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New Zealand Court Rules Neighbors May Be Forced to Trim Trees Interfering With Wireless Internet

Property owners in New Zealand may have to trim back or remove trees if they are proven to interfere with Wi-Fi or wireless broadband services in the neighborhood, according to an interesting High Court judgment that could establish a wide-ranging precedent.

As short-range 5G wireless internet services become established, high frequency and millimeter wave-based signals depend on line-of-sight communications with end users. Trees and buildings can reduce signal range or block the signal entirely, rendering the service unusable. In this case, an appeals judge was asked to rule whether broadband users or property owners took precedence when a large stand of trees or a building in an adjacent yard made wireless reception more difficult or impossible.

Justice Sally Fitzgerald found that when alternative solutions like relocating a receiver cannot be found to mitigate reception problems, nearby property owners may have to take steps to protect neighbors’ access to Wi-Fi and other wireless services, under a new interpretation of Section 335(1)(vi) of the [Property Law] Act of New Zealand. Similar laws are in place in North America and European countries.

The decision could result in a dramatic increase in legal challenges from frustrated neighbors who cannot get good reception because adjacent property owners prefer a tree-filled landscape.

Justice Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald based her decision on basic property laws that make illegal anything that can unduly interfere with the reasonable use and enjoyment of private property. Such laws are used as a basis for noise ordinances, zoning restrictions, restrictions on commercial use of residential property, and placement of structures on or near property lines. This judge found no special distinction between physical objects or noise and wireless transmissions. But she did find reasonable limitations on what would constitute a valid complaint.

In this case, Ian and Karen Vickery brought the complaint against their neighbor Christine Thoroughgood, for interfering with their access to wireless internet by refusing to trim the trees on her property line. But the judge found a better answer than ordering a robust tree trimming. Fitzgerald found the Vickery’s already receive a suitable signal after placing a receiver on a pole located away from their home. Therefore, the judge ruled against the complaint by the Kiapara Flats couple, even though they preferred placing the receiver on their home.

Legal observers found the case precedent-setting, despite its low-key outcome, because this High Court judge has established a right of access to broadband that takes precedence over property owners’ landscaping and buildings. Under certain circumstances, a neighbor may be forced to trim, remove, or alter trees and structures on their land if a neighbor can prove it directly interferes with their right to access wireless signals like broadband in a way that cannot be mitigated.

From the decision:

I am satisfied, and Mr. Allan properly accepted, that undue interference with a Wi-Fi signal caused by trees could constitute an undue interference with the reasonable use and enjoyment of an applicant’s land for the purposes of s 335(1)(vi) of the Act.

From reviewing the evidence, however, I do not agree that the Judge erred in accepting independent expert evidence (in fact called by Mr. Vickery) which objectively contradicted Mr. Vickery’s personal evidence on the issue as to Wi-Fi signal.

The expert, Mr. Lancaster, explained that Mr. Vickery’s Wi-Fi service is a “fixed wireless solution”. He notes in his technical report that it works by having the internet service provider establishing a “broadcast site” in a prominent location and connecting to customers with clear “line of sight” to that broadcast site.

In this case, the broadcast site (provided by Compass Wireless) is located on Moirs Hill Road. Mr. Lancaster notes that “nominally the solution will service customers up to 30 kilometres away from the broadcast site subject to a clear unobstructed line of sight.” In this way, Mr. Lancaster confirms that trees could obstruct the otherwise clear line of sight.

At present, the Wi-Fi transponder (or receiver) at the Vickerys’ home is mounted on a pole a little distance away from the rear of the house. I viewed its location during my site visit and have reviewed the photographs in Mr. Lancaster’s report. With the transponder located in its present position (referred to by Mr. Lancaster as “Location A”), Mr. Lancaster states:

There is currently a clear signal to the installed dish and other parts of the property, the signal has remained good for the past two years since installation.

