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AT&T Follows Verizon Back to Optional Unlimited Data Plans for All Starting Tomorrow: $100/Mo

Unlimited data is back.

AT&T has followed Verizon Wireless back the era of unlimited data plans, starting tomorrow.

The AT&T Unlimited plan will be available to all customers, not just those signed up with DirecTV, and will be expensive. A single line unlimited voice, text, and data plan will reportedly cost $100 a month. Customers switching four lines to unlimited data will pay $180 after a $40 bill credit kicks in 60 days after signing up. This means for the first two months, customers will pay $220 for the privilege of unlimited data.

The new plan is open to residential and business/corporate accounts and business customers will also get the benefit of any corporate discounts.

AT&T’s definition of “unlimited” actually means 22GB. If you exceed that amount, AT&T reserves the right to slow your data connection “during periods of network congestion.”

The plan includes:

  • unlimited calls from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico
  • unlimited texts to over 120 countries
  • talk, text and use data in Canada and Mexico with no roaming charges when adding the free Roam North America feature
  • the ability to switch off AT&T’s “Stream Saver” which limits online video playback to 480p

“We’re always listening to our customers and will continue to evolve to provide more choice, more convenience, and more value,” claims AT&T in a press release. But observers believe AT&T listens to the competitive realities of the marketplace more than its customers who never wanted to lose the option of unlimited data in the first place.

 

AT&T Slowly Strangling U-verse TV to Reposition Bandwidth for Broadband

Phillip Dampier February 16, 2017 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

AT&T’s U-verse TV has been losing customers for over a year. (Image: Market Realist)

AT&T wants its U-verse TV video service dead, but is willing to watch it bleed customers for a while before likely downsizing or axing the service to make room for better broadband speeds.

The phone company has allowed U-verse TV to wither on the vine for more than a year, losing hundreds of thousands of customers every quarter since late 2015, and surprisingly has done almost nothing to stop the subscriber losses. In all, more than a million AT&T U-verse TV customers canceled service in 2016.

AT&T has admitted it has abandoned aggressively marketing its U-verse TV platform and has put its marketing muscle into selling DirecTV, the satellite provider AT&T acquired two years ago. DirecTV has added customers at a remarkably similar rate that AT&T has been losing U-verse TV customers. AT&T is even willing to watch customers walk into the arms of their competitors, a clear sign AT&T hopes their U-verse TV customers churn away.

Customers report U-verse TV-related promotions and retention plans have gotten worse in the last 14 months and some tell Stop the Cap! they were steered to DirecTV when they contacted AT&T to discuss their options.

Even the U-verse brand is being gradually discontinued. AT&T recently rebranded its fiber to the home service AT&T Fiber, dropping the AT&T U-verse with GigaPower brand the company had used since first announcing gigabit speed access.

AT&T U-verse as a brand is slowly disappearing in favor of AT&T Fiber.

Market Realist reports AT&T doesn’t necessarily want to spend a lot of money upgrading its legacy U-verse fiber to the neighborhood network across its entire landline service area, but needs to boost broadband speeds to stay competitive with cable broadband. When U-verse was originally launched, the service reserved much of its available bandwidth for television service, limiting broadband speeds to a maximum of around 24Mbps. That is no longer seen as competitively adequate and that leaves AT&T with only two options: upgrade its legacy infrastructure to support fiber-fed gigabit speed or reduce the amount of bandwidth devoted to television services and use it to expand broadband speeds.

AT&T is doing a little of both, expanding its gigabit broadband service in very limited areas in 46 cities with 23 more to come sometime this year. An indication of just how few customers can actually buy AT&T’s gigabit speeds was revealed indirectly by AT&T. Only four million homes and businesses, including 650,000 apartment and condo units can buy 1,000Mbps broadband from AT&T nationwide. Los Angeles and Chicago — both AT&T Fiber service areas, combined have more than five million potential customers alone.

In many cases, fewer than 10% of AT&T’s customers in AT&T Fiber cities can actually buy the service. In Knoxville, Tenn., AT&T admitted its gigabit service was only available in about 30 apartment and condominium complexes.

AT&T is promising to expand its fiber service to reach at least 12.5 million customers in 67 metro areas by the summer of 2019. But that will still likely leave more than half of AT&T’s customers out of reach of the service.

AT&T has told investors it plans no blockbuster budget increases to aggressively roll out fiber service across its footprint, which includes much of the south and midwest and large sections of California. Instead, it will likely offer fiber service to new housing developments, multi-dwelling units, and higher income areas. That decision still requires AT&T to do something for customers not on a near-term upgrade list, and that will likely be a gradual transformation of legacy U-verse into broadband-only service with speeds closer to 50-75Mbps, where video streaming from services like DirecTV Now can travel over the top to customers.

Disney CEO Suddenly Discovers There Are Too Many Ads on TV; Cutting Ad Load on ABC, ESPN

Phillip Dampier February 15, 2017 Consumer News, Online Video 2 Comments

“I think that in general, there is probably too much commercial interruption in television,” Disney CEO Bob Iger told investors on the company’s first-quarter earnings call.

As some commercial networks cut “hour-long” TV shows to as little as 39 minutes, viewers have taken notice and are tuning out.

TV advertising loads — how many ad breaks and for how long — have been increasing since the 1950s, leaving viewers with less and less of their favorite shows. Networks have gotten creative over the years finding new spaces for advertising content by compressing opening titles and closing credits, telling producers to plan for shorter shows, using product placement to showcase brands and products inside shows, and editing or compressing older programs that can no longer fit in their allotted time slots.

The idea of reducing advertising is a recent phenomena, but one being taken seriously by networks that have watched ad revenue and ratings slip, as viewers learn to bypass or avoid advertising, or watch something else.

Iger promised an unspecified reduction in advertising on Disney-owned ABC and ESPN. It is uncertain if that will result in a slight decline of a minute per hour or something more dramatic. Time Warner, Inc., began opting for the latter in 2015, cutting ad time on certain shows on its TruTV network by half. Viacom and 21st Century Fox followed with experimental ad reductions of their own that same year.

Reducing advertising does not necessarily mean revenue reduction. Earlier experiments raised ad rates to compensate for the reduced number of commercials. Advertisers were reportedly pleased by the experiments because shorter ad breaks encouraged viewers to avoid channel surfing, giving higher exposure to advertising messages.

Comcast Launching New XFINITY Stream App to Access 200+ Channels, DVR In/Out of Home

Phillip Dampier February 14, 2017 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Comcast today announced it is launching a new streaming television app for XFINITY TV customers allowing access to more than 200 live channels and DVR recordings on-the-go at no extra charge.

XFINITY Stream works with phones, tablets, and laptops in or out of the home, and will replace the XFINITY TV app when released for iOS and Android devices on Feb. 28.

The app will expand the ability of Comcast customers to watch their television lineup and DVR recordings anywhere there is a broadband connection. Many cable companies do not allow customers to watch DVR-recorded shows on portable devices and only have a small selection of cable channels available for viewing outside of the home.

“With the XFINITY Stream app, we are giving customers access to the best content in and out of the home with a growing list of advanced features and capabilities that make the mobile experience nearly identical to the cable experience they enjoy at home,” said Matt Strauss, executive vice president and general manager of Comcast Cable’s video and entertainment services.

Among the improvements claimed by Comcast:

  • availability of a Spanish language guide
  • X1-like experience
  • favorite channel filtering
  • 50 Music Choice music channels
  • Common Sense Media reviews and ratings
  • 40,000 on demand movies and TV shows
  • full access to your XFINITY DVR and its recordings
  • ability to download “thousands” of shows for offline viewing

Customers who have already installed the latest version of the XFINITY TV app on their devices need not do anything. The app will transition through an app update on Feb 28.

The Return of the Verizon Wireless Unlimited Data Plan Provokes Wall Street Anxiety

The days of wine and roses from wireless data profits may be at risk, according to some Wall Street analysts, after Verizon Wireless on Monday brought back an unlimited data plan it vowed was dead for good in 2011.

The “Cadillac” wireless network reintroduced unlimited data, phone, and texting this week at prices that vary according to the number of lines on your account:

  • $80 a month for one line
  • $70 a line for two lines
  • $54 a line for three lines
  • $45 a line for four lines

Verizon Wireless last enrolled customers in its old unlimited data plan in 2011, and a dwindling number of customers remain grandfathered on that plan, which began increasing in price last year and has since been restricted to no more than 200GB of “unlimited” usage in a month.

Verizon’s new unlimited data plan is a response to pressure from increasing competition, especially from T-Mobile and Sprint. All of Verizon’s national competitors have unlimited data plans with varying restrictions, and Verizon’s lack of one is likely to have cost it new customer signups last year. The company only managed to add 2.3 million postpaid customers in 2016, down from 4.5 million signed up in 2015.

CEO McAdam swore unlimited data was dead at Verizon

Causing the most irritation is T-Mobile, which near-constantly nips at Verizon’s heels with innovative and disruptive plans designed to challenge Verizon’s business model. BTIG Research analyst Walter Piecyk noted Verizon’s claims it does not need to respond to T-Mobile’s marketing harassment just don’t ring true any longer.

“Verizon has a long history of rebuffing T-Mobile’s competitive moves as non-economic or unlikely to have an impact on the industry for more than a quarter or two, only to later replicate the offer,” Piecyk said. “That was true for phone payment plans, ETF payments for switchers, overage etc. We can now add unlimited to that list. How long will it be until Verizon offers pricing that includes taxes? Despite those delayed competitive responses, T-Mobile has maintained industry leading growth while Verizon’s has declined.”

