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YouTube TV Reaches 50% of U.S. With Addition of 14 New Markets

Phillip Dampier August 17, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, YouTube TV 3 Comments

YouTube TV, an online streaming alternative to cable television, now reaches 50% of U.S. residents after the company introduced local TV service in 14 new markets.

The latest additions allow customers to view most local ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC stations as part of their subscription. But YouTube TV has not yet signed agreements with all of those station owners, so some cities will continue to have only on-demand access to FOX network shows for the time being.

The newest cities added:

  • Florida: Jacksonville (inc. Brunswick, Ga.), Tampa-St. Petersburg, Sarasota, West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce
  • Kentucky: Louisville
  • Maryland: Baltimore
  • Massachusetts: Boston
  • Nevada: Las Vegas
  • Ohio: Columbus, Cincinnati
  • Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh
  • Tennessee: Memphis, Nashville
  • Texas: San Antonio
  • Washington: Seattle, Tacoma

The service costs $35 a month and includes a feature-limited DVR, which in certain cases does not allow customers to fast-forward past commercials. The service also recently added two new channels to its lineup: Tennis Channel, and for Boston-area residents only: NESN, a regional sports network.

An additional 17 markets are expected to be online before the end of summer:

  • Alabama: Birmingham
  • California: San Diego
  • Connecticut: Hartford, New Haven
  • Colorado: Denver
  • Indiana: Indianapolis
  • Michigan: Battle Creek, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo
  • Missouri: Kansas City, St. Louis
  • North Carolina: Triad Region (Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem), Raleigh-Durham
  • Ohio: Akron, Cleveland
  • Oklahoma: Oklahoma City
  • Pennsylvania: Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, York
  • Texas: Austin
  • Utah: Salt Lake City
  • Virginia: Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth
  • Wisconsin: Milwaukee

CBS Invades Canada: Launching Its All-Access Pass Service North of the Border in 2018

Phillip Dampier August 8, 2017 Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

CBS All Access is coming to Canada, bringing nearly the entire lineup of CBS shows and features north of the border.

The service will launch in Canada in the first half of 2018, followed shortly thereafter in other countries in “multiple continents” according to CBS. CBS has not yet set prices for the Canadian market, but the price is expected to be comparable to the $5.99 and $9.99 (ad-free) options sold in the United States.

It isn’t known if CBS will also attempt to offer Showtime as an add-on abroad, but the network promises to include most of the 9,000 episodes of CBS and original programming available to Americans without annoying geographic restrictions for those abroad. Canadian viewers will also be able to watch CBSN, the 24/7 streaming news service developed by CBS News specifically for online audiences, as well as on-demand access to certain shows licensed by CBS but not seen on the network.

CBS All Access is available on smartphones, tablets, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Android TV, Fire TV, and most major game consoles.

Telcos Intentionally Cut Rural Broadband Investments Hoping for Taxpayer Subsidies

AT&T: Using taxpayer and ratepayer dollars to subsidize 4G LTE upgrades for its customers.

With taxpayer subsidies on the horizon, phone companies cut back investing their own money on rural broadband expansion hoping taxpayers would cover funding themselves.

That is the conclusion of Dave Burstein, a long-standing and well-respected industry observer and publisher of Net Policy News. Burstein is concerned the unintentional consequence of Obama and Trump Administration rural broadband funding programs has been fewer homes connected than what some carriers would have managed on their own without government subsidies.

“Since 2009, carrier investment in broadband in rural areas has gone down drastically,” Burstein wrote.

As a result, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to spend $4.53 billion from a public-financed Mobility Fund over the next decade to advance 4G LTE service, primarily in rural areas that would not be served in the absence of government support. Burstein suspects much of that money could end up being unnecessarily wasted.

“Under current plans, most of the money is likely to go where telcos would build [4G] without a subsidy, [or will be used to] buy obsolete technology, or give the telcos two or three times what the job should cost,” Burstein wrote. “Any spending on wireless except where towers or backhaul is unavailable should be assumed wasteful until proven otherwise.  Realistic costs need to be developed and subsidies allocated on that basis.”

AT&T’s rural fixed wireless expansion program, funded substantially by U.S. taxpayers and ratepayers, is a case in point. AT&T is receiving almost $428 million a year in public funds to extend wireless access to 1.1 million customers in 18 states, the FCC says. Much of that investment is claimed to be spent retrofitting and upgrading existing cell towers to support 4G LTE service. But AT&T claims 98% of its customers already have access to 4G LTE service — more than any other carrier in the country, so AT&T is actually spending the money to bolster its existing 4G LTE network, something more likely to benefit its cell customers, not a few thousand fixed wireless customers.

