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Windstream Tells Its DSL Customer in South Carolina to Consider Satellite Internet Instead

windstream

On the outside looking in.

Windstream’s DSL service in parts of Inman, S.C. is so bad, the company has recommended some DSL customers consider signing up for a competitor’s satellite-based Internet service instead.

In a remarkable response to a complaint filed with the Federal Communications Commission by a Windstream customer, Mollie Chewning, an executive customer relations representative for Windstream, suggested no broadband upgrades were likely before 2016 and beyond a $10 monthly discount for a year, customers in Inman will just have to live with DSL speeds that are often less than 1Mbps or consider switching to satellite-delivered Internet from another company.

“Windstream acknowledges some Iman [sic], SC have been experiencing high-speed Internet issues,” Chewning wrote Sharon Bowers, the department division chief of the FCC’s Consumer Information Bureau. “This is a result of the tremendous growth in Internet usage over the past few years as well as the challenging economics of serving rural and remote areas with broadband. Unfortunately, our records indicate Mr. [redacted] service address will likely not benefit from any of our scheduled upgrades in 2015. It is possible some upgrades may be explored in 2016 could assist some customers in Inman via Connect America funding, but Windstream is still finalizing upgrade plans for next year.”

Speed test results

Speed test results

James Corley, the victim of Windstream’s poor-performing DSL, launched a blog to get Windstream moving on upgrades or entice area cable operator Charter Communications to wire his neighborhood for service.

Inman, S.C.

Inman, S.C.

“I am a resident of a small subdivision […] and for nearly a decade, we have been forced to rely on Windstream Communications’ disgraceful DSL internet and telephone services,” Corley writes. “The company’s representatives have been promising us for years that we would be upgraded to faster speeds but the promised upgrades have repeatedly failed to materialize and even though I cannot say for sure where Windstream’s priorities lie, it certainly isn’t with their customers.”

Corley is not asking for much. He’s subscribed to a basic 3Mbps service plan. Windstream does not come close to delivering even those speeds, however, with speed test results showing performance ranging usually below 1Mbps all the way down to 40kbps — less than dial-up.

“Given existing high-speed Internet issues, Mr. [redacted] will receive a $10 discount, which will appear on his account monthly through July 2016,” Chewning wrote. “If Mr. [redacted] finds this information unacceptable, he may want to explore alternate service options such as Internet via satellite.”

Corley has elected to pursue Charter Communications instead. It can offer considerably faster speeds than Windstream or satellite providers at a much lower cost. But Charter has thus far refused to wire Corley’s neighborhood for free. Charter wants at least $7,000 to extend service to the subdivision, after which it will start construction and deliver service within 45 days. Charter has no problem spending $55 billion to acquire Time Warner Cable but is unwilling to spend $7,000 to attract most, if not all 16 residents on the customer’s street.

Windstream appears to be more interested waiting for telephone ratepayers across the country to subsidize incremental improvements in its slow speed DSL service through the Connect America Fund, which has a poor record subsidizing cable operators to bring far superior broadband service to customers like those in Inman.

Until the Windstream customer and his neighbors manage to scrape together $7,000, or Charter extends service at no charge in the name of good public relations, residents of Inman (and beyond) are stuck with Windstream broadband that does not come close to broadband.windstream-fcc-response-1

Wireless Data “Traffic Explosion” is a Fraud; Network Densification Deferred

Analysys Mason logoDespite perennial claims of an unmanageable wireless data traffic tsunami threatening the future of the wireless industry, there is strong evidence wireless data traffic growth has actually flattened, increasing mostly as a result of new customers signing up for service for the first time.

Expensive wireless data plans and usage caps have left consumers more cautious about how they use wireless data, reducing the demand on wireless networks and allowing carriers to defer plans for aggressive network densification they claim is needed to keep up with demand.

Analysys Mason discovered some of the biggest victims of the myth of the traffic tidal wave are the manufacturers and dealers of small cell equipment hoping to make a killing selling solutions to the wireless traffic jam. Vendors attending the ‘Small Cell, Carrier Wi-Fi and Small Cells Backhaul World’ event will have no trouble filling the modest amount of orders they likely received this year. While there is money to made selling small cells to manage data usage in very high traffic locations including shopping and sports venues, AT&T dropped plans to deploy 40,000 small cells on its network by the end of 2015, a goal that had been a key element of its Project Velocity IP (VIP) network initiative, and no other U.S. carrier has shown as much interest in small cell technology as AT&T once did.

It turns out, Rupert Wood, principal analyst at Analysys Mason writes, most operators admit they are not experiencing much “pain” managing data growth. As a result, rapid public small-cell densification, an important indicator of heavy traffic growth, is continuously deferred.