This current location, however, is not Mr. Vickery’s preferred location. He notes that the present location is in a particularly windy site and on one occasion the wind was so strong it blew the cable out of the back of the aerial. Mr. Vickery also noted that another much larger stand of pine trees on the Thoroughgoods’ land, some considerable distance away, are also impacting what is referred to as the “Fresnel zone” of the Wi-Fi connection in its present location.

Mr. Vickery’s preferred location is closer to and attached to the back of the house itself, where it would be easier for Mr. Vickery to service the transponder. At this location however, Mr. Vickery says the trees in issue will interfere with the signal.

Mr. Lancaster states in his report that he spent over two hours on site and only identified two other locations (other than the present location, Location A) which he would consider appropriate for an installation.

The first of these alternative locations (Location B) is on the northeast corner wall of the home — Mr. Vickery’s preferred location. Mr. Lancaster states “this is the location the Compass installers would have chosen by default and as a standard installation”. In relation to Location B, Mr. Lancaster states “it is obviously at risk due to close proximity to the existing tree/shrub planted boundary, being approximately three metres above ground level.” He states that to retain adequate signal at this location, a window would be required in the shelter belt hedge — the trees in issue in this case.

In light of the independent expert evidence, I do not accept the Judge erred in concluding there was no undue interference with the Vickerys’ Wi-Fi signal. It is important to reiterate that not only does the expert evidence not indicate an interference, but the standard required by the legislation is an “undue” interference in any event. The expert evidence confirms this threshold has not been met.

Accordingly, while it is true that Mr. Vickery’s preferred location for the Wi-Fi transponder would be on the wall of the home, there is clearly an alternative location which is currently being used and which is considered by Mr. Lancaster to be adequate. There is also a further alternative and adequate location (Location C). And although this location would require cabling, this would not in my view be unreasonable in the circumstances.

I accordingly do not consider the ground of appeal concerning Wi-Fi has been made out.

Wall Street’s Latest Great Idea: Providers Should Charge More for 5G, But Only After You Are Hooked

“You’re giving it away… you are giving it all away!” — An unknown Wall Street analyst tossing and turning in the night.

America is simply not paying enough for wireless service. Thanks to dastardly competition introduced by T-Mobile and Sprint (potentially to be snuffed out in due course if their merger gets approved), wireless pricing is no longer a license to print money. Forced to offer one-size-fits-all affordable $40-50 unlimited plans, the prospects to grow Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) have never been worse because you can’t charge people for more service on an “unlimited plan” without admitting that plan is not exactly “unlimited.”

Wall Street analysts, already upset at the thought of carriers spending more than $100 billion on 5G network upgrades, are in a real tizzy about how companies are going to quickly recoup that investment. No matter that some wireless companies have profit margins in the 50% range and customers have paid providers for a service they were assured would keep up with the times and network demand. If there is to be a 5G revolution in the United States, some insist it must not come at the cost of reliable profits — so the industry must find a way to stick consumers with the bill.

It is not common for industry analysts to go public brainstorming higher prices and more customer gouging. After all, North Americans already pay some of the highest cell phone bills in the world, only mitigated (for now) by scrappy T-Mobile and Sprint. Mark Lowenstein, a leading industry analyst, consultant, and commentator, was willing to go public in the pages of Fierce Wireless, arguing “operators should be considering charging a premium price for what will hopefully be a premium service.” That is likely music to the ears of AT&T and Verizon, both frustrated their pricing power in the market has been reduced by credible competition from a significantly improved T-Mobile.

Lowenstein fears the prospects of a “race-to-the-bottom 5G price war” which could arrive if America’s wireless companies offer a credible home internet replacement that lets consumers tell the local phone or cable company to ‘take a hike.’ Since wireless operators will bundle significant discounts for those who subscribe to both home and mobile plans, telecommunications services may actually cost less than what Wall Street was banking on.

