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AT&T’s Gigabit Fiber: Spying on Your Browsing History for Targeted Ads and Discounts

who is watching

AT&T has got your number.

AT&T wants to know what you are doing on the Internet.

If you agree to share your browsing history and view targeted contextual advertising from AT&T and its partners, the company will give you a monthly discount off the price of its new GigaPower gigabit fiber network.

Now launching in Austin, AT&T GigaPower charges $99 a month for 300Mbps standard service (speeds will be raised to 1,000Mbps in 2014 at no extra cost — equipment, installation and activation fees are extra). But customers can knock $30 off the monthly price and skip the new customer fees by enrolling in AT&T’s new “Premier” package, which runs $70 a month.

GigaOm discovered some interesting language in AT&T’s fine print about its Premier service: “[The discount] is available with your agreement to participate in AT&T Internet Preferences. AT&T may use your Web browsing information, like the search terms you enter and the Web pages you visit, to provide you relevant offers and ads tailored to your interests.”

Exactly how AT&T intends to implement its contextual advertising program remains largely a mystery. Google includes contextual ads in its Gmail service, its search engine results, and in online advertising from participants in Google’s AdWords program. AT&T lacks an advertising platform as large as Google or Microsoft’s Bing, so questions are being raised about how exactly AT&T will be able to find enough places to present online ads.

GigaOm suspects AT&T might use deep packet inspection to monitor customers’ web traffic to collect browsing information for contextual ads. Others suspect AT&T will replace certain existing third-party ads found on independent websites with its own advertising. Either is likely to bring the company scrutiny, both from Internet Privacy advocates and website owners that find their advertising replaced by ads from AT&T and its partners.

AT&T’s response to GigaOm left a number of questions unanswered:

We use various methods to collect web browsing information, and we are currently reviewing the methods we may use for the Internet Preferences program. Whichever method is used, we will not collect information from secure (https) or otherwise encrypted sites, such as online banking or when a credit card is used to buy something online on a secure site. And we won’t sell your personal information to anyone, for any reason.

[...] We won’t sell your personal information. Rather, AT&T may use your personal information to direct another advertiser’s ad to you, but that advertiser would never have access to your Personal Information. For example, after you browse hotels in Miami, you may be offered discounts for rental cars, but that rental company doesn’t know who you are.

AT&T is experimenting with consumer acceptance of discounting service in return for giving up some privacy. It says it is giving customers the choice to opt out by signing up for the more expensive “standard” service.

gigapower pricing

U-verse television service is also available to customers of both packages for an extra $50 a month. Telephone service adds another $30 a month.

AT&T has started rolling out its GigaPower service in the French Place, Mueller, Zilker, and Onion Creek neighborhoods and will select future places to expand based on interest registered by local residents on AT&T’s GigaPower website.

“We’ve already received great input from thousands of Austinites eager for the fastest speeds,” said Dahna Hull, general manager of Austin’s AT&T Services, Inc. “These votes are helping us identify where the need for speed and advanced TV services is the greatest and will help guide our future GigaPower expansion plans.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KXAN Austin Internet speed race in Austin is on 12-11-13.mp4

Options for super high-speed Internet are heating up in Austin as AT&T introduces AT&T U-verse with GigaPower this week. KXAN reports the service will initially launch with 300Mbps service in a handful of neighborhoods, but upgrade to 1,000Mbps speeds in more locations next year. (2:30)

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North America Data Tsunami Warning Canceled; Usage Levels Off, Killing Excuses for Caps

(Image: BTIG Research)

The median bandwidth use slowdown (Image: BTIG Research)

Despite perpetual cries of Internet brownouts, usage blowouts, and data tsunamis that threaten to overwhelm the Internet, new data shows broadband usage has leveled off in North America, undercutting providers’ favorite excuse for usage limits and consumption billing.

Sandvine today released its latest broadband usage study, issued twice yearly. The results show a clear and dramatic decline in usage growth in North America, with median usage up just 5% compared to the same time last year. That is a marked departure from the 190% and 77% growth measured in two earlier periods. In fact, as Richard Greenfield from BTIG Research noted, mean bandwidth use was down 13% year-over-year, after the second straight six month period of sequential decline.

