Home » Rural Broadband » Recent Articles:

Relationship Between Spectrum and New York State Growing Worse By the Day

Whatever pleasantries were exchanged between Charter Communications and the New York Department of Public Service (Public Service Commission) earlier this year are now gone as the relationship between the cable company and state officials continues to deteriorate.

The first shot across the bow this summer came in Charter’s June 28th letter in response to a demand by the state to unconditionally accept the state’s terms of its 2016 Merger Order granting the acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Charter Communications. Except the cable company did not actually agree unconditionally to those terms. As part of a dispute over Charter’s fulfillment of its responsibilities in the Merger Order regarding rural broadband expansion, one section seemed to predict future litigation:

“While Charter’s acceptance of these commitments is unconditional, this acceptance remains subject to applicable law. Charter does not waive its positions as to the meaning or proper interpretation of its commitments (including Charter’s position that the negotiating history of Appendix A must guide such interpretation), or any of its legal rights including its right to seek review of the Commission’s June 14, 2018 Orders and the Commission’s interpretation and application of the January 8, 2016 Order.”

On July 3rd, Charter’s attorneys sent another letter to the telecommunications regulator doubling down on this language:

“Charter fundamentally disagrees that the Commission’s June 14th Order accurately reflects the agreement that was reached with Charter with respect to the Merger Order. The company intends to appeal the Order….”

That notification was included in a letter requesting an extension of the deadline to file a revised rural buildout plan to replace disqualified addresses with other New York addresses where broadband service is not currently available. Charter warned it would pursue “administrative and legal appeals” and did not want to take the time update its buildout lists until those challenges (and appeals) are exhausted. The company’s lawyers made sure to reserve all of Charter’s rights in an even lengthier footnoted disclaimer:

“Certain subjects discussed in this filing pertain to non jurisdictional products and services. Discussion of nonjurisdictional products and services is not intended as a waiver or concession of the Commission’s jurisdiction beyond the scope of Charter’s regulated telecommunications and cable video services. Charter respectfully reserves all rights relating to the inclusion of or reference to such information, including without limitation Charter’s legal and equitable rights relating to jurisdiction, compliance, filing, disclosure, relevancy, due process, review, and appeal. The inclusion of or reference to non jurisdictional information or to the ordering clauses or other requirements of the Order as obligations or commitments to provide non jurisdictional services shall not be construed as a waiver of any rights or objections otherwise available to Charter in this or any other proceeding, and may not be deemed an admission of relevancy, materiality, or admissibility generally. The requests discussed herein should not be construed in any way as a waiver by Charter of any of its legal rights, including (without limitation) Charter’s right to seek review of the June 14th Order or otherwise seek review of the Commission’s interpretation and application of its January 8, 2016 Merger Order.”

The key takeaway from this legal word salad is “non jurisdictional products and services” — code language from Charter to the state suggesting New York regulators have no legal authority to stand on imposing rules, regulations, and requirements on deregulated services like broadband. Charter’s lawyers defended the company against accusations it failed to meet the agreed-on schedule for rural broadband buildout to 145,000 unserved/underserved New Yorkers using similar language. Charter only began suggesting the state’s broadband expansion plan violated federal law after the state declared the company was out of compliance and fined.

Any legal action by Charter will likely rest on claims the federal government deregulated much of the cable business, including broadband service. Therefore, the state lacks enforcement power to compel Charter to offer broadband service to any unserved area, much less on a timetable. Remember, however, Charter was only too happy to agree to the terms of the merger agreement, with all its terms and conditions, to get the merger finished, without any complaints. Now it seems to have second thoughts.

“Charter finds that the task of revising the detailed Buildout Plan and the other requirements is far too large an undertaking to be accomplished with the necessary care and diligence required within the 21-day timeframe mandated in the Commission’s June 14th Order,” the cable company’s lawyers wrote, asking for an extension of the deadline.

Today, the Department issued a terse response to Charter’s legal team, authored by Kathleen Burgess, secretary of the Public Service Commission:

“Your request for a stay of the revisions of Charter’s Buildout Plan and the other provisions required by the Commission’s Order is not a matter for the Secretary. Your request for a 60-day extension is excessive and not adequately justified. Therefore, your request for an extension is denied.”

Two things seem clear: New York will continue to fine Charter for further missed deadlines, and it seems likely this matter is headed for court.