Something must be done. Lowenstein:

In mobile, there’s been premium pricing for premium phones. And Verizon Wireless, for a few years when it had a clear network lead, was sort of able to charge a higher price for its service (but not a premium price). But today, there isn’t really premium pricing for premium services. That should change when 5G really kicks into gear.

So how do you extract more cash from consumers’ wallets? Create artificial tiers that have no relationship to the actual cost of the network, but could potentially get people to willingly pay a lot more for something they will initially get for a simple, flat price:

One simple way would be a flat premium price, similar to the “tiers” of Netflix for a higher number of devices or 4K/Ultra HD.  So, perhaps $10 per line for 5G, or $25 for a family plan. Another approach would be more akin to broadband, where there are pricing tiers for different levels of service performance. So if the base 4G LTE plan is $50 per month today, for an average 100 Mbps service, 5G packages could be sold in gradations of $10 for higher speeds (i.e. $60 for 300 Mbps, $70 for 500, $80 for 1 Gbps, and so on). An interesting angle on this is that some of the higher-end 4G LTE services such as Gigabit LTE (and beyond) could get incorporated into this, so it becomes less of a 4G vs. 5G discussion and more of a tier of service discussion.

I would also like to see some flexibility with regard to how one can purchase 5G capabilities. For example, a user might only need those premium 5G features occasionally, and might only be prepared to pay that higher price when the service is being used. Here, we can borrow from the Wi-Fi model, where operators offer a “day pack” for 5G, or for a certain city, location, or 5G-centic app or experience. 5G is going to be hot-spotty for awhile anyway, so why not use a Wi-Fi type model for pricing?

Even better, now with net neutrality in the ash heap of history, courtesy of the Republican-dominated FCC, providers can extract even more of your money by artificially messing with wireless traffic!

Lowenstein sees a brand new world of “app-centric pricing” where wireless carriers can charge even more to assure a fast lane for those entertainment, gaming, and virtual reality apps of the future, designed to take full advantage of 5G. Early tests have shown millimeter wave 5G networks can deliver extremely low latency traffic to customers from day one. That kills the market for selling premium, low-latency add-ons for demanding apps before companies can even start counting the money. So assuming providers are willing to purposely impede network performance, there just could be a market selling sub-100ms assured latency for an extra fee.

The potential of a Money Party only 5G can deliver is coming, but time is short to get the foundation laid for surprise toll lanes and “premium traffic” enhancements made possible without net neutrality. But first, the wireless industry has to get consumers hooked on 5G at a tantalizingly reasonable price. Charge too much, too soon and consumers may decide 4G LTE is good enough for them. That is why Lowenstein recommends operators not get carried away when 5G first launches.

“We don’t want to be setting ourselves up for a WiMAX-like disappointment,” Lowenstein writes. “The next 12-18 months are largely going to be ‘5G Experimentation’ mode, with limited markets, coverage, and devices. Heck, it’s likely to be two years before there’s a 5G iPhone in the United States, where iOS still commands nearly half the market.”

The disappointment will eventually be all yours, dear readers, if Lowenstein’s recommendations are adopted — when “certain milestones” trigger “rate adjustment” letters some day in the future.

Lowenstein sees four signs to start the pillaging, and we’ve paraphrased them:

  • Coverage: Wait until 30-40% of a city is covered with 5G, then jack up the price. As long as customers get something akin to 5G one-third of the time, they’ll moan about why their 5G footprint is so limited, but they will keep paying more for the scraps of coverage they get.
  • Markets: Price the service differently in each market depending on how stingy customers are likely to be at different price points. Then hike those prices to a new “nationwide” standard plan when 5G is available in the top 20-30 cities in the country. Since there may not be much competition, customers can take it or leave it.
  • Performance: AT&T and Verizon’s gotta gouge, but it’s hard to do it with a straight face if your 5G service is barely faster than 4G LTE. Lowenstein recommends waiting until speeds are reliably north of 100 Mbps, then you can let rip with those diamond-priced plans.
  • Devices: It’s hard to extract another $50-100 a month from family plan accounts if there are an inadequate number of devices that support 5G. While your kids “languish” with 4G LTE smartphones and dad enjoys his 5G experience, mom may shut it all down when the bill comes. Wait until everyone in the family can get a 5G phone before delivering some good old-fashioned bill shock, just like companies did in the golden days of uncompetitive wireless.

