another utility. It has become every bit as important in people’s lives as electricity.”

But it apparently is not important enough to allow Wildwood and other communities the option of constructing their own local broadband solutions for residents if Emery’s bill becomes law.

Ironically, the same companies that refuse to extend their service into rural Missouri are also vehemently opposed to letting local governments do it in their absence.

The stalemate has caused some residents to sell their homes and move, just to get internet access. David Norell left town because he couldn’t survive with satellite internet service, which costs $80 a month and offers spotty service with a low data allowance.

That makes Emery’s bill, and others like it, a travesty. Banning local communities from doing the job large for-profit companies won’t seems nothing short of corporate protectionism. After all, as critics of Emery’s bill charge, how can a local government unfairly compete with a company that doesn’t compete at all? Also of concern is the fact those residents that do get token DSL service from AT&T may be trapped using it forever if Emery’s bill keeps better and faster service from co-ops and other public broadband options off the table.

If it seems like Sen. Emery is putting the interests of big telecom companies – many dues-paying members of ALEC – above those of his constituents, perhaps he is. Consider the fact Emery is a state chairman at ALEC, an organization that included this loyalty pledge in its draft state chair agreement:

I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization (ALEC) first.

Emery has taken heat for his ongoing love affair with ALEC before, including an ethics complaint about a $3,000 meal at the Dallas Chop House where Emery ate. ALEC’s corporate members picked up the tab. That kind of unethical conflict of interest, along with the aforementioned loyalty pledge, infuriated the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Mr. Emery and his ilk can believe what they want, but they should play no part in allowing corporations to hide their agendas, and their lobbying expenses, by pretending to be something they are not. The proof is in ALEC’s actions, which as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank outlined, hid itself behind closed doors in a meeting last week in the nation’s capital, pushing reporters away while claiming they had nothing to hide.

No, ALEC exists solely to hide. To hide money. To hide agendas. To hide its hijacking of democracy.

Lawmakers who care about the constitution and their commitment to voters should be fleeing faster than the corporations who realize ALEC is simply a bad investment.

Emery at a 2015 ALEC event.

It was not an isolated incident. Ed and his wife Rebecca Emery also enjoyed a $141.10 meal paid for by the Missouri Telecommunications Association. It’s safe to assume nobody had just a small salad. Other meals and drinks were courtesy of AT&T and CenturyLink. (Peabody Energy footed the bill for the Emerys’ taxi rides back and forth.)

When the wining and dining ended, the lobbyists were back with campaign contribution checks in hand.

These kinds of municipal broadband bans are toxic to economic development for rural communities that already face built-in economic and infrastructure disadvantages. The 21st century digital knowledge economy has the potential to make rural America equally competitive, assuming there is adequate infrastructure in place to participate.

Relying on private investment alone can work in urban areas where broadband profits are easy because the essential infrastructure to provide the service was constructed and paid for decades ago, originally to deliver telephone and television service. Rural areas suffer from deteriorated wireline infrastructure some phone companies want to abandon altogether and no cable broadband service at all.

Charter and AT&T first answer to shareholders. Local governments answer to their residents. Legislators are supposed to do the same. For Mr. Emery, loyalty to the interests of ALEC and the state’s telecommunications companies seems clear. It’s too bad his bill suggests a lot less loyalty to the voters in his district that need internet access or better broadband are will assuredly not get it if this bill ever becomes state law.

Wall Street Panic Attack: Verizon’s Unlimited Plan Will Destroy Profits, Network Reliability

Verizon Wireless’ new unlimited data plan threatens to destroy everything, fear Wall Street analysts in an open panic attack over the prospects of value destruction and network reliability damage.

“An unlimited offer is dangerous,” Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics LLC, told Bloomberg News. “If they sign up a lot of people, it will congest the network, and they run the risk of people saying ‘the network sucks’.”

The return of unlimited data at Verizon (with a protective right to throttle customer speeds after they consume 22GB of data during the month) seems to have triggered anxiety on Wall Street because Verizon was the most adamant about never offering unlimited plans again after dropping them in July, 2011. Part of that fear may have come from Verizon’s own former chief financial officer Fran Shammo who warned investors last fall:

“The majority of people don’t need unlimited plans. But the people who use unlimited plans can be abusive, they can really wreak havoc to your network. And at the end of the day, I continue to say you cannot make money in an unlimited video world. You just can’t do it because you need to generate the cash flow to keep up with your demand.”