As customers confront costly, usage-limited data plans, they are deterred from the kind of usage that might actually create widespread traffic issues for wireless carriers. Instead, carriers are primarily relying on a mix of data caps, incremental upgrades, and gradual expansion of their traditional cell tower networks to keep 4G performance stable and expand coverage areas to improve customer satisfaction. AT&T claims most of its traffic concerns were abated with the 2014 acquisition of Leap Wireless’ Cricket network, which added to AT&T’s network capacity. The Cricket network never came close to offering nationwide coverage, however.

Figure_2_webWhen pressed for specifics, many wireless carriers eventually admit they have enough spectrum to handle today’s traffic demand, but will face overburdened and insufficient capacity tomorrow. But that is not what the evidence shows.

Analysys Mason:

Nations where the use of 4G is highest are not experiencing exponential growth in mobile data traffic. In fact, they have not been doing so for some time – even in developed Asia–Pacific. In the US, the CTIA recently recorded 26% traffic growth in 2014. If this figure is correct, the average usage per US mobile data subscriber barely changed at all in 2014: the recorded number of data subscribers grew by 22%, and the expected exponential curve of data traffic has morphed into an s-curve.

In fact, with wireless pricing so high in the United States, traffic growth here is minimal in comparison to Sweden, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. Most shift their usage to Wi-Fi as often as possible instead of chewing up their monthly data allowance.

Analysys Mason believes the forthcoming introduction of LTE-A — the more efficient next generation of 4G — will allow carriers to expand capacity on existing cell towers as quickly as future demand mounts without the need for massive numbers of new towers or small cells.

The analyst firm labels today’s cellular platform as a low-volume, high-cost network. If providers cut prices or relaxed usage caps, traffic would grow. It recommends operators should focus on increasing the supply of, and stimulating the demand for, data usage, and not simply expecting demand to come at some point in the near future. The analyst believes constructing a network of fiber-connected small cells may open the door to an exponentially higher capacity wireless network that performs better than traditional wireless data services and is robust enough to support high bandwidth applications that demand a strong level of network performance.

It would also benefit fiber to the home providers that could also market wireless backhaul service to wireless companies, helping defray the costs of constructing the fiber network and further monetizing it.

AT&T Money Harvest: Activation/Upgrade Fees Going Up Aug. 1, New $15 BYOD Activation Fee

Phillip Dampier July 21, 2015 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment

fat cat attAT&T will soon have the highest activation fees in the wireless industry after an August price increase takes effect, boosting activation and upgrade charges for existing customers and adding a new $15 fee to activate a phone you already own and want to use on AT&T’s network.

AT&T confirmed that effective Aug. 1, the activation fee for new one or two-year contract plans will increase by $5 to $45.

The company also plans to add a $15 activation fee for new AT&T Next customers wishing to activate a “bring your own device” (BYOD) and sign up for a new line. For now, Next customers already committed to an installment plan before Aug. 1, 2015 will have the $15 activation fee waived for their next upgrade, but will pay the fee after that. AT&T warns it may drop that waiver at any time.

An AT&T spokesperson would only say, “We are making a few adjustments to our activation and upgrade fee structures,” in an e-mailed statement.

AT&T raised its activation fees from $35 to $40 last year and Verizon Wireless followed in January. It is very likely, based on earlier rate changes, Verizon will eventually match AT&T’s fee increases.

Local TV Stations Live Streaming Newscasts in Effort to Reach New Audiences; NewsOn Coming This Fall

newsonLOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Local TV stations are plugging one of the last major holes in mobile video: streaming their news to phones and tablets. The move presents yet another challenge to cable and satellite providers, which are grappling with the widespread online availability of content.

This fall, 112 U.S. stations will begin streaming live newscasts through an app called NewsOn, one of several planned “over-the-top” offerings delivered online without a pay TV subscription.

And Verizon Digital Media Services, which offers technology that enables streaming on a wide variety of screens, is in talks with owners of more than 300 affiliates that want to supply programing directly to consumers over the Internet, Ralf Jacob, chief revenue officer, told Reuters. Stations could use the technology to stream news or other local programing.

Local broadcasters, like cable networks, are trying to adapt to the changing preferences of viewers, who increasingly want to watch programs on their own schedules. The challenge for local news programs will be to satisfy demand for mobile video without undermining audience numbers for traditional broadcasts, which generate hefty fees from cable operators as well as higher ad rates than online programing.

After years of isolated experiments with mobile news, a critical mass of the local TV industry is seizing on the idea. If they are successful, they could both increase viewing by current consumers and attract new ones, especially a younger generation of viewers who prefer watching television programing on mobile devices. But if current viewers “cut the cord,” or drop pay TV service, broadcast stations and cable operators could both suffer.

Broadcasters are eager to follow audiences who are looking outside the television for news and entertainment, said Emily Barr, president and CEO of Graham Media Group, which owns five broadcast stations and is experimenting with mobile apps for newscasts.

abc7Pay TV still reaches 100 million households, but the industry lost 0.5 percent of its customers in the 12 months through March, according to MoffettNathanson analysts. Distributors have countered by offering customers their own apps with broadcast and cable networks.