These ideas can only be adopted if a lack of competition assures all players nobody is going to call them out for pickpocketing customers. Ajit Pai’s FCC won’t interfere, and is even subsidizing some of the operators’ costs with taxpayer dollars and slanted deregulation to let companies construct next generation 5G networks as cheaply as possible (claiming it is important to beat China, where 5G service will cost much less). Should actual competition remain in the wireless market, all the dreams of rate-hikes-because-we-can will never come true, as long as one carrier decides they can grow their business by charging reasonable prices at their competitors’ expense.

Sen. Thune Slams FCC and Ajit Pai for “Unacceptable Failure” to Expand Rural Broadband

Thune

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) slammed the Federal Communications Commission for its “unacceptable failure” to expand rural broadband service and close America’s rural-urban digital divide.

Thune’s comments were directed to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, appearing Thursday before the Senate Commerce Committee the South Dakota Republican chairs. Thune complained rural broadband expansion has slowed in his rural state, something he blamed on the FCC’s “inaction.” Thune criticized the FCC’s cuts to the Universal Service Fund, implemented as part of an effort to reduce the FCC’s budget.

“The FCC’s failure to ensure sufficient and predictable funding jeopardizes the vitality of America’s rural communities, and makes it much, much harder for our witnesses and others like them to deploy broadband,” Thune said in his opening remarks. “This is simply unacceptable.”

Thune claims the FCC’s cuts have increased by almost 25%, and there has been no study undertaken to determine the impact those cuts have on rural broadband expansion.

“Rural Americans should never be left behind their urban counterparts,” Thune added.

Pai defended the FCC’s actions under the Trump Administration, claiming the Commission is allocating nearly $6 billion for Connect America Fund subsidies and additional money for rural wireless projects. Pai claimed the FCC is providing $340 million to bring 4G LTE service to tribal lands, with additional funds available when those rural broadband subsidies are exhausted. Most of the money is being paid to subsidize for-profit companies.

Pai also claimed his broadband policy reforms, such as repealing net neutrality and other deregulation will stimulate new private investment independent of the Commission. To help that expansion, Pai suggested the recently proposed rules to streamline new cell tower approvals and ease up on historic preservation and environmental reviews will speed rural rollouts.

But both Sen. Thune and Chairman Pai have steadfastly opposed municipal and public broadband expansion projects designed to close the rural broadband gap in areas where for-profit ISPs have refused to serve without subsidies.

T-Mobile Rebrands MetroPCS “Metro by T-Mobile;” Introduces New Plans

MetroPCS is getting a new name and new unlimited plans as its owner T-Mobile rebrands the provider “Metro by T-Mobile” starting today.

Current MetroPCS customers are largely attracted to the carrier for its simple, budget-priced mobile plans that offer 2-10 GB of data for $30-40 a month. In an effort to boost average revenue per customer, Metro will introduce two new plans that offer “unlimited” LTE data, mobile hotspot usage with data allowances from 5-15 GB, Google One cloud storage and mobile backup, and for its $60 plan, Amazon Prime membership:

T-Mobile USA John Legere argues that Metro’s new plans will change the perception that prepaid wireless plans are lacking.

“In the past, being a prepaid customer meant subpar devices, service and coverage. No more,” a press release from T-Mobile says. “Metro has been quietly changing the prepaid landscape for years, and wireless users have noticed. In the past five years, the number of people choosing Metro has doubled. Metro by T-Mobile offers a wide variety of both Android and iOS smartphones for every price point, including the absolute latest releases.”