What also concerns Wall Street is the increasing evidence an all-out price war provoked by T-Mobile and Sprint will threaten to close some doors on network monetization. Charging customers for data consumption has a growth prospect that would have guaranteed increasing average revenue per customer indefinitely. But unlimited plans mean consumers pay one flat price for data no matter how much they consume. Consumers love it. Wall Street analysts generally don’t.

Other analysts are concerned that Verizon, deemed the Cadillac Network because of its premium price and reputation, also happens to have the least amount of deployed wireless spectrum of all the four national carriers. As the nation’s largest carrier with 114 million users, a big spike in data consumption could affect Verizon’s network performance, some speculate.

Unlimited data plans promote usage and total wireless traffic is expected to grow between 70-80% annually, up from 50-60% under today’s tiered data plans, according to wireless analyst Chetan Sharma.

In response Verizon has rushed out executives to reassure Wall Street and investors Verizon’s network was built to take it.

“Our goal is to always offer a better performance, and I see a path to that,” Mike Haberman, Verizon’s vice president of network support, said in an interview with Bloomberg:

“Spectrum is only one element of a network,” he added. “How you put the network together is far more important.” In advance of its decision to start selling an unlimited data package, Verizon was busy with upgrades. The company just boosted network capacity by 50 percent with new systems that take separate radio frequencies and combine them into one large pathway, Haberman said. The company has also been adding more cell sites and transmitters in cities and connecting those sites with high-capacity fiber-optic lines.

CNBC reported Verizon’s new unlimited data plan is a “sign of weakness” for Verizon, which is facing challenges to its core wireless business. (4:30)

Sprint a Pawn in Masayoshi Son’s U.S. Investment Scheme

President Trump met with Softbank’s Masayoshi Son in December, 2016.

Japan’s Softbank has a deal tailor-made for President Donald Trump’s desire to inspire companies to invest more in the United States and hire more workers, and all the president has to do is get Washington regulators concerned with mergers, acquisitions, and competition out of Softbank’s way.

Softbank’s Masayoshi Son has delivered a lot of speeches and made a lot of promises since acquiring Sprint in 2013 for $21.6 billion, originally promising to rebuild the struggling wireless company into a potential competitive juggernaut, capable of beating Verizon and AT&T and even take on cable operators. Now he’s offering to invest another $50 billion in the U.S., and create 50,000 new jobs, assuming the business climate is right.

Before accepting such a deal, one should take a closer look at how Sprint is doing three years under Softbank’s ownership. Few would argue with the fact Sprint has languished and fallen to last place among the four national carriers, now behind T-Mobile. Despite Son’s commitment to Donald Trump to invest and hire, Sprint has severely cut investment by more than 60% between 2014 and 2016 and has laid off more than 4,000 employees, most in the United States. Customers continue to complain about the perpetual ‘massive upgrade’ undertaking the company embarked on years ago that never seems to be finished and hasn’t helped service quality as much as customers expected.

In January 2016, BusinessWeek reported SoftBank has “plowed more than $22 billion into Sprint, and yet all of Sprint is now valued at $11.8 billion. The company’s $2.2 billion in cash is about the same as its 2016 debt obligations.”

Ten years earlier, Sprint was worth $69 billion and was prepared to dominate the U.S. wireless industry, but drove customers off with very poor customer service and inadequate investment in its network, allowing competitors like AT&T and Verizon Wireless to leap ahead. Sprint also embarked on an executive-inspired fantasy: a disastrous merger with Nextel that preoccupied the company for years. Softbank taking the lead has done little to change customer perceptions, nor those of some Wall Street analysts who fear Sprint is a bottomless money pit that always promises better times and profits are coming, but never seems to get there.

“You’ve watched a once-great institution deteriorate to the point that it is now a badly, badly compromised asset,” said Craig Moffett, an analyst at MoffettNathanson. “They’ve been living from hand-to-mouth for years, constantly making short-term decisions in order to live to fight another day.”

It calls into question Softbank’s vision to use technology “to reduce loneliness and ease the sadness of people as much as possible.” There are a lot of sad Sprint customers, churning away into the arms of competitors like T-Mobile faster than Sprint can sign new customers up.