Lifting Co-Op Broadband Restrictions in Tennessee Triggers Major Fiber Expansion

While parts of rural Tennessee languish with little or no broadband service, the state’s electric cooperatives are jumping to deliver internet access over fiber optic cables after the governor eased restrictions written into state law on rural co-ops offering public broadband service.

After Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed a bill in 2017 permitting not-for-profit electric co-ops to offer broadband service to their customer-members, at least seven of Tennessee’s 22 municipal co-ops almost immediately launched fiber to the home service projects that offer faster and more reliable service than many of the state’s phone companies that still offer DSL service (or nothing at all).

Offering broadband service is a win-win for small communities and the co-ops that serve them, because existing infrastructure already in place to provide electric service can be augmented with fiber optic cables to deliver phone, television, and internet service as well. Co-ops can also use the fiber infrastructure to manage smart electricity grids, which can better detect outages and offer useful power management tools.

Among some of the projects now underway:

  • Tri-County Fiber Communications  of Lafayette, Tenn., serves more than 50,000 customers in rural Tennessee and Kentucky. Its fiber project will serve part of its current service area and is enrolling customers now who want to commit themselves as future customers and avoid a $1,500 installation fee.
  • SVEConnect, providing electric service since 1939, will offer customers in seven counties starting internet speeds of 200 Mbps and up to 1 Gbps in 2018, along with phone and television service.
  • Gibson Connect, operated by the Gibson Electric Membership Corporation, offers service to 39,000 homes and businesses in eight west Tennessee counties (Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Haywood, Lake, Lauderdale, Obion and Madison) and four west Kentucky counties (Carlisle, Fulton, Graves and Hickman). Fiber broadband is planned to roll out gradually in many of these areas, and the co-op has already signed up 6,000 customers before service is even available. Gibson Connect will sell 100 Mbps internet for $49.95 and 1,000 Mbps service for $69.95 a month. Some customers in its service area are already served by other providers, but Gibson promises faster speeds, no data caps, and more affordable pricing.

The conservative and industry-backed groups that coordinated with the telecom industry to push Tennessee to pass restrictive laws effectively banning municipal or public broadband competition are grudgingly tolerating co-ops entering the broadband marketplace, as long as they only service areas where they won’t compete with an established phone or cable company. They also must remain within their electric service area.

Those opposed to public broadband claim the networks offer unfair competition because they often receive subsidies or grants. But many municipalities are doubly frustrated because the same companies that are lobbying to keep them out of the broadband business also refuse to provide service in their towns and villages. Many communities are too small or sparsely populated to provide enough Return On Investment (ROI) to entice those providers to expand, they add.

In areas where residents are quick to complain about government spending, many are strongly in favor of broadband development. Local officials have been told by frustrated residents, “if you do not provide the service, nobody else will.”

Despite the flourishing of fiber-fast broadband in areas served by co-ops, other parts of Tennessee remain broadband dead zones because the current state law continues to frustrate local communities trying to build financially feasible broadband projects that have a chance of breaking even. Tennessee’s Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is running for a Senate seat this year, is notoriously one of the country’s biggest allies of AT&T, Comcast, and other telecom companies and favors keeping public broadband in shackles. She is also among the top recipients of campaign contributions from the telecom industry.

Australia’s National Broadband Network Looking for Scapegoats Over Maddening Slowdowns

Australia’s speed-challenged NBN is looking for scapegoats and finds video game players an easy target.

In 2009, Australia’s Labor Party proposed scrapping the country’s copper wire networks and replacing virtually all of it with a state-of-the-art, public fiber to the home service in cities from Perth to the west to Brisbane in the east, with the sparsely populated north and central portions of the country served by satellite-based or wireless internet.

It was a revolutionary transformation of the country’s challenged broadband networks, which had been heavily usage capped and speed throttled for years, and for large sections of the country stuck using Telstra’s DSL service, terribly slow.

The National Broadband Network concept was immediately attacked by the political opposition as too expensive and unnecessary. Conservative demagogues in the media and in Parliament dismissed the concept as a Cadillac network delivering unnecessarily fast 100 Mbps connections to 90% of Australians that would, in reality, mostly benefit internet addicts while leaving older taxpayers to foot the estimated $43AUS billion dollar bill for the network.

The leaders of the center-right Liberal Party of Australia promised in 2010 to “demolish” the NBN if elected, claiming the network was too costly and would take too long to build. As network construction got underway, the organized attacks on the NBN intensified, and it was a significant issue in the 2013 election that defeated the Labor government and put the conservative government of Tony Abbott into power. Almost immediately, most of the governing board of the NBN was asked to resign and in a series of cost-saving maneuvers, the government canceled plans for a nationwide fiber-to-the-home network. In its place, Abbott and his colleagues promoted a cheaper fiber to the neighborhood network similar to AT&T’s U-verse. Fiber would be run to neighborhood cabinets, where it would connect with the country’s existing copper wire telephone service to each customer’s home.