Companies like Cisco earn millions annually pitching network management tools to providers implementing usage caps and consumption billing. For years, the company has warned of Internet usage floods that threaten to make the Internet useless (unless providers take Cisco’s advice and buy their products and services).

“Demand for Internet services continues to build,” said Roland Klemann from Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group. ”The increasing popularity of smartphones, tablets, and video services is creating a ‘data tsunami’ that threatens to overwhelm service providers’ networks.”

Providers typically use “fairness” propaganda when introducing “usage based pricing,” blaming exponential increases in broadband usage and costly upgrades “light users” are forced to underwrite. A leveling off in broadband usage undercuts that argument.

ciscos plan for your futureA Cisco White Paper intended for the eyes of Internet Service Providers further strips the façade off the false-”fairness” argument, exposing the fact usage pricing has little to do with traffic growth, pricing fairness, or the cost of upgrades:

In 2011, broadband services became mainstream in developed countries, with fixed-broadband penetration exceeding 60 percent of households and mobile broadband penetration reaching more than 40 percent of the population in two-thirds of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

Meanwhile, traditional voice and messaging revenues have strongly declined due to commoditization, and this trend is expected to continue. Therefore, operators are now relegated to connectivity products. The value that operators once derived from providing value-added services is migrating to players that deliver services, applications, and content over their network pipes.

As if this were not enough, Internet access prices are dropping, sales volumes are declining, and markets are shrinking. The culprit: flat rate “all-you-can-eat” pricing. Such a model lacks stability—sending service provider pricing into a downward spiral—because it ignores growth potential and shifts the competition’s focus from quality and service differentiation to price.

While Klemann was spouting warnings about the dire implications of a data tsunami, Cisco’s White Paper quietly told providers what they already know:

Maximum Profits

Maximum Profits

“[Wired] broadband operators should be able to sustain forecasted traffic growth over the next few years with no negative impact on margins, as the incremental capital expenses required to support it are under control.”

If usage limits and consumption billing are not required to manage data growth or cover the cost of equipment upgrades, why adopt this pricing? The potential to exploit more revenue from mature broadband markets that lack robust competition.

“In light of the forecasted Internet traffic growth mentioned earlier and competitiveness in the telecommunications market, Cisco believes that fixed-line operators should consider gradually introducing selected monthly traffic tiers to sustain [revenue], while a) signaling to customers that “traffic is not free,” and b) monetizing bandwidth hogs more sustainably.”

Cisco makes its recommendation despite knowing full well from its own research that customers hate usage-based pricing.

“The introduction of traffic tiers and caps—especially for fixed broadband services—is not welcomed by the majority of customers, as they have learned to ‘love’ flat rate all-you-can-eat pricing. Most customers consider usage-based pricing for broadband services ‘unfair,’ according to the 2011 Cisco IBSG Connected Life Market Watch study.”

Cisco teaches providers how to price broadband like trendy boutique bottled water.

Cisco teaches providers how to price broadband like trendy boutique bottled water and blame it on growing Internet usage.

But with competition lacking, Cisco’s advice is to move forward anyway, as long as providers initially introduce caps and consumption billing at prices that do not impact the majority of customers… at first. In uncompetitive markets, Cisco predicts customers will eventually pay more, boosting provider revenue. Cisco’s “illustrative example” of usage billing in practice set prices at $45 a month for up to 50GB of usage, $60 a month for 50-100GB, $75 for 100-150GB, and $150 a month for unlimited access — more than double what customers typically pay today for flat rate access.

Usage billing arrives right on time to effectively handle online video, which increasingly threatens revenue from cable television packages.

Sandvine’s new traffic measurement report notes the increasing prominence of online video services like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and Amazon Video.

“As with previous reports, Real-Time Entertainment (comprised of streaming video and audio) continues to be the largest traffic category on virtually every network we examined, and we expect its continued growth to lead to the emergence of longer form video on mobile networks globally in to 2014,” Sandvine’s report noted.

Sandvine found that over half of all North American Internet traffic during peak usage periods comes from two services: Netflix and YouTube. YouTube globally is the leading source of Internet traffic in the world, according to Sandvine.