Piecyk believes Verizon Wireless rushed their unlimited data plan into the marketplace and its introduction seemed not well planned.

“We asked Verizon what has changed to explain such an abrupt reversal, but have yet to receive a response,” Piecyk said. “They had recently been running an advertisement promoting the 5GB rate plan that argued why customers do not need unlimited. The rate plan remains, but it is not clear if the advertisement will. The launch of unlimited seemed rushed, coming a week after the exposure they could have secured with a Super Bowl advertisement. The ad run last night during the Grammy’s did not appear to have taken much to produce.”

Verizon Wireless executives have argued for years customers don’t need unlimited data plans and Verizon would no longer offer one:

  • With unlimited, it’s the physics that breaks it. If you allow unlimited usage, you just run out of gas. — Lowell McAdam, Verizon CEO (September, 2013)
  • At this point, we are not going to entertain unlimited. Promotions come and go. We can’t react to everything in the marketplace.” — Fran Shammo, former Verizon CFO (January, 2016)
  • “I’ve been pretty public saying the unlimited model does not work in an LTE environment. Unlimited is a very short-term game in the LTE market. Eventually unlimited is going to go away because you have to generate cash to reinvest.” — Fran Shammo, former Verizon CFO (March, 2016)
  • Unlimited data plans were “not something we feel the need to do.” — Matthew Ellis, Verizon CFO (January, 2017)

Shammo: Unlimited doesn’t work on LTE networks.

The impact of not having an unlimited data plan appears to have convinced Verizon to change its mind, and that comes as no surprise to Roger Entner of Recon Analytics.

“In three to five years, unlimited plans will come back,” Entner predicted in 2011. He claimed back then wireless carriers were initially unsure how to predict data usage growth on their networks and placing limits on usage gave carriers more predictable upgrade schedules. But after several years of data, Entner said carriers can now better predict the amount of data an average subscriber will use in a month, giving them confidence to remove the caps.

Verizon Wireless’ unlimited plan includes several fine print limitations that provide additional network protection for Verizon and manage any surprise usage:

  • Unlimited use is only provided on Verizon’s 4G LTE network. Limits may apply to customers using older 3G networks, which are less efficient managing traffic;
  • Unlimited not available to Machine-to-Machine Services;
  • Customers with unlimited data plans may find their traffic deprioritized on congested cell sites after 22GB of data consumption during a billing cycle. This speed throttle can reduce network speeds to near-dial up in some circumstances, at least until site congestion eases;
  • Mobile hotspot tethering on this unlimited plan is limited to 10GB per month on Verizon’s 4G LTE network. Additional usage will be provided at 3G speeds. This is designed to discourage customers from using Verizon Wireless as a home broadband replacement;
  • Verizon’s ultimate 200GB monthly limit is also presumably still in place. If you exceed it on Verizon’s legacy unlimited data plan, you were told to shift to a tiered data plan or had your account closed.

Piecyk thinks Verizon’s unlimited data plan may have been rushed out.

Although consumers clamoring for an unlimited data plan from Verizon are happy, Wall Street is not. Analysts are generally opposed to Verizon’s return to unlimited, with many suggesting it is clear evidence the days of high profits and predictable revenue growth are over. That is especially bad news for AT&T and Verizon Wireless, where investors expect predictable and aggressive returns. Verizon has already warned investors it expects revenue and profits to be flat this year.

Jeffrey Kvaal with Instinet believes Verizon’s traditionally robust network coverage is no longer an advantage as competitors catch up and unlimited data is the final nail in the coffin for wireless revenue growth. That means only one thing to Kvaal, AT&T and Verizon must pursue growth outside of the wireless industry. Verizon, in particular, is facing investor expectations it will do something bold in 2017, such as making a large acquisition like a major cable operator.

Evercore ISI’s Vijay Jayant believes unlimited data is bad news for all carriers from the perspective of investors looking for revenue growth.  Jayant told investors in the short term, unlimited data may help Verizon’s revenue because the plans are expensive, but in the long run Verizon is sacrificing the revenue potential of monetizing growing data usage in return for a high-priced, flat rate option. That guarantees “customers won’t see their bills rise, even as their usage does,” Jayant said.

Some analysts point out Verizon’s unlimited data plan is expensive, limiting its potential attractiveness to customers considering jumping to another carrier. While Verizon charges between $80-180 (for one to four devices), AT&T charges between $100-180 for unlimited plan customers, who must also sign up with DirecTV to get an unlimited data plan. T-Mobile charges between $70-160 and Sprint charges between $60-160. The cheapest is T-Mobile, because its plans are all-taxes/fees inclusive. All four carriers have soft limits after which customers may be exposed to a speed throttle. AT&T can temporarily throttle users at 22GB, Sprint can throttle above 23GB and T-Mobile after 28GB.

The Wall Street Journal discusses Verizon’s unlimited data plan and its caveats. (4:55)

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