(Source: AT&T)

“An AT&T exec in California said communities didn’t need to worry about the impact of the CAF-funded project, since it was almost all going to be on existing towers,” Burstein wrote, allaying fears among members of the public that money would be spent on lots of new cell towers. “I don’t know what loophole AT&T is using to get the money, but it’s a pretty safe guess they would have upgraded most of them without the government paying. 4G service now reaches all but 3-5 million of the 110-126 million U.S. households. Probably half [of the less than five million] targeted would soon be served without a subsidy – if the telcos knew no subsidy was likely. Before spending a penny on subsidies, the FCC needs to do a thorough assessment of what would be built without government money.”

Burstein

Wireless executives were delighted when the U.S. government in 2009 committed to spending $7 billion in taxpayer funds on broadband stimulus funding as part of a full-scale economic stimulus program to combat the Great Recession.

“Both George Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 had promised to bring affordable broadband to all Americans,” Burstein noted. “The clamor to reach these last few million was so loud, telcos became confident the government would pay for it if they just stopped their own investment. They aren’t stupid and refused to spend their own money. Before 2009 and the expected huge stimulus program, most telcos expanded their networks each year, based on available capital funds.”

Burstein believes some phone companies became better experts at milking government money to pay for needed network upgrades than frugally spending public funds on rural broadband expansion. As a result, after eight years and massive spending, Burstein notes fewer than two million of the “unserved” six million homes were reached by wireline or wireless broadband service when the funding ran out.

Under Chairman Pai’s latest round of rural broadband funding, Burstein believes much of this new money is also at risk of being wasted.

“[Pai] needs to dig into the details of what he’s proposing,” Burstein wrote. “Nearly all cells with decent backhaul will be upgraded to 4G; Verizon and AT&T have already reached 98% of homes. Government money should go to building towers and backhaul where that’s missing, not filling in network holes the carriers would likely cover.”

Rural advocacy groups have been frustrated for years watching rural telephone companies deliver piecemeal upgrades and service expansion, often to only a few hundred customers at any one time. When they learn how much was spent to extend broadband service to a relatively few number of customers, they are confused because companies often spend much less when they budget and pay for projects on their own without government subsidies.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing rural broadband initiatives in New York.

Burstein is currently suspicious about the $200 million approved in subsidy funding to extend rural broadband in parts of upstate New York. Burstein notes Pai is factually wrong about his claim that the hundreds of millions set aside for New York would be spent on “unserved areas of rural New York.”

“Most of that money will not go to unserved areas,” Burstein reports. “Some grants are going to politically connected groups. I’ve read the rules and the approved proposals. The amounts look excessive based on the limited public details.”

Telephone companies have become skilled negotiators when it comes to wiring their rural service areas. Most want more money than the government has previously been willing to offer to help them meet their Return On Investment expectations. Burstein noted that under normal circumstances, a government program offering a 25% subsidy to extend rural broadband into areas considered unprofitable to serve would be enough in most cases to get approval from rural phone companies like CenturyLink and Frontier Communications. But many phone companies, including AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest (now a part of CenturyLink) did not even file applications to participate in early funding rounds. Qwest’s lack of interest was especially problematic, because the former Baby Bell served the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain regions where some of the worst broadband accessibility problems persisted.

Burstein claims Jonathan Adelstein, then Rural Utilities Administrator, had to double his subsidy offer to get Qwest’s attention with a 50% subsidy.

Rural backhaul connectivity is often provided by fiber optic cabling.

“Qwest refused, demanding 75%,” Burstein noted. “That was probably twice the amount necessary and Adelstein rightly refused. They knew the government had few ways to reach those unserved without paying whatever the telcos demanded. A few years later, Qwest is part of Centurylink. Many of those lines are now upgrading under [public] Connect America Funds with what amounts to a greater than 100% subsidy.”

Net Neutrality appeared to have no impact on telephone company investment decisions, even in rural areas. The investment cuts followed a trend that began even before President Barack Obama took office. Wireless carriers slash investments in rural areas when management is confident the government is motivated to step in and offer taxpayer dollars to expand rural broadband service. When those funds do become available, a significant percentage of the money isn’t spent on constructing new infrastructure to extend the reach of wired and wireless networks into unserved rural areas. Instead, it pays for expanding existing infrastructure that may coincidentally reach some rural customers, but is still primarily used by existing cellular customers.

“In many extreme rural areas, only the local telco has the ability to deliver broadband at a reasonable cost,” noted Burstein. “You need to have affordable backhaul and a local staff for repairs. Because the ‘unserved’ are in very small clusters, often less than 100 homes, it’s usually impractical for a new entrant to bring in a backhaul connection.”