Son’s dream depended on his business plan that reduced the number of U.S. competitors to three by merging Sprint and T-Mobile together, something federal regulators under the Obama Administration failed to accept despite Son’s argument the combined resources of the two companies would theoretically make a super-sized Sprint more competitive with AT&T and Verizon.

In contrast to Son’s plan to consolidate the wireless industry to improve Sprint’s financial health, T-Mobile instead decided to boost investments in network upgrades and improved coverage to attract new customers. Ironically, some of the money to pay for those upgrades came from AT&T after it paid a reverse breakup fee of $3 billion in cash and $1–3 billion in wireless spectrum after its merger proposal with T-Mobile collapsed.

While Son promises he will invest billions in the United States, he is already spending much less on Sprint. In 2017, Verizon planned to spend $9.12 per subscriber (adjusted spending per monthly phone-equivalent subscriber), AT&T will spend $9.67 and T-Mobile will spend $9.04. Sprint will lag behind with $6.78 per subscriber in network investments. Moffett predicted of the $22 billion Verizon has committed for capital spending this year, about $11.3 billion will go toward wireless. By contrast, Sprint will spend $2.97 billion, excluding costs of leased phones. T-Mobile is spending just over $5 billion.

In the last two years, customers have delivered a new paradigm to wireless companies: bigger isn’t necessarily better. The only bright spot among all four national carriers in 2016 was the scrappy T-Mobile, once destined for a fire sale by owner Deutsche Telekom. But under the “Uncarrier” leadership of CEO John Legere, T-Mobile USA is worth pure gold in Deutsche Telekom’s global wireless portfolio. The turnaround came not from trying to consolidate the industry but rather giving customers what they have asked for — more data, unlimited data, better deals, and better service. T-Mobile’s network investments paid off, giving the company very competitive 4G LTE speeds and comparable urban and suburban coverage to its larger competitors. Legere has been so successful, the German owners of T-Mobile no longer seem to be interested in selling T-Mobile USA.

Softbank’s record of achievement with Sprint in the last two years has been much less of a success story.

Customer Gains and Losses by Carrier – 2016-Q4 Phone Activators

Investments by Sprint in its wireless network have plummeted 62.7% under the leadership of Softbank from 2014-2016. (Chart: Hal Singer)

In 2015, Sprint’s capex was $3.958 billion. Last year, it was $1.421 billion — less than half the previous year. Mr. Son seems reticent about maintaining the kind of investment necessary to grow Sprint’s network over the long term to keep up with customer demand, instead willing to compete short term on price and promotions. Sprint’s past reputation for poor customer service, a slow data network, dropped calls, and coverage dead zones makes attracting former customers back to Sprint a hard sell, especially considering T-Mobile exists as a credible alternative to Sprint for those seeking cheaper service plans.

Son’s argument to the new administration depends on President Trump and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai being more friendly to the idea of less competition than the Obama Administration. Son may have an uphill battle, considering the former Obama Administration’s opposition to earlier mergers, including T-Mobile and AT&T and T-Mobile and Sprint seems to have paid off for consumers in the form of today’s fiercer competition and a price war.

Convincing President Trump to loosen merger standards to allow Softbank a stronger position in the U.S. market in return for vague and illusory investment and job creation promises is ridiculous considering Mr. Son’s performance with Sprint has not been as rosy as his rhetoric. No president should agree to a de facto bailout deal for Softbank that reduces competition and guarantees higher prices. Mr. Son should instead direct some of the $50 billion he apparently has stashed in waiting to improve Sprint’s network to more effectively compete. If he cannot or will not, the entire country should not pay for his investment mistake by watching more wireless competition get eliminated in yet another merger.

YouTube TV An Epic Fail Before It Even Launches: Bad Value, Ad-Littered DVR

Google’s forthcoming online TV streaming service will cost too much for too little and includes a cloud-based DVR that will replace many of your recordings with unskippable-ad-laced alternatives.

YouTube TV was previewed for reporters Tuesday, despite the fact it won’t debut until late spring or early summer, with a lineup of 40 channels for $35 a month. The “skinny bundle” from Google has managed to put together a very incomplete lineup of major cable networks and for most of the country, on-demand-only access of network shows about a day after they air.