Abbott

Unfortunately, the revised NBN implemented by the Abbott government appears to be delivering a network that is already increasingly obsolete. Long gone is the goal for ubiquitous 100 Mbps. For Senator Mitch Fifield, who also happens to be the minister for communications in the Liberal government, 25 Mbps is all the speed Australians will ever need.

“Given the choice, Australians have shown that 100 Mbps speeds are not as important to them as keeping monthly internet bills affordable, when the services they are using typically don’t require those speeds,” Fifield wrote in an opinion piece in response to an American journalist complaining about how slow Australian broadband was while reporting from the country.

The standard of “fast enough” for Senator Fifield also seems to be the minimum speed at which Netflix performs well, an important distinction for the growing number of Australians watching streaming television shows and movies.

Unfortunately for Fifield, network speeds are declining as Australians use the NBN as it was intended. While perhaps adequate for a network designed and built for 2010 internet users, data usage has grown considerably over the last eight years, and the government’s effort to keep the network’s costs down are coming back to haunt all involved. Several design changes have erased much of the savings the Abbott government envisioned would come from dumping a straight fiber network in favor of cheaper alternatives.

Right now, depending on one’s address, urban Australians will get one of four different fiber flavors the revised NBN depends on to deliver service:

  • Fiber to the Home (FTTH): the most capable network that delivers a fiber connection straight into your home.
  • Fiber to the Neighborhood (FTTN): a less capable network using fiber into neighborhoods which connects with your existing copper wire phone line to deliver service to your home.
  • Fiber to the Basement (FTTB): Fiber is installed in multi-dwelling units like apartments or condos, which connects to the building’s existing copper wire or ethernet network to your unit.
  • Fiber to the Distribution Point (FTTDP): Fiber is strung all the way to your front or back yard, where it connects with the existing copper wire drop line into your home.

In suburban and rural areas, the NBN is depending on tremendously over-hyped satellite internet access or fixed wireless internet. Customers were told wireless speeds from either technology would be comparable to some flavors of fiber, which turned out to be true assuming only one or two users were connected at a time. Instead, speeds dramatically drop in the evenings and on weekends when customers attempt to share the neighborhood’s wireless internet connection.

Instead of improving the wireless network, or scrapping it in favor of a wired/fiber alternative, the government has set on so-called “heavy users” and blamed them for effectively sabotaging the network.

Morrow

NBN CEO Bill Morrow recently appeared before a parliamentary committee to discuss reported problems with how the NBN was being rolled out in regional Australia. Morrow blamed increasing data usage for the wireless network’s difficulties, singling out slacker video game addicts for most of the trouble, and was considering implementing speed throttles on “extreme users” during peak usage periods.

Stephen Jones, Labor’s spokesperson for regional communications, questioned Morrow on what exactly an “extreme user” was.

“It’s gamers predominantly, on fixed wireless,” said Morrow. “While people are gaming it is a high bandwidth requirement that is a steady streaming process,” he said.

Morrow suggested a “fair-use policy” of speed throttles might be effective at stopping the gamers from allegedly hogging the network.

“I said there were super-users out there consuming terabytes of data and the question is should we actually groom those down? It’s a consideration,” he said. “This is where you can do things, to where you can traffic shape – where you say, ‘no, no, no, we can only offer you service when you’re not impacting somebody else’.”

The NBN itself has regularly dismissed claims that online gamers are data hogs. In an article written by the NBN itself, it stressed gameplay was not a significant stress on broadband networks.

“Believe it or not, some of the biggest online games use very little data while you’re playing compared to streaming HD video or even high-fidelity audio,” the article stated. “Where streaming 4K video can use as much as 7 gigabytes per hour and high-quality audio streaming gets up to around 125 megabytes per hour, (but usually sits at around half that) certain online games use as little as 10MB per hour.”

The article admits a very small percentage of games are exceptions, capable of chewing through up to 1 GB per hour, but that is still seven times less than a typical 4K streaming video.

In fact, the NBN’s own data acknowledged in March 2017 that high-definition streaming video was solely responsible for the biggest spike in demand. NBN data showed the average household connected to the NBN used 32% more data than the year before. When Netflix Australia premiered in March 2015, overall usage grew 22% in the first month.