“It’s a hedge of where the marketplace is going,” said Justin Nielson, senior research analyst at SNL Kagan.

Local broadcasters receive fees from pay TV providers based on the number of subscribers, amounting to $6.3 billion in 2015, SNL Kagan predicts. Returns from advertising are forecast to reach $21.1 billion this year.

One illustration of the risks of getting it wrong is in Britain, where the British Broadcasting Corporation recently announced job cuts because viewers have moved from TV viewing to tablets and mobile devices, which cut its TV license fees.

NEWS LEADS CHANGE

Until recently, local U.S. programing was limited in over-the-top video, since the rights to much of what local stations run is held by other parties.

Local newscasts, however, are owned by the stations themselves, so they don’t need to negotiate streaming rights.

NewsOn, which will run ads, will offer live local newscasts from 84 U.S. markets, including eight of the top 10. The five station groups that have signed up are the ABC Owned Television Station Group, Cox Media Group, Hearst Television, Media General and Raycom Media.

Other stations plan to offer more news on their own apps or expand them to more devices.

RaycomIn Cincinnati, E.W. Scripps sells a subscription for ABC-affiliated station WCPO with additional stories not seen on TV, as well as free movie screenings and other perks. It has an on-demand news app in Phoenix on Microsoft’s Xbox and Apple Inc’s set-top box.

Tegna, the broadcast and digital company spun off from Gannett, is considering streaming local entertainment programing such as video of a morning radio show. Stations can now reach viewers any time of day, said Dave Lougee, president of Tegna’s broadcasting division, and “we want to be ubiquitous.”

BIG PARTNERSHIPS

Local affiliates also are trying to join streaming video packages, but they don’t own all the rights to stream shows they broadcast.

CBS has signed up more than 100,000 for its $6-a-month CBS All Access online video subscription, with more than 100 local stations. But during NFL football, viewers get a message that says the game “is not yet available for live stream.”

Fox, CBS and NBC stations are on Sony Corp’s PlayStation Vue, a streaming package launched this year in five markets.

Satellite TV provider Dish Network Corp wants local broadcasters on Sling TV, an online service it launched in February, but needs to work out programing rights with dozens of affiliates.

Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch said he expects to work on sorting that out over the next twelve months. “Over time you’ll see us launching something local,” he said.

(By Lisa Richwine; Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Malathi Nayak in New York; Editing by Peter Henderson and Sue Horton)

Thurman, N.Y. White Space Rural Broadband Wins “Most Innovative Project Award”

rural connectOne of the few “white space” wireless broadband projects deployed in the United States to deliver broadband to rural residents has won the “Most Innovative Project” award, presented during the 2015 New York State Broadband Summit.

The collaborative project between the Town of Thurman, Rainmaker Network Services and Frontier Communications to offer high-speed Internet access to around 65 residents is seen as a successful private-public collaboration to address rural broadband issues in sparsely populated areas.

Frontier Communications provided the trunk line for the service and a $200,000 state grant helped acquire the infrastructure to power the wireless network, which works over unoccupied UHF television channels. The 12 currently subscribing households pay $50 a month for broadband, plus a $292 equipment fee when they sign up. Plans to reach more households have been delayed by a handful of town board members opposed to the project and residents who refuse to grant easements to place equipment on private property. The project had to be re-engineered to workaround some of these difficulties.

PrintDespite the delays, there are estimates another 40-50 households will be able to get the service by the end of summer.

Customers love the service, which is faster than traditional Wireless ISP technology, and comes without speed throttling or data caps.

“By implementing an innovative white space network, Thurman found a way to provide Internet service to a rural area without the need for a large amount of costly infrastructure,” said David Salway, executive director of the New York Broadband Program Office. “Where there was once only dial-up and satellite service, Thurman citizens will have reliable high-speed Internet at affordable rates.”

 http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Carlson Wireless Technologies Rural Connect 3-2015.mp4

Carlson Wireless Technologies explains how next generation white space wireless broadband can be a cost-effective solution to the digital divide. (3:41)

As Clearwire Service Prepares to Shutdown, Customer Service Agents Suggest Comcast as Alternative

clear-logoClearwire users seeking alternatives after the wireless ISP shuts down its WiMAX network this fall are surprised to hear some Clear customer service representatives recommending Comcast as their best option.