An old excuse for usage caps on “data hogs” – peer-to-peer file-sharing, continues its rapid decline towards irrelevance, now accounting for less than 10 percent of total daily traffic in North America. A decade earlier, file swapping represented 60 percent of Internet traffic.

Cisco’s answer for the evolving world of popular online applications is a further shift in broadband pricing towards “value-based tiers” that monetize different online applications by charging broadband users extra when using them. Cisco is promoting an idea that well-enforced Net Neutrality rules would prohibit.

Citing the bottled water market, Cisco argues if some customers are willing to pay up to $6 for a liter of trendy Voss bottled water, flat rate “one price fits all” broadband is leaving a lot of money on the table. With the right marketing campaign and a barely competitive marketplace, providers can charge far higher prices to get access to the most popular Internet applications.

“Research from British regulator Ofcom shows that consumers are becoming ‘addicted’ to broadband services, and heavy broadband users are willing to pay more for improved broadband service options.”

Wharton School professors Jagmohan Raju and John Zhang concluded price is the single most important lever to drive profitability.

The political implications of blaming phantom Internet growth and manageable upgrade costs for the implementation of usage caps or usage-based billing is uncertain. Even the “data hog” meme providers have used for years to justify usage caps is now open to scrutiny. Sandvine found the top 1% of broadband users primarily impact upstream resources, where they account for 39.8% of total upload traffic. But the top 1% only account for 10.1% of downstream traffic. In fact, Apple is likely to provoke an even larger, albeit shorter-term impact on a provider’s network from software upgrades. When the company released iOS7, Apple Updates immediately became almost 20% of total network traffic, and continued to stay above 15% of total traffic into the evening peak hours, according to Sandvine.

Some other highlights:

  • Average monthly mobile usage in Asia-Pacific now exceeds 1 gigabyte, driven by video, which accounts for 50% of peak downstream traffic. This is more than double the 443 megabyte monthly average in North America.
  • In Europe, Netflix, less than two years since launch, now accounts for over 20% of downstream traffic on certain fixed networks in the British Isles. It took almost four years for Netflix to achieve 20% of data traffic in the United States.
  • Instagram and Dropbox are now top-ranked applications in mobile networks in many regions across the globe. Instagram, due to the recent addition of video, is now in Latin America the 7th top ranked downstream application on the mobile network, making it a prime candidate for inclusion in tiered data plans which are popular in the region.
  • Netflix (31.6%) holds its ground as the leading downstream application in North America and together with YouTube (18.6%) accounts for over 50% of downstream traffic on fixed networks.
  • P2P Filesharing now accounts for less than 10% of total daily traffic in North America. Five years ago it accounted for over 31%.
  • Video accounts for less than 6% of traffic in mobile networks in Africa, but is expected to grow faster than in any other region before it.
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Incoming FCC Chair Stresses Competition Will Be Agency’s Top Priority

Wheeler

Wheeler

Incoming Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler believes competition can be a more effective regulator of telecom industry practices and pricing than “micromanaging” the companies selling service.

“The first goal ought to be to make sure there is effective competition,” Wheeler told the Wall Street Journal in an interview Wednesday. “But I also know competition isn’t something that happens all by itself. We very much have a responsibility to make sure that there is access, at reasonable prices, to competitive broadband services. The way you do that is go back to competition.”

But Wheeler refused to share his views on whether Americans now enjoy his definition of “effective competition” from a wireless industry dominated by AT&T and Verizon and wired broadband service available from only one cable and telephone company in most communities.

“The reason why the U.S. is the world leader on the Internet is because we have the home-field advantage,” Wheeler said. “We want to keep that home-field advantage. One of the ways to do that is to keep the environment competitive, so it’s not the regulators determining what companies do.”

But the United States is not a broadband leader in speed, price, or penetration according to the OECD.

Wheeler seems reluctant to intervene in the market unless he is convinced competition is lacking. As a former lobbyist for the same companies he is now tasked with overseeing, a key test will be if Wheeler adopts the industry view that broadband is already a fiercely competitive and highly regulated business, or the one held by many consumer groups that a consolidated telecommunications marketplace retards competition, leading to higher prices and more restrictive service.

