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German ISP Proposes Joint Project to Build Nationwide Fiber to the Home Network

Phillip Dampier March 13, 2018 Broadband Speed, Competition, Public Policy & Gov't 2 Comments


The billionaire founder of United Internet, a Frankfurt based ISP with a 14% market share of Germany’s broadband market, has proposed the creation of a new jointly owned company to construct a nationwide fiber-to-the-home broadband network to improve German connectivity.

Ralph Dommermuth said German telecom leader Deutsche Telekom must be a decisive member of the alliance in a country where only 2.5% of homes are connected to fiber optic broadband. Dommermuth complained that the new government formed by Chancellor Angela Merkel only pledged €10-12 billion over the current parliamentary session to create what she calls a “Gigabit Society” by 2025. He believes that amount is completely inadequate.

In an interview with newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Dommermuth said Merkel’s government would contribute only a small fraction of the €80 billion he estimates is needed to wire up to 70% of the country with fiber optics.

German companies have already warned Germany’s economy was at risk from underinvestment in broadband, especially as business and transportation systems are increasingly powered by broadband networks.

Deutsche Telekom (DT) is frequently blamed for the mediocrity of German broadband. Its CEO Tim Hoettges has been heavily criticized for his decision to embrace upgrading its existing copper-based DSL service with “vectoring” instead of rebuilding its network using fiber optics. Although vectoring can significantly improve the speed of DSL connections, critics say it is a technological dead-end and further upgrades are limited and costly.

Hoetgges answers his critics by arguing Deutsche Telekom has spent more money on broadband — €5.4 billion — in the last year than all of its competitors put together.

Most ISPs in Germany are dependent on Deutsche Telekom to reach customers. United Internet, which does business under the 1&1 brand, pays DT for access to its DSL lines, over which it offers internet access.

Behind the controversy is what company ultimately controls Germany’s fiber optic telecom future. DT argues since it has spent the most money necessary to bring limited optical fiber connectivity to Germany, it should not have to share access to that network equally with its competitors. Hoettges said that would allow companies like United to profit from his company’s investments. To attract additional investment, DT wants control over the fiber optic network it is slowly building.

Dommermuth argues the country cannot wait the significant number of years it will take DT to expand that network on its own, which is why he proposes a consortium, with each member company paying a portion of the costs relative to its market share.

Times of London: Sprint Parent SoftBank Lays Groundwork for Takeover of Charter/Spectrum

Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son

Japan’s SoftBank “has laid the groundwork” for a $100 billion bid to acquire Charter Communications, better known to its customers as Spectrum, and merge it with Sprint, the American wireless company it controls, according to a report this morning in the Times of London.

London financial district sources leaked information early Monday morning that SoftBank’s billionaire CEO Masayoshi Son has already quietly purchased nearly 5% of Charter Communications stock, a prerequisite for launching a takeover bid. By purchasing a solid stake in Charter, the company hopes to be to taken more seriously about its proposition to combine America’s second largest cable company with the country’s fourth largest wireless carrier.

This isn’t the first time SoftBank has expressed an interest in a merger with Charter. Late in 2017, Masayoshi approached both Charter and its largest shareholder, Dr. John Malone, about the prospect of a merger. Malone was reportedly lukewarm about the deal, while Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge and the rest of his management team opposed the deal. But apart from Malone and Rutledge, many of Charter’s top shareholders were in favor of a merger — particularly the Newhouse family, which sold its interests in Bright House Networks, a mid-sized cable operator, to Charter in 2016.

Masayoshi has been a strong advocate of consolidation in the wireless industry, and has repeatedly lobbied for permission to acquire T-Mobile USA to combine it with Sprint. But regulator concerns during the Obama Administration made such a deal impossible. By targeting the acquisition of a cable operator, SoftBank can argue the transaction will have no material impact on competition because Sprint and Charter Communications operate different businesses.

Democrats Propose $40 Billion in “Last Mile” Rural Broadband Funding

The Democrats are countering the Trump Administration’s economic proposals with plans of their own they broadly call “A Better Deal.”

Democrats in Washington are countering President Donald Trump’s lack of commitment to earmark funding for rural broadband with a $40 billion plan of their own that is part of a broader trillion-dollar infrastructure investment package released Wednesday.

The plan, “Returning the Republican Tax Giveaways for the Wealthy to the American People,” specifically targets funding for a new, last-mile focused, broadband expansion program that would target funding specifically to providing broadband service to the homes and businesses in the country that cannot get the service now.

“The electricity of 2017 is high-speed Internet,” according to the Democrats. “While the private sector has delivered high-speed internet to many, millions of Americans in less profitable rural and urban areas have been left out.”

Rural broadband is expected to become a campaign issue in the midterm elections, as Democrats push their new working and middle class recovery program they call “A Better Deal,” reminiscent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” program during the Depression of the 1930s.

The Democrats claim they will do a better job overcoming the digital divide by forcing providers to compete for public funding. In contrast, the Trump Administration’s general infrastructure program offered $200 billion for all types of infrastructure projects, with no funding earmarked for broadband. But most of that money can only be unlocked if a private company enters into a public-private partnership with the government and agrees to invest even more in private dollars than the federal government will offer in supplementary funding.

The Democrats also claim their broadband investment program will be open to public providers like municipalities, co-ops, and publicly owned utilities, not just private companies. The Republicans have generally opposed municipal broadband projects, although there are some exceptions in rural areas where local and state officials share the frustration of bypassed local residents.


“If you actually get out to Trump country and talk to folks, you will discover that they are angry and frustrated and pissed off that the companies won’t serve them (because it is too expensive to provide service) and won’t let them deploy their own networks,” wrote Harold Feld, senior vice president at the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, in a Facebook post this week. “Traditionally, rural Republicans have been eager to use the tools of government to bring essential services to rural America. If this helps pressure rural Republicans to break with the anti-government mantra and return to traditional bipartisan approaches to bringing service to rural America, so much the better.”

Moderate Democrats in states with large rural populations are especially excited by the Democratic plan.

“The way we speak in plain-speaking West Virginia, this is a really good deal,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.V.) at a news conference Thursday. “All of you who’ve come from urban areas, you take this for granted.”

The rural broadband funding is part of a much larger $1 trillion investment package paid for by reversing certain tax breaks. The corporate tax rate, which was slashed from 35 percent to 21 percent under the Republican plan, would be raised to 25 percent under the Democratic plan. Democrats are also seeking to restore estate taxes on couples earning over $11 million annually.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) Introduces Companion Bill for FAKE Net Neutrality

Sen. Kennedy (R-La.)

Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) today introduced a companion bill that broadly copies an industry-favoring, fake net neutrality protection bill introduced last year in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

The Open Internet Preservation Act is essentially the Senate version of Blackburn’s House bill, bringing along all the major flaws and industry favoritism one expects from Blackburn, a notorious defender of large telephone and cable companies and a favorite target for their campaign contributions.

Blackburn was naturally delighted.

“Sen. Kennedy brings leadership and focus to this discussion of preserving a free and open internet,” Blackburn said in a statement. ” I appreciate his work and his attention to this issue.  Title II 1930s era regulation was a heavy-handed approach that would stifle innovation and investment. This legislation will go a long way toward achieving the goal of protecting consumers.”

Kennedy made sweeping claims about the power of his bill to protect consumers — power not actually in his bill.

“Some cable companies and content providers aren’t going to be happy with this bill because it prohibits them from blocking and throttling web content,” Kennedy said in a statement. “They won’t be able to micromanage your web surfing or punish you for downloading 50 movies each month. This bill strikes a compromise that benefits the consumer.”

Except it won’t. We expect no cable company will oppose a measure that is based largely on the recommendations from the cable industry itself. Nothing in the bill would prohibit Comcast, AT&T, or other companies from “punishing” you for downloading 50 movies each month with a much higher bill as a result of exceeding your data cap and facing punitive overlimit fees.

Read Stop the Cap!’s detailed analysis of Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s net neutrality bill.

Even Kennedy admits his bill isn’t perfect, and considering it is based on a bill introduced by Rep. Blackburn that we analyzed last year, Kennedy is being modest.

“If the Democrats are serious about this issue and finding a permanent solution, then they should come to the table and work with me and Rep. Blackburn on these bills,” said Kennedy. “Does this bill resolve every issue in the net neutrality debate? No, it doesn’t. It’s not a silver bullet. But it’s a good start.”

It’s actually a very bad start, in our view. The industry would like to declare the net neutrality issue ‘settled’ with the passage of a bill it effectively wrote itself.

We urge readers to vehemently oppose both measures, which represent net neutrality in name-only. The best way to find a permanent solution for preserving real net neutrality will come at the next election, when voters can replace lawmakers that represent the interests of big telecom companies over those of their constituents. Allowing either fake net neutrality measure to proceed will make it exponentially more difficult to raise the issue in the future.

Comcast Needed Help to Let Them Know Their Broadband Pipes Were Full

The country’s largest cable internet service provider needed help from an app developer in Portland, Ore. to let it know its broadband pipes were full and to do something about it.

Comcast customers were complaining about slow downloads from the Panic website and the company’s own workers were saying largely the same thing when attempting to remotely connect to the company’s servers from home.

Because Panic’s web servers have just a single connection to the internet via Cogent, it would be a simple matter to track down where the traffic bottleneck was occurring, assuming there was one. The company asked for volunteers to run a test transferring 20MB of data first from Panic’s server and then again from a control server hosted with Linode, a popular and well-respected hosting company.

The results were pretty stunning.

With speeds often around only 356.3kbps for Comcast customers connecting to Panic, something was definitely up. It also explained why employees had a rough time connecting to the company’s server as well — Panic’s workers are based in Portland, Ore., where Comcast is used by almost every employee.

The slowdowns were not related to the time of day and because the problem persisted for weeks, it wasn’t a temporary technical fault. Panic’s blog picks up the story about what is behind all this:


Major internet pipes, like Cogent, have peering agreements with network providers, like Comcast. These companies need each other — Cogent can’t exist if their network doesn’t go all the way to the end user, and Comcast can’t exist if they can’t send their customer’s data all over the world. One core tenet of peering is that it is “settlement-free” — neither party pays the other party to exchange their traffic. Instead, each party generates revenue from their customers. Cogent generates revenue from us. Comcast generates revenue from us at home. Everyone wins, right?

After a quick Google session, I learned that Cogent and Comcast have quite a storied history. This history started when Cogent started delivering a great deal of video content to Comcast customers… content from Netflix. and suddenly, the “peering pipe” that connects Cogent and Comcast filled up and slowed dramatically down.

Normally when these peering pipes “fill up”, more capacity is added between the two companies. But, if you believe Cogent’s side of the story, Comcast simply decided not to play ball — and refused to add any additional bandwidth unless Cogent paid them. In other words, Comcast didn’t like being paid nothing to deliver Netflix traffic, which competes with its own TV and streaming offerings. This Ars Technica article covers it well. (How did Netflix solve this problem in 2014? Netflix entered into a business agreement to pay Comcast directly. And suddenly, more peering bandwidth opened up between Comcast and Cogent, like magic.)

We felt certain history was repeating itself: the peering connection between Comcast and Cogent was once again saturated. Cogent said their hands were tied. What now?

In addition to giving the internet public policy community new evidence that peering fights leaving customers stuck in the middle might be heating up once again. It also suggests if Comcast was unaware of the problem, it does not reflect well on the cable company to wait weeks until a customer reports such a serious slowdown before fixing it.

The folks at Panic took a chance and reported the problem to Comcast, bypassing the usual customer support route in favor of a corporate contact who listed a direct email address on the company’s website. Comcast took the request seriously and eventually responded, “give us one to two weeks, and if you re-run your test I think you’ll be happy with the results.”

Indeed, the problem was fixed. The folks at Panic say according to Comcast, two primary changes were made:

  1. Comcast added more capacity for Cogent traffic. (As suspected, the pipe was full.)
  2. Cogent made some unspecified changes to their traffic engineering.

The folks at Panic and their users are happy that the problem is fixed, but some questions remain:

  1. Is Comcast intentionally throttling web traffic in an attempt to extract a more favorable peering agreement with Cogent?
  2. How could Comcast not know this particular connection was hopelessly over-capacity for several weeks, leaving customers to deal with heavily throttled traffic.

“While this story amazingly had a happy ending, I’m not looking forward to the next time we’re stuck in the middle of a peering dispute between two companies,” wrote Cabel. “It feels absolutely inevitable, all the more so now that net neutrality is gone. Here’s hoping the next time it happens, the responsible party is as responsive as Comcast was this time.”

Panic explains internet slowdowns resulting from peering disputes in this (3:30) video.

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