YouTube TV Tentative Lineup

  • Disney: ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN31, ESPNU, ESPNews, SEC Network, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform
  • NBCUniversal: NBC, Telemundo, Bravo, Chiller, CNBC, E!, Golf Channel, MSNBC, NBC Universo2, NBCSN, Oxygen, Sprout, SyFy, Universal HD, USA. In some regions: Comcast Regional Sports Networks, NECN (New England Cable News)
  • CBS: CBS, The CW, CBS Sports Network
  • Fox: FOX, FS1 (Fox Sports 1), FS2 (Fox Sports 2), BTN (Big Ten Network), FX, FXX, FXM, Nat Geo, Nat Geo Wild, Fox News, Fox Business. In some regions: Fox Regional Sports Networks
  • The Weather Channel: Local Now (rolling weather forecasts)
  • YouTube TV members can also add Showtime for $11 a month and Fox Soccer Plus for $15 a month.
  • Availability of local TV/live network streaming limited to residents of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Prospective customers will have to tough it out with no access to AMC, HBO, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV/VH1, CNN, Cartoon Network, Discovery, TBS, TNT, PBS, Food Network, and HGTV among many other missing networks.

One potentially interesting feature – an unlimited cloud-based DVR service, is rendered almost unusable with the imposition of prioritized video-on-demand. In short, this means that once a video-on-demand version of the show you recorded on your DVR becomes available, you can no longer access your recording. Your only option is to watch the ad-heavy, on-demand version with advertising you cannot skip. In most cases, that will give customers about 12-24 hours to watch their DVR recordings before they become inaccessible, at least until the on-demand version is removed.

Wojcicki

That’s a challenging proposition when consumers have other choices including AT&T’s DirecTV Now, Sling TV, and PlayStation Vue. The premise of YouTube TV, like many others, is to appeal to cord cutters and cable-nevers — especially millennials.

“There’s no question millennials love great TV content,” said YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki. “But what we’ve seen is they don’t want to watch it in the traditional setting.”

What Wojcicki ignores is the fact millennials prefer to watch their shows on-demand. Relying on live television as the primary source of scripted television shows is already inconvenient and unnecessary. The viewing experience is increasingly an individual one, catering to the whims of a single viewer watching on a tablet, smartphone, or connected TV. Of all the websites on the internet, YouTube should already understand the trend towards individualized viewing better than most.

Just as important, YouTube TV is a lousy deal. Hulu subscribers can binge watch all the series they want with no ads for $11.99 a month. YouTube TV will charge nearly three times the price and force customers to sit through up to 18 minutes of ads an hour. Hulu doesn’t require customers to use Google’s Chromecast as the only stream-to-TV option either. A premium YouTube Red subscription also won’t get you a better deal or fewer ads. You may already pay to watch YouTube commercial free but now you will pay more to watch YouTube TV filled with ads.

Analyst Michael Nathanson said Google’s real goal here is to get into the television advertising market. Because customers will be held captive by a disabled fast-forward button, they will see Google-targeted ads playing in ad slots normally reserved for use by local cable operators. Getting a lot of people to watch those ads means YouTube TV will at least be generous about something. A subscription will include access for six accounts with separate login information, but only three users can watch simultaneously, if they bother.

T-Mobile Literally Giving Away Free Line of Service in Price War Bonanza

T-Mobile continues to raise the stakes against AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint with another improbable promotion that literally gives away an extra line of service for free.

“Today, I’m thanking customers by giving them one of the things they want the most – a way to connect more of their family or more of their devices all the time,” said John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile.  “That’s why we’re giving customers a free line to use any way they choose!”

The press release offers customers a variety of options:

Current T-Mobile customers with at least two voice lines can use that extra line however they want. Get an extra line of unlimited T-Mobile ONE. Or if you have Simple Choice, you’ll get an extra Simple Choice line with your same data plan. Or use your free line for a new tablet or smartwatch. Or turn your car into a 4G LTE hotspot and a lot more with SyncUp Drive. It’s your call!

The “2 Unlimited Lines for $100 All In” promotion that began this morning offers new or current customers a chance to score a free extra line of service (after bill credits). The discount continues indefinitely and is also good for customers with more than two lines on their T-Mobile account. Here are the details:

  • How do I get the free add a line promotion?
    • Starting March 1st, for a limited time only, anyone activating 2 unlimited lines on T-Mobile ONE, and existing customers with at least 2 voice lines on T-Mobile ONE or Simple Choice can get 1 additional line for FREE after bill credit.
    • All free lines must be activated during the promotional period and you can keep the promotional pricing as long as you maintain qualifying service and line count. Customers may take advantage of this offer in addition to other offers and promotions, including 2/$100 and Carrier Freedom.
  • Who’s eligible for this promotion?
    • New customers, current customers and employees are eligible to receive this offer as long as they are on a qualifying rate plan, have two paid voice lines, and an account in good standing.
    • Customers with one voice line will need to migrate to T-Mobile ONE and add a second paid voice line to qualify for the FREE Line. Qualifying new and existing @Work customers may add one additional qualifying line on us for a max of 12 lines total.
  • How does the offer work?
    • The free line will match your current paid voice line data, i.e. T-Mobile ONE customers will receive a FREE T-Mobile ONE line and similarly, Simple Choice customers will receive a FREE Simple Choice line.
    • If your lines have varying amounts of data, the free line will match the line with the least amount of data. Existing customers with two paid voice lines get a free line whether you’re adding a smartphone line, tablet line or wearable.
    • In most cases, you will see your free line credit on your first bill. If credit is not applied on the first bill, two credits will appear on the second bill.
    • For customer’s not on the new T-Mobile ONE taxes and fees included plan, taxes/fees may be applied to pre-bill credit price. A maximum of 1 free line can be added per account.
    • If you cancel service on one of your lines within 12 months or migrate to another plan, you will lose the monthly bill credit for the free line.
  • Where is this offer available?
    • Anywhere that T-Mobile offers new lines of service, including T-Mobile retail stores nationwide, and authorized postpaid dealers.

Legere

For most customers, signing up with a T-Mobile ONE plan with unlimited phone, texting, and data will offer the best value and simplify the promotion by matching the same kinds of service on all three (or more) lines. This also guarantees your new line will cost absolutely nothing because T-Mobile ONE bundles all taxes and fees into the cost of service, which in this case is free. On similar promotions at other carriers, customers are on the hook for up to $10 a month in taxes, fees, and various surcharges on that “free” line.

You can bring a device to this plan or buy one from T-Mobile. A new SIM card is required, and T-Mobile charges an outrageous $25 to get one through their website or in stores. But many customers report if you call T-Mobile customer service from a T-Mobile phone on 611, a discounted SIM card for 99 cents is usually available if you ask.

T-Mobile has not put an expiration date on the offer. Judging from customer buzz, there is considerably interest in this offer and a lot of disbelief it comes free of charge.

T-Mobile acknowledges there are some billing issues going on at the wireless carrier as it continues to add customers. At present, customers will see a charge for the service followed by a bill credit, which may take up to two bill cycles to appear (but is retroactive back to your signup date.). It appears T-Mobile bills customers for the free line of service several days before a corresponding credit is issued, which has confused some customers being billed for a service and credited for it on the following month’s invoice. But many on autopay say T-Mobile actually deducts the correct amount (with the credit applied) no matter what the bill indicates. Customer service is also on hand to issue on the spot credits for concerned customers, and T-Mobile claims it is working through this billing issue and should have it resolved.

To take advantage of this offer, customers must not have canceled a line after Jan. 1, 2017. T-Mobile wants this offer to encourage customers to add lines, not convert existing lines from one plan to another.

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  • Disagree with McCarthy: I was an employee of a real Telco corporation and my state was sold to Frontier. There is no training for employees. We have to teach ourselves and ...
  • Smith6612: Compared to Time Warner Cable, some people may actually be saving $10 here if they use the Rental Gateway. In my market, TWC would charge $10 for the ...
  • phychic99: Surely you jest on the Secure Connection Fee :) If not I just spit out my coffee......
  • Lee: I have Frontier and my lines going back to the dslam are all underground. I doubt they would go back to hanging new lines on the electric poles, and t...
  • Somewhat Perplexed: "Frontier CEO Blames Employees" I didn't see anything supporting that, anywhere in the article. Implying that's the case because bonuses were cut i...
  • Elbert Davis: Armstrong Cable pulls a similar scam,calling their router rental fee "Zoomshare." At least Charter allows you to use your own modem. Armstrong only ...
  • Newer Employee: Frontier is a joke but I'm getting $20 an hour to sit on Reddit while turning off people's internet. The training is almost non-existent and we aren'...
  • Upset employee: Wow it hurts to see that you blame the employees for the downfall we are the ones sitting there and having to explain and fix the customers service. D...
  • Josh: I'm on "Performance Plus" in Illinois...25Mb/s. Will be interesting to see if it goes up......

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