So why did Morrow scapegoat gamers for network slowdowns? It’s politically palatable.

“They always have someone to blame for why the NBN doesn’t deliver, they have every excuse except the one that really matters, which is the flawed technology,” said the former CEO of Internet Australia Laurie Patton. “In this case for some reason shooting from the hip [Bill Morrow] had a go at gamers and gamers are not the problem.”

As long as Australia continues to embrace a network platform that is not adequate robust to cope with increasing demands from users, slow speeds and internet traffic jams will only increase over time. In retrospect, the decision to scrap the original fiber to the home network to save money appears to be penny wise, pound foolish.

Charter Unconditionally Accepts New York’s 2016 Merger Order… Conditionally

Two weeks ago, New York State’s telecommunications regulator gave Charter Communications 14 days to fully and unconditionally agree to the terms and condition of the 2016 Merger Order that granted the cable company permission to acquire Time Warner Cable. On the last day, hours before the deadline expired, Charter agreed, sort of.

“This replacement letter hereby clarifies that Charter ‘unconditionally accept[s] and agree[s] to comply with the commitments set forth in the body of [the Merger Order] and Appendix A’ as set forth in Ordering Clause 1 of the Merger Order,” wrote Adam E. Falk, senior vice president for state government affairs at Charter Communications.

Unwilling to stop there, Falk decided to make the unconditional acceptance… conditional.

“While Charter’s acceptance of these commitments is unconditional, this acceptance remains subject to applicable law,” Falk wrote. “Charter does not waive its positions as to the meaning or proper interpretation of its commitments (including Charter’s position that the negotiating history of Appendix A must guide such interpretation), or any of its legal rights including its right to seek review of the Commission’s June 14, 2018 Orders and the Commission’s interpretation and application of the January 8, 2016 Order.”

That final paragraph signals the Public Service Commission/Department of Public Service that Charter intends to continue insisting that the language in Appendix A governs, defines, and characterizes the entire Merger Order — an argument the Commission had refused to accept because it gave a foundation for Charter officials to claim they were in full compliance with their commitment to roll out service to an additional 145,000 unserved New York residents. Appendix A omits the purpose and intent of the expansion commitment, explained elsewhere in the Merger Order as providing broadband service in New York’s unserved rural areas. Charter had attempted to count as “new passings” any new expansion of its cable lines, including those in wealthy gated communities and upscale condos, refurbished apartments in New York City, and new housing developments — all likely to receive service without the Merger Order.

N.Y. Regulator Hammers Spectrum for Fake Ads, Intentionally Deceptive and Misleading Conduct

New York’s top telecommunications regulator has called Charter Communications a purveyor of fake ads, deception, and broken promises and has again called into question how much longer the company should be allowed to do business in New York State.

The New York State Department of Public Service/Public Service Commission today sent a letter to Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge condemning Spectrum’s false and misleading advertising campaigns and the ongoing deception of New York consumers about its expansion efforts. The letter warned Rutledge Charter must immediately cease and desist airing fake ads about the company’s efforts to expand critical broadband service across the state. The letter also warns that if the misrepresentations and unacceptable way Spectrum conducts its business in New York does not stop, the company could find itself out of business in New York State.

“The situation regarding Charter/Spectrum is getting more serious with each passing day,” Department CEO John B. Rhodes said. “Not only has the company failed to meet its obligations to build out its cable system as required, it is now making patently false and misleading claims to consumers that it has met those obligations without in any way acknowledging the findings of the Public Service Commission to the contrary. Access to broadband is essential for economic development and social equity. Charter/Spectrum’s intentional deception of New Yorkers must end now.”

So far, Charter has ignored the Public Service Commission’s June 14 order demanding Charter indicate full and unconditional acceptance of the 2016 merger agreement and the terms it contained. The deadline for Charter or its attorneys to respond is this Thursday, June 28, 2018. If the deadline passes with no response, the Commission warned it may rescind, modify, or amend the approval order granting the merger, file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of New York to potentially cancel the merger, and fine Charter for being out of compliance with state law.

Letter from New York regulators to Charter Communications (click image to download or view complete letter).

Charter’s Fake Ads

Rhodes

The letter accuses Rutledge of knowingly misleading New York customers in its advertising and printed materials that claim Charter has fully complied with — and exceeded — its commitments to New York under a merger agreement with the state allowing Charter to acquire Time Warner Cable systems. The letter emphatically states these representations are demonstrably and materially false.