Stop the Cap! reader Randall Page has been looking for a new ISP after receiving a notification from Clearwire its network is ceasing operations before the end of this year and he needs to find a different provider:

Dear Valued CLEAR/Clearwire Customer,

You are receiving this notice because our records show you are subscribed to services on the CLEAR 4G (WiMAX) Network or Clearwire Expedience network. Sprint is in the process of implementing major enhancements to the Sprint 4G LTE Network, including the deployment of Sprint Spark, an enhanced LTE network capability, by repurposing the CLEAR 4G (WiMAX) Network and Clearwire Expedience Network. As a valued customer, we are providing you formal notice that Sprint will cease operating the CLEAR 4G (WiMAX) Network and Clearwire Expedience Network on November 6, 2015 at 12:01AM EST.

What this means to you:

  • Sprint will no longer support CLEAR 4G WiMAX and Clearwire Expedience devices or services.
  • Your CLEAR 4G WiMAX and Clearwire Expedience devices and services will no longer work, including your ability to contact 9-1-1.
  • You should not return your device(s).

To discuss your options or learn more, please call 1-888-888-3113.

Thank you for your business.

Sincerely,
CLEAR/Clearwire Wireless

clearsprint

The Page family has used Clearwire for years to get Internet service in their rural home near Lynden, Wash. The service was affordable and more than adequate for the occasional web browsing and e-mail Page’s parents rely on. After learning the service was being discontinued, Page called Clearwire customer service to learn what other options were available.

“They claim they will essentially match your current level of Clearwire service on the Sprint network,” Page told Stop the Cap! “Although Clearwire originally advertised unlimited service, the representative was not willing to match that through Sprint. Instead, they built a recommended usage plan based on reviewing actual use over the last several months.”

Clear/Clearwire's modems and routers were designed to work with their WiMAX network, which is being decommissioned. This equipment will be obsolete and cannot be reused on a new provider.

Clear/Clearwire’s modems and routers were designed to work with their WiMAX network, which is being decommissioned. This equipment will be obsolete and cannot be reused with a new provider.

Page was offered a 30GB plan adequate for his parents, but the quoted price of $110 a month was more than twice the price of Clearwire. The family also had to pay $200 for a replacement modem compatible with Sprint’s LTE network to replace the Clearwire WiMAX modem that isn’t.

“No consideration for Clearwire customers, no special promotions, no loyalty discounts, nothing for customers like us who have been with Clearwire for almost five years,” Page complained. “When Alltel was sold off and their network was changed, customers were given a free replacement phone as a courtesy, but Sprint seems to care less about us.”

Sprint acquired Clearwire in 2013 mostly for its massive spectrum holdings in the 2.5GHz band. After the deal closed, Sprint fired 75% of Clearwire’s workforce and began planning the end of Clearwire’s legacy WiMAX network, also familiar to first generation 4G Sprint customers who used it before the launch of LTE service.

Clearwire’s higher frequency spectrum never penetrated buildings well and did not reach as far as wireless signals on lower frequencies, which meant Clearwire was required to build a large cellular network to deliver reasonable service. Sprint inherited 17,000 Clearwire-enabled cell sites in the deal, many deemed redundant. A Sprint filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission indicated Sprint was shutting down no fewer than 6,000 of those sites by the end of this year, with the remaining transitioned to TD-LTE service as part of the Sprint Spark project.

The change will allow Sprint to better monetize its 2.5GHz spectrum by selling usage-based plans and more expensive home wireless broadband service. It’s the second major wireless technology shutdown organized by Sprint. In 2013, Sprint shut off the last 800MHz iDEN Nextel cell site inherited from its acquisition of Nextel. Sprint now provides LTE 4G service over the frequencies formerly used by Nextel.

Page was not happy with Clearwire’s alternative through Sprint, and remarkably the representative then suggested his family should sign up for Comcast service instead.

“I was floored to hear a representative working on behalf of Sprint recommend Comcast,” Page said.

It isn’t the first time Clearwire has done this:
clearwire sprintClearwire’s own Facebook page was abandoned in 2013, presumably right after its sale to Sprint was complete. Stranded customers are complaining about the impending loss of service and the lack of alternative options and information.

Wireless 'n WiFi's high usage data plan has gotten good reviews from Stop the Cap! readers,  although it is expensive.

Wireless ‘n WiFi’s high usage data plan has gotten good reviews from Stop the Cap! readers, although it is expensive and relies on Sprint’s less-than-great network.

Unfortunately, the Page home is not serviced by Comcast and DSL from CenturyLink is not an option either. Page and his immediate neighbors are instead joining a group “family plan” on a wireless carrier and will share a Wi-Fi hotspot that can reach three homes. It technically violates the terms and conditions of most family plans to share a connection in this way but it is the only affordable choice the families have for now.

Those rural Clearwire customers who cannot subscribe to cable or DSL broadband might also explore some options from Wireless ‘n WiFi, which sells high limit 3G/4G LTE plans that work on Sprint’s 3G and 4G networks.