Instead, AT&T is attempting to fill some of the gaps with fixed wireless service from existing cell towers. While good news for customers without access to cable or DSL broadband but do have adequate cellular coverage to subscribe to AT&T’s Fixed Wireless service, that is not much help for those in deeply rural areas where AT&T isn’t investing in additional cell towers to extend coverage. In effect, AT&T enjoys a win-win for itself — adding taxpayer-funded capacity to their existing 4G LTE networks at the same time it markets data-cap free access to its bandwidth-heavy online video services like DirecTV Now. That frees up capital and reduces costs for AT&T’s investors. But it also alienates AT&T’s competitors that recognize the additional network capacity available to AT&T also allows it to offer steep discounts on its DirecTV Now service exclusively for its own wireless customers.

CBS, CW, Showtime, CBS Sports, and Pop Join DirecTV Now Lineup

Phillip Dampier August 8, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, DirecTV, Online Video No Comments

DirecTV Now customers in 14 major TV markets will soon have live access to their local CBS and CW affiliates through the streaming service, with 30 additional ABC, FOX and NBC affiliates soon to follow in other cities.

“This is another key milestone in bringing DirecTV Now users access to their favorite entertainment, news and sports from all the major broadcast networks,” said Daniel York, senior executive vice president and chief content officer – AT&T Entertainment Group.

In “the coming weeks” DirecTV Now will also add on-demand access to CBS and CW programming for the benefit of those who live outside of a city where a live station stream will be available. The agreement with CBS includes Showtime ($8 per month), CBS Sports Network (available on packages starting with ‘Go Big’), and Pop (added to packages starting with ‘Just Right’). Customers who subscribe to Showtime on DirecTV Now can also use Showtime Anytime for on-the-go access.

Live streaming CBS and CW stations will initially be available to customers within these markets:

  • New York
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • Philadelphia
  • Dallas – Ft. Worth
  • San FranciscoOaklandSan Jose
  • Boston
  • Detroit
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul
  • Miami-Ft. Lauderdale
  • Denver
  • SacramentoStocktonModesto, CA
  • Pittsburgh
  • Baltimore

Canadian Telecom Cos. Raid Montreal Software Developer’s Home, Interrogate Him for 9 Hours

6A group of five men representing Bell, Rogers, and Vidéotron burst into the private home of a Montreal man at 8 a.m. on June 12 without notice and interrogated him for nine hours about his involvement in a search engine that helps Canadian viewers circumvent geographic restrictions on online TV shows and movies.

The lawyer representing Canadian telephone company Bell and two of the country’s largest cable companies — Rogers and Vidéotron, was backed by a bailiff and independent counsel who informed Montreal software developer Adam Lackman, founder of TVAddons and a current defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by the telecom companies, that he was “not permitted to refuse to answer questions” posed by the companies under threat of additional criminal and civil penalties.

Lackman was instructed he had one hour to locate an attorney, but was forbidden to use any electronic or telecommunications device to contact one. He was also not allowed to leave the designated room in his home where he was held unless accompanied by a corporate lawyer or court official. The men also warned Lackman’s attorney he could not counsel Lackman on his answers to their questions and had to remain silent.

“I had to sit there and not leave their sight. I was denied access to medication,” Lackman told TorrentFreak. “I had a doctor’s appointment I was forced to miss. I wasn’t even allowed to call and cancel.”

Lackman was eventually placed in a room in his home and interrogated almost continuously for nine hours, but was given a brief break for dinner and time to finally talk privately with his attorney. By the time the bailiff, two computer technicians, the independent counsel and the corporate attorney left, it was 16 hours later and after midnight. The men left with Lackman’s personal computer and phone, along with a full list of usernames and passwords to access his email and social media accounts.

“The whole experience was horrifying,” Lackman told CBC News. “It felt like the kind of thing you would have expected to have happened in the Soviet Union.”

Lackman

The telecom giants gained access to Lackman’s home with the use of a Anton Piller order, a type of civil search warrant that gives private individuals and companies acting as plaintiffs in a lawsuit full access to a defendant’s home with no warning. The order was designed to allow searches and seizure of relevant evidence at high risk of being destroyed by a defendant.

The Canadian companies were upset because of Lackman’s involvement in Kodi, an open source home theater platform that allows viewers to access stored and online streaming media. Lackman produces apps, known as add-ons, that help Kodi users access live TV streams and recorded content. Unfortunately, that sometimes occurs in contravention of geographic and copyright restrictions imposed by the Canadian companies on Canadian viewers. As a result, several large telecom companies filed suit against Lackman for copyright infringement.

“Approximately 40 million unique users located around the world are actively using infringing add-ons hosted by TVAddons every month, and approximately 900,000 Canadian households use infringing add-ons to access television content,” claims the lawsuit. “The amount of users of infringing add-ons hosted TVAddons is constantly increasing.”

The Honourable B. Richard Bell (Image: Keith Minchin)

On June 9, a Canadian Federal Court judge handed the telecom companies a victory in the form of an interim injunction and restraining order against Lackman prohibiting him from engaging in any activity that could further violate the companies’ interpretation of copyright law. The ruling also included an Anton Piller order, which critics contend often allows private companies to engage in extended fishing expeditions looking for additional evidence to further their case.

The order included the right to seize any and all data surrounding the alleged offense, including equipment, paper records, bank accounts, and anything else in Lackman’s possession that plaintiffs could argue was connected to the lawsuit. It also permitted a bailiff and computer forensics experts to assume control of many of Lackman’s internet domains including TVAddons.ag and Offshoregit.com, as well as his social media and web hosting accounts for a period of two weeks. Since the case was handled ex parte (open to only one side) by the Federal Court, Lackman was not informed or given the opportunity to present a defense.

The ruling evidently allowed the companies to believe they had carte blanche to question Lackman.

When the corporate attorney was not grilling Lackman about his own involvement in Kodi add-ons, he demanded Lackman disclose any and all information he had on an additional 30 individuals that might also be involved in services like TVAddons. That demand fell squarely outside of the range of the court order, which is designed to protect existing evidence, not permit plaintiffs to fish for new evidence to bolster their case.

After the search ended, Lackman and his attorney went to court to challenge what they believed to be one of the most shocking instances of corporate intimidation and legal abuse ever seen in a copyright case. Lackman’s attorney had little trouble convincing the Honourable B. Richard Bell, who presided over a Federal Court hearing on the matter.

Bell found multiple egregious violations of the court order, including a limit on any search to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. but instead lasted until at least midnight. The judge also found ample evidence Lackman’s rights were violated and he was subjected to an intimidation campaign designed to destroy his software business, leave him financially unable to mount any defense against the lawsuit, and get him to both incriminate himself and others against his will.

A court transcript reveals the real motives of Canadian telecom companies: to “neutralize the guy” that is hurting their businesses.

“It is important to note that the Defendant was not permitted to refuse to answer questions under fear of contempt proceedings, and his counsel was not permitted to clarify the answers to questions. I conclude unhesitatingly that the Defendant was subjected to an examination for discovery without any of the protections normally afforded to litigants in such circumstances,” the judge said. “Here, I would add that the ‘questions’ were not really questions at all. They took the form of orders or directions. For example, the Defendant was told to ‘provide to the bailiff’ or ‘disclose to the Plaintiffs’ solicitors’.”

Bell also saw through the plaintiffs’ questioning of Lackman about 30 other individuals that might also be allegedly involved in copyright infringement.

Lose in one venue, win in another.

“I conclude that those questions, posed by Plaintiffs’ counsel, were solely made in furtherance of their investigation and constituted a hunt for further evidence, as opposed to the preservation of then existing evidence,” he wrote in a June 29 order. “I am of the view that [the order’s] true purpose was to destroy the livelihood of the Defendant, deny him the financial resources to finance a defense to the claim made against him, and to provide an opportunity for discovery of the Defendant in circumstances where none of the procedural safeguards of our civil justice system could be engaged.”

The judge ruled the Anton Piller order be declared null and void and ordered all of Lackman’s possessions to be returned to him.

To all observers, it was a withering repudiation of the tactics used by the Canadian telecom companies suing Lackman. But deep pockets always allow lawyers the luxury of a change of venue and the telecom companies promptly appealed Bell’s ruling to the Federal Court of Appeal, requesting a stay of execution of Judge Bell’s order. The court granted the appeal on behalf of the telecom companies and allowed the plaintiffs to keep possession of all seized items, domains, and social media accounts until a full appeal of the case can be heard this fall. However, the court found defects in the execution of the Anton Piller order, and ordered the telecom companies to post a security bond of $140,000 CDN and continue the $50,000 CDN bond in case sanctions are later warranted.

Lackman intends to continue his legal fight and is raising money to cover legal expenses on the fundraising site Indiegogo. He has also set up a new TVAddons website and Twitter account and has resumed the add-on development that got him embroiled in the copyright infringement lawsuit in the first place. But Lackman seems to have at least one judge on his side.

“The defendant has demonstrated that he has an arguable case that he is not violating the [Copyright] Act,” wrote Judge Bell, adding that by the plaintiffs’ own estimate, only about one per cent of Lackman’s add-ons were allegedly used to pirate content.

Updated 8/16: The website is now back under this new URL: https://www.tvaddons.co/

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