In an article posted on the FCC website, Wheeler described the philosophy governing his chairmanship of the FCC:

During my confirmation hearing I described myself as “an unabashed supporter of competition because competitive markets produce better outcomes than regulated or uncompetitive markets.” Yet we all know that competition does not always flourish by itself; it must be supported and protected if its benefits are to be enjoyed. This agency is a pro-competition agency.

We stand for the things that are important regardless of the network technology being used:

  • To promote economic growth – technological innovation, growth and national economic leadership have always been determined by our networks; competition drives the benefits of those networks; and we have a responsibility to see to the expansion of those networks, including the appropriate allocation of adequate amounts of spectrum.
  • To maintain the historic compact between networks and users – a change in technology may occasion a review of the rules, but it does not change the rights of users or the responsibilities of networks.
  • To make networks work for everyone – it isn’t just that we expand high-speed Internet, but what we will be doing with that capacity. How networks enable a 21st century educational system, enable the expansion of capabilities for Americans with disabilities; and assure diversity, localism and speech are basic underpinnings of our responsibility.

One surprising appointment announced by Wheeler was Public Knowledge’s Gigi Sohn, who will become special counsel for external affairs. Sohn has been a frequent critic of the FCC and its former chairman, Julius Genachowski. She is also a strong advocate of Net Neutrality.

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AT&T, Verizon Among the Biggest ‘Pay to Play’ Campaign Contributors and Lobbying Spenders

lobbyist-cashAT&T and Verizon are among the biggest tech company spenders in Washington, paying millions every quarter to lobby federal and state lawmakers on how they can make life easier for the telecom giants.

AT&T increased their lobbying budget by a whopping 23 percent in the third quarter, easily beating year over year spending of $3.5 million in the third quarter of 2012. In just three months this year, AT&T spent $4.3 million lobbying lawmakers on regulatory relief, retiring the rural landline network, reform of cell tower placement policies, and trying to keep the FCC from gaining new oversight powers.

Verizon Communications had lobbying costs of $3.09 million last year at this time. This year, it reduced that amount by two percent, spending $3.04 million. But Verizon Wireless upped its political spending by 19 percent, from $1.1 to $1.2 million. Taken together, Verizon spent a collective $4.24 million on lobbying in the last three months. Verizon lobbied on some of the same issues AT&T did.

In contrast Google spent $3.4 million, Facebook spent $1.4 million, and Microsoft spent $2.2 million.

“Once again the lobbying disclosures demonstrate the sad truth about the state of our democracy,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “When the government is open for business, policymaking is all about who has the cash and is willing throw it around.”

USA Today reported Verizon has also once again achieved a 0% effective tax rate during the past 12 months, which means any owed taxes will be offset by a variety of accounting tricks:

A big reason that Verizon’s effective tax rate is so low, coming in at a negative 4.8%, is largely due to accounting. The company’s sped-up depreciation, severance and pension costs are large credits that contribute to pushing the company’s taxes down, says Jonathan Schildkraut of Evercore. But there’s also a distortion caused by the company’s 55% interest in Verizon Wireless. Vodafone, which owns 45% of Verizon Wireless, pays taxes on its share, but the entire profit is reported on income. Adjusting for this, Verizon’s effective tax rate is closer to 30%, the company says. Verizon is buying Vodafone’s stake, which will eliminate the issue in the future. Similarly, real estate investment trusts have low effective tax rates because they pass profit to shareholders, who then pay the taxes.

The question for investors is whether or not companies paying low effective tax rates might, eventually, attract the attention to regulators. “They are slow at getting at these issues,” Yee says.

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Former FCC Chairman Turned Lobbyist Warns Providers to Hurry Usage Caps & Billing Before It’s Too Late

Powell

Powell

A former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission turned top cable lobbyist rang the warning bell at an industry convention this week, recommending America’s cable operators hurry out usage caps and usage-based billing before a perception takes hold the industry is trying to protect cable television revenue.

Michael Powell, the former head of the FCC during the Bush Administration is now America’s top cable industry lobbyist, serving as president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA). From 2001-2005 Powell claimed to represent the interests of the American people. From 2011 on, he represents the interests of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, and other large cable operators.

Attending the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2013 in Atlanta, Powell identified the cable industry’s top priority for next year: “broadband, broadband, and broadband.”

The NCTA fears the current unregulated “Wild West” nature of broadband service is ripe for regulatory checks and balances. The NCTA plans to prioritize lobbying to prevent the implementation of consumer protection regulations governing the Internet. Powell warned it would be “World War III” if the FCC moved to oversee broadband by changing its definition as an unregulated “information service” to a regulated common carrier utility.

Powell is very familiar with the FCC’s current definition because he presided over the agency when it contemplated the current framework as it applies to DSL and cable broadband providers.

While Powell has a long record opposing blatant Net Neutrality violations that block competing websites and services, he does not want the FCC meddling in how providers charge or provision access.

Powell believes some of cable's biggest problems come from bad marketing.

Powell believes some of cable’s biggest problems come from bad marketing.

Powell disagreed with statements from some Wall Street analysts like Craig Moffett who earlier predicted the window for broadband usage-based limits and fees was closing or closed already.

Powell does not care that consumers are accustomed to and overwhelmingly support unlimited access. Instead, he urged cable executives to “move with some urgency and purpose” to implement usage-based billing for economic reasons, despite the growing perception such limits are designed to protect cable television service from online competition.

“I don’t think it’s too late,” Powell said. “But it’s not something you can wait for forever.”

Powell pointed to the success wireless carriers have had forcing the majority of customers to usage capped, consumption billing plans and believes the cable industry can do the same.

The NCTA president also described many of the industry’s hurdles as marketing and perception problems.

The cable industry, long bottom-rated by consumers in satisfaction surveys, can do better according to Powell, by making sure they are nimble enough to meet competition head-on.

Powell described Google Fiber as a limited experiment unlikely to directly compete with cable over the long-term, and with a new version of the DOCSIS cable broadband platform on the way, operators will be able to compete with speeds of 500-1,000Mbps and beyond. He just hates that it’s called DOCSIS 3.1, noting it wasn’t “consumer-friendly” in “a 4G and 5G world.”

Kevin Hart, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Cox Communications joked the marketing department would get right on it.

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No Verizon FiOS Expansion for Next Several Years; Company to Focus on Improving Profits

Verizon plans to maintain a moratorium on further expansion of its fiber to the home service except in areas where it has existing agreements to deliver service.

Verizon’s moratorium on further expansion of its fiber to the home service will continue for “the next couple of years.”

Verizon FiOS won’t be coming soon to a home near you, unless that home is inside a community with a standing agreement with the phone company.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam made it clear to attendees at Tuesday’s Goldman Sachs 22nd Annual Communacopia Conference his priority continues to be investing in the company’s highly profitable wireless business, while the company’s wired infrastructure is being targeted for more cost cutting, especially in areas designated to see existing copper infrastructure decommissioned. As for expanding FiOS into new communities, McAdam said he instead preferred to concentrate on improving market share and profits for the next few years in areas already getting the fiber optic service.

McAdam noted John Stratton, president of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, has been hard at work pruning Verizon’s wireline products and services targeted to business and government customers.

“I think [he] killed about 2,000 products this year, and we have taken 350 systems offline last year,” McAdam noted. “I think we are already at 250 this year. That sort of discipline gives you the ability to streamline your infrastructure.”

For residential customers, Verizon has two sets of offerings: one for customers served by FiOS fiber optics, the other for customers unlikely to see fiber upgrades indefinitely.

Inside Existing FiOS Service Areas

“We are doing some major technology shifts within FiOS to make it more efficient,” McAdam said. “We’re going to concentrate there for the next couple of years.”

McAdam’s signals to Wall Street were loud and clear: no more FiOS expansion into new communities for now.

McAdam

McAdam

Instead, Verizon will focus on improving existing service in several key areas:

  • Verizon has almost two million optical terminals that McAdam says were active at one point and are now sitting idle, suggesting FiOS has won and lost nearly two million customers since launching, either because the customer switched providers or moved away. McAdam said he wants to improve Verizon FiOS’ product set enough to attract those customers back. He noted with the terminals and cables already in place, the capital costs to win back a former customer are near zero;
  • Verizon is introducing a new terminal this fall. Verizon’s FiOS Media Server “eliminates the requirement for coax, once you get into the optical terminal in the basement or wherever in the house,” McAdam said. “That slashes the installation time, and therefore makes the product a lot more profitable for us going forward. It eliminates set-top boxes, it is all IP-based going forward.”
  • Verizon will continue to expand Verizon FiOS, particularly in New York City where it has a commitment to offer service.

Verizon FiOS has managed to build a much larger market share than its nearest neighbor, AT&T U-verse. McAdam claimed Verizon FiOS has achieved a 39 percent market share in broadband and around 34 percent on its television service so far. McAdam’s goal is to boost that to 45 percent. In areas of Texas where Verizon first introduced its FiOS fiber optic service, the company already has a penetration rate above 50 percent for broadband and 50 percent for television, demonstrating room to grow market share. AT&T’s U-verse TV penetration rate is 20.1 percent.

For Those Unserved by FiOS

4g wireless

Verizon’s 4G LTE Broadband Router with Voice

Except for Fire Island, N.Y., there are no significant announcements of FiOS expansion. Instead, Verizon has focused on investing to improve its wireless 4G LTE cell networks with the hope existing landline customers will consider switching to higher-profit wireless service. An attempted trial of Verizon Voice Link, intended to be an entry-level wireless replacement of landline service, failed badly on Fire Island due to an avalanche of complaints about poor quality reception, dropped and incomplete calls, and lack of support for data.

Now Verizon is back with a new offering, its 4G LTE Broadband Router with Voice ($49.99 2-yr contract with $175 early termination fee/$199.99 month-to-month).

“Securely connect wired and wireless devices to the 4G LTE network, and connect your landline phone to make calls,” Verizon’s website says. “Combine voice and data on a Share Everything Plan for added savings.”

The device can function as both a wireless landline replacement and router for data. The unit includes three Ethernet ports and Wi-Fi to share your connection. A landline phone or cordless phone base station can be plugged in as well.

Verizon charges an extra $20 a month for Home Service Monthly Line Access on Share Everything Plans, which covers your telephone service. Customers get unlimited local, long distance, call forwarding, call waiting, three-way calling, and voice mail. 911 is available, but Verizon disclaims any responsibility if you cannot reach an operator. The device also supports TTY-TTD calling.

Verizon claims users can expect 5-12Mbps downloading and 2-5Mbps uploading on Verizon’s 4G network, assuming there is solid coverage where you use the device. Usage caps apply. A backup battery keeps the service running for up to four hours of voice calling in the event of a power outage.

McAdam admitted the thing that keeps him up most at night are regulatory issues. He particularly called out Europe, which he believes is hostile for investment. But Europeans pay considerably less for wireless service than North Americans pay, and often have more choices due to competition and regulatory oversight.

“I think the beauty of the ’96 Telecom Act was that it was such a light touch on broadband and mobile,” said McAdam. “And that is — and I sit in Europe talking to investors all the time — that is the biggest difference between the U.S. and Europe.”

To head the FCC off from pursuing any additional regulatory oversight, McAdam claims he reluctantly approved Verizon’s lawsuit against the government on Net Neutrality.

“We have had to take some positions, frankly, that we didn’t want to take,” McAdam said of the lawsuit. “It opened the door for them to get into price regulation of broadband. And I think that is not their charter, and I think it would be a mistake for the U.S. economy and certainly the telecommunications ecosystem.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Verizon 4G LTE Broadband Router with Voice 9-25-13.flv

Verizon Wireless’ latest 4G LTE router supports wireless landline service and 4G data.  (1 minute)

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Comcast Hires ‘Internet Guy’ to Embrace Broadband Innovation; Start By Killing the Usage Cap

Phillip "Unlimited Innovation depends on Unlimited Access" Dampier

Phillip “Unlimited Innovation depends on Unlimited Access” Dampier

Comcast wants to embrace innovation and change. Before it can succeed, the cable company needs to permanently retire usage caps and consumption billing schemes, now being market-tested for possible reintroduction nationwide.

Comcast today announced it created a new executive position — vice president of consumer services for video, phone, Internet, and home products and appointed Marcien Jenckes to the position. His role is to oversee development of ideas for new products and services that can be sold to Comcast customers.

Jenckes says Comcast’s product lines are blurring as convergence between television and broadband continues. His role is to keep customers of both services happy by embracing innovation and change.

He will find his hands tied should Comcast bring back its usage cap, now under serious consideration. Limiting residential broadband limits customers’ interest in innovative new online applications that carry the threat of a wallop to one’s wallet from overlimit fees. Comcast ditched its arbitrary 250GB usage cap in the spring of 2012, but continues to think about bringing it back. This year, Comcast has tested a new 300GB cap in certain states tied to an overlimit fee for customers exceeding their usage allowance.

Customers don’t like usage caps one bit. Neither should Comcast “innovators” like Mr. Jenckes.

The future of Internet innovation is likely to be developed on a platform that delivers faster Internet speeds, opening up new high bandwidth applications not easily possible today. Usage caps are anathema to that kind of innovation because customers will be unlikely to embrace new services that blow their usage allowance away.

If Mr. Jenckes is seriously interested in promoting a new spirit of innovation at Comcast, he should start by pressing his fellow executives to ditch usage caps and consumption billing once and for all. The future of unlimited innovation in broadband has its best chance of success with unlimited access.

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Verizon Considers Offering FiOS TV On a Low-Fiber Diet; Use Your Existing Broadband Provider to Watch

Coming soon nationwide? Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T and CenturyLink sure hope not.

Coming soon nationwide? Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T and CenturyLink sure hope not.

Verizon is talking to major cable programmers about launching a nationwide version of FiOS TV as an over-the-top video service that works with your existing broadband provider.

The NY Post reports Verizon is looking at launching an online pay television service for customers without installing additional fiber optic lines to deliver it.

The service would likely be an extension of the “TV Everywhere” online video platforms that many national cable and telco-TV providers already offer existing cable TV subscribers. What would make Verizon’s offer radically different is selling the virtual cable TV service in areas where it does not offer FiOS service.

Verizon must carefully negotiate with programmers to distribute networks over an online video service that would likely compete directly with those programmers’ best customers: cable operators and telco IPTV services like U-verse and Prism TV.

The concept was rejected out of hand Wednesday by Time Warner Cable chief operating officer Rob Marcus, who agreed with Comcast executive vice president Steve Burke’s contention that “over the top” video services that offer virtual cable television outside of their respective service areas lacked a compelling business model and would be difficult to monetize.

“At this point we don’t really aspire to delivering an over-the-top service,” Marcus said. “Our value proposition is delivering video via our facilities as opposed to being a retailer of somebody else’s video, which is a somewhat commoditized product.”

Neither cable executive mentioned the fact cable operators have also maintained an informal “wink and nod” agreement to steer clear of head-on competition with each other for decades.

Verizon: The next big supporter of Net Neutrality?

Verizon: The next big supporter of Net Neutrality?

Verizon apparently wants to shake things up and sell online video without incurring the cost of expanding its fiber optic network FiOS to deliver it.

“They’ve had exploratory talks about how to become a virtual [multiple-system operator],” one person close to the conversations told the Post. “It’s a question of how to get there.”

Interestingly, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam is worried about developing the service without Net Neutrality protection or some other form of government oversight of broadband. Verizon could spend millions to negotiate programming contracts only to find competitors with their own TV packages to protect outmaneuvering the venture. Without Net Neutrality, Verizon could find its service blocked by competitors or made untenable with the implementation of broadband usage caps or consumption billing that would make a subscription too costly to consider.

The company is now trying to figure out exactly which branch of government (or agency) controls broadband policy in the nation.

The FCC’s current Net Neutrality policy depends on a shaky regulatory framework now being challenged in federal court.

Verizon declined to comment.

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Time Warner Surrenders to CBS’ Money Demands; Digital Rights Still in Contention

surrenderIf Time Warner Cable is concerned about the rising cost of cable television, it sure didn’t show it after sources revealed the cable company quickly accepted CBS’ demands for more compensation but is refusing to budge until it wins rights to show CBS programming on mobile platforms.

Sources tell the Daily News Time Warner quickly agreed to a major increase from 50 cents a month per subscriber to $2 a month for CBS content, but is keeping CBS-owned stations and cable networks off the dial until the network agrees to let the cable company distribute on-demand and live programming on cell phones, tablets, and personal computers.

Earlier this week, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt made an offer CBS couldn’t wait to refuse: the cable company would put CBS programming back on the lineup if it could be sold to customers a-la-carte instead of bundling it with other channels.

That would “allow customers to decide for themselves how much value they ascribe to CBS programming,” Britt said in a letter to CBS CEO Leslie Moonves that was promptly posted online.

CBS called the idea a sham, noting a-la-carte runs contrary to the economic model the cable industry itself regularly and loudly defends. Try telling ESPN, which costs every cable subscriber more than $5 a month, it will now be offered only to customers that want to pay for it.

Phillip "Capitulation Corner" Dampier

Phillip “Capitulation Corner” Dampier

In fact, for most cable operators, the concept of selling customers only the channels they want is the nightmare scenario. Average revenue per subscriber would tumble as consumers rid themselves of networks with three digit channel numbers they didn’t even know they had. Goodbye ‘Yarn Creations’ on Generic Home Shopping Channel 694, Bosnian music videos, reruns of Simon and Simon, mysterious networks showing episodes of Law & Order that USA Network already burned into your permanent memory, and that “fine arts” network that shows endless hours of Antiques Roadshow dating back to 1998.

Digital rights is an important issue for both cable companies and programmers. Although both sides deny “cord cutting” is real, the intensity of the fight allowing online viewing says otherwise. If CBS gives away rights to Time Warner Cable to show live and on-demand programming to subscribers, CBS can’t make as much money offering shows on its own website (with its own ads), much less sell programming to customers. Time Warner fears if CBS only offers online programming through its own website, customers might decide they don’t need the cable company to watch those shows any longer.

“At the moment the cable operators have the leverage because the more that CBS is off the cable, the more that they realize the viewers don’t need it,” said media expert Michael Wolf, former Yahoo! board member and president of Viacom-owned MTV Networks.

For now, many viewers are turning to pirate video sites to catch the CBS shows they are missing. TorrentFreak reports huge spikes in illicit download traffic of CBS content over the weekend. Under the Dome was the source of much of the spike, although customers are also downloading pirated copies of Showtime programming. The evidence is clear: take away popular programming and customers will simply download it illegally from third-party websites.

As summer wanes and the fall football season approaches, just about everyone expects the war will quickly end, because football fans are more than willing to drop a provider if they can’t spend several hours in front of the television Sunday afternoon. Considering Time Warner has reportedly already caved in on CBS’ money demands, it is likely CBS will be able to eventually extract even more money from the cable company to secure digital distribution rights. Subscribers will pick up the tab for both during the next round of rate increases beginning this fall in the south and by January in the northeast.

Time Warner Cable’s latest regulatory notice admits current deals with more than 50 networks are due to expire soon, and the company may cease the carriage of one or more of the networks. They include: Lifetime, E!, Style, Turner Classic Movies, and the NHL Network. So just like Law & Order reruns, we will see this episode again in the near future.

The PGA is offering a way for golf fans to watch the PGA Championship online, bypassing the CBS-TWC dispute.

The PGA is offering a way for golf fans to watch some of the PGA Championship online, bypassing the CBS-TWC dispute.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC PGA Time Warner 8-8-13.mp4

Perhaps the biggest loss viewers without CBS will experience this weekend is the PGA Championship. CNBC talks with tournament officials in Rochester, N.Y., about the possibility of viewing alternatives. But golf fans can watch parts of the tournament for free from the PGA’s website. (3 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg The Future of Cable Post CBS-TWC Battle 8-6-13.flv

Bloomberg News reports that while many cable viewers could care less about the loss of CBS and Showtime, broadband customers may care very much when cable operators start charging extra for Netflix or add punitive usage caps to make sure customers don’t cut cable TV’s cord. (3 minutes)

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