Their current plan offers up to 60GB of usage per month, up to 30GB of which can come from using Sprint’s 3G network. The service costs a still steep $109.99 a month (including all taxes and fees) and comes with additional startup costs:

  • Rental of NetGear 341u USB modem and MBR1200B Cradlepoint Wi-Fi Router ($100 equipment deposit required, refunded when equipment returned)
  • $49.99 Activation Fee
  • $8.95 Priority Mail Shipping (for Equipment)
  • $268.93 total startup cost includes all charges referenced above (not including monthly service fee)

Service is month-to-month, no term contract. Overlimit fee is $5/GB.

freedompop plans

Some lighter users report reasonably priced service is available from FreedomPop, as long as you are careful to avoid over 10GB of usage per month ($59.99) and you turn off revenue generators like automatic top-off and other various extras they pitch (including data rollover if you find you use up most of your monthly allowance anyway).

Another Reminder Wireless ISPs are Not a Good Choice if a Fiber Alternative is Possible

Rationing Your Internet Experience: Stick to e-mail and web pages.

Rationing Your Internet Experience: Stick to e-mail and web pages.

This week’s news that the alleged owner of a Wireless ISP serving parts of New England may have fled the country to avoid an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission on an unrelated digital currency matter has left about 1,000 Vermont customers of GAW Wireless with no certain future for their Internet Service Provider.

As the “Geniuses At Work” came under pressure from public accusations the company was running a scam on digital currency investors, so went the performance of GAW Wireless. In February, a two-week service outage left many customers without telephone and Internet service. This month, e-mail accounts stopped working for some and nobody appears to be answering the firm’s customer service line. Even Vermont’s Attorney General cannot find the owner.

While Wireless ISPs (WISPs) can be a good option for North America’s unserved rural communities, they are not always the best choice, especially as customers continue to gravitate towards high bandwidth applications like Netflix.

Some rural WISPs have kept up with customer demand and continue to offer good service. Others have educated customers about being a good steward of a limited resource by showing courtesy to other customers by self-limiting heavy traffic applications to off-peak hours.

But other providers have chosen usage-discouraging data caps or usage-based billing to cover up for their inadequate infrastructure investment. In Nova Scotia, Eastlink’s new 15GB monthly usage cap on rural customers is nothing short of Internet rationing, completely ignorant of the fact most customers have moved beyond the Internet applications Eastlink envisioned them using when it built its network in 2006. Nearly a decade later, it is ridiculous to suggest customers should be happy continuing to pay almost $50 a month for a 1.5Mbps connection designed for e-mail, basic web browsing, and occasional dabbling into downloads, music, and video.

Come for the view but don't stay for the broadband.

Come for the view but don’t stay for the wireless broadband.

Some angry customers suspect Eastlink is simply being greedy. We believe it is more likely Eastlink’s existing wireless network is no longer adequate for the needs of Nova Scotians (or practically anybody else in 2015). The evidence that congestion is the real problem was supplied by customers who have noticed the network’s performance has slowed over the last few years. That is a sign the network is either oversold — too many customers trying to share the same bandwidth limited resource — or has become congested because of the growth of Internet traffic generally. It might even be both.

Implementing draconian usage caps only alienates customers and suggests Eastlink wants to collect as much revenue as it can from a resource that should either be vastly upgraded or retired in favor of superior technology. We have not seen anything from Eastlink that suggests major upgrades are on the way. In fact, the only conclusion we can make from Eastlink’s public comments is they think equal access to an inadequate resource is fairer than actually upgrading it.

Eastlink claims nobody could have envisioned Internet traffic growth from the likes of Netflix. In fact, equipment manufacturers like 3Com and Cisco were issuing scare stories about Internet brownouts and future traffic exafloods since December, 1995 — the year before Eastlink planned its Nova Scotia wireless network. Smart network planners have kept up with demand, which has been made easier by technology improvements accompanying the increased traffic. A good ISP recognizes upgrades are continual and essential to keep up with customer needs. A bad ISP introduces a rationing usage cap and claims it is only trying to be fair to every customer.

Phillip "Fiber is Good for You" Dampier

Phillip “Fiber is Good for You” Dampier

Usage caps and usage-based billing have never been about “fairness.” We’ve seen all sorts of usage enforcement schemes imposed on customers since 2008 when Stop the Cap! was founded. In each instance, usage caps were only about the money. Eastlink customers will not see any rate decrease as a result of its rationing plan, giving users less value for their broadband dollar. If an Eastlink customer confines use of their high traffic applications to the overnight hours, when they would cause little or no congestion, they will still eat into their monthly usage allowance.

All the benefits of usage caps accrue to Eastlink, either by reducing traffic on its network and allowing the company to delay necessary upgrades, or by pocketing the inevitable overlimit fees, which may or may not go towards upgrades. In our experience, the case for spending capital on network upgrades has never depended on overlimit fees collected from subscribers squirreled away in a separate bank account.

This is why communities in Vermont, Nova Scotia and beyond should strongly consider investing in fiber optics for broadband delivery and consider wireless only for the least populated areas. A broadband project in rural western Massachusetts can offer a guide to resolving the ongoing problem of unserved or underserved communities ignored by commercial providers. Deprived of upgrades from Verizon and shunned by Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the residents of these towns continue to vote overwhelmingly in favor of fiber optics.

The WiredWest approach is a solid solution. The initiative secures bond authorizations from each participating town in a public vote backed by deposits of $49 per household, held in escrow to be later used to cover the first month of broadband service when the service launches. Each town must have at least a 40% buy-in from residents, providing strong evidence the project has a solid customer base, is financially viable, and can recover construction costs and pay off the bonds estimated at $100-120 million within a reasonable amount of time. The state legislature contributed an additional $40 million dedicated to last mile infrastructure — the cost to wire each home or business. (In contrast, Nova Scotia and the federal government spent $34 million subsidizing the Eastlink wireless network in 2007 that has not aged well. Fiber optics is infinitely upgradable.) By choosing fiber optics, instead of getting rationed, slow speed, or no Internet service, WiredWest towns will be able to subscribe to 25Mbps for $49 a month, 100Mbps service for $79, or 1,000Mbps for $109 a month
.

In comparison, Eastlink charges $46.95 a month for “up to” 1.5Mbps with a 15GB cap and GAW Wireless (when working) charges $39.95/mo for “up to 7Mbps.”

Owner of Vermont Wireless ISP May Have Fled the Country to Avoid SEC Investigation

Garza is front of one of several of his Ferraris.

Garza shows off his wealth.

Rural Vermont residents relying on a wireless Internet provider experiencing service problems appear to be collateral damage after a series of scandals and criminal investigations may have prompted the alleged owner to flee to a middle eastern country with no extradition treaty with the United States.

Houston native Homero Josh Garza, 30, had his hands in as many as a dozen business ventures in Vermont, Delaware, and Massachusetts, including Brattleboro’s Great Auk Wireless. But the wireless ISP founded in 2004 apparently is no longer high on Garza’s list of priorities after the entrepreneur discovered the prospect of big profits mining Bitcoins.

GAW’s 1,000 wireless customers are trying to maintain their Internet service, which is experiencing a growing number of service failures. Recently, customers began having trouble sending and receiving email, with nobody answering a support line to help. Last week, the company’s website appeared to be down for several days. Vermont officials considered it another example of why they believe GAW has proven itself a subpar provider with troublesome service.

That could be worrisome in underserved areas like western Massachusetts, where wireless ISPs like GAW have been promoted as less costly alternatives to fiber to the home service. In 2012, Garza gave up on building broadband access in Ashland, Mass., despite being offered a $40,000 government broadband grant, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Platterpus Records proprietor Dave Witthaus suggests residents and businesses might want to think twice about firms like GAW. Witthaus told Coindesk businesses dependent on the wireless service provider encountered “routine issues with connectivity and customer service.” He told the online publication some businesses switched providers after a two week phone outage in February.

“They could have done well in this area but the customer service has just been awful,” Witthaus said. “And now, two weeks without phone is just unacceptable.”

Is GAW Wireless operating on autopilot?

Is GAW Wireless operating on autopilot?

Garza’s performance in the Bitcoin world has been given similar reviews after his mining venture rose to prominence and then collapsed, leaving investors and regulators looking for answers.

Bitcoin, a digital currency, is not issued by any central banking authority. Instead, new coins are issued to those running complex software that verifies the alternative currency’s public ledger of earlier transactions. The process protects the virtual currency from tampering or other illicit acts like re-spending by its original owner. In return for volunteering computer time to help support the security of the Bitcoin, the software pays users transaction fees and a subsidy of newly minted coins.

The prospect of getting “free money” just by running software encouraged the start of a virtual Gold Rush. Instead of mining in the ground looking for precious metals, prospectors eventually sought investors to fund powerful computers dedicated entirely to “mining” for Bitcoins. The Bitcoin system only releases so many coins at a time, and that number has been dwindling by design and will eventually reach zero. As a result, individual enthusiasts running the Bitcoin software during their spare time have seen their awards deteriorate as large-scale “mining operations” capture a growing percentage of the newly issued currency. To combat this trend, mining pools share resources to compete with the larger players and private contractors sell individuals and clubs time and access on powerful computers in return for a “mining contract.”

gawEnter GAW, which stands for “Geniuses At Work.” Garza’s business depended on a steady stream of clients investing in his enormous mining operation. GAW Miners claimed it has 200,000 customers and $120 million in revenue in just six months. GAW also reportedly collected 28,000 Bitcoins worth over $10 million in just two months.

Garza was never modest showing off his success, appearing in a tuxedo flying around in a private jet, showing off a collection of expensive Ferraris, and living in a $600,000 5,300-square foot stone house outside of Springfield, Mass.

But even as Garza’s company began moving hundreds of “mining rigs” (high-powered computers) into its newly leased 150,000-square foot warehouse in Park Purvis, Miss., some disgruntled ex-clients and investors began complaining Garza’s record was heavy on promises and light on delivery. Bitcoin news sites also began expressing concern about Garza’s operation. At around the same time back in Vermont, Great Auk Wireless customers experienced a very serious service outage that disrupted their phone and Internet service. While the rumor mill swirled about Garza’s ethics, the Mississippi Power Company was investing hundreds of thousands of its dollars to upgrade power to Garza’s warehouse. In return, GAW committed to stay for at least one year. It left after just a few months, folding operations and leaving the utility with $220,000 in unpaid electric bills and over $73,000 in damages and costs. The utility sued and was ignored by GAW.

“Mississippi Power filed a motion for default judgment because GAW failed to answer or otherwise defend the lawsuit,” the power company said in a statement. “We are asking the court to give us a final judgment on the amount that’s owed on this account.”

GAW Miners' data center in Mississippi.

GAW Miners’ data center in Mississippi.

Collecting any judgment may prove difficult because most of GAW’s employees and management have reportedly fled, resigned, or been terminated.

With GAW Miners largely defunct, the Securities and Exchange Commission has taken an interest, questioning whether Garza’s ventures involved unregulated securities, a big no-no with the feds. The SEC is also sharing its wealth of information with the Federal Trade Commission, which is investigating GAW Miners for potential false advertising. The Department of Homeland Security also wants to know if Garza was engaged in money laundering, and the IRS is pondering whether Garza reported all of his capital gains for tax purposes.

To get these answers, Garza’s firm was subpoenaed in February to turn over relevant documents. As of late May, Bitcoin traders suspect Garza has left the country and federal investigators behind and relocated to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, which has no extradition treaty with the U.S.

Taxpayers may also be victims.

GAW Wireless collected $18,018 in state grant money to expand wireless broadband service in 2014. The company never delivered the service, according to Vermont officials. A Maidstone couple also alleges GAW never paid them the $3,000 they agreed upon for leasing property in East Maidstone. Guy and Gail Giampaolo were to receive free Internet service and a $300 annual payment in return for the lease agreement. They reportedly received neither.

The VTDigger reported several other instances of service problems from the wireless venture in a detailed article published earlier this month. Even the state Attorney General has been unable to contact the company after an earlier letter was returned by the post office with no forwarding address. The Department of Public Service is asking customers who use GAW Wireless to call the Consumer Affairs Line at 1-800-622-4496. The department will provide customers with information about alternative wireless Internet service providers.

Uproar Over Eastlink’s 15GB Usage Limit Brings Call to Ban Data Caps in Rural Canada

EastlinkLogoA plan to place a 15GB monthly usage cap on Eastlink broadband service in rural Nova Scotia has led to calls to ban data caps, with a NDP Member of the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia leading the charge.

NDP MLA Sterling Belliveau is calling on the Liberal government to prohibit Eastlink from placing Internet data caps on rural broadband.

“This newly announced cap really sends us back to the 1990s when it comes to technology,” Belliveau said in a news release Tuesday. “The province paid $20 million to bring this service to rural communities, and as such, the Minister of Business needs to tell Eastlink this can’t stand.”

Belliveau’s office is being flooded with complaints from residents and business owners upset about Eastlink’s data cap, which includes a $2/GB overlimit fee, up to a maximum of $20.

“Only rural customers get penalized for using the Internet,” complained Angel Flanagan on Twitter. “We can’t have Netflix or YouTube. Eastlink, stop this cap and upgrade your services and give us better Internet. We don’t need to use it less.”

“I am so angry about the Internet capping,” said Emma Davis. “Eastlink you are out of your goddamn minds. Rural Nova Scotia is entering the Dark Ages.”

rural connect

Eastlink’s Rural Connect package is a wireless service, delivering speeds up to 1.5Mbps at a cost of $46.95 a month. The service is provided where wired providers are generally not available, including Annapolis, Hants, Digby, Yarmouth, Queens, Lunenburg, Shelburne and Kings counties. Eastlink says its new usage cap was designed to accommodate “intended usage like surfing the web, reading/sending emails, social media, e-commerce, accessing government services, etc. — and NOT video streaming, for which the service was not intended.”

Belliveau

Belliveau

Eastlink’s continued dependence on a low capacity wireless network platform has conflicted with the changing needs of Internet users, who increasingly use high bandwidth applications like streaming video that can quickly clog wireless ISP traffic.

When the service was designed, the popular video streaming service “Netflix was shipping DVDs by mail,” says Eastlink spokesperson Jill Laing.

The cap was implemented to “address Internet traffic, which we believe will help provide equal access to the service and deliver a better overall rural Internet experience for customers,” Laing wrote.

Eastlink says the average customer uses about 12GB of traffic, excluding video streaming. Setting a usage cap at 15GB should not be a problem for customers who stay off Netflix, argues the ISP.

“Those who are using the service as it was intended to be used should not be impacted by monthly usage,” she wrote.

The fact Eastlink labeled some traffic legitimate while video streaming was discouraged did not go over well with customers.

“Who made them Internet Gods when our provincial tax dollars helped finance their Internet project,” asks Al Fournier. “The very fact they would suggest a 15GB cap with a straight face in 2015 should be ringing alarm bells in Ottawa about the rural broadband crisis in Canada.”

nova scotiaFournier suspects Eastlink has not invested enough to keep up with a growing Internet because the service originally advertised itself as a way to listen to online music and watch video. But he also wonders if the data cap is an attempt to force the government to fund additional upgrades to get Eastlink to back down.

“This is why wireless ISPs suck for 21st century Internet,” Fournier argues. “They are incapable of keeping up with growing traffic and bandwidth needs and need to be retired in favor of fiber.”

But at least one wireless provider in Nova Scotia does not understand why Eastlink is making a fuss over data caps.

Cape Breton’s Seaside Wireless Communications offers Internet access in Antigonish, Cape Breton, Colchester, Cumberland, Guysborough, Inverness, Pictou, Richmond and Victoria counties, along with rural parts of Halifax County, and has no data caps.

“It is not even on our radar,” said Loran Tweedie, CEO of Seaside Wireless. “This is a differential we are proud of.”

Some Nova Scotians are also questioning why their Internet service is being capped while rural Eastlink customers in Newfoundland, Labrador and Ontario can continue to use the Internet cap-free, at least for now. Others are suspicious about the future of Eastlink’s maximum cap on overlimit fees, currently $20. Canadian providers have a history of raising the maximum cap, subjecting customers to greater fees.

“It’s hard to speak to what will happen over time. We’ll certainly evaluate where we’re at later in the fall,” said Laing.

Liberal provincial Business Minister Mark Furey said he was aware of Eastlink’s rural broadband data cap but only promised to monitor the situation for now.

Starting next month, Eastlink’s rural Internet packages will be capped at 15 gigabytes of usage per month. CBC Radio Nova Scotia’s “Information Morning” program speaks with Eastlink and Port Royal resident Gary Ewer about the impact the usage cap will have. (10:15)

You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Approval of AT&T-DirecTV Merger Expected Next Week

The headquarters building of U.S. satellite TV operator DirecTV is seen in Los Angeles, California May 18, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

The headquarters building of U.S. satellite TV operator DirecTV is seen in Los Angeles, California May 18, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – AT&T Inc’s proposed $48.5 billion acquisition of DirecTV is expected to get U.S. regulatory approval as soon as next week, according to people familiar with the matter, a decision that will combine the country’s No. 2 wireless carrier with the largest satellite-TV provider.

The Department of Justice, which assesses whether deals violate antitrust law, has completed its review of the merger and is waiting on the Federal Communications Commission to wrap up its own, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The FCC, which reviews if deals are in public interest, is poised to approve the deal with conditions as early as next week, according to three other people familiar with the matter.

All the sources asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak with the media. An AT&T spokeswoman and FCC spokesman declined comment. Justice Department representatives were not immediately available for comment.

AT&T’s merger with DirecTV, announced in May 2014, would create the country’s largest pay-TV company, giving DirecTV a broadband product and AT&T new avenues of growth beyond the maturing and increasingly competitive wireless service.

The deal has been expected to pass regulatory muster in contrast with the rival mega-merger between cable and Internet providers Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which was rejected in April largely over the combined companies’ reach into the broadband market.

The FCC and AT&T have been in negotiations over conditions for the merger for several weeks, the people said, adding that none of the conditions are controversial enough to break the deal.

Those conditions are expected to include assurances that both middle-class and low-income Americans have access to affordable high-speed Internet, including an offering of broadband subscriptions as a standalone service without a TV bundle, according to two of the people.

AT&T has earlier committed to expand access to broadband service in rural areas and to offer standalone Internet service at speeds of at least 6 Megabits per second to ensure consumers can access rival video services online, such as Netflix.

FCC officials are also considering ways to ensure that the conditions are properly enforced in the future, possibly through a third-party monitor, according to the two sources.

The FCC is also weighing how to ensure the merged companies abide by the so-called net neutrality rules, which regulate how Internet service providers manage traffic on their networks.

AT&T has promised to abide by net neutrality principles such as no-blocking of traffic, but is challenging in court the FCC’s newest net neutrality regulations that have expanded the agency’s authority over various deals between Internet providers and content companies.

FCC reviewers are weighing what net neutrality-related conditions to apply to the merger and how to address the possibility that the court throws out the latest rules, the two sources said.

Reported by: Alina Selyukh and Diane Bartz

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