The carrier, formerly an independent provider with its own cellular network serving 15 cities, was acquired by T-Mobile five years ago and today is run like a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) on T-Mobile’s nationwide network. The company takes care to protect its lucrative base of T-Mobile postpaid customers by giving them absolute priority on T-Mobile’s network. If a cell tower becomes congested, Metro customers will be the first ones to feel the impact.

“When the network gets busy in a particular place, Metro by T-Mobile customers may notice a difference in speed compared to T-Mobile customers, but otherwise, they get the same T-Mobile network,” T-Mobile warns in its press release. In the fine print, T-Mobile also discloses it throttles speeds for unlimited customers using more than 35 GB of data per month until the next billing cycle begins. It also limits video streaming to 480p resolution all the time.

In an effort to differentiate itself from similar prepaid offers, Metro has teamed up with Amazon to give its premium plan customers a free month-to-month membership in Amazon Prime, which in addition to free two-day shipping, also bundles Amazon Prime Video, Music, and Photos.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere introduces a makeover of MetroPCS, now called Metro by T-Mobile. (3:03)

Verizon Denies Throttling Florence Victims, But Customers Deal with Slow Speeds

Verizon Wireless claims it is not intentionally slowing data services for its customers in North & South Carolina, despite growing complaints from customers about slow speeds.

Stop the Cap! has heard from nearly 20 readers in central and eastern North Carolina and they are displeased with Verizon’s performance.

“Signal is five bars but speed might as well be dial-up,” reports one reader. “I have consistently gotten 20 Mbps or better service for at least a decade from my home and workplace on Verizon’s network, but now the speed shows it starts at around 20 Mbps but quickly declines to less than 1 Mbps within 3-5 seconds. I have an unlimited data plan and have relied on it since Spectrum went out over the weekend.”

“Of course they are throttling us,” said Paul Ingell, who moved inland from New Bern to share a room with friends near Charlotte. “As soon as you go over 20 GB, the speed throttle game begins, and they are playing it. My bill reset date was today and by gosh speeds magically returned to normal. But my sister-in-law is still being throttled. Her phone delivers less than 1 Mbps sitting right next to mine and I get around 15 Mbps. We both own the same phones and have unlimited plans.”

The Washington Post covered the alleged Verizon slowdowns as well, and one Raleigh area reader claimed he is being throttled now as well.

“We lost power/cable and were using my Verizon unlimited data plan for internet access, and were very frustrated when attempting to access pages with dynamic content,” he wrote. “This is not typically a problem in central North Carolina, a high-coverage area. It seemed clear our data was being throttled.”

Another reader in New Bern who rode out the storm said Verizon service was very poor as he attempted to get news from CNN and Google during and after the storm. Browsing was almost impossible.

“E-mails and texts were the only reasonably quick way for me to get information. Other people complained of the same issue,” the reader wrote. “Having lost power and internet, the phone was our only contact with the outside.”

First word of the claimed throttling came from a reddit thread from AbeFroman21:

My family lives in a small town in eastern North Carolina, and we were just devastated by the hurricane. Our power has been out for five days now and internet service is gone as well. Two days ago my wife and I noticed that we couldn’t retrieve our email from our phone or check Facebook [for] updates from our community about the storm or when service would be restored.

We traveled into a bigger town and called Verizon to check and see if there was a data outage and when we could expect it to be restored. Only, I was told that my unlimited plan was deprioritized for being too low tier of a plan. But if I upgraded to a higher plan my service would be restored.

There’s no outage, just corporations sucking dry a community that as already lost so much. Thanks a**holes.

Verizon categorically denies it is throttling any customers in North Carolina.

“On North Carolina, we are not throttling,” said Richard Young, a Verizon spokesman. “The most likely scenario is that the customer, who can’t connect to the internet, is in an area that has lost cell service.”

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