State regulators pointed to Charter’s historic and systematic pattern of false advertising, noting a 2017 lawsuit filed by New York’s Attorney General over the company’s inability to provide advertised speeds has survived several company challenges in court and is moving forward.

The Merger Itself is in Peril

Charter will face the possibility of additional legal troubles as the PSC refers Spectrum’s latest conduct to the Attorney General’s office for possible further legal action. State regulators also suggested Charter was materially deceiving investors in violation of federal securities laws by not disclosing the company’s failure to honor its commitments to New York and warning investors the merger itself was now in significant peril if it is revoked in New York.

Regulators have also put Charter executives on notice that in advance of a possible penalty action by the Commission against the company directly, it further demanded that Spectrum produce records regarding its false representations and preserve all documents, including email, text messages, voice mail, recordings, and other documentation relating to its advertising claims.

A Record of Failure in New York

According to a PSC investigation and a Public Service Commission order, Spectrum missed its required December 16, 2017 build-out commitment to extend its network to pass additional residences and businesses by 12,245 passings. Spectrum also failed to cure, as required, its earlier failure by March 16, 2018. For these two failures, Spectrum was ordered by the Public Service Commission to forfeit $2 million. These failures came on top of earlier failures by Spectrum to meet its commitments. The PSC argues Spectrum has not met a single build-out deadline since the approval of its acquisition of Time Warner Cable in 2016.

The PSC stated that, instead of working to meet its commitments to New York, Charter executives have ignored state regulators as Spectrum knowingly continued to advertise and publish false claims that the company is exceeding its mid-December 2017 commitment made to New York by more than 6,000 locations and is on track to extend the reach of advanced broadband network to 145,000 unserved or underserved locations by May 2020. Both claims are patently false, claims the PSC.

“Spectrum’s failure to meet its build-out commitments hurts unserved and underserved New Yorkers, leaving them without a key public utility service crucial to their future success and well-being,” the regulator wrote.

“Spectrum’s publication of claims that it knows are false harm all consumers who rely on honest and accurate information in choosing suppliers from among competitors,” the PSC wrote. “And when Spectrum continues to advertise and publish false claims even after being directed not to by its governmental regulator, it demonstrates deliberate disregard and lack of respect for the Public Service  Commission, the rule of law, and regulation in New York State. Accordingly, in the name of customers and potential customers, the Department called on Spectrum to set the record straight by advertising and publishing the truth that the company has been found by the Public Service Commission to have failed to keep its buildout commitment to New York State.”

Charter Communications produced this video incorporating similar elements used in its advertising targeting New York consumers. Charter does not mention its investment in rural broadband in New York is not altruistic. It was a core condition the company agreed to as part of a settlement with the New York Public Service Commission to approve the acquisition of Time Warner Cable in 2016. (1:36)

Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

  • Joseph Lindberg: I pay $93.45 for just TV select $6.00 or so for two TV boxes each the cheap ones not dvrs and $14.99 or something in tax and $64.99 for the TV select ...
  • Norm Mueller: Do not even consider this company for your service provider, or you will forever regret it like I do. This started because Comcast's promotional rate...
  • Katherine. Voss: I sent all my contract buyout forms. Got no credible response. This is a scheme. I am sending information to proper agencies....
  • Noemi Romero: i have been waiting for 3 month and 2 weeks now for my refund and every time i call is like no one knows what the hell i am talking about. like seriou...
  • Josh: Sounds risky....40 million subscribers is insanely high, and clearly that guy running it since ‘92 knows what he’s doing. I forgot AT&T owns hbo ...
  • alan: i stopped pissing $ away on paying to see commercials 20 years ago did the direct tv , dishnet card programing my own cards ..then that became a sma...
  • Denis Cartledge: I live in a small (Australian) New England regional town, population ~3,500. The main north south New England Fibre Trunk runs up our main street, wh...
  • James Thompsen: You pay more you get mor.... hey wait an Effin minute!...
  • Joshi: Honestly, I'm glad Comcast did not win the bid. If they won, things would have gotten a lot worse since they bought out NBC Universal and Dreamworks s...
  • Stephen Collins: The modem increase is the most unconscionable of the bunch....
  • Wilhelm: My local phone company, Ontario and Trumansburg Telephone company is deploying fiber to the home in Phelps and Clifton Springs, NY this Summer. When t...
  • Paul A Houle: I for one are happy to see the sports not go to Disney or to any cable carrier. Disney already controls sports on ABC as well as ESPN, they don't ne